Galactic Civilizations III Mercenaries
I still remember the first time that I tried out a Stardock game, which was the original Sins of a Solar Empire. At that time I thought to myself: “Any game with that cool of a title has to be good.” It turned out to be not just good, but great, and it revolutionized the RTS genre with its fluidity and manageable yet massive scale. I also tried Galactic Civilizations 1 & 2 back in the day. I admired the GalCiv series’ attention to detail, broad scale, ability to customize ships (much like tuning a car in a racing game), and for some odd reason its overall wonkiness and innate charm. However, since the GalCiv games didn’t feature any multiplayer components (which is a must for any 4X title in my book), I soon grew bored of them and moved on to something else. To me there is nothing quite like outwitting real human foes (or, errr…getting outwitted by them) instead of dealing with the automated machinations of today’s rather limited AI technology.
When I’d first heard that GalCiv 3 would feature multiplayer I was all in—and patiently awaited its release. Much to my delight, it delivered in spades (read my review here). GalCiv 3 epitomized what a 4X should aspire to be on the modern gaming PC. You took control over your own galactic empire and proceeded to send your first scout ships out to explore the surrounding galaxy. Next, you expanded your burgeoning civilization’s borders by colonizing planets near and far. From there, you had to exploit the resources of said planets under your control and amass their income in order to forge massive fleets of naval vessels. And of course the last “X” in the equation—you would proceed to go to war and attempt to exterminate your foes. GalCiv 3 not only gave you access to pre-rendered races but also let you create your own from the ground up. Add to that—randomized and/or customizable galaxies and ships, and GalCiv 3 is a hardcore space empire simulator that has near limitless replay value.
Since its initial release in May 2015, Stardock, as usual, has been releasing a steady stream of bug fixes and patches that has mitigated game crashes and shored up other niggling issues that gamers were complaining about. Being a smaller independent game studio, Stardock has always had one ear wide open to its gaming community and has listened and responded when things weren’t going quite right, which is really how it should be with all game developers. Each DLC that they’ve released since GalCiv 3’s initial inception has frankly been hit or miss, with my favorites being Galactic Events and Precursor Worlds, and least favored, the lackluster Revenge of the Snarthi (a silly mod that introduced evil space squirrels).
So along comes Stardock’s biggest and baddest expansion since GalCiv 3’s release, titled: Galactic Civilizations III Mercenaries, and boy, is it something else. Mercenaries introduces a full-fledged campaign which tells of how the evil Drengin Empire, in their over-zealousness, have thrown the vast majority of their formidable forces at the Terrans, eventually ending up on Earth’s doorstep. In a strategic oversight, and in the Drengin’s unquenchable thirst for conquest, they left their galactic territories near their homeworld relatively unprotected. The Torians, long enslaved by the Drengins, have taken this opportunity to escape their captivity, and the bazaar is born, in order to help the underdogs in their fight for redemption and revenge.
In gameplay terms, Mercenaries enables factions to recruit powerful hero units at the new bazaar, for a price. Each hero comes with his or her accompanying ship, which usually tends to be a bit overpowered. The good news here is that all races have access to them, not just the Torians (at least in multiplayer games). Each mercenary comes with their own backstory and motivation. For instance there is Ruire Podaq Nu, who commands a powerful precursor constructor vessel which can alter any nearby planet’s allegiance. Talk about having that “love, not war” factor. And then there’s the bizarre looking Prince Viturian and his mighty beam-laden dreadnought, The Sabre, who seeks to make the rest of the universe grovel at his feet. No delusions of grandeur there at all…
This narrative turn helps to individualize each merc, and lends itself to really caring about their personal safety. In fact, I found myself becoming rather fond of certain mercenaries, and in turn, overprotective of them. This made me pretty apprehensive about sending them into battles unless I was certain that they would emerge victorious.
Each of the mercenary’s ships come with their own special benefits, such as offering buffs to accompanying ships in their fleets, being immune to certain weapon classes, or moving extremely fast. In this vein, the Mercenaries DLC can dramatically shift the tide of battle in unexpectant ways. While this factor may seem a bit severe, it surprisingly maintains overall game balance since everyone has access to them (through the bazaar), and really helps to break up the stalemates that tend to occur during GalCiv 3’s mid to late game periods, and is a welcome addition.
The two new factions introduced in Mercenaries are the aforementioned Torians, and the hyper-militaristic Arcean Empire. The Arceans are a race that has been at war for centuries and as such, has both powerful starbases and weaponry. They jibe well with the other pre-existing factions and fit the overall GalCiv 3 universe quite nicely.
The game’s graphics are as magnificent as ever, especially considering the game’s indie roots. It doesn’t miss a beat when you want to zoom in and enjoy all of your glorious ship or planetary detail at high resolutions (4k gaming machine owners will be really pleased). The space battles play out like something out of Babylon 5, with escorts maneuvering around for position, while mighty capital ships take the center of the battlefield and duke it out with each other. Meanwhile, tiny fighters and bomber dart in and out of the more massive conflicts, unleashing their wasp-like stings on the larger vessels.
Overall, I found Galactic Civilizations III Mercenaries to be a pretty meaty DLC, crammed with two new factions and hero units with their powerful ships, which can make the previously stagnate wars more dynamic. My only gripe is that I wish Stardock had implemented hero units for the base game instead of just as guns-for-hire types. Perhaps they will in a future release, but for now I get to enjoy what Mercenaries has on offer, and that’s plenty enough for now.
Galactic Civilizations III Mercenaries is a beautiful game to look at, especially at higher resolutions. We recommend playing it on a higher end gaming PC or gaming laptop in order to see how great they really are:
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