Our story so far...
In Winter of 2007, Stardock released the first expansion pack to Galactic Civilizations II: Dread Lords (GalCiv II). This expansion pack was called Galactic Civilizations: Dark Avatar. It expanded the game play of GalCiv II by adding special planetary environments, asteroid fields, advanced espionage, user-designed opponents, more ship components, and much more.
Galactic Civilizations II: Dark Avatar went on to be one of the highest rated PC games of 2007 and was awarded "Best Expansion Pack" of 2007 by GameSpy (beating out such excellent expansion packs such as World of Warcraft: Burning Crusade, Civilization: Beyond the Sword, Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts and many others.
How does Stardock top Dark Avatar? The answer: Galactic Civilizations II: Twilight of the Arnor. The second and last expansion pack to Galactic Civilizations II.
The galaxy, as you know it, is gone
The galaxy is in turmoil. The evil Dread Lords play all sides against each other in an effort to grind down all opposition. But there is hope. The last of the Arnor have returned and have put their waning might behind a renegade Terran Alliance task force.
Galactic Civilizations is a turn-based strategy game. Players choose a civilization to play as (or create their own), research new technologies, build planetary improvements on their worlds, design starships, conduct trade, fight wars, negotiate treaties, and attempt to reign supreme in a hostile galaxy.
Highlighted new features
Here are the key new features for Twilight of the Arnor:
- Each major civilization now gets its own unique technology tree. We don't mean that each civilization gets a few unique technologies. We mean that each civilization gets their own, technology tree. Even on technologies that are common, the description text changes from civilization to civilization giving different insights into the back story of the civilization.
- Terror Stars. Players can now build mobile bases of death that can destroy entire star systems!
- Vastly more planetary improvements. There are probably more new planetary improvements in Twilight than there were total improvements in GalCiv II. These improvements greatly enhance gameplay and add new strategies to the game.
- New types of ships. Ships can enhance other ships in a fleet, behave differently when battles are fought in friendly territory, add more hit points to ships, and much more. It significantly alters the strategies available to players.
- New Victory Condition: Ascension. Scattered across the galaxy are shards of the Precursors. Build (and defend) star bases on these special galactic resources and work towards ascension. Of course, other players may want to put a stop to your march to victory. This greatly changes the game dynamics since players can make a desperate gambit for victory but also can no longer turtle into a corner of the map and go for a technology victory so easily. Like other victory conditions, it can be enabled or disabled.
- Map Editor. Now players can design their own maps. They can also be uploaded to GalCiv2.com and shared with others.
- Scenario Editor. As configurable as a GalCiv game is, the scenario editor lets people tweak their start up options to incredible levels. They can even save them and share them with others.
- Tech Tree Editor. Players can add their own technologies to the game and the computer players will even automatically use them intelligently.
- Planetary Improvement Editor. Now players can create their own planetary improvements and like techs, the computer players will automatically use them intelligently.
- Star Ship Component editor. New components for ships can now be created by players and like the others, automatically used by the computer players.
- Updated Planetary Invasion Screen. The old ugly planetary invasion screen has been replaced with ad ynamic one that has state of the art graphics.
- Metaverse On-Line Tournaments. Players can play a specific map with a specific scenario and compare their scores to others on-line to see how they match up.
- New Galaxy Size: Immense. For players who want their epic games to last months
- Massive graphics overhaul. Nearly all the graphics in the game have been re-designed. Moreover, they now use a fraction of the memory of the old ones. That's right, they look better and use in many cases 1/10th as much memory. Read this section to learn more on this as it's really cool.
- Tons of new content. More race portraits, new ship parts, new civilization logos, extra planetary improvement images for use by players, and more.
- Updated Sound Track. New background music and scoring helps keep the game fresh and new.
- Updated Computer AI. Taking the feedback from players over the past year, the computer players will play more intelligently. That means at lower levels they'll play like "newbie" human players and at higher levels they will play more like expert human players (the goal isn't to make the game "harder" but rather more fun).
- The New Campaign: Twilight of the Arnor. Discover the fate of the Dread Lords and the galaxy itself.
This doesn't count the hundreds of minor new features in the game based on implementing player feedback. The overall result is like having a whole new game.
Many reviews of Dark Avatar thought it could have practically been a sequel. This is probably even more true of Twilight of the Arnor.
Unique Technology Trees
12 of them to be exact. There are 12 different technology trees in Twilight of the Arnor. These aren't just technologies renamed. We went back and fleshed out every civilization in detail. Below are some examples:
Here is the Terran Alliance tech tree which is the most similar to the GalCiv II default tech tree:
First thing to notice is that now you can see what a given technology gives you. The new improvement, ship part, ability, etc. is now displayed on the tree itself. If you mouse-over them, it will go into more detail.
Second, though this is only obvious if you've played GalCiv II before, the technologies are set up in a much more logical way than previously.
Nopw compare that to say the Iconian tech tree:
Xeno Communications and Universal Translators are still there. And so are many other recognizable technologies. But huge swaths of these technologies are unique to the Iconians. Each race has its own background, its own history. And to help explain this, civilizations have many background technologies that they come with that help explain a bit about them.
Right-clicking on any technology name now (another new feature) will bring up information on it. Players can read volumes of information and back story on each civilization in-game. Plus, they can see what technologies that brings.
Terror Stars are an immensely expensive but incredibly powerful battle station that can stop the fusion reaction in a star. In doing so, all of the planets in a star system can be destroyed. They are fairly fragile but great for civilizations who hold space superiority to make full use of it.
Terror Stars are not popular with the neighbors, however.
Planetary Improvements Galore
The magnitude of the fact that Twilight of the Arnor has 12 unique technology trees does not really hit home until you start playing and seeing all the planetary improvements.
Every single planetary improvement available in this screenshot is unique to this civilization. All of the planetary improvements except for the planetary capital and star port in the screenshot are unique to this civilization. Also, notice how high quality the planetary improvements are. The star port in this screenshot is from Dark Avatar and is shown for comparison. Players will immediately notice how many new and unique planetary improvements they have depending on which civilization they play. And these planetary improvements aren't simply new graphics and text for existing improvements. Each civilization has its own philosophy on how to get things done.
New Types of Ships
Another benefit of the unique technology trees are all the new unique ship modules. There are now modules that will speed up ships in a fleet, increase the damage fleets do, increase how much damage ships do in friendly territory, increase hit points (at great financial cost) on a ship.
Couple other notes about this screenshot. First, the extra components now are displayed together in a much better way. Secondly, players can now assign parts to actually be animated on a ship (i.e. moving parts on the ship!).
Did we mention that all this comes with a reduced memory print over GalCiv II and GalCiv II: Dark Avatar?
New Victory Condition: Ascension
Previously, the technology victory in Galactic Civilizations has the player ascending to a higher level of being. This has been changed so that a technology victory has the player mastering the known dimensions and being able to develop weapons that affect space-time.
This paves the way for the new victory condition, ascension. Players who capture and hold the ascension galactic resources eventually build up what are essentially victory points and win the game. Consider the game play ramifications of this. It may not always be a good idea to try to capture these ascension galactic resources unless you're prepared for other civilizations forcibly removing you from them (and vice versa).
The New Editors
Since Twilight of the Arnor is going to be our last expansion pack (we really enjoy making the expansion packs and they do sell well but we have to finish some major game projects going forward), we wanted to let players control the destiny of the game by creating a series of editors that will let them essentially create their own expansion packs. Everything that one would imagine in a typical game expansion pack (i.e. new content) should be able to be made with these new editors.
New Invasion Screen
There's a reason why there are very few screenshots out there of the Invasion screen of Galactic Civilizations. First, it causes nerve damage so there's a liability issue in showing what it looks like. Second..well it causes nerve damage.
The new one, by contrast shows, based on what improvements are on a given planet, what a planetary invasion would really mean:
These could be described as specific scenarios for players to try out. Many strategy games have this. GalCiv II lacked them until Twilight of the Arnor. But to take it one step further, we let people record their scores on the Metaverse to see how well they do compared to others. The game will ship with 3 with more released with official tournaments (with prizes and goodies to the winners) later.
Immense Sized Galaxies
The larger the galaxy, the more planets there are. The more planets, the longer a game takes. Most strategy games, even turn-based ones, typically don't see games that end with players controlling more than a hundred or so cities, bases, worlds, stars, whatever. Some players always want even more epic sized maps. And thanks to the memory savings of the new graphics, we were able to add this new galaxy size.
Immense sized galaxies are a mile stone in epic strategy gaming. Each of the dots in that mini map represents a star and around those stars are planets of which many may be colonized.
A Massive Graphics Overhaul
Improved graphics are nothing new in an expansion pack. But the magnitude of the improvement using the same graphics engine we suspect may bring up discussion in the future. For instance, consider this:
GalCiv II: Dark Avatar / Dread Lords
GalCiv II: Twilight of the Arnor
The difference in quality between the two is immense. It's almost the kind of before and after screenshot one expects when comparing a game console to a next-generation game console. Except that both models have the same number of polygons. The only real difference is the quality of the texture.
But wait, there's more -- the texture in Twilight of the Arnor uses less than 1/10th as much memory as the textures in Dark Avatar. That's because in Dark Avatar (and the base GalCiv II) every ship had its own texture. To save memory, these textures were low resolution. But in Twilight of the Arnor, all the ships of a given style share one very high resolution texture. And since each civilization's ships follow a particular visual theme, this provides some consistency.
Here's another example:
Bear in mind that the ship at the bottom here is sharing the same texture as the ship from the first example. But they share only parts of the same texture which allows them to look very unique even as they are very high resolution and use a lot less memory.
Another area are planetary improvements:
In Dark Avatar and before, the improvements were lower resolution. But now they are much higher resolution which makes them crisper, especially at higher resolutions. This will be important as players in the future play the game as higher resolutions. Nothing ages a game faster than dated graphics.
Then there's the planets themselves.
The top is an irradiated planet from GalCiv: Dark Avatar. The bottom is an irradiated planet in Twilight of the Arnor. Oh, and the bottom uses a lot less memory and reduces the start-up time of a large-sized galaxy by up to 15 seconds on a typical system. What the heck happened? A really really bad idea that seemed clever at the time.
GalCiv II planets had randomly generated surfaces using fractals. Neat right? Every planet was different each game. The problem is, they were ugly and nobody really cared that they were truly unique since they were so ugly and increased the game load time. In Twilight of the Arnor, the planets have been created by artists but are still somewhat randomized to have some uniqueness. But there are so many of them that few people will notice repeats and they use about 1/3rd as much memory as the old system.
Here you see the Terran, Drengin, Arcean, and Yor home worlds from Dark Avatar. Note how similar each world is (except for the humans who at least got their own Earth planet surface). See how their building options are all the same. Notice how similar the planets look. Also notice that (ahem) the Yor, who are robots, have farms.
Below is from Twilight of the Arnor...
Two things to take away from the comparison. First, the planets don't just look a lot better, they are distinct per civilization. Secondly, look at the planetary improvements each start out with. They're not just the same ones renamed with different graphics. They are genuinely different planetary improvements with significantly different capabilities. Each civilization is now truly different and looks great while at it.
The overall result is that Twilight of the Arnor just looks like a newer game. Even the game UI has been enhanced.
And so much more
The list of changes in Twilight of the Arnor would go on for pages and pages. Everything from interface tweaks to new game screens to the updated computer AI and so on. The net result is that Twilight of the Arnor is arguably a complete re-imagining of what Galactic Civilizations II is.
One might argue (correctly) that there are far more features in Twilight of the Arnor than are really necessary for a $29.95 expansion pack. But we looked at this as our final opportunity to go and make significant changes to the game that will help ensure that the game continues to be fun for players for years to come.
Getting Twilight of the Arnor
Galactic Civilizations II: Twilight of the Arnor requires that the first expansion pack (Dark Avatar) already be installed on the system in order to be played.
Galactic Civilizations II: Twilight of the Arnor is $29.95 on its own. For players who only have Galactic Civilizations II: Dread Lords, an expansion bundle of $44.95 is available.
And for players who want it all, an Ultimate Bundle that includes it all will be available for $59.95.
GalCiv II is available at retail. Twilight of the Arnor will be available via TotalGaming.net.
All purchasing options are available here: [Galactic Civilizations II shop]