I’m just going to come right out and say it: I think Galactic Civilizations III has the potential to be the best turn-based strategy game every created. Note that I say potential; the pieces are there, whether they will fall into place is another question. But Stardock has the pedigree, the expertise, and the experience to make it happen.
And how bout that pedigree?
There is a nice history of Galactic Civilizations I/II at the actual Galactic Civilizations website but suffice it to say that Galactic Civilizations has always had three major elements in it’s favor that set it apart from the more popular Civilization franchise: A commitment to strong AI, a commitment to a rich single-player sandbox experience, and a commitment to ongoing development long after release. Galactic Civilizations II had few weaknesses and was a great game overall, though it is a bit aged now.
Rather than follow up immediately with Galactic Civilizations III, Stardock went in some different directions. They were heavily involved in Sins of a Solar Empire, a smash success that really has nothing much in common with Galactic Civilizations. More importantly to our story, Stardock began an entirely new turn-based-strategy franchise with Elemental which, frankly, tanked. Despite a long fairly open development the game was released before it was fully ready and had a number of flaws. Stardock’s reputation was deeply tarnished and Elemental became a disaster as Stardock, staying committed to the long-term success of the project, poured more and more money and development time into the franchise by developing a sequel and giving it for free to everyone who purchased the original flawed game. I think the Elemental Franchise is much better received now and is still being actively developed but I don’t believe it ever truly recovered it’s pre-release momentum.
Fortunately, companies that go through that sort of experience and survive tend to come out much wiser on the other side (see CCP and EVE Online’s “Summer of Rage”). Galactic Civilizations III development will have the benefit of all those years of Sins of a Solar Empire success and the experience and frustration of the Elemental Franchise. There is no doubt the product will be a much stronger one as a result. Not to mention 6 years is a lot of computer performance improvements to be able to leverage.
There really aren’t many details to go off of at this time. Stardock has made clear that the basic gameplay is still pretty much the same, a sandbox universe with many variable player-set conditions allowing the player a lot of power to create the game experience they want. Multiplayer is a confirmed feature which is huge, though turn-based-strategy games have always been primarily single player focused and Stardock has always acknowledged this in it’s development priorities. We know the game will use hexes which is a nice upgrade from a square grid.
Tactical battles are a big question mark. Galactic Civilizations II essentially auto-resolved battles with an automated cinematic that showed the player what was going on, but Sins of a Solar Empire has got some players excited about the idea of real-time tactical battles where the player has full control. I honestly hope that the actual tactical battle system is much more in line with GalCiv II than Sins as I think it is better if the player is focused on the strategic elements of the game. Plus tactical battles are notoriously easy to manipulate against the AI in most games that have them. That said, we’ll see what Stardock comes up with.
Probably the most interesting revelation so far is that the game will require a 64 bit operating system and DX11 graphics card. Strategy games that go for large scale tend to run up against the 32 bit RAM limit sooner than other types of games, so Stardock is taking the aggressive stance of designing their engine from the ground up using the full 64 bit allowance. Even though 64 bit OS and DX11 graphics are becoming more and more dominant in the market, this restriction is still something of a risk and I hope it pays off.
The game has an announced MSRP of $50 but can be pre-ordered for $40 which includes beta access (“later this winter”)
OR the hardcore can purchase the Elite edition for $100 which includes ALL DLC and expansions that will ever be released as well as alpha access (“earlier this winter”).
To learn more about the game here are some links to check out:
Of course the Galactic Civilizations III homepage
The short but cool Galactic Civilizations teaser trailer
You can review the released design journals using this link
And if you want to gain a bit more info on Galactic Civilizations and Stardock as a company, check these interviews out
Lead Designer Paul Boyer interviewed at Gameranx
Derek Paxon on Stardock’s philosophy toward development crunching (also at Gameranx)