The sequel to one of the best space "4X games" (Explore, Expand, Exploit, Exterminate) to grace the PC, Galactic Civilizations II: Dread Lords has a lot to live up to. Galactic Civilizations took the basic template for a space 4X game laid out in Master of Orion and greatly expanded upon it, particularly in its devious AI algorithm. GalCiv II is another leap forward in the genre, retaining all of the strategic depth and atmosphere of the original while tossing in new features, technologies, a campaign mode, and a shiny new 3D ship designer to boot.
For those unfamiliar with the genre, 4X games are usually turn-based, with each turn being taken in sequence. On your turn, it's possible to view reports on the status of your empire, direct ships around the galactic map, set manufacturing and research goals for your people, and engage in combat, diplomacy, and/or trade. Most games begin with the player owning a single colony of a single race on a single planet, and chart the expansion of that race onto the various habitable planets throughout the galaxy, as well as its interaction with other races trying to do the same.
To accomplish this, Stardock gives you a vast amount of control over almost every aspect of your budding galactic civilization. For gamers who may be intimidated by this level of detail, the game includes the option to allow the computer to manage some of these decisions, allowing you to focus on what you enjoy doing. At some of the higher difficultly levels, however, it pays in the long run to manage every aspect of your empire that you can, as the computer-controlled races will optimize their empires every turn. This sometimes makes it seem as though the AI is "cheating," when in reality it's just hyper-efficient.
Story-wise GalCiv II is fairly typical. The galaxy had been previously colonized by a super-advanced race of beings known as the Precursors, whose technology still remains on various planets scattered throughout space. After the Precursors vanished for reasons unknown, Humanity, along with nine other races including the evil Dregnin empire, must race to colonize the galaxy. Humanity's battles with the Dregnin empire, as well as an even worse foe who arrives on the scene later, comprise the majority of the campaign, which is a series of galactic maps that must be beaten in sequence. While it is fun for a while, the restrictive nature of some of the campaign's victory conditions detract from one of the game's core strengths -- the ability to play any type of game you want to play.
Thankfully, when playing one of the game's random or custom-created maps, it's possible to win via a variety of means, from wiping out every other race in the galaxy to researching technology so powerful all other races have no choice but to submit. Your race also has an ethical orientation based on the choices made, choose-your-own-adventure style, at certain points in the game. It is this freedom, along with the addictive, "just-one-more-turn" gameplay and cunning AI, that comprise the chief strengths of an excellent game.
Graphics: The new 3D ships look fabulous, especially when viewed up close, but the real improvement in the graphics is in the excellent way menus, maps, and all other pertinent information is organized to be easy to find -- something extremely difficult in a game this complex.
Sound: The minimalist soundtrack suits the feel of deep space evoked by the game, fading easily in the background. There isn't much sound in this game at all, really.
Enjoyment: Fans of the 4X genre couldn't ask for a better sequel to what was already a wonderful game.
Replay Value: Excellent for the most part given the game's adaptable artificial intelligence and the many ways in which an individual game can be customized.
People who downloaded Galactic Civilizations II: Dread Lords have also downloaded:
Galactic Civilizations: Ultimate Edition, Homeworld 2, Master of Orion 3, Empire Earth II, Gary Grigsby's World At War, Homeworld, Homeworld: Cataclysm, Sid Meier's Civilization IV
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