Thoughts: Beyond Earth – Rising Tide


Firaxis are a developer with a reputation for releasing expansion packs that dramatically improve their base game. Yes, you can say that this is partly because the base games tend to be broken, unbalanced or otherwise underwhelming in some way, but there’s no arguing that Civilization V was a much better game after Gods and Kings, and while Enemy Within added some flab in the form of Exalt it did wonders for the pacing and balancing of the XCOM campaign as a whole. They’re commendably committed to improving and expanding on their games post-launch; even so, the existence of the Rising Tide expansion pack for Civ-V-In-Space ‘em up Beyond Earth surprises me more than a little. There was so much wrong with Beyond Earth that I was convinced that this time around Firaxis would just tie a rock to it and let it sink rather than send good development money after bad.

Still, it’s not like Beyond Earth didn’t have any good ideas. Yes, it’s true; you might need truly advanced sensing equipment to detect it as it’s buried some considerable way beneath many layers of mediocrity and blandness, but a really good expansion pack might have been able to burrow down far enough to reach those rich seams of potential. Bring the backstory to the foreground. Surface those civilopedia entries somewhere where the player can actually find them. Make the endgame missions less of a soul-crushingly boring End Turn clickfest. Give the faction leaders more than one line of voice acting which they endlessly spout ad infinitum. Make the aliens a little more than Barbarians 2.0. It’s a long list, but if they’d manage to improve enough stuff it’s entirely possible Rising Tide might have been able to drag Beyond Earth kicking and screaming into the neighbourhood of an acceptably-fun 4X title.

Instead they have gone with, uh, boats.


Not that this is without precedent, mind. Gods and Kings did a big overhaul of naval combat to actually make it worthwhile, while the Alien Crossfire expansion for Alpha Centauri introduced specific improvements for waterborne cities and a faction whose gimmick was that it was massively overpowered on the ocean. It’s a little surprising that this is the headline improvement for Rising Tide, however – of all the things wrong with Beyond Earth the fact that ocean cities weren’t included wouldn’t even have made my top ten list, and I’m a little baffled as to why Firaxis thought that it was *this* that required their attention rather than the now almost stubbornly-intentional lack of character riddling the rest of it.

I will grudgingly admit that the new sea cities in Rising Tide are pretty nice. The sea itself is a much busier place than it was previously, full of beasties to kill and resources to exploit, and non-combat units such as Explorers and Workers are now fully amphibious and can use their special abilities on the water just as well as they can on dry land. There’s a couple of new classes of ship (including a melee class that’s capable of taking cities), but all of this stuff largely exists to enable the sea cities. These are somewhat the same as land cities – although there are some city improvements and wonders that can only exist in sea cities, and vice versa — except their big gimmick is that they can slowly move about the map. In the production list for the city there’s a “move city” option; complete this as you would any other construction project and you gain the ability to move the city one tile. Any unclaimed tiles that fall within a one-hex radius of the city’s new location are automatically claimed as your territory, and the city then carries on much as normal.

This move ability strikes me as a nice idea that’s gone a little bit wrong in practice. I always founded my sea cities in an optimum location — at the centre of a nice fat patch of resources, say — and once they’re in the best location, why would I bother moving them? Firaxis have coded in something of a stick to make you use the feature as sea cities cannot slowly expand their city radius by claiming tiles via culture; you’re supposed to do this by moving the city around to hoover up the tiles instead. Unfortunately you retain the option to simply buy unclaimed tiles with cash money, and it’s much easier to do this than it is to faff about wasting valuable production on moving the city one space across the map. Sea cities are great on their own, and developed right they’ll easily rival or even surpass your land cities thanks to their special sea-city-only improvements – thanks to modern Civ giving all units an ampibious capability they’re arguably even more useful than the ones in Alpha Centauri as they can make a valid contribution to your war effort without having to worry about transporting land units from city to shore. It’s just a shame that what was supposed to be their signature feature ended up being a bit of a damp (ha) squib – I think it’s pretty telling that across three games played and at least twenty-five built, I moved my sea cities a grand total of twenty times.


Still, the mere fact that ocean cities exist at all has a surprisingly significant effect on the way Beyond Earth plays. Traditionally I’ve always seen sea tiles in Civilization as dead tiles, and treated the ocean as a sort of negative space – something to be crossed to reach a prospective target, but never a target in and of itself. Rising Tide changes that; not only does it enable ocean cities in the first place by clustering resource tiles in the sea just as much as it does on land, but by giving workers the ability to properly improve sea tiles it also means that your coastal cities are that much more effective. You can now utilise the entire map for your settlements (except for the polar ice caps), and as you tech up your ability to exploit tiles of all types increases further and further until your endgame cities are of a size you’ll never see in a stock Civilization game. Spreading out over the map and watching the population counter tick up and up and up did remind me of Alpha Centauri in a good way – that was a game about using future technology to thoroughly shatter any and all constraints on your expansion until you hit a runaway exponential growth curve, and now Beyond Earth sort of is too.

Rising Tide provides a number of other shots in the arm to further boost Beyond Earth’s previously-anaemic vitality. First, the diplomatic system has been completely overhauled. Gone are the ineffective culture/scientific/economic agreements and the relatively opaque attitudes of your AI opponents; instead, your relationship with them is governed by twin Fear and Respect scores. Fear is simply a measure of how much your military outclasses theirs, and the Respect value indicates how much your activities in the game align with their goals. This is something that Civilization has attempted to surface before, but never with the frequency that Rising Tide does; pretty much every turn you’ll get a little pop-up notification at the top of the screen telling you about something you’re doing that’s changing your Respect score with a given Civilization. Sometimes it goes up, sometimes it goes down, but the fact that the reasons behind the change are constantly visible makes it a lot easier to keep on the good side of your rivals – or not.


Meanwhile your actual relationship status – Neutral, Cooperating, Allied etc. – is altered by the investment of a new currency called Diplomatic Capital. This is generated by certain city improvements and all wonders, and is required to both improve your relationship status and set up ongoing agreements. Diplomatic Capital is also used to buy and upgrade traits for your faction – these start out relatively weak, but once they’re fully upgraded and you can get some synergy going on (like getting all the trade route bonus traits for Hutama, whose thing is that he gets more trade routes than anyone else) they can make a big difference to your faction’s power. These traits dictate which agreements will be available for the AI to make with you, and their traits will dictate what you can get out of them. Again, the agreements are fairly underwhelming to start with — a 20% decrease in the time it takes to complete covert ops, say — but they get more effective as your relationship status with the other party improves, with an agreement with an Allied faction being two or three times as good as an agreement with a Neutral one.

Sounds good on paper, certainly. I definitely did like the new faction traits as they provided a degree of customisation that I thought Beyond Earth had been sorely missing up until this point (no, the relatively weak options you get during game setup don’t weak). They’re powerful enough that they feel worthwhile to use, and there’s enough of them that every faction can find a combination that works for their playstyle. Unfortunately the same can’t be said of the diplomatic agreements; it’s pretty telling that I could call up the list of all potential agreements – and there’d be a good 15-20 of these available at any one time — and find maybe one that I thought was worth the investment of Diplomatic Capital. They’re not so much underpowered as they are ridiculously specific, and while a 40% increase in the rate at which an outpost grows into a colony has its uses, getting more orbital coverage from trade stations very definitely does not.


So the new diplomatic system has both good and bad points. The same goes for its new hybrid affinities, which are supposed to provide alternative unit upgrade paths for mixed affinity factions and make min/maxing the tech web for one specific type of affinity less necessary. For example, usually you’d need 12 affinity points in Purity to unlock the final upgrade for your tank unit, but you can also get that upgrade with 8 points in Purity and 4 points in any other affinity. Getting blanket upgrades for all of your military units is ridiculously powerful (you don’t even have to pay for them like you do in Civ) and it’s definitely a good thing that there’s less emphasis on *having* to go through the supposedly freeform tech web in a certain way in order to unlock them. I found myself judging the techs on their own individual merits rather than going “That’ll get me 20 points in Supremacy!” and treating the associated buildings and wonders as an incidental bonus.  It doesn’t eliminate this phenomenon entirely, however; the upgrade effect is too powerful to ignore affinity points completely and take a completely organic route through the web, and there were still times when I’d be researching a tech because I knew it would upgrade my 20 Cutter units into Broadsides rather than because I actually wanted the tech itself. Rising Tide will also try to market itself on the inclusion of a lot of new hybrid units in the game, but most of these are just different skins for basic unit types (the 8/4 tank will look different to the 12 point tank, but it’ll have almost exactly the same stats and abilities) and there’s *maybe* four new units that do something that’s actually new and different.

The last big change is the inclusion of artifacts for your Explorer units to dig up. Previously you’d send them out to find some alien remains, they’d set up shop for ten turns and use their single Expedition module to study those remains, and at the end of it you’d get 20 bonus culture or something equally shit. Now they have a chance to dig up artifacts of various types, which can be cashed in as sets of one, two or three artifacts to get either a big resource bonus (for one or two) or, if you cash in three at once, a unique building or permanent bonus for your faction that can’t be unlocked any other way. Some of these buildings/bonuses are really fucking good (+50% domestic trade route yield? Double speed on worker actions? Hell yes I’ll take some of that action) and so the artifacts do fulfil their intended purpose of sending explorer units out around the map to hoover them up before the other factions do – it also makes the cultural virtues that add more Expedition modules much more worthwhile. However, I found the biggest shakeup here was that you can also get artifacts out of alien nests, which meant I went from my previous attitude of live-and-let-live to purging and burning any and all alien filth whenever there was a chance I could get my hands on an artifact. It makes the early game much more proactive and disincentivises turtling up, and so while I thought the actual artifact cash-in mechanic itself was weirdly half-baked I’d say it was the single biggest change to the way Beyond Earth plays after the new ocean gameplay features.


Rising Tide’s various additions to Beyond Earth might not be unambiguous improvements to the formula, but they do move the game a lot closer to where it should have been in the first place – it now feels different enough from Civilization to merit being a different game rather than a simple mod using the Civ V engine. That means Rising Tide is something of a success, but it’s a very qualified one and this expansion pack has some very big weaknesses; namely that it does next to nothing to address the complaints I mentioned in the second paragraph. The fiction is all buried several levels down in the Civilopedia1; you have next to no context for what the city improvements and wonders you’re building actually are besides the +1 to production or whatever they’ll add to your city; the faction leaders still have precisely one line of voice acting each and all the personality of a particularly dull brick; and – most criminally – every single one of the victory conditions is still an awful slog where you build the thing you need to win and then wait for a 40-turn timer to count down. It’s far quicker and easier to just kill everyone2, which makes the endgame of Beyond Earth more than a little bit bland and samey. That the first expansion pack for Beyond Earth ignored these issues so comprehensively is a pretty decent indicator that Firaxis do not see them as a problem and they’ll never be fixed, which is why, despite the good work it does, I see Rising Tide as being particularly dismaying. It demonstrates that Beyond Earth can be a decent game, but it also indicates that it has no ambition to be a *good* one.

  1. Which is weird because – like Destiny’s grimoire – some of it is really good and should have been shown off somewhere where a player would actually see it
  2. This also boosts your score, not that that’s a concern since you’re not told your score when you win and have to go looking for it in the “Other” menu once you’ve quit back to the main menu
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7 thoughts on “Thoughts: Beyond Earth – Rising Tide

  1. Darren says:

    Fair enough. I’ve been quite enjoying it. I think what really makes a difference with the artifact system is that it–in addition to the science boosts you’ll pick up from expeditions–opens up the tech web much earlier, allowing for a greater degree of specialization.

    I like the diplomacy system, but it’s a big change from Civ’s traditional model, so I’m more willing to forgive its flaws. The specificity of the deals helps or hurts depending on your style and needs (extra orbital coverage sounds pretty good for my current game as Space France, for instance), but what irks me is that the AI is still prone to accept or dismiss offers if it seems like they would help you press a significant advantage, Respect and Fear be damned; this makes the deals functionally absent in the late-game, as the AI, which is still too passive, almost inevitably falls far behind the player as the game progresses.

    So it’s still a flawed game, but I actually kind of like it now. It does enough things differently from Civ now that I don’t think it’s basically a reskin, and at least some of the features, I assume, might be included as a testing ground for the inevitable Civ VI. At the very least, at least leaders no longer take up the whole screen and demand attention just to remind you what they think about you.

    • Hentzau says:

      Mostly agreed – it’s possible I just didn’t make enough use of the diplomacy system because I was prioritising upgrading my own traits too much.

      Weirdly I find myself liking it too now, despite everything. I played three games over a week and enjoyed them all, endgame excepted, and another expansion could push it to the point where it is mechanically an equal of Civ V. It’s just there are a whole bunch of what are (to me at least) fairly quick wins that Firaxis are totally ignoring, and until they address them Beyond Earth will always be a lesser game that I play mostly because I fancy something a little bit different.

      • Darren says:

        I’m on my third game (after getting my ass handed to me in an abortive attempt at a new strategy), and I still think the diplomacy system is hurt mostly by the AI being really, really picky about when they’ll agree to a deal.

        The late game is pretty tedious, though I don’t know that it’s demonstrably worse than Civ. The Promised Land victory, in particular, has enough moving parts that it stays engaging throughout. I suspect that being able to purchase items with Capital will speed up Emancipation. It’s really just Transcendence and Contact that are difficult to make bearable.

  2. Zenicetus says:

    Good review. I broke down and bought it because I was getting a little burned out on Endless Legend, and GalCiv3 needs a few more months (or maybe a year) of patching.

    I do like the new treasure hunt dynamic for Artifacts, and the aliens seem at least a little less like reskinned barbarians this time around. A little more unpredictable, which I like. But there is still so much that’s unbalanced and tedious, especially in the late game. The Warscore dynamic in diplomacy just isn’t working, but at least the devs have said they’re looking to fix that soon.

    My guess is that there’s one more expansion in the works to address the late game shortcomings, roughly following the Civ 5 expansion model. Maybe adding three more Victory conditions for the hybrid paths, and tightening up the whole end game with a few new features/units? I’m not sure one more expansion will be enough to save this from being a very mediocre and too-easy strategy game, but at least they’ll probably have one more shot at it.

    • Hentzau says:

      I didn’t mention the Warscore – mostly because I wasn’t interested in making peace at all – but it did seem horribly broken. I could have 10,000 points against Hutama’s 150, and he’d still ask for a White Peace, or at most offer me a single city.

      I don’t have a problem with the game being a bit too easy, weirdly enough? They’ve moved things closer to the Alpha Centauri approaches of having several different approaches that are all equally broken, and a human is always going to be better at exploiting those than an AI.

      That being said, the AI has been pretty terrible at adapting to the new whole-map playstyle. In Civ V it’s a colossal dick about expansion, but here the maps are now too big (because you’ve effectively doubled or tripled the settleable tiles) and the AI is really bad at expanding into all that new space. This means the human player isn’t pressured at all in the early-to-midgame, which gives them a free run to set themselves up in a favourable position.

      • Darren says:

        I really like that the AI isn’t so expansion-happy, since I’ve never been good at that element in Civ. But it’s not too terrible. I’ve found it to be surprisingly decent at understanding when it needs to focus on a navy, and I lost a game on my first attempt at Soyuz difficulty because an AI assaulted my coastal capital with a few melee ships (which I could’ve fended off, with effort) and a Kraken (which immediately resolved the game).

  3. Zenicetus says:

    FYI, a fairly major patch just hit today with a reworked War Score system. Ending a war now pulls up a “Spoils of War” screen for the victor, where you can choose either some of their tech, their cities, or resources up to the calculated difference of the score between victor and vanquished. So you’re no longer forced into the game telling you how a war ends, if you’re going for anything short of a total domination victory.

    Also a new Black Market for spies where you can trade diplomatic capital for strategic resources, and trade convoys are all amphibious now.

    Nothing addressing some of the core concerns here about the boring late game, lack of faction personality, etc. But at least they fixed one of the glaring problems in the new diplomacy system.

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