Galactic Civilizations III wasn’t a bad game, but it was a bit bare. Crusade helped fill that gap a bit, but it’s the latest DLC, Intrigue, that finally makes it feel alive. Intrigue and its accompanying 3.0 free patch add several new features every step of the way, making playthroughs infinitely more enticing and fruitful.
Gone are the several dozen turns were nothing at all happened – ideology events, once occasional, have been tweaked and now happen more frequently, as have ships stats and a part of the tech tree. Extreme planets, which were once rare and uniformly hostile, now can be colonised from the start by specific races – humans can colonise corrosive planets but can’t settle on toxic ones without proper tech, while synthetics are the exact opposite – which serves to better diversify the range of habitable worlds and make the galaxy feel that much more populated. It’s a through and through improvement.
Meanwhile, race-specific options have also been hugely expanded, with the addition of a new Government Selection mechanic featuring 20 different government styles. From a Colonial system to a Galactic Communion, Intrigue brings pretty much every type and tier of organized politics into play, allowing you to create your empire as you see fit. Each of the four tiers contain five options of government, each with its own buffs and special attributes that effectively change the way you play the game.
As you progress through the tiers via research, you’re able to control more colonies without suffering societal penalties. The more colonies over your limit you have, the lower your moral/approval rate, which in turn severely stunts every other aspect of your empire – it’s a hard-coded limitation meant to represent your species’ feeling that you’re prioritising core worlds over backwater ones, but it feels unfair and breaks immersion when you’re perfectly managing your planets without a hitch, as often happens in times of peace.
The only other bad thing with the current government system is the ideology requirement of some options, which further restricts an already very restrictive system. Ideologies are a pain to change, growing dramatically in cost even with a single perk acquired, and the decision to lock government types behind some of them only serves to limit players’ choices. Ideologies in the game are mainly chosen due to their artificial and extremely arbitrary bonuses, and it’s a very bad thing to force players to choose an ideology they don’t want simply to get a government they do. Governments should be restricted by technology, and nothing else.
Aside from “evolving” your government type, the only other way to deal with expansion is by abdicating control of your planets, turning them into semi-autonomous AI empires. These new Commonwealth planets are eternally allied to you and carry on as a normal AI faction, and are the only way to keep playing the game once you get to a certain empire size – the only ways to have as many planets as you want is by picking the slavish Owner Aristocracy – which requires the Malevolent ideology – or the AI-backed Singularity – which is at the very end of the Tech Tree and comes about way later than it should.
Just like Stellaris and its sector governor system, Intrigue’s new Commonwealth system doesn’t really work. The addition of an AI overlord over your territory screws up your plans nine times out of 10, and this is one of them – Commonwealths constantly expand too much, take resources you’re eying due to their sheer proximity to your colonised space, and get into wars they’re thoroughly unprepared for. The end result is less of a nice diplomatic relationship, and more of a frustration at seeing former parts of your empire taken over by hostile foreign factions.
Intrigue also brings new challenges in the form of Crisis events, which take the form of space monsters/rebellions/pirates/etc, and act as a series of choices. Each decision branches into different events and rewards, and ultimately bring an end to the crisis in a way that impacts your gameplay but never completely derail your experience. It’s a nice balance, and it doesn’t steal the spotlight for several years on end like it does in other games.
In the miscellania section, the expansion introduces a new Galactic Market and Bazaar as extra means to acquire needed resources, and allows players to set taxes to directly affect the morale and treasury of their faction. On the other hand, the patch also adds arable tiles that are not the only place where you can build farms, which is a bit limiting but par for the course of GC3’s limited planet development gameplay.
The Galactic News Network is a surprisingly good facsimile of real life press, straddling the barrier between actually informative and utterly useless. Some news reports bring you events from your empire and offer faction-wide changes and bonuses, while others simply interrupt your game to say which empire is currently the most populous or advanced. Both are properly presented via pop-ups with a news-esque music segue, and fit perfectly into the game’s atmosphere and cinematic flair.
As always, art design is spot-on, and everything from the government selection icons to the election and news screens are absolutely magnificent – the election simulation is especially enticing, and it both looks and performs well. While the new sound and music effects are just as capable, the quality and polish of GC3’s visuals has always been one of it’s high-points, and that tradition continues in Intrigue with its head held high.
The one major flaw with Intrigue is actually the same one plaguing GC3 for months – ever since Crusade, Stardock forces people to buy the expansions to play together, essentially segmenting the player base and throwing any multiplayer potential out of the airlock. Several of my friends and colleagues own GC3, but none of them felt compelled to buy the Crusade expansion after playing the vanilla version. Unlike Civ or Stellaris, which allow the host to own DLC’s and play with folk who doesn’t, Galactic Civilizations 3 essentially left me stranded in lonely playthroughs – and it’s one of the reasons why I doubt it will ever gain much traction in an age where multiplayer capacities play such a crucial role.
All in all, Intrigue is a very good expansion that finally makes Galactic Civilizations III an enjoyable game. I had a much better time with it than in previous playthroughs, and the game has reached a level of depth that is capable of keeping you glued for hours. The game as a whole will never reach true heights until it drops the requirement of sinking £60 pounds to play together, but if you like the current product, you should definitely get Intrigue.
GALACTIC CIVILIZATIONS III VERDICT
A very good expansion, only let down by some restrictive government options, a bad commonwealth AI system, and Stardock’s continued refusal to stop people from playing with each other.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Any time I exchanged governments for better bonuses and colony capacity.
Flavourful news reports (aside from "Top 5 Most x Factions" ones)
More events and things happening every turn
Lots of interesting and useful government types
Commonwealth AI is, as in most games, a burden
Ideology restriction on government types essentially screws you over if you play as you want
Inability to host a game and play with friends that don't own the expansions