Jarenth Plays Civilization: Beyond Earth — Episode 2: Strangers In A Strange Land

In the last episode of Jarenth Plays Beyond Earth, I spent a couple thousand words setting up the first turn of my new Franco-Iberian society. Labor assignments, building construction, scientific research, giant bugs, and even the eventual supreme destiny of mankind all came up in discussion. Now, with my initial plan — such as it is — all laid out, it’s time to send out my Explorer into the wild… blue-ish, I guess, yonder. Let’s see what the unspoiled wilderness of Terra Atlantea is all about.

I press the End Turn button. Icons flicker at the bottom of the screen, and…

Something rumbles in the distance.

A… a new challenger approaches?

Right before my eyes — in a manner of speaking — a second colony pod touches down on Terra Atlantea. It quickly unfolds itself into the (dark green) colony of Cidadela, capital of the Brasilia faction. Their leader, Rejinaldo de Alencar, contacts me over what I assume to be a space-age video phone.

‘sup, Reggie? I can’t actually understand your what-I’m-guessing-is-Brazilian Portuguese, but good to hear from you regardless. How was space?

Wait, but hold on. You guys hadn’t landed yet? I assumed everyone touched down at more or less the same time, but…

Uh, hey, Rejinaldo. Welcome to Terra Atlantea. I, er, feel I should mention that I landed on this planet first. And I’m European, and we have this whole thing about first-come-first serve land claiming. I don’t suppose you’d be willing to accept that I already staked this entire planet for Franco-Iberia? I even have this cool flag, see, I planted it in the ground and everything. In fact, you’d really be respecting my cultural heritage if you’d let me be the undisputed world ruler. At least for a little while?

No? That’s… not happening, then? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

I click around the diplomacy screen for a little while. Dour-faced Rejinaldo presents four options: Discuss, Demand, Deal, and DECLARE WAR. Deal means trade: we can trade the usual fare of energy, science, ‘strategic resources’, cities, and various kinds of agreements. No technologies though, oddly. Demand is the same thing, except a little more direct. Finally, Discuss allows me to talk about a couple topics: I can suggest joint warfare, warn Rejinaldo off of settling cities ‘near us’, attempt to establish a ‘Cooperation Agreement’, or ‘publicly denounce’ him.

…Denounce him to *who*, though? We’re the only two leaders on this planet.

Interesting options all, but let’s leave this for another time. A brief look at the minimap seems to imply that Rejinaldo’s colony is, like, miles away from my land, so I see no reason to stir up any resentment already. Plenty of chances for that later, I reckon.

More immediate issues have arisen in my exploration of the area surrounding Le Coeur. My explorer keeps running into a lot of things I can’t accurately parse: strange plants, fungi, more of those floating rocks, and a bunch of weird turquoise clouds that Beyond Earth apparently calls ‘miasma’. I feel I need to know what all of these things are and do before I can make good decisions on them, but ADVISR is strangely silent on the issue.

“Computer, what’s all this weird shit everywhere? …Computer?”

I end up diving into the Civilopedia, the in-game encyclopedia for game objects and terms that — again — classic-Civ players will recognize. I have some trouble finding anything about the miasma clouds, but I do end up leafing through extended descriptions of the different resources I’m running into.

As with Civ 5, overworld resources are divided into two categories: ‘basic’ resources and ‘strategic’ resources. The former are mostly interesting for the benefits they provide to nearby cities. So fungus, tubers, and those giant chitinous bugs all provide extra Food when worked, and even moreso when ‘improved’ by a worker. And gold gives Culture, resilin and coral give Science, basalt gives Production… you get the idea.

Okay, so we don’t necessarily directly *eat* the giant bugs. I’m still not a fan.

Strategic resources, on the other hand, are sharply limited special resources that are used in the construction of certain units and buildings. It doesn’t matter how much chitin I have, strategically speaking, but the amount of petroleum I drill up does directly influence how many rocket engines I can fire up. There’s six of these strategic resources: petroleum, titanium, geothermal energy, ‘Xenomass’, the unimaginatively titled ‘Floatstone’ — yeah, that’s those floating rocks near my base — and a glowing yellow mineral called… *sigh*… Firaxite.

That sound you just heard was a rocket engine. We’ve decided to put my suspension of disbelief into orbit.

The three ‘alien’ resources are immediately visible, but require special technologies to be worked. In contrast, the three ‘terrestrial’ resources are immediately workable, but require special technologies to see. Or rather, they would need that, but the Tectonic Scanner spaceship part I picked during setup alleviates that need. Pretty good choice in retrospect, that.

Since I can’t seem to find any description of a ‘weird turquoise alien cloud’, I decide to test the cloud’s effects by moving my Explorer into it. ADVISR chooses that moment to chime in with a ‘hey, that miasma thing you just moved your dude into? Totes poisonous.’

Great timing, ADVISR. Just… thanks, buddy.

The gist: all units everywhere have 100 hit points. Ending your turn in miasma? -10 of those. Luckily, voluntarily waltzing into an alien death cloud only took one of my Explorer’s two moves, so I hightail him out of there before the effects take hold.

While I mess around with fungi and minerals and corrosive weather, two more colony pods touch down on Terra Atlantea. Rejinaldo and I are joined by Samatar Jama Barre, leader of the African Union…

Unlike Rejinaldo, Samatar here speaks regular English, with some African flourishes. He keeps calling me Elmo, for some reason.

…and General Vadim Kozlov of the Slavic Federation.

Because I always wanted to share my marvelous new alien planet with a Tintin villain.

I guess they can all bear witness to me encountering the first instance of actually alien life on this planet.

Alien trees are weird, but they’re trees. Giant bugs are gross, but we have bugs at home. But when I tell my Explorer to map out more of the coastline, it runs into a swarm of creatures our biologists quickly call… wolf beetles. As in, big quadripedal green beetles, claws, teeth, pack hunting. Wolves, except beetles. God, I hate this planet so much already. What more giant-bug-related nonsense can I expect? Elephant wasps? Jaguar termites? Butterflies strapped to an AK-47?

Wolf beetles. You can’t see them very well, but they’re *there*.

I don’t know if these things are aggressive, and I’m not staying to find out. Hey, Explorer: why don’t you stop being over there, and start being over here.

As it turns out, north-west of Le Coeur is a much better place to be than straight-west. On an outcropping of the coast, my Explorer finds a Resource Pod: one of many helpful packages launched by my colony ship at time of touch-down. They… weren’t very accurate, this is true, but eh. And near a massive deposit of the Firaxite mineral, we see the outlines of what very much looking like… I can’t be sure until we check it out, but the outline suggests that a broken Resource Pod was re-purposed into some kind of rudimentary village. But who…

The mysteries of the planet deepen with every turn.

Inside the Resource Pod, I find a functioning solar collector satellite! Complete with fuel and facilities to launch it. This prompts ADVISR to deluge me with information about ‘orbital units’, ‘orbital coverage’, ‘overlapping skirts’, and- listen, Clippy, I just got the one satellite. What can I do with it, and how does it work?

‘You can launch a satellite over areas near your cities. This one makes a small circle of seven hexes produce more energy. And satellites can’t overlap.’ See, was that so hard? Put that sucker up over Le Coeur, then, and watch our Energy production go up from +5 to +9.

You said it, Steam achievement.

Bringing the satellite up brings Hutama of Polystralia down. Coincidence?…

Hutama, did my satellite knock your colony pod out of orbit? I’m, er… I’m kinda sorry if it did.

Having recovered the satellite, I move Explorer over to the strange village. Up close, it is clear to everyone that this is, in fact, some kind of derelict human settlement. How it came to be here, though… ADVISR suggests that I order Explorer to set up an ‘expedition’: by spending ten turns digging up and analyzing the remains of this settlement, we should be able to learn… something of value.

Problem, though: the settlement is covered by a thick cloud of miasma. Ending Explorer’s turn in the miasma means 10 HP of damage. So a 10-turn expedition…

I’m doubtful. If Explorer dies on the last turn of this expedition, will I still get the rewards? Are those rewards going to be worth the cost of the lost Explorer? And moreover, wouldn’t I be a horrible person for sending this dedicated team of scientists to what I am 100% sure will be their slow death by alien poisoning?

I end up giving the expedition the green light. Sorry, Explorer. If it helps any, just remember that you guys are literally the first human beings to analyze these alien wonders. I’ll name a university wing or something after you. Once I build a university.

If I build a university.

“Gee, thanks.”

My camera suddenly flashes over to an unexplored section of the map. A new player has landed? No, it’s not that. It’s…

It’s a… ‘station’? I guess? Somehow, I now know that some sort of independent research station, ‘Far Base One’, has been established somewhere on Terra Atlantea. And that if I manage to set up a trading route with them, they’ll… give me Science and Energy?

I feel it’s important to point out that I’m not being deliberately facetious here. It’s literally, I clicked End Turn, Beyond Earth flashed my camera to some dark corner of the map, and yelled ‘Hey, there’s a station here now! You can trade with them if you want! I’m not telling you anything else about this! Okay, back to the show.

I didn’t *discover* anything, Beyond Earth. Please don’t patronize me.

The next couple of turns move by relatively quickly. Explorer is busy digging up the settlement, so my exposure to alien wonders is limited. I finish the Trade Depot, and decide to build a Worker unit next. Some new horrible alien monsters wander into the death cloud: they look like a cross between a giant quadripedal scorpion and a Baneling, they’re called ‘manticores’, and I’m pretty sure I never want to have any interactions with them. But beyond that, you know. Situation As Normal As It Gets.

Which is a situation type Beyond Earth hates, so I’m hit with an entirely new gameplay mechanic on Turn 12: Quests.

Quest received!

Yeah, quests. In a Civilization game. No, I don’t understand it either. Where are they coming from? Who’s giving out these quests? How does the traditionally individual narrative of the ‘quest’ interact with the society-driven nature of…

Ah, okay, I see. They’re society quests. As the leader, I get to make all the calls, but what these things are basically about is deciding bits and pieces of the direction New Franco-Iberia is going to take. That’s… actually pretty neat. More directed storytelling on a smaller scale, to complement the larger-scale organic story of gameplay.

I have four quests at time of writing. The first one seems to be more tutorial-oriented than anything else: ‘Build a new Outpost’, the step-by-step guide for expanding my empire. The second, ‘Find two Resource Pods’, similarly encourages more exploration. The third, ‘Cultural Burden’, is… weird? It has no objectives. I’m not sure what you want from me, Quest.

It’s at the fourth quest, ‘Occupational Hazard’, that things start getting interesting. ‘The aliens of this planet are kinda strange.‘, it starts. ‘We don’t know how intelligent they are, but they’re clearly hostile, sometimes.‘ Wait, are they? Did I miss that memo? I haven’t seen any hostile alien activity so far, all these giant bugs have been doing is be disgusting where I can see them.

We need to make a decision here. Either we try to domesticate these aliens, for whatever vague purposes. Or we try to eradicate them, completely. And when I say we, I mean that I have to make a decision.

‘Live and let live’ is not an option, huh? I’m pretty sure ‘should we either murder these aliens or enslave them to be our pets’ is *some* kind of biting social commentary.

The consequences of each choice are a little vague: the ‘Eradicate’ option is marked with a Purity icon, while the ‘Domesticate’ one is both Harmony and Supremacy. Which, I mean, it’s not a hard choice, I just don’t know what it does. I pick Domesticate, and…

The quest evolves. My next objective: build an Alien Preserve Building, whatever that is, so we can study the aliens in more detail. Sure, I’m down with that. I currently have no idea what an Alien Preserve is, or what technology I even need to research to be able to build one. So that’s… a little anti-climactic? But I’ll be sure to put ‘getting one of these buildings up’ on my to-do list.

Oh hey, Daoming Suchoa of the Pan-Asian Cooperative. Hello!

Welcome to the party! Planet.

Two more turns pass in relative quiet. Alien wolf beetles and manticores run laps around my Explorer, but seem content to leave it alone. Almost as if they know…

And then, finally, the expedition completes. I was hoping for resolution on the origins of the strange settlement, but no such luck: all Explorer can tell me — with its last breath — is that they’ve located ‘survivors’ in the village’s ruins. The survivors — Survivors from what? Where from? How did they get here? And how did they survive the miasma that killed their rescuers?

Sorry. The nonspecific survivors are grateful for their ‘rescue’. They all relocate to Le Coeur, the city they’re within easy walking distance from, raising its population total by 1.

Welcome to Le Coeur, new citizens! You’ll find plenty of food, living space, and work for all of you! Hey, would any of you be interested in joining our Explorer’s Corps? Turns out we have a job opening.

“…We’ll all pass.”

Next episode: I work, I colonize, I research more, I meet the last few colony stragglers. But strangest of all, I get someone to join my new Explorer crew, against all reasonable odds.

8 comments

  1. Wait wait wait. You mean this entire write up is *several* turns?! Well there goes my prediction of you having a 3-4 year LP!

    On a side note, I’m surprised Future Jarenth didn’t chime in at the end to note that Explorers can generally only do one expedition period, so the loss of that one wasn’t as big of a deal as it could have been.

      1. Have any of the Jarenths yet discovered that an Explorer can half finish a miasma-filled site, pop out to heal, then finish it off?

        1. Honest answer? I considered doing that, and I actually have screenshots of that route. But I re-loaded afterwards. It didn’t feel… right, I guess.

          Yes, I’m saying I let my Explorer die because keeping them alive through halfway gamey means made me upset about things.

          1. This was the only right choice. No self-respecting Space President would let mere efficiency/ human lives interfere with their delightfully emotive narrative.

            Also, what are the odds that humanity sends out a fleet of colony ships to save itself… and 6 of them land on the same planet? Some mighty poor planning there.

          2. Fair enough. I don’t see it as too gamey myself, as it seems no different to halting an archeological dig for a couple of months because of bad weather – you can always come back to it and carry on where you left off.

  2. I can’t believe it took me until The Year Of Our Luigi 2016 to find out that the mid-article hyperlink in this episode wasn’t filled in yet. Thanks, traffic-tracking security plugins!

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