As a spiritual successor to the classic that was Alpha Centauri, Civilization: Beyond Earth turned out to be something of a disappointment when it launched last year. It wasn’t bad, exactly, it just felt too much like a Civilization 5 mod with some slightly prettier graphics – the promise of its colourful sci-fi setting was never truly realised. Given Firaxis’ impressive past record with expansion packs, however, fans have been hoping that first addition Rising Tide can add some much needed character and variety, and start turning Beyond Earth into the game it should have been.
The most obvious addition in Rising Tide is the ability to build a settlement out on the open ocean. Naval cities don’t grow gradually outwards in the same way that land-based settlements do. Instead you can shift them around the ocean slowly, relocating as and when you need to in order to hoover up new resources. Moving a city takes time and resources, and you can’t move more than a square at a time, but they still offer useful flexibility – if you need that rare vein of Firaxite in order to build a particular structure, you no longer have to set up a whole new colony to obtain it. It’s not a total game-changer of a feature in the way that something like the addition of religion was to Civilization 5, but it’s an enjoyable different way to play, and a chance to really double down on some of Beyond Earth’s fun naval units.
Talking of new units, the addition of Hybrid Affinities is a welcome change. Rather than three visually distinct unit lines, you’ve now got six, each with their own varied special abilities that offer some interesting strategic options. Harmony-Supremacy units, for example, offer a blend of robotic and xenobiological technology that results in incredibly resilient troops that can heal in the field. As well as upgrade options for core units like submarines and artillery pieces, there are distinct Unique units for each path that pack powerful abilities. Combat in Beyond Earth becomes far more interesting and unpredictable thanks to all these new options, but they also help make the game’s world more visually interesting.
Naval cities offer more flexibility, and with its new collection of alien flora and fauna, the sea's a cool place to explore
Pursuing a Hybrid Affinity path doesn’t solely affect your military. Each rank unlocks a new series of perks across your entire empire. It’s all tied into a reworked tech web, which links each technology you research with a particular Affinity. This makes it very easy to focus on a particular area, and encourages a more considered approach to scientific research. Whereas before you sort of grabbed whatever took your fancy, now you tend to focus along certain lines. It’s not that you’re forced into linear choices – there are enough tech options for each Affinity to focus on – but the game now does a much better job at linking scientific development with cultural growth. Which is sort of thematically fitting, so that’s nice.
All this does a nice job of making empire-building more varied and interesting, but Rising Tide’s most important new feature is reserved for your previously characterless AI opponents. Put simply, in the core game faction leaders were a dull bunch, lacking the charisma and flavour of Civilization’s historical cast. As part of a general overhaul of the game’s lacklustre diplomacy system, each leader in the game – including you – can choose from three perks, alongside their innate cultural trait. Representing the political, domestic and military structure of their empire, each perk also governs what issues impress or concern each leader.
New Hybrid Affinity units have their own special abilities, and make the world more visually diverse and interesting
Say the gruff North Sea Alliance leader picks a perk that enhances his production. Not only does he gain the mechanical benefit, but it also adjusts his AI so that he will be more likely to admire factions who build impressive wonders and focus on construction. On the other hand, he’s not likely to get on with bearded hippies who want to preserve the alien environment and hug the local population of slavering death-beetles. It’s a simple change, but it does wonders for adding weight to your interactions with the AI.
There’s more new depth to diplomacy to be discovered. Your political influence is now represented by a new resource called Diplomatic Capital, which can be earned by forging partnerships with other factions and constructing more wonders. You can sign agreements with friendly factions, spending your Capital in return for a slightly weaker version of their chosen perk, that improves the friendlier you are with them. Alternatively, you can offer your own skills out in return for a stream of Capital from the recipient. But, wait, it gets more convoluted; Capital is also used to upgrade your perks and can be spent to rush-build units and buildings, so if you spend all of it on pushing through new agreements, you soon won’t have any left.
Diplomacy has been comprehensively reworked. You can buddy up and choose from a vast array of useful perks that improve the stronger your alliance becomes
It sounds complicated, but this is all presented rather intuitively in-game, and the net result is that you spend a lot more time negotiating with the AI, organising alliances and trading away influence for useful bonuses. It’s not a completely perfect system - partners have an annoying habit of breaking an agreement off for no apparent reason, and options for some more complicated deals and pacts wouldn’t go amiss when suing for peace or forcing an enemy to surrender – but it’s a marked improvement on what went before.
SID MEIER'S CIVILIZATION: BEYOND EARTH - RISING TIDE VERDICT
That’s true for most of Rising Tide. There’s no single feature that will revolutionise Beyond Earth’s fairly conventional approach to strategy, but as a complete package this expansion does a great job of fleshing out the game’s mechanics and giving it a sense of identity that previously was sorely missing. New naval cities offer intriguing tactical options, and that enhanced diplomacy system is a huge improvement for a game which struggled to bring its cast of faction leaders to life. Even the less notable features, like Artefacts you can loot from alien structures and combine to earn one-off bonuses, and the new factions and Biome world types, add some welcome depth. There’s still work to be done – the end-game still fizzles out unspectacularly, and it’s disappointing that each world’s exotic alien lifeforms still act as little more than troublesome barbarians – but Rising Tide is an excellent first step on the road towards a better Beyond Earth.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Using new faction Chungsu to create an espionage-focused society that leeched huge swathes of research data from its rivals. Why should I do the legwork?
Huge improvements to diplomacy.
Fun new Hybrid Affinity options that offer a greater variety of ways to build your empire.
Packed with fun new features.
The end-game is still a damp squib.