Rising Tide expands Civilization: Beyond Earth, making a good game better. But are alien artifacts and aquatic cities enough to make it a great game?

Because even though Beyond Earth needed some improvements., so did Civ 5 when it first came out. In fact, it took a couple of expansions to reach its status as near-masterpiece (and I still think it has some deep flaws). But with that in mind, let’s run down the biggest changes that Rising Tide brings and the ways they make the game more like the visionary sci-fi epic we want it to be.

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First up, aquatic cities. This change goes a long way toward making a game feel truly different from your average game of Civ. This starts with the map itself, since you can now see the ocean floor. Ocean tiles are dotted with resources—lots of them. It’s fascinating to look at the map with no constraints on where you can place a city (except deep ocean).

Aquatic cities act very different from normal cities. Their borders don’t grow through culture. Instead, you literally move the city. It creeps forward one tile (usually taking four or five turns to “produce” the movement), adding any newly adjacent tiles to its territory while still keeping any territory it had before. It’s a delightfully weird way to manage a city. You kind of have to plan your movement (which you might not do for dozens or hundreds of turns) so you don’t waste time improving tiles the city is eventually going to move through. Aquatic cities also have a number of tradeoffs compared to normal cities—they build naval units faster, but land units slower; they have poor defense, but better health and trade. What I particularly love is the way you can build farms, mines, and other basic tile improvements on ocean tiles. This change, more than anything, makes me feel like I’m experiencing some far future scenario—I’ve got a geothermal power plant on top of some ocean vents, right next to my massive algae farm!

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I will say that starting out as the North Sea Alliance, a faction designed to have an aquatic capital, felt like a handicap. Spending turns moving my capital to expand its territory ate up crucial early game time, and I never felt like I caught up. (I also have to mention how hilarious the NSA’s leader, Duncan Hughes, is. The loading screens tout his various accomplishments, and they start to feel like Bill Brasky stories after a while. “Duncan Hughes is so generous he built self-contained cities for all the world’s poor people with his own two hands. Duncan Hughes holds the world record for catching the largest fish. Duncan Hughes patented his design for aquatic cities and made a kajillion dollars, so he bought his own planet.”)

The second big change is to diplomacy, and while there’s nothing terribly science-fictional about it, it is a massive improvement, not just over Beyond Earth’s diplomacy, but over Civ 5’s awful diplomacy system. It’s built on a new resource, called Diplomatic Capital. You earn this by building certain buildings and wonders—it accumulates turn by turn, much like gold or energy. When you enter the diplomacy screen, you’ll see a number of agreements you can make with the other civs. One might give you a discount to building military units, a bonus to health, increased range with your satellites, and so forth. In return, you spend a certain amount of your diplomatic capital each turn the agreement is in effect. If another civ initiates an agreement with you, it’s the opposite—they get some benefit, you earn Diplomatic Capital. Different agreements become available as your relationship with that civ improves.

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How does that relationship change? In visible, understandable, meaningful ways! That alone makes it miles better than Civ 5’s opaque, nonsense diplomacy, and Beyond Earth’s diplomacy, which was almost ignorable it was so slight. Each civ rates you on two scores, Fear (based on your military power, population, and civ size) and Respect, which is based on the leader’s personality traits and your own actions as related to those traits. A scientific leader will have a higher Respect value for you if you research a lot of techs, for example. All of this is visible and understandable, and the other leaders will periodically let you know how they’re feeling (and whether one of the scores is going up or down).If the scores slip or you run out of Diplomatic Capital, you might find some agreements being cancelled, which in turn affects how other civs see you. It can be complicated to manage all your relationships—and that’s great!

Even war is better and more quantifiable now. If you enter diplomacy with a civ you’re at war with, you’ll see a chart showing the “war score,” a measure of who’s defeated more units and captured more cities (I’m not yet sure if proximity of your troops to enemy cities affects this, they way it apparently does in Civ 5). The war score directly affects what peace terms are available for you to ask for. It’s just so nice to bring that out in the open so you can see and understand what’s going on and affecting the AI’s decisions.

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Two other changes are cool, but not as sweeping. It’s now possible to find artifacts on your new home planet—they might be old Earth relics, alien detritus, or leftovers from a progenitor race. You can cash them in for resources or build a set to get a permanent benefit. They’re cool, if not as intriguing as Civ 5’s brilliant archaeology system, and they certainly enhance the sense of being in a strange place with its own half-forgotten history.

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There are also buildings and unit upgrades tied to hybrid affinity. Affinity is your civ’s choice of three main paths and how you relate to aliens and your past as Earth people. Inevitably, you’d take techs and make choices that would give you some levels in an affinity you weren’t necessarily focused on. Now, that extra affinity isn’t wasted—you can access hybrid bonuses based on the levels you have in two affinities. Not a huge change, but definitely an enhancement.

It’s honestly going to take months of play before I can definitively say, “Yes, Rising Tide makes Civ: Beyond Earth truly awesome.” But I can say for sure that it makes it a better game—I’m legitimately more excited to play it with these improvements and additions.

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