Galactic Civilizations II: Dark Avatar Review (PC)

When it comes to strategy games it seems that they come in many flavors, often crossing over with other game genres in an effort to create something that is a bit more accessible to the casual gaming masses. Building on the tradition of the Micropose games Stardock released a strategy game called Galactic Civilizations in 1994 and now follows this up with the expansion Galactic Civilizations II - Dark Avatar, which has recently become available for download, expanding the Galactic Civilizations world and adding its own unique twists to turn based play.

The end conditions sound easier than they are. Survive…I can do that - maybe
Oooh…pretty military starbase that’s going to save my bacon

If that introduction sounds a little familiar there's a good reason as there was a bit of a mix up with the last review. Thanks to some communication with the folks at Stardock and a bit of sleuthing I found out that I had a copy of Dark Avatar that hadn't completely downloaded and was lacking features, so I got a chance to revisit this universe and see it as it was intended to be. I'm certainly glad for the opportunity, though I'm blaming the game for more than one late night that turned into early morning which is generally a compliment in the gaming world.

Dark Avatar is an expansion to Galactic Civilizations - Dread Lords so most of the information here will be focused on the additions and changes to the game with some over arcing information about the game itself just to keep us all on the same page.

Dark Avatar provides the gamer with two modes: a campaign and then freeplay scenarios. The storyline of the campaign picks up not fair from where Dread Lords left off and you quickly find yourself in the middle of a civil war, building both for the fun of creating your own civilization but also for your survival as you face the question of what happens when the only people that can stand up to the Drengin are the Drengin. You're never exactly the 'good guy', just the less bad guy with some very interesting levels of game play that emphasize both military domination and times when the point of the whole mission was to avoid a fight at all. The game allows for you to select your difficulty from CakeWalk to Suicidal. I tried both levels of difficulty and suicidal is certainly not for the weak of heart as I found out while getting my butt very quickly and efficiently kicked across galactic space. More practice required apparently before I'm ready for that level of challenge. However, the campaign mode was still a great place to start as each mission helps to familiarize the gamer with the new features and graphics of the expansion, which makes freeplay run more smoothly.

Space miners! Gathering the floatsom of space and making cash
Here you can spend cash on espionage and prepare to take over the universe by stealth

Speaking of new features some of the interesting things that catch the attention right off are changes to the habitation restrictions of your planets and new terrain elements of space. You may start out in a solar system with nine planets, but often only one or two can be immediately colonized and the others require several advances down the technology tree before they can be approached. This changes the strategy of simply grabbing all the colonies possible and attacking from the strength of many established areas. It also forces you to consider whether you want to research for colonization or militarization first as you just can’t do both at once quickly. As well the new asteroid fields and other spatial anomalies add extra potential for progress and a feeling of a much more organic space. Your space miner ships can set up mining stations on the asteroids and send more resources home, but the AI is also smart enough that if it's too far to beam resources to your planets, or your miners don’t like you, they'll work with others in the quadrant. Asteroid miners are apparently a fickle lot...or at least self interested.

Another significant change is the inclusion of espionage in the gameplay both in the campaign and free style mode. This feature allows you to train spies and send them in to scope out the resources and strength of enemy forces. Spies can only be countered by other spies, making it a good thing to have a few around even if you don't use them extensively on the offense. Proper use of spies is a great way to conserve resources and to be able to tailor your plan of attack based on the enemy's strengths and weaknesses, making strikes devastating that might have only been marginally effective without the additional information.

Perhaps one of my favorite things in Dark Avatar is the degree to which the gamer is put in control of pretty much every aspect of game play. Not just in building the civilization, micromanagement aspects are expected in a strategy game, but more specifically the design of the scenarios, enemies, planets, ships, and so forth. You can change and build just about everything to your specifications to play in the scenarios you like the most. Want more asteroids? Dial up the number. Want an enemy that’s a military kick butt but vulnerable to cute and fluffy bunnies? Sure…Well…okay the bunnies aren’t a specific feature, but you get the idea. Ship design is likewise nearly limitless as there are core ships and then an open feature for building your own both in look and feel and in abilities.

Other new features not to be overlooked are the new special abilities of each race and the galaxy wide events. The super powers help the really differentiate the races one from the other, and galaxy wide events can include things such as space plague or natural disasters that add a new hook to the game just when you’re getting into the strategy grove. All of this encourages you to be quick on your feet to adjust and take advantage of what each new situation holds.

The graphics for Dark Avatar are an improvement on Dread Lords, though there are still places where things get a bit pixely when looked at in close view and with everything dialed up to full spectrum I had a few minor moments of graphical glitch. The ship to ship battles also felt a bit understated as compared to the rest of the game graphics. The soundtrack was good, if a bit repetitive, so I found myself turning it down so I could focus on the game. There wasn’t really much added to the experience by the music, but it didn’t feel out of place either.

The technical tree is much better in Dark Avatar, though it still felt clunky in some places and figuring out which paths lead to the right improvements for what I was trying to do wasn’t always intuitive and I lost a lot of time building technologies that looked right but actually weren’t. This is, however, a fairly minor complaint compared to the general smoothness of the game play and enjoyment over all.

I’m glad someone is pleased to meet me
Special Ability: Super Organizer – Anal retentive Altarians

If you’re a fan of Dread Lords, then this expansion should absolutely be on your list to pick up as soon as possible. Go download it, I’ll wait… And if you’re just looking into strategy games in general it’s well worth getting the gold package which includes both Dread Lords and Dark Avatar. Hours of very satisfying game play to be had. Now you’ll have to excuse me. My miners are rioting.

Top Game Moment:
Getting through the first mission on an above normal gameplay level and NOT having half of my fleet blown up before the rest could even get to the battlefield.

<a href="">Game Advertising Online</a> ad requires flash player.