Review by kefka989

"Custom Build your Ride... In SPACE!!"

Time to force your ideals on other races again because this time we are heading into Galactic Civilizations II: The Dread Lords. This turn based strategy game is not so much a sequel as a re-imagining of the original game, much like how the sequels to Civilization are just improvements on the previous games.

There is a bit of story here but it's rather unnecessary. The story goes that there was once a race of pure evil beings and pure good, each holding sway over a part of the galaxy, until finally these lords of space came down to a final show down, which we are not made aware of who one, left to wonder when either will show up to start the war again. In the mean time, you got more important things to worry about. As before you have the option of attaining a victory by defeating all your enemies militarily, be it alone or under an alliance, reaching a diplomatic victory, researching your way through transcendence, or dominating all other races with your culture.

What sets this game apart from the first installment is the inclusion of some new aspects to the already good formula. For instance, there are now some new major alien races to choose from, and also an option to customize your own race as well. This is an improvement for people who got tired always playing as the humans in the last game who wanted to try out being one of the alien races. Alien races have a rather distinctive building style but on the whole there are about 3 or 4 particular styles of ship design, some of the races sharing these with each other. Another new feature is the graphical update. Where as the first game had you looking a several layers of 2-D sprites to represent the playable area of the galaxy, this time you have 3-D models on a layered 2-D plane. The game is now set to a 3/4 isometric view (think Fallout and Final Fantasy Tactics) but the graphics allow you to zoom out to a view similar to that of the original game or zoom in to a very close and detailed view. You also have the ability to see all the planets in a solar system rather then simply seeing the star that makes up the system and pulling up the planets on a menu. The tech try has been designed to better resemble an actual tech tree, rather then the first game where it was just a series of projects in a category, you can actually see a tree graph showing what each researched tech leads to down the road. The way you run your colonies has also changed. Before you had planets that had a quality rating which determined how productive, healthy, happy, and large the population could be on the planet. Now the planet quality determines how much you can build on it. Before you could build as much as you wanted but buildings cost money to run, a maintenance fee. You still pay that fee in this game but you also are limited on building space. Each building requires one free plot of land, and the higher the planet quality, the more plots you can make. This is important as you may want to build a large number of economic buildings to help boost the economy, or plenty of factories to speed up ship construction. You do have to plan ahead, as special trade goods and galactic wonders also require a building space.

The last new inclusion that deserves the most mentioning would have to be the new custom ship system. In the first game, when you researched a certain combination of ship techs, you were allowed to construct a particular ship that used those parts. In GC2, you can continue to do this, but now you also can construct your ships however you like. You are given a 3-D work space to assemble parts. Each race has it's own particular set of hull parts and designs, but while you have to use hulls from your race, you can use add-on parts from other races to give your ship a more custom look. The hull acts as the base of the ship and you can add parts on there however you like. Hull add-ons are cosmetic attachments you can put on the hull to make the ship look bigger, and also allow for you to attach more parts and objects to the ship. The hulls come in 4 to 2 variations for each size, allowing for you to have a bit of variety in their appearance. The hull sizes generally range from tiny, to small, to medium, to large, and so on and so forth. The larger the hull, the larger the size cap. You can make a ship as large as you want by adding more and more cosmetic parts but the actual hull size determines the overall size of the ship, and larger ships have larger caps for parts, allowing for more functioning objects to be placed on them. Objects that have cost numbers include armor, weapons, engines, and special attachments like sensors and life support. Sensors increase the visual range of ships and can sometimes allow them to scan anomalies. Life support allows for them to travel further and have greater range, good for long range attack ships or colony ships. Engines allow the ships to travel further per turn, which is important for chasing down raider ships and moving transport ships quickly. You can attach 3 types of armor and weapons to your ships; Ballistic (Rail guns/Kevlar armor) Energy (Laser/energy shield) and self-propelled (Missiles/Chaff). There are also other attachments such as troop or civilian pods for establishing colonies or doing planet invasions. As mentioned, all of these have costs, a building cost, and a money/maintenance cost. The build cost is how ‘large' the part is, and how much space it takes up on a ship's hull. Obviously big heavy guns won't fit on a small ship, nor can you fit a bunch of engines on a ship and still expect to cram it full of guns too. The money cost is how much more it will cost to put on a ship, advanced parts always costing more. Also, the more the money cost, the more the maintenance cost to keep the ship up and running. Building ships is a delicate balance, as you can load them to the brim with equipment but bankrupt yourself keeping them maintained. Also cheaper ships can be built faster. You also have to worry about your attack ships. Enemy races will usually gravitate towards a particular weapon, so you can counter them by sending out ships armored to resist that weapon and attack their weak points. Say you notice the enemy has a bunch of ships that use laser cannons and are armored to resist lasers, so you can build your ships with anti-laser shields and missile launchers. You have to be careful though because the enemy might do the same, building ships to counter yours. Luckily you can save all the variations of your ships for later use, even for use in other games. This gives you an extreme control over how your military works in the game and how you deal with threats.

The game is not all positive however, and has a few flaws. For example, you have extreme control over your ships manufacture and everything about it down to what life support system it has, but you have no actual control of the ships in battle. Once you send your ships off and they get into a fight with other ships, you can only watch the fight. Sometimes it makes you question how well the game figures them out as you can have a fleet of large ships loose to a much smaller, weaker fleet with weaker weapons when you watch your fleet get hit endlessly, and always miss with their weapons, making you wish you had control over how the fight worked. Also you will notice that a lot of the random encounters and events from the first game are just that, from the first game. Almost all of the FMV sequences are ripped directly from the first game, including some of the endings as well. The random events are also almost entirely from the first game with only one new random event that I noticed. Not to be picky but that seems pretty lazy on the part of the designers that they could not come up with at least 5 new random events rather then one, or make new FMV's for the new game. Another problem I noticed was that the computer seems to cooperate with each other. For example, if you are allied with an alien race that is being wiped out by another race, they will usually surrender without putting up a real fight, but when you are trying to wipe out an opponent, not only will they not surrender, but they also usually will surrender their planets and space force to a rival race just so you cannot have them. I often wonder why they never surrender to me when they are at war with another race, or suddenly decide to put up a fight when I'm the one their fighting with. A lesser problem is that while the tech tree is still huge, its not nearly as big as it was before. I remember in the first game I was playing a single run game that lasted about 2 weeks and only researched about 12% of the total amount of tech in the game, when in GC2 I can research about half the techs in the game during the same amount of playing time. They cut down on the amount of tech you can research, probably to make the tech tree size manageable but it still feels they could have included the same number, if not more.

The few problems aside, this game is actually a massive improvement on the first game. The first game was simply a civ game set in space, but this one includes that but adds a massive amount of customization to the equation. Not only can you play as any and all of the alien races, and also custom make your own race, you can completely customize the ships of your fleet. You want to make an all big gun battle ship? Want to make a quick hit-and-run cruiser? Want to make a fleet of heavy fighters that can go toe to toe with battle ships? Its all up to you to design any ships you want or can imagine. The problems of the game are more annoyances then anything else, and luckily don't drag the game down much. A definite game for anyone who likes space strategy, turn based strategy, and civ games.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 04/29/09

Game Release: Galactic Civilizations II: Dread Lords (US, 02/27/06)

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