As someone who had always been on the outside looking in at Civilization’s “One more turn” mentality, afraid to take the plunge, Civilizations: Beyond Earth was the perfect game to enter the series. While some derided it as an overly simplified version of Civilizations, I found it easily approachable, easy to play for a few hours or a seven hour gaming session. Understandably, I was ecstatic when shortly after Sid Meier’s Starships was announced, with its focus on ship customization and interplay with Beyond Earth. But does it actually live up to my hopes?
When starting a game, players choose between eight different leaders, the same from Beyond Earth. They also choose their affinity, between Purity, Supremacy, and Harmony. Each leader and affinity lends their own bonus, allowing games some customization. Unfortunately, aside from that the only options for games are map size, number of opponents, difficulty, and winning conditions.
With that, players begin at their homeworld, and are able to planet hop to adjacent worlds, most with a new mission each turn. Moving to a new planet causes one of your crew members to become fatigued, and participating in missions fatigues a second member. When all ten crew members are fatigued players are unable to move, and have to send their crew on “shore leave”, ending their turn and allowing the AI to move. In addition, as the crew becomes more fatigued, they perform worse during missions, making players decide between their crew working their best or squeezing in one last mission before their turn ends.
Before missions, players can talk to their bridge crew. They can find out information about the planet they’re orbiting, ask for advice, find out information about their enemy, and repair or upgrade their fleet. Early on the analysis of the enemy is invaluable, providing players with a percentage rate for the odds on defeating the enemy. However, after upgrading my fleet I found that gameplay didn’t match the calculations. I was often steamrolling enemies I was given a 49% chance of even beating. And aside from this and upgrading the fleet, I hardly used any of the bridge options. It was a little disappointing not to see more done here.
In missions is where the game shines. Players move their fleet around the hexagonal grid, maneuvering their ships around asteroids, debris, and planets to use as cover. Wormholes let players randomly move to other locations around the map, and there are just enough variance to the missions to keep them interesting. Missions range from destroying the enemy fleet, eliminating out of control droid ships, leading a cargo freighter to a warp station, or holding station points around the map. However, it still would have been nice to see more variance in how the missions play out, because after upgrading my fleet to a certain level I could destroy most enemies in a single shot, making escort or fighting missions a breeze.
On the two main features touted for Starships, I’d have to say they failed on both accounts. Ships are definitely customizable to a degree. Players can upgrade engines, lasers, torpedoes, shields, and more. However, each upgrade lends very little to visually differentiating the ships, and instead of making them look visually different by classes, ship classes are only changed in name, for example the different between a Cruiser and a Destroyer is hard to see while in game, when Destroyers should appear as much larger, intimidating vessels.
Interplay with Beyond Earth is also lacking. Achieving certain conditions in Starships allows players with linked my2k accounts to access additional options in Beyond Earth, and vice versa, but nothing felt substantial to me. An extra mission, a new colonist option when starting the game, differing planet types. It was less of a continuation of Beyond Earth than a slight reference to it. The only strong unlockable was being able to choose affinity blends after beating a game of Beyond Earth with it. For example, beating Beyond Earth with Purity unlocks Purity/Harmony and Purity/Supremacy options for Starships, granting two bonuses instead of one. It’s not a bad deal, just a lot more underwhelming than I had imagined.
As hard as I’m being on Starships, it’s not a bad game, just not one I would have slapped the Sid Meier’s name on. As a standalone title, it’s fun for a few games every now and then, but lacks the content for full gaming sessions. And that’s okay. Having it on my iPad allows me to get in some quality gaming on the road, without feeling too bad should I have to stop quickly. It’s still miles ahead of most mobile games, and the iOS version is identical to the PC version, without being stripped down or having microtransactions shoehorned in. At $15, it’s not a bad game to pick up to fill in some downtime, but players wanting more Civ would be happier with Beyond Earth or Civ5, and those hoping for better ship action might be happier with Sins of a Solar Empire.
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