Despite being a stalwart player of 4X games, not to mention an avid fan of science fiction in general, I would be remiss if I didn’t begin this review with a necessary (and somewhat embarrassing) confession: Galactic Civilizations is a franchise I’ve not played before. However, as a game that contains the necessary ingredients to pique my interest (4X gaming in space), Stardock’s Crusade expansion provided the excuse needed to add this title to my Steam library and get stuck into some intergalactic diplomacy and warfare.
My first impressions of Galactic Civilizations III is that it’s a 4X game that ticks all the requisite boxes: a deep tech tree which requires some thought-out decision making from the player in terms of research focus; the provision of some very expansive maps; customisation; an instinctive AI; numerous paths to victory. What Galactic Civilizations III didn’t do, for many fans of the series, was offer much in the way of significant differentiation from its predecessor. There was additional polish, but not substantial progression.
Stardock’s stated intention with Crusade was to address a number of issues: early game variety, late game grind and some empire management fine-tuning. The game’s tutorial offers a few insights into the new additions, notably an espionage feature and the cultivation of individual citizens for the player’s colonies. There’s also three new races for the player to get to grips with: the Onyx, the Slyne and the Terran Resistance. Again, the player can get an immediate taster of these new additions, as the latter two races form the cornerstone of the tutorial mission.
A primary facility of any strategy game is an accessible UI, and Stardock really delivers an excellent update here. The player should have no issue navigating between summary entries and more in-depth elements. Everything is laid out in a much more intuitive and logical manner.
Citizens provide an added layer of strategy to planet management, and appear somewhat inspired by Stellaris’s ‘pop’ feature. Citizens can be trained as administrators, workers or scientists, and provide additional boosts if placed on a colony planet. The citizen feature is not merely restricted to these three types, either – spies and generals, for example, can be developed through the requisite research tree. Citizens can also acquire new abilities through promotion. All in all, this new mechanic creates a more personalised experience when it comes to colony management.
Performance wise, Galactic Civilizations III: Crusade runs smoothly enough, albeit I encountered quite a few bugs whilst playing the game (including a crash upon completing the tutorial).
It’s hard to put my finger on what I don’t quite like about Galactic Civilizations III: Crusade, but there were a couple of lingering doubts that manifested during my time playing the game that didn’t quite go away. Namely, the more time I spent with this game, I had the increasing sensation that I would rather be playing Stellaris instead.
It’s no secret that Stellaris was one of my favourite games released last year, and it’s an obvious point of comparison for Galactic Civilizations. As such, I think it’s fair to evaluate Galactic Civilizations III and the Crusade expansion alongside that game. Unfortunately, it’s simply not a favourable comparison. It’s not that Crusade doesn’t give it a good effort – a lot has been overhauled for the better. It’s a deep, entertaining, game. That said, in the eyes of this reviewer it just doesn’t do it all as well as Stellaris does – in terms of overall polish, identity and, well, that special something.
Ultimately, though, Crusade does what all good expansions should do – it takes a base game and improves upon it in significant ways. There is a great amount of new content here that will give existing players a fresh experience when returning to Galactic Civilizations III. It’s also competitively priced, which should entice newcomers as well. There are a few bugs and the rather large shadow of Stellaris that hang over this game, but all in all this is a really decent strategy title that should appeal to any fan of 4X gaming.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.