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Galactic Civilizations 3 Review: Conquering the Final Frontier

Taking over the galaxy might not be as easy as it sounds, but Galactic Civilizations 3 gives you all the tools you need to head out into the stars. How well did our interstellar empire fare? Find out in our review.

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As anyone who has played a turn-based strategy game like Civilization can attest to, might often makes right. The rule holds true whether you're taking over the world or out to conquer the galaxy. However, few games balance between the different avenues of power as well as Galactic Civilizations 3. This deep strategy game that lets players choose one of eight different alien races, then set forth to take over known space however they see fit. But amassing an army of ships takes a tremendous amount of planning and cunning, even at the lower difficulty settings.

Building an Empire

The campaign is only three missions, which some might find disappointing, but more will be added in the future. Although the story tells of how Earth is behind a planetary shield that both protects it and imprisons it. A fleet of ships that has been hiding in a different dimension returns to liberate the planet and turn the tide of battle against the galaxy's most ruthless species. But a prophecy states that humanity the galaxy's biggest threat.

Its story has a very promising start, but the missions lack a natural sense of progression. The first two are relatively easy, then the third suddenly ramps up the difficulty by pitting your small force against a pre-constructed armada that will destroy your starbases and colonies in their infancy. Those looking to master the game's complex economic, diplomatic, and technological systems are better off playing a couple of skirmish games before diving into the campaign.

GalCiv3 shines best in its regular sandbox mode, where players are tossed into a randomly generated map and must build their fledgling empire from scratch. My ongoing problem with all strategy games like this is maintaining the delicate balance between expansion, economics, technology, and military. I usually focus on one aspect too much and end up neglecting the others. The game's massive technology trees, tailored to each individual race, doesn't make the job much easier, but I'd much rather have the robust set of options.

Ruling the Galaxy

The game requires quite a bit of micromanaging. Each planet you colonize only has so many spaces for you to build on, so you have to choose wisely. It's usually best to dedicate certain planets to a specialty, like research or manufacturing, but then you also have to keep in mind that there are a finite number of habitable worlds, and they can end up being very far apart from each other. Depending on what comes out from the random map generator, you could find yourself surrounded by a wealth of resources, or you could be left isolated and struggling to get by. Tweaking the settings helps fix the odds, but all factions benefit.

One of the most noteworthy aspects of interstellar expansion is that the game, in the tradition of Galactic Civilization, will often present players with moral choices that can be solved using Benevolent, Pragmatic, or Malevolent decisions. A Benevolent species seeks peace, even at great cost, which makes them beloved across the galaxy but not very threatening. Pragmatic species try to strike a balance in a way that will benefit the empire, while a malevolent one will ruthlessly exploit everything it comes across.

You're free to solve situations however you see fit, and doing so will earn points towards ideological bonuses. For example, a malevolent race could gain extra bonuses to production through slave labor. Relationships with rival factions will be influenced by your ideology, which led to weird moments, like when a leader called to tell me how much he loved our trade agreement, then called again two turns later to let me know what a terrible person I was.

The AI is generally very smart and will rapidly spread its influence across the stars. But even though there's a slew of diplomatic options, it's hard to figure out what constitutes as leverage. How much are these crystals worth, and what constitutes a fair trade? Until you're very familiar with the tech tree, trading technology is largely a matter of guesswork. I wish the game had a "make me an offer" button, the way Civilization V does.

The Great Space Race

Galciv3 also greatly excels at customization. In addition to the randomized galaxies, players can build their own alien species. But perhaps the game's biggest attraction is the custom ship designer, which lets players build starships from the ground up, or modify an existing template, using all the technology that's currently available. Players can let their imaginations run wild building gigantic capital ships, or tiny fighters designed for guerrilla attacks. Each ship design has a point value that dictates what devices can be attached.

Given how complex GalCiv3's overlapping systems are, getting good at the game can become quite a daunting task, but it's worth it. Few games offer the same sense of flexibility and depth that this game has.


This review is based on a PC code provided by the publisher. Galactic Civilizations 3 is available now for $49.99.

Managing Editor
Pros
  • Deep economic, diplomatic, and technology systems
  • Challenging gameplay with intelligent AI
  • Sophisticated ship design feature
Cons
  • Steep learning curve
  • Campaign has three missions, and they don't progress well
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