Civilization: Beyond Earth—The Rising Tide expands, revises, and refines the original Civ: BE with new biomes, a brand new diplomacy system, and oceans full of resources and aliens that can be exploited and colonized. We talked with the lead designer to find out what this expansion has in store for Civ fans.

In the half a year since I reviewed Civilization: Beyond Earth, I’ve honestly played more Civilization 5 than Civ: BE. The reasons for that are complicated (partly it’s because the bright, clean visuals of Civ 5 are just more appealing than the murky alien landscapes of BE, partly it’s just so much more viscerally satisfying to build the Pyramids than to build the Xenodrome). But I also didn’t play Civ 5 that much until the expansions made it into the game it is. It’s not quite a masterpiece—trust me, I could write 5,000 words on how Civ 5 falls short—but seriously goddamn addictive all the same. So I’m excited that expansions can unlock the potential of Civ: BE in the same way.

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The Rising Tide, which isn’t due for release until this fall, seems to address one of my main problems with the original game, namely that it was at its best when it diverged from Civ 5 the most, something it didn’t do often enough. The ability to colonize the oceans of the planet is a huge step in that direction, adding an aspect of gameplay that’s unlike anything ever done in Civilization. Civ: BE’s diplomacy system, which let you store up favors with other leaders as a sort of resource (but ultimately felt underdeveloped), gets a total revamp. There are new biomes, new hybrid affinity units, and a system of finding and combining alien artifacts that sounds pretty rad.

I talked to co-lead designer David McDonough about The Rising Tide.

io9: The ability to colonize oceans is a huge change, as the ocean has always been mainly an impediment. How does the game change when the borders of your empire are no longer constrained by the edge of the continent?

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David McDonough: Being able to colonize the ocean turns the entire map into a playable space. We did a lot of work to make the ocean a complete strategic landscape, including adding new resources, new improvements, new naval units, and of course aquatic aliens. If players want to, they can have a complete Civ experience solely in the water. Playing at sea will be just as challenging but in some different key ways than playing on land. The water tileset has also had a major facelift and it looks amazing. We’re really excited for this new feature. Players will see how different the expansion is right from the start.

I felt that the favor system had a lot of unused potential in Civ: BE, so I’m pretty excited that diplomacy will be revised. Can you give me an example of a diplomatic interaction that uses some of the new features?

McDonough: Of all the cool new features in the expansion, we think this is the one that is going to change the game the most. We’ve replaced the existing diplomacy system with a wholly new idea for diplomacy, including new interactions and new ways of cooperating or competing. We wanted to set it up so players could solve many of their faction’s problems through this new system. One example would be when playing as a military-production civ and needing more science output, I could still divert my own cities to build science buildings. But now, I can instead find a leader who specializes in science, cultivate a relationship with them, and “trade” some of my militaristic power for their science.

What special abilities and starting advantages does the new faction Al Falah bring to the game?

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McDonough: The general theme with all of Rising Tide’s new leaders is that they are a stranger and more disruptive group. They leave Earth under different, often more extreme and treacherous conditions than the original eight leaders from the base game. Al Falah, our new Middle Eastern faction, builds a generational ship. They don’t go with the cryosleep option like our other factions. This means whole generations of people live and die between the time the ship leaves earth and lands on the new planet. I find them so interesting because by the time the ship lands, that generation of people have never been on a planet before and will have different ideas and priorities about survival. This could lead to whole new perspectives and methods that could change both how they play, and how others must play against them.

io9: Combining alien artifacts sounds very interesting. How will that work?

McDonough: The artifact system consists of a new set of collectible items that players will collect in various ways as they play the game. After collecting a few artifacts, players can combine them for a wide range of rewards. The type and number of artifacts being combined will change the reward. They add a little bit of fiction to the quests as well. You might find an antique earth violin or mysterious alien objects. What you do with them is up to you.

What will we find in the new biomes? New aliens? New resources? Hazards?

McDonough: There will be two new biomes. We’ve announced the Primordial biome at this point. The best way to describe it is a hot, volcanic, young planet. You’ll find lots of cool rough and mountainous terrain. Our artists pushed the science-fiction setting a bit more with the new biomes, creating environments more extreme and wild than the base game. What’s also cool is that the water landscape has been changed for all biomes as well, so you’ll see exotic types of fauna and terrain underneath the water that is unique to each biome.

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Civ: BE did a great job of threading references to classic science-fiction throughout the game. What scifi easter eggs can we look forward to in The Rising Tide?

McDonough: You can definitely count on us to fill the expansion with references like we did with the base game. Our fans loved finding them and we had a lot of fun creating them. We don’t want to spoil anything, but digging through your inventory of artifacts and looking through the achievements is a good place to start your search for fun sci-fi references.