After the break is the first of many reviews and articles I've written for my old website. Resonance Gaming. It ran from January 2008 - June 2008 and was sold in June for £1,000. I co-owned it with the designer and coder Daniel Clarke. The site has a lot of my most recent work in the gaming industry which I'm repeating here in full in case the site ever goes down.
I've always wondered if I can use the work again on other sites if the main RG ever goes offline? The guy that purchased the site never did anything with it and the site remains the same as it was in June. A real waste, really.
Note that the formatting on these isn't great as they were designed for a site that looks quite different from Blogger. I've done what I can with the major parts to make it a little more readable, though.
When Galactic Civilizations 2 came out over two years ago, it was clear Stardock had done something really amazing. It actually managed to improve on just about every single aspect of the already incredibly well made original game, while overhauling the graphics engine completely and adding even more features and tactics. In 2007 the game was expanded once more with the Dark Avatar expansion, adding new races, the ability to create custom opponents and a new campaign, while increasing the options available to people using espionage and spy tactics.
And so, in 2008, we face good news and bad. The bad news is, Twilight is the last expansion pack for Galactic Civilizations 2. The good news? The series goes out with a bang, and this has to be one of the most fully realised expansion packs the PC has ever seen.
For the rest of the review, I’m going to assume you’ve already played Galactic Civilizations and its expansion quite extensively. Most of what make Twilight great is the small additions it makes to an already deep game. If you’re yet to play the game, now is a great time to purchase the original with both expansion packs, but I won’t waste any time describing the original gameplay. Suffice it to say, it’s everything Master of Orion 3 should have been.
Expanding on GalCiv was never going to be easy. The trick is to add new content, challenges and strategy without flooding the game with so much content it becomes impossible to keep track of everything or unbalances the game. It’s all too easy to throw an expansion together with a new race or some units and a few maps, but Twilight instead focuses on improving its original content, fleshing out the games existing races and offering new ways to play.
One of the major ways it does this - and certainly the biggest noticeable difference in gameplay over Dark Avatar- is that each race now has its own technology tree. This has been expanded beyond simply having different starting technologies and racial traits and gives each race a unique flavour that the game was lacking on a strategic level. The already technologically advanced Thalan now have a much more limited tree than say, the aggressive Drengin, and the Drengin now have a technology tree that focuses more on war and weaponry.
It’s all been balanced to near perfection and with research already being such a fundamental part of the game, it has a large effect on the gameplay and the style of gameplay encountered in each race. Unique buildings also add flavour to each race. These well designed and novel additions that don’t feel forced into the game (loving the slave pits!) although these seem to have as much obvious affect the general game as much as the tech tree.
Twilight also incorporates a new victory path: Ascension. This was a popular route to victory in older 4X games, and it’s nice to see it return, albeit in a rather different form. Players capture ascension crystals using starbases, which then countdown “time to ascension” from 1,000 turns. Each additional crystal you capture halves the time required to ascend. In practice, this appears to be a very difficult path to victory, especially when playing in games with a large amount of AI players, who seem to find even one crystal a long way from ascension to be a major reason to get very angry at you very quickly. It’s realistic enough but while I’d expect to be under fire with perhaps, 500 turns left and two crystals held, the AI does seem rather overzealous. It doesn’t react as badly if you build a huge army or have massive amounts of other resources, so why get so angry about the crystals? Of course, as with just about everything else in GalCiv you can turn it off if you don’t like the idea.
Which brings up neatly to the new options outside of the main game mode. The immense galaxy is far larger than the previous largest galaxy and lends itself to the true hardcore who prefer their games to play out over weeks instead of days or hours. The editing options for the game have been made far more extensive following the basic race editing that was available in Dark Avatar. Hopefully these new additions should help facilitate new mods to be created for the game which could add years to if lifespan; useful now Stardock have stopped realising expansions.
Graphical overhauls are mostly on the optimisation side, although new textures and general improvements are noticeable if you zoom in far enough. Many Galciv players, myself included, tend to play zoomed out anyway, but it’s nice to occasionally be able to zoom right in to a planet and see it slowly spinning around. Ship battles look slightly more impressive now (although they still sound rather poor thanks to no major updates to the rather weak generic sound effects). The planetary Invasion screen has also had an overhaul, which is worth mentioning as it always looked a little limp before.
I’m nearly 1,000 words into this review and I feel I’ve barely scratched the surface of this expansion, so rather than going on listing it’s new features and how good they are, I’ll tell you that Twilight does everything right and nothing wrong. If you’re a GalCiv junkie, the added strategy is going to add years on a game you probably already seeing yourself playing for a long time to come. If you weren’t impressed by the level of changes in Dark Avatar, Twilight will change your mind.
About the only people who shouldn’t get this are people that already don’t enjoy GalCiv anyway, and that’s really their loss. If you like your strategy beardy and epic but you don’t want to get bogged down in spreadsheets and numbers, GalCiv was always one of the best options around. This isn’t an optional amalgamation of features that could have just as easily been added to a patch. After playing with Twilight, vanilla Galciv 2 just doesn’t feel the same, and many of the things the expansion has that you might not agree with or want to use every game, you can turn off.
With Twilight completing the games legacy and all three games available for a generous price, it’s a great time to pick up one of the deepest games around. When the biggest addition I can think to the game is a ‘real time’ clock somewhere on the UI so I can keep track of how much of my life the game is stealing, that’s saying something.