Galactic Civilizations 2: Dread Lords Lets You Rule the Galaxy
By Jim Bray
Ever dreamed of being Emperor Palpatine? You can be, at least virtually.
One of my favorite computer games of all time is Civilization, in its various incarnations. Sid Meir's terrific series lets you create your own nation, building and expanding and generally advancing as you go, and as you do, you learn new skills and techniques and develop new technologies.
You also come into contact with other races and civilizations, and whether you coexist peacefully or work for global domination depends on your attitude and that of your co-inhabitants.
It's an addictive experience.
Now imagine that type of game on a galactic scale, where instead of spreading your tribe across the face of the earth you're exploring, colonizing and exploiting the galaxy itself.
That's Galactic Civilizations II: Dread Lords, and it's as much fun as the Civilization games are. I never played Galactic Civilizations I, so can't comment on how the new version differs from or improves on it, but I've sure been having a good time with this sequel.
Here's how Stardock Entertainment, the game's creator, sets up the adventure on the game's official website (www.galciv2.com):
"The year is 2225. The reckless humans have formed a coalition to defend themselves from the rising power of the evil Drengin Empire. The galaxy is about to be set ablaze but there is something far worse out there than each other...
Sounds like good stuff, eh? And it is, for the most part. I disagree with a couple of the points raised above, but whether it was because of bugs in the game or flaws in the two different PC's on which I played it, I cannot rightly say – though I tend to think it's bugs.
For example, while I could create my own ships, I couldn't save them; when I tried, the game would crash and I'd be kicked back to the last auto save. This was disappointing, because I had big plans for my new types of ships, most of which involved conquest, but I learned to live with it and still enjoyed the game.
On the plus side, you can set the autosave to store your progress as you deem proper, so the occasional crashes (they raised their ugly heads at other times, too) don't have to be too annoying.
One other minor annoyance is that when you're invading a planet (hey, it happens!) or being invaded you don't have a lot of control over the battle. Ditto with space combat. On the other hand, the space combat looks really cool.
The whole game looks really cool, nicely rendered in 3D with a zoom level you can use to look God-like down on the galaxy or to catch a close up of your fleet in orbit around a particular planet. The graphics are delicious, as is the game's built in sense of humor, the latter of which is something I didn't expect, and the game works on both 4x3 and 16x9 monitors.
Game play is much like that of the Civilization series, so if you're used to that your learning curve will be smoother despite the game's length and complexity. It's a turn-based game, so you make your moves and then wait a moment for the other civilizations to make theirs. Technological and/or social advances that you research take a number of turns (how many depends on the research and its complexity), and as you complete research your capabilities increase – including the capability to build new structures on your planets or new types of space ships.
As you explore, your ships encounter resources you can exploit, such as anomalies where you can set up mining starbases, and you can expand your influence over the space around you by building other types of starbases, such as military, trade or diplomatic.
You can choose from ten different races (each of which has its own unique capabilities), and you can customize your chosen race at the beginning of each game. There's actually quite a bit of customization offered
You can also select the size of your game, right up to humongous (my preferred choice) as well as how plentiful its planets and resources will be. You also choose your leadership style: are you going to be a benevolent ruler who prefers peaceful coexistence and trade or do you plan to wreak your own brand of havoc on the galaxy?
Nobody Expects the Spanish Armada…
One interesting touch is that you are never forced to win the game by exerting your military force. You may have to defend yourself from other empires, but you don't have to attack to succeed. In fact, while I was trying the "good cop" route at least one another civilization was so impressed by my goodness that they threw in their lot with mine. It made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
So I destroyed them! Just kidding….
There are two main methods of playing. You can start a basic free-for-all, or you can play a campaign. I liked the random games the best, but to each his own.
I really wish I had more time to play because a good game can be a heck of a diversion. And of the wide variety of game genres out there, this "Civilization" type, the "real time strategy" games such as Starcraft and Age of Empires, and the first person shoot 'em ups like Doom are my favorites.
And as far as the "Civilization" type of games are concerned, this one's a top notch entry!
Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.
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