Similar in theme to the venerated Master of Orion games from Microprose, Galactic Civilizations II is a turn-based strategy game which allows players to explore interstellar space, colonize habitable worlds, research and implement many new technologies, and battle for supremacy against several other races. It puts its own unique spin on many tactical options popularized in the Civilization franchise such as military conquest, using culture to subvert foreign populations, engaging in peaceful diplomacy to establish powerful alliances, and the ability to win through by completing an extremely high-level technological marvel.
GalCiv2 features no multiplayer of any kind, but has been widely praised for the ability of the AI players to engage in all the different facets of gameplay. It's also been enhanced with ongoing free patches which include extensive balance fixes, AI tweaks, and graphical improvements.
There were two expansion packs released for Galactic Civilizations II, Dark Avatar and Twilight of the Arnor. Both packs continue the story set forth by GalCiv2, and they offer additional content and game enhancements to the original game and campaigns.
GalCiv2 is primarily played on a two dimensional map of the galaxy on which stars, planets, ships, and special resources are all rendered in 3D. After using ships to push back the initial fog of war that shrouds the map, players can use colony ships to expand their civilization to any available habitable world. These colonies will eventually grow into the economic, industrial, and scientific backbone of a healthy empire, but only if they people can be kept happy and safe from enemy invasion.
Each inhabitable world has a quality rating that determines how many usable areas are available for development with factories, farms, banks, laboratories, or many other types of structures to boost their output. The limited number of slots encourages players to consider specializing each world, planning ahead to turn one planet into a densely populated planet that generates lots of tax revenue, and another into a highly industrious planet loaded with automated manufacturing plants. By taking advantage of the natural bonuses found on many worlds and adding singular “capital” buildings that greatly enhance compatible facilities on the same planet, even small, backwater communities can mature into highly focused assets.
Colonies can also house starports for the construction of new interstellar ships, special Trade Goods which can be bartered with allies, and unique Galactic Wonders which confer a powerful bonus to whichever empire controls them. They must be carefully guarded, however, as all this valuable infrastructure can be seized away by a conquering army or the lure of a more influential culture.
A major departure from the original GalCiv is the ability to create completely customized ships equipped with any combination of parts that have been unlocked through research.
Weapons, defenses, engines, and other special modules each fill up a limited amount of available hull space and increase the cost of the final product, so most models are best designed to fill specific roles. As an added bonus, players are even free to customize the in-game appearance of their ships by freely attaching a vast number of cosmetic hull components.
Every weapon is classified as a beam, mass driver, or missile, and each type has a respective category of defensive system which best at deflecting damage: shields, armor, and point defenses. When enemy ships engage each other, combat is resolved automatically by simulating a turn-by-turn exchange of fire until one side is annihilated. Larger hulls have more hit-points and can hold more components, but smaller craft are cheaper and can be grouped into fleets that contain many more ships so there are some logistic issues to consider when outfitting a new class of warship.
Players can also design new colony ships to take uninhabited worlds, troop transports to overthrow the populated ones, cargo freighters which establish lucrative trade routes with distant alien settlements, and constructors with the ability to deploy into stationary starbases.
Stationary deep-space structures, starbases are built and upgraded by single-use constructor vessels. There are four basic varieties, each of which can be installed with basic defensive capabilities and garrisoned with a fleet that will try to intercept any attackers.
GalCiv2 includes ten preset races which enjoy different natural bonuses to things like manufacturing, morale, and creativity. When controlled by the AI, these races also have different personalities: the Drengin are typically belligerent and hostile towards their neighbors, while the Altarians tend to focus more on scientific advancement and building strong alliances. Players are also free to create their own custom races by spending an allotment of points to pick out their own blend of characteristics to suit their play style.
Every race in the game makes use of the same technology tree: a long, branching series of theoretical pathways connected into many different applications. Lines of research not only lead to stronger weaponry and more efficient planetary structures, but can unlock new trade routes, planetary invasion tactics, diplomatic options, terraforming options, and much, much more. One of the last, most expensive options available is the Technological Victory which allows less aggressive species to win by transcending mortality itself.
In a unique twist from other 4X strategy games, GalCiv2 presents players with an assortment of random ethical dilemmas and rates their race's morality according to how they're resolved. Examples include choosing whether or not to crack down on political dissidents or exploit the benefits of a mysterious artifact that slowly kills the people who operate it, and the available Good, Neutral, and Evil resolutions each carry different consequences. Moreover, the racial alignment of each empire carries significant strategic implications.
races are much more likely to band together and join in wars to defend one another from aggressors. They're aided by a natural increase in the revenue they gain through interstellar trade with each other, citizens who are less likely to defect due to cultural subversion, and access to several remarkably potent defensive technologies to blunt the impact of enemy weapons. Finally, their five most populous planets have no maintenance costs for their central colony structure, and construction of a Wonder known as the Temple of Righteousness enables them to profit from the peaceful trade of every civilization in the game.
species gain a boost to their own trade income, are allowed to establish more trade routes, and enjoy a discount to the cost of speeding along military or social projects. Because they value the even-handed nature of their government, citizens throughout the colonies gain a boost to morale and a tendency to fight more aggressively against invading ground troops. These factions can research some moderate improvements to both weaponry and defenses, and by completing a Temple of Neutrality, can passively benefit from tourism income collected across the galaxy.
empires excel at conquest and oppression thanks to exceptionally lethal weaponry, Secret Police centers that quash rebellious citizens, and an Artificial Slave Center that boosts military production on every planet they possess. They also receive even the most expensive starbase upgrades for free and automatically extort "protection fees" from alien trade routes which pass through their territory. After completing their Temple of Evil, even the costs of special invasion techniques like Tidal Disruption and Information Warfare are completely waived, enabling them to pursue a strategy of ruthless conquest.
Though played on a 2D plane, GalCiv2 features fully 3D graphics which include a backdrop of distant stars and colorful nebulae to give an illusion of depth. Zooming in reveals a fully textured and animated galaxy of rotating planets, orbiting moons, and nicely textured ships waiting between turns, but pulling the camera back simplifies the view into surprisingly descriptive little 2D icons. This allows players to easily survey large amounts of territory at a glance to see which colonies are working, which can accept new orders, and which have an enemy fleet cruising in their direction.
Separate screens are used for colony management, where useable plots and structures are respectively indicated by bright green squares and detailed pictures, and the massive research tree which can be organized by criteria like cost and application.
Combat is often displayed as two ships on the main map exchanging a quick burst of weapons fire before the loser is destroyed. Players also have the option of watching the entire battle play out in real-time, however, and although these presentations are completely non-interactive, they can give a little more insight into how one side was able to beat the other.