Review: Galactic Civilizations III + Intrigue Expansion

By Dan Thompson 20 Apr 2018 2

Review: Galactic Civilizations III + Intrigue Expansion

Released 11 Apr 2018

Developer: Stardock
Genre: Turn-Based Strategy
Available from:
Steam

Galactic Civilizations III is a great example of how to do a videogame sequel correctly. Often, sequels to strategy games tend to rehash, or ambitiously introduce systems which unfortunately mire the experience. With Galactic Civilizations III however, this was not the case. The third entry in the iconic turn-based strategy game series followed the legacy of the second game, lauded for its deep customizability and mod scene. The series had become known for its ambition, intricacy, and impressive AI. After it remained dormant for almost nine years, the third GalCiv finally released to hungry strategy enthusiasts via Steam Early Access.

There was feverish positive feedback regarding Galactic Civilizations III from fans and critics alike. I personally found the title a feat which other strategy games needed to strive for. As a sequel, the game managed to enrapture and invoke the same engrossing experiences that the series had been known for, the formula had remained unchanged, only improved by its technical enhancements. What set the game primarily apart however, was a focus on polish and commitment to the familiar adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

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There are a variety of ways to win a game of Galactic Civilizations. You can culturally dominate, achieve diplomacy, win galactic war, or even overwhelm your adversaries with superior technological advancements. Even with a variety of ways to win, matches of are a time-commitment, one which seems daunting but can become effortless with the familiar mentality of the dreaded “just one more turn.”

However, what sets Galactic Civilizations III apart from other 4X strategy games, is rather than allowing the fun of the game to come simply from the player’s investment and satisfaction in learning its systems, Stardock have a devotion world-building. The series' third instalment doubled down on personality, an asset which was felt as the primary draw of making the series set itself apart from the unending and vast market of strategy games. Rather than seeing alien races or enemies in a mechanical way, observing them in serious play as a cacophony of enumerations and strategies, players were able to see these races as living beings with depth and personality that they grew to appreciate.

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This personality in Galactic Civilizations III was also found within that stellar AI programming. Typically, the genre of 4X space games are deeply unforgiving, at times feeling as if you were playing chess with a computer that mathematically knew every correct move to make. When strategy becomes a notice of pattern or the anticipation for an algorithm to kick in that would allow a mistake, it no longer feels rewarding. Yet, there’s a focus on fun here that manages to find a balance and encourages newcomers to step in and enjoy.

Galactic Civilizations III has two existing expansions. The first of which was titled Mercenaries. Apt to its name, it introduced a variety of soldiers of fortune which seemed straight out of a Mos Eisley cantina (adding to the overall personality of the game). The expansion added a depth that changed the pace of the game when enabled, as their utilization adjusted the scale and balance of the game to a fevering pitch as hired mercs could introduce incredibly overpowered weapons early into the game. It also introduced two separate races, the Arceans and Torians.

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The second expansion for Galactic Civilizations III overhauled the game much more than its predecessor. One of the praised features of the strategy series that were sorely missed were ones that surrounded espionage and politics (more on that later). As for the former, the Crusade expansion planted its foot firmly on the enhancement of the entire game. This meant upgrading to new user interface and streamlining existing mechanics. There was also the new citizen system, which added the ability to train citizens towards various targets that could led them to be a spy or an inquisitive pioneer. The Crusade expansion also added more races among its inclusion of invasions and a civilization builder (which allowed users to create their own factions and utilize the Steam Workshop to share it among the Galactic Civilization III community).

At this point in time, Galactic Civilizations III had managed to build itself up as one of the most definitive 4X space strategy games ever concocted, as the conquest towards the game having as few wrinkles through its growing ambition was evident with every expansion. A great deal of this success came from the developer Stardock’s stellar communication. A long-running forum thread which is still contributed to takes player feedback as developers incorporate advice towards the expansions of their games.

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This leads us to the third and largest expansion for Galactic Civilizations III - Intrigue. While Crusade had headlined itself with the citizen system and espionage reintroduction. Intrigue reintroduces the longed-for politics to the already system-heavy strategy game. This expansion enhanced the game by adding the news station GNN, a galactic market, governments which allow you to rule with more control over citizens, and the ability create small civilizations called commonwealths which are small automatically run governments.

Throughout the added depth and simplicities, Intrigue has managed to live up to the legacy of previous expansions. It is the most ambitious iteration of Galactic Civilizations, both on a systems level as well as with how the game personalizes itself. The Galactic News Network (GNN) manages to add to this personalization, as the news station gives an expansive view of how your actions are affecting the galaxy. It’s a clever and engaging way to communicate to the player important information about their match, rather than a boring spreadsheet.

On the other side of the fence, the Galactic Market adds systems which mix-up the standard formula in a game of GalCiv. Access to the market, allows early access to items which are incredibly expensive and hard to get. The catch is though, is that prices can still be considerably high, as the Galactic Market is run by a Korx. The Korx were a civilization that was last seen in Galactic Civilizations II, they were known so predominately for their greed that they were mostly killed for annoying other civilizations. Even with most of their race exterminated, the Korx running the Galactic Market are still harshly capitalistic.

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As for the politics of Galactic Civilizations III, twice every year if under a democratic government, you’re able to participate in elections which consider your approval rating and recent actions in the galaxy. The way you end up winning the elections are completely dynamic and is strongly dependent on how you run your government. For example, if you raise the taxes due to economic struggle, you might have a lower approval rating and as a result you won’t be able to determine whether you will reserve a decisive victory with determination. The inclusion of elections accomplishes the diversification of gameplay mechanics which will be welcome to long-term fans.

The commonwealth system drastically streamlines the game and its management of citizens. There’s a certain threshold that you’ll reach when attempting to wield too many planets, as citizens of your government will become unhappy with overpopulation. Instead of spreading yourself thin, you can instead create a self-sustaining government that will run itself. The benefit being of course, that it strengthens your government's income, and allows you to micromanage once games have reached an overwhelming threshold of complexity to manage. Having commonwealths enhance both your tourism and influence, and they will remain allied to you forever.

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The Steam Workshop will contribute a lot to your enjoyment of Galactic Civilizations III as well, especially if you’re a science fiction fan. The workshop allows you to integrate ships and modifications from a variety of other series and worlds. Everything from the Millennium Falcon to the Bebop has been crafted by dedicated fans for your enjoyment in the game. This allows plenty of room for cross over, if you wanted X-Wings dogfighting the Starship Enterprise that is all within the realm of possibility. With Intrigue and its added political systems, the door is open to role-play and rule as your favorite sci-fi empires.

With the third and final expansion of Galactic Civilizations III released, the door is beginning to close on Stardock’s support of additional content being added to one of the most comprehensive strategy games ever created. Many will look back on the legacy of this entry in the franchise and learn from not only the game itself but with how Stardock managed to make a strong comeback for a dormant franchise in an over-saturated genre.

The Intrigue expansion is another win for Stardock, building GalCiv3 up to become a giant amongst space 4X games.

Review: Galactic Civilizations III + Intrigue Expansion

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