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Galactic Civilizations II: The Dread Lords

Score: 90%
ESRB: Everyone 10+
Publisher: Stardock
Developer: Stardock
Media: CD/2
Players: 1
Genre: Turn-Based Strategy/ Strategy

Graphics & Sound:

Graphics are one of the more noticeable changes between the first game and the sequel. Galactic Civilizations II: The Dread Lords takes the series into 3D. This adds a new dimension (both literally and figuratively) to the game. Things are no longer taking place on a flat plane, but in a vibrant 3D world. It is nothing that will make your video card or processor break a sweat, but it is functional and pleasing to the eye; you can easily identify objects and see what they are doing.

Another fun addition (at least for me) was the ability to modify your ships. Each ship in your fleet has a set amount of room for additions like body modifications, engines, armor and weapons. There’s a certain amount of strategy that comes into play with adding some accessories, yet there’s enough freedom given that you can also just throw a bunch of useless ornamentation on ships for looks. Customization helps with strategic planning as well since the modifications give you an idea of a ship’s capabilities at a glance.

Sound is well… sound. It is there, you can hear it and that’s about it – so there’s really nothing of any great note. Certain sounds are used to help alert you as to what is going on around you, but most become repetitive after a while. The same goes for background music. It is interesting at first, but becomes annoying after long periods of time.


Gameplay:

Much like its predecessor, Galactic Civilizations II places you in a war of galactic conquest. You begin with only a handful of planets from which you send out fleets to discover new planets to colonize. Once discovered, you can claim it as your own and begin colonizing it, or instead attack and rid it of its current inhabitants. You can also delve into a massive technology tree, engage in diplomatic missions between other races or boost trade between your merchants. At any given time, there’s a lot to do, so if anything, Galactic Civilizations II never gets boring (unless of course you don’t like strategy games to begin with).

After your initial starting off point, what happens during the game is really up to you. There are a few events that will happen every now and again, but you’re in control of your own play experience for the most part. This is where Galactic Civilization II’s core strengths come into play; there are numerous strategies available that lend themselves, well, to nearly any play style. Aggressive players can pursue a military course and create an unstoppable war machine, while others can pursue a more neutral, diplomatic course. Strategies even allow you to go so far as to allow you to destroy an entire civilization through economic warfare or other under-handed means. The number of options available are as vast as the galaxy you’re battling for control of.

Because of the multiple strategies, gameplay is extremely dynamic and always changing. This requires your strategies to be highly adaptive since a race that is your ally could suddenly turn on you at the drop of the hat. Sure, those trade deals involving weapons seemed like a good idea at the time, but how does it feel when you’re being destroyed by a military juggernaut you helped create? Pretty lousy, eh? Well, just wait until the A.I. begins to taunt you and tell you how much you suck.

Best of all, every time you play the game, something new will happen which provides for near infinite replay. Once you learn all the game’s intricacies, this is a game you could still be playing years from now.


Difficulty:

Galactic Civilizations II: The Dread Lords’s deep strategy and multitude of options make the game seem complex and really, it is. The instruction manual that comes with it is thick and is there for a reason – you actually have to use it. I even found myself leaving it (as well as the tech-tree layout diagrams) on the desktop by my computer as a quick reference.

Once in-game, A.I. will give you a run for your money. It is amazingly adaptive and, even when you think you’re about to run the most brilliant military campaign ever, the A.I. will turn your strategy around and make you feel like you’re planning a land war in Asia. In many ways, it feels almost human and will use some highly sophisticated strategies. However, as smart as the A.I. is, it is still possible to beat it and never has that “cheap” feel. It is simply better than you are.


Game Mechanics:

Managing a civilization that spans a galaxy is tough, though Galactic Civilization II’s interface tries to make things as easy as possible. For the most part, the interface is well laid out and not overly difficult to use (some items do become obscured in menus though). At the same time, some of the items meant to make things easier end up being counter-intuitive, adding to any frustrations you may already be having with the game (and there will be a few).

The game’s main flaw is that it isn’t accessible to anyone not already interested in the genre. Rather than creating something that anyone can get into and enjoy, Galactic Civilization II is built for the hardcore players. There are a decent number of tutorials, though they never let you experience how to do things; instead you are shown how to do something and expected to know how to do it. Nothing is immediately obvious. The various bonuses that are acquired as your society progresses are complicated and require a little more thought than what is required from other strategy games. Expect to lose several times before making any significant forward progress. Watching the A.I. do its thing is really the best way to learn about how the game is played, so multiple losses aren’t a bad thing.

Galactic Civilizations II: The Dread Lords is a great game, at least if you’re already into strategic gameplay. If your idea of fun is managing all the little facets of a civilization, this is the game for you. Even if you’re remotely interested in strategy games, Galactic Civilizations II: The Dread Lords is such an amazing experience that you’ll even force your way through the unfriendly interface and other issues. If action is more your thing, this isn’t the game you are looking for.


-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

Minimum System Requirements:



Windows 98/ME/2000/XP; Pentium III or equivalent processor; 512 MB RAM; 128MB VRAM; Direct X 9.0c
 

Test System:



Windows XP; Pentium 4 1.8 GHz; Radeon 9250 256 MB; 640 MB RAM; DirectX 9.0c

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