It’s been some time since I played Civilization: Beyond Earth. In fact, I haven’t touched the game since my review in the December 2014 issue of NAG magazine. A year later and we now have the first expansion to Beyond Earth, entitled Rising Tide. As a $30 expansion, Rising Tide has a hefty task ahead of it, both in terms of adding to the core game and providing its own unique content.
As its name suggests, Rising Tide lets players take to the oceans in a number of ways. Cities can now be built on water tiles, and can even move (and should, as their borders don’t passively expand with culture). This opens up a host of new resource and warfare management options, and utterly changes the game in many small and large ways. Overall, for the better, as landmass arrangements are now less prone to dictate the flow of the game, allowing players to relish in geographical diversity. Certain buildings and wonders, just like units, can only be built by land-based or aquatic cities, and controlling the waves is equally (and sometimes more) important to controlling the land tiles in and around your territory. But mercifully none of this feels convoluted: it all adds up to a significant improvement of the core gameplay in a way that simply fits.
Other improvements come in the form of diplomacy and exploration. I have to say that the diplomacy feels very odd and unpredictable, despite the effort that’s gone into making your relationships with other faction leaders quantifiable. While covert operations have been tweaked somewhat, there still feels like there’s little room for manipulating your allies and enemies, aside from building a giant army or achieving one of three Affinity victories and watching them beg and cower in dismay.
Beyond Earth was lauded for its classic science-fiction trappings, and Rising Tide does everything it can to take that concept to the next level. Aliens now feel more like an additional faction as opposed to steroid-crazed barbarians, and will change their moods according to your actions against them, as well as the planet type (Frigid-world aliens, for example, barely roam but are extremely territorial near their nests). Likewise, the inclusion of alien/progenitor/old Earth artefacts often hidden in expedition sites greatly adds to the feeling that you’re exploring an interactive science-fiction novel.
Sadly, little has been done to address Beyond Earth’s stodgy and downright plain user interface. Sometimes buttons don’t respond to clicks, animations loop excessively, sounds don’t play or play out-of-sync, textures take many seconds to appear on-screen, and the camera will often flit around the game world like it’s lost its mind. And with so much more happening in the game thanks to the additional content, these UI irritations are made more glaring and annoying than they were before.
Rising Tide, like the base game on which it sits, is imperfect, but makes an immense effort to be loveable. It’s certainly very playable though, and you’ll find yourself struck with the Civ classic of “just one more turn” way into the late hours more often than you’d expect. I do wish that Firaxis had spent more time sharpening existing elements, but everything that has been added brings with it significant value and boundless charm, and ultimately makes for a better game.