Civilization V’s second expansion imagined a Brave New World, but the future of Sid Meier’s Civ series will boldly go to new worlds with its next full installment, Beyond Earth, Firaxis revealed during PAX East 2014 this past weekend.
During a packed panel held in the Boston Convention Center’s Dragonfly Theater, lead designers Will Miller and David McDonough (who share not only design responsibilities, but also BFF status), producer Lena Brenk, and lead systems and gameplay designer Anton Strenger—all of whom worked on Civilization V’s two expansions—unveiled the upcoming sci-fi twist on the longstanding leader in 4X.
Distilled to the simplest descriptors, Beyond Earth is something of a spiritual successor to Alpha Centauri, and while the IP rights may belong to another publisher, the”heart and soul” live on at Firaxis as far as Miller is concerned. Their space-flung Civ is set 250 years past the modern day, a future born of a cataclysmic event that fictionally takes place 25 years from now. Think a semi-sci-fi equivalent to the Shot Heard Round the World, dubbed the “Great Mistake,” that leaves Earth irrevocably altered, dissolving nations as we know them and plunging ecological systems into disarray.
At the start of the game, players choose a nation sponsor (eight in total), type of space craft, the contents of their cargo hold, and even what type of colonists to bring with. Flash-forward a few hundred or so lightyears and your colony ships arrives at a new world—one the player is tasked to shaping or adapting to as they see fit.
The devs at Firaxis approached gameplay evolution in Beyond Earth with a “something new, something borrowed” mentality. As such, much of it will be familiar to fans coming off Civilization V. All those insights, however, won’t necessarily prove reliable knowledge in Beyond Earth. Because colonization is about exploring the different ways humans interact with a new world—whether they choose to adapt to it, adapt it to them, or something in between—technological advancement is not a tree (befitting of a Civ exploring historical development) but rather a web.
Those aforementioned interactions are also at the heart of Beyond Earth, dubbed in-game as “Affinities.” There are three of these Affinities, each representing sort of widely recognized trope or ideology found in science fiction. Harmony, you might say, is comparative to aspects of James Cameron’s Avatar (keep in mind, this is a tenuous comparison at best, since one hulking aspect of Avatar is an over-arching theme of colonialism). But the notion of coexisting with the world, of adapting humans to the world’s presence is certainly present in the film’s titular, human-piloted blue vessels.
Conversely, there’s the Purity Affinity, in which humanity rejects the world as it naturally is and tries to reshape it into a New Earth, so to speak, through terraforming and the like. Lastly, though not likely to be deemed “least” by any cyberpunk aficionados out there, is Supremacy. This Affinity sees humans heavily reliant on their own technology, investing in cybernetics, robotics, machines, Artificial Intelligence, and even the exploration of uploaded consciousness. How this alignment influences the colonized world, however, wasn’t mentioned.
Another new component to Beyond Earth touched upon during the Firaxis panel is the Quest system, a loose, narratively driven series of vignettes or story beats structured around missions, but introduced at random and shaped by the decisions of players. The devs compared this Quest system to the textual blurbs on Magic the Gathering cards in the way they flesh out the world and lore in very small, subtle ways.
Much about Civilization: Beyond Earth, expectedly, remains a mystery. One McDonough did assure, however, was that “the core moving parts of Civ—the cities, buildings, improvements, territory, warfare…those are the foundation stones of this game. Those are things that are iconic to a Civ game. They make a Civ game. Those were carried over.”
Sid Meier’s Civilization: Beyond Earth is slated to launch on Windows PC this fall.