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ups: Graphical Upgrades, planetary system improved, strong story, endless replayability, addictive gameplay
downs: Infrequent crashes, no civ encyclopedia, no multiplayer

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Galactic Civilizations II Review: Dread Lords?! $#!t, there goes the planet...
game: Galactic Civilizations II: Dread Lords
four star
posted by: Chris Martin
publisher: Stardock
developer: Stardock
ESRB rating: E10+ (Everyone 10 and Older)
date posted: 09:34 AM Fri Apr 7th, 2006
last revision: 01:14 PM Fri Apr 7th, 2006

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Click to read.It was murder, anticipating the sequel to one of my favorite strategy games of all time. So when I finally got my hands on Galactic Civilizations II: Dread Lords, the usual rules of time and space, it seemed, gave me a moment to unwrap the shiny Collector\'s Edition box, slip the disc sensually into the tray, agree to the EULA, and watch the installer do it\'s thing. It wasn\'t quite as romantic as that, although I did find Stardock\'s game easy to get up and get going, so, if nothing else, time went along unopposed. Once going, I found in Galactic Civilizations II: Dread Lords an entirely enjoyable, deep, and satisfying space strategy game with many new features that fans of the original will delight in.

The original Galactic Civilizations was a sleeper hit, taking me by surprise and keeping me hooked for hours raiding planets and building a mighty army with which to take over the galaxy. Unfortunately, my attempts at conquering the galaxy frequently met with a more powerful civilization wiping me all over their so-called space boots. I loved Galactic Civilizations I, but there were faults. The interface was clunky, the graphics were outdated, and it lacked multiplayer. Solid to the end, Galactic Civilizations still finds its way into my schedule when I\'m supposed to be doing other things. Now Galactic Civilizations II: Dread Lords (which has nothing to do with Sid Meier\'s Civilisation IV) is out and is able to become what the first game promised to be and more. So let me get this out of the way, no: Galactic Civilizations II: Dread Lords does not add the fabled multiplayer mode. But yes: it\'s fun as hell and will still keep you busy in single player-or in the quasi-online mode, the new Metaverse.

Dread Lords keeps things simple, familiar to the original, but there are a great number of changes made to the interface which is why, as one of the game\'s greatest strengths, I praise Stardock for going beyond the original giving GCII a surprisingly crisp feel. The planetary building system is a dynamo. Herein Stardock gives the game the feeling of discovery, as if conquering the galaxy was just one of the things on your plate, as soon as you figure out how to use the ion drive-something to that effect. For each planet you are given a grid to build on. In each grid square you can place different planetary improvements to improve the quality of the planet, increase military and social spending, or just keep your people fed. Just queue up a few buildings and they\'ll be built within the respective time--or, if you\'re an antsy conqueror, you can purchase things quick and get ready for war (or jump ahead in techs).

How each individual planetary improvement er...improves your planet is subtle. Progressively, you\'ll start realizing that your planets won\'t get bigger without such-and-such, or be able to crank out ships as fast without such-and-such. This is the beauty of discovery. But what I found it subtle at first became essential. I quickly found my civilization behind without enough farms for my citizens, or enough laboratories to keep up in the technology race. And the game provides easy to locate graphs right on the interface to keep tabs on what neighboring civilizations might be up to, good or bad.

Graphically, you couldn\'t ask for a prettier 4x strategy game. The ships are beautifully detailed, textured up and able to be customized in (nearly) any way you can imagine. The only thing that keeps you from building the biggest ship this side of quadrant 2 is system specs. This simultaneously keeps the game very scalable yet cumbersome to some systems, and eventually cause the game to crash if you get overly zealous with your ship parts. Stardock kept it easy: select a part, click where you want it, presto! You can turn the hardpoints (where ship parts go) or flip them in any direction, though the system doesn\'t work quite as well as hoped. You actually place hardpoints on hardpoints, which can make your ship rather queer looking--or not what you were hoping, at least.

Planets animate and move and are shaded from sunlight, the effect is only cosmetic, as you\'ll find the distance from the sun, or the sunlight on any planet, has little to no affect ton whether the planet is very habitable. And it\'s not like players will care, anyway, since all that is important is that the planet is habitable.

The tightly-packed metallic dashboard of the interface is easy to navigate and navigate often. And though each individual button or tab can be changed with modifications (as we\'ve been told), the default dashboard is just fine as it is. Overall, the interface has been cleaned up from the first game and improved upon.

The campaign has had an overhaul from the previous game. Stardock has learned from their work on the Altarian Prophecy campaign. Dread Lords ramps up the intrigue and defines the sides involved in the war quicker than Altarian Prophecy. The campaign follows the humans as they navigate the stars, looking for the secrets of the Arnor and the Dread Lords. Of course, they\'re not the only ones. The Drengin are also out to get some of that. You\'re first run in with Drengin is small but quickly escalates over feuding territory. The Drengin, it seems, are the least of your problems, and in this spider web of drama, are as flies caught, along with yourself, it would seem. Told through text messages, some computer generated cut-scenes (which look unimpressively low res), and in-game events, Dread Lords keeps your interest to the end. Overall, what\'s most important is that the gameplay remains fresh and interesting.

The boys (and girls) over at Stardock really do love their job. And in Galactic Civilizations II it shows. The trademark humor returns for another go-around and still remains fresh on the whole--sometimes reused from its predecessor. Still, you\'ll find little gems here and there that keep the game in the realm of \"good old fun\" and out of the realm of \"just too serious.\" And, on the whole, it works. The quirks are likable without being obtrusive.

Stardock built a competent AI system for Dread Lords. In the heat of a losing battle, at the end of the line, AI opponents won\'t just surrender and give in; instead, civilizations like the Drengin will stay fairly proud and fight until the end. This, of course, depends on the civilization. As you trade and interact, swap goods or negotiate war, you\'ll find a very human aspect to the computer players: they will do what\'s best for theirs, not do what\'s best only to destroy you. Because, you see, you\'re just one piece of the overall puzzle in Dread Lords-the player will never feel like the center of the universe, even if you\'re the top cat at the moment.

If there are faults with Dread Lords, they are found in the ship building system (some crashing here and there) which is nice though flawed. And also, Dread Lords\' gameplay feels too much like a revamped version of the original Galactic Civilizations at times. Though this is a difficult criticism since I enjoyed the first so much. I also wish there were more description for the tech tree, showing, perhaps, what is recommended if you desire to go for a tech victory or a diplomacy victory--sometimes it becomes confusing. Also, what Sid Meier\'s Civilization has over Dread Lords is the encyclopedia system that gives a detailed description of each facet of the game. For instance, I know that I might need upgraded marines, but I\'m not sure the benefits of doing that research, what percentage versus the current tech, current prowess and toughness, will increase if I spend the time and credits researching them. There are also some terms that I\'d like to read about mid-game. Since the game is solely single-player there\'s no need to worry about time constraints; in other words, players should be able to take their time and gather more information about the respective civilizations.

Capitalize! I say! Capitalize on the pace of this turn-based-strategy. Allow the player to become more immersed at his or her own speed, gather information, delve into the black hole of fantasy sci-fi and come out with a big smile. Instead, players receive brief and limited texts about Galactic Civilizations\' world, and don\'t ever get to go as in-depth as wished.

Galactic Civilizations II isn\'t quite as good as Civilization IV, but close is still damn good. Even so, GCII does things differently, maintaining pride that what it does is done well. The game has come so very far since we saw it at E3 last year, and all the changes are for the best. But I see improvements that Stardock will make to the game in patches. In fact, they have already released the beta patch v1.1, which will fix a few errors, but create a few others (and potentially make the game unstable). Dread Lords is straight-up crack. Sci-fi, dorky, fantasy, turn-based, crack. And that\'s why I play it, and why you should too, human, lest I blast you to space dust.

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