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Galactic Civilizations II: Dread Lords

Developer
Stardock

Publisher
Stardock

Release Date
02/21/2006

ESRB: E10+

$29.99

6. Galactic Civilizations II: Dread Lords

They're called "4X" games. The X's stand for eXplore, eXpand, eXploit and eXterminate. They're the incredibly deep, hardcore strategy titles where players build up enormous empires by trading, colonization and (when all else fails) using the business end of projectile weapons. Once upon a time they ruled the PC strategy universe, but if your name isn't Sid Meier, it's awfully hard to get the go-ahead from risk-averse publishers to build one these days. Enter Brad Wardell and the Stardock team that created Galactic Civilizations II: Dread Lords, one of the best strategy games of 2006.

Galactic Civilizations II: Dread Lords puts the player in the jackboots of the emperor of one lowly planet in the midst of a vast, trackless cosmos. Armed only with a few spaceships and a burning ambition to place their heel on the neck of the universe, the player must spread their race outward, competing with up to eight alien civilizations for the same outer-space real estate and the right to be called master of the universe. That simple description can only begin to hint at the vast strategic depths this game reaches. Players aren't limited to merely military conquest (as fun as that is). They may choose instead to exercise diplomacy, marshalling allies for the votes to become the head of a "United Nations of the Stars." They may increase trade and tourism to become cultural influencers of such power that they become the "indispensable race." They may even choose to pursue technological transcendence, breaking the bonds of this universe for one presumably less complicated.

All this is done in competition with some of the best AI we've ever seen in a strategy game. Diplomacy against the computer players in GalCiv II is an extraordinary experience. The AI will lie, backstab, wheedle and beg when they're weaker than the player and brag, threaten and extort when they're stronger. This is made even more impressive by Stardock's claim that there are no handicaps for the AI player. It plays the same game the human does.

Finally, Stardock deserves credit for setting an example we'd like to see others follow. First, the game shipped without copy protection of any kind. Gamers can play without the disc in the drive and if they ever lose their physical media, they just have to call Stardock to download another copy of the game. Stardock also gives the game an incredible level of support -- the amount of new material and tweaks this game has received is staggering and the updated GalCiv II is an infinitely better experience than the one that came out of the box (and that's saying something). This seems to have borne fruit as sales for the title have been extremely robust, which seems a just reward for a company that produced a great game and did the right thing.