Twilight of the Arnor — Unhappy Campers

I just finished talking about my first full game of GC2:TotA, and how much I enjoy all the new content. Critics seem to agree – Metacritic shows a 95% average rating for this expansion, and gamerankings shows an average of 94%. These numbers are phenominal, by the way. On metacritic’s PC Games list, Twilight, a mere expansion, is number seven of all time. It beat classics such as Quake, Diablo, and Command and Conquer, as well as newer hits like Elder Scrolls IV (Oblivion) and Civilization IV.

This is even more incredible when you consider:

  • This is an expansion, not a new game (though it does feel like GC 3 to me)
  • It is “just” a turn-based strategy game.
  • The game is difficult to learn compared to simpler games like Civilization.

But the acclaim is not universal. Critics agree the game is incredible, and most users like it a good deal (though not as much as critics). But if you hit the metacritic GC2:TotA page, you see a very interesting picture. At the time of this writing, though the average critic rating is 95% (with a minimum of 90%), the average user rating is a 7.6/10 with a few very bad reviews.

As usual, I’m your trustworthy guide as we wade through the land of Idiots Who Need Made Fun Of.

Ed B. gave it a 2:

Guess I too am in the minority on this one – i find it boring. And I love a variety of games – inc. all the civilizations. Perhaps thats it – the fleet graphics are cool, but its a bit too confusing and just too long and just not that fun – plus it takes forever to play – shelfware.

Well, I can’t fault Ed for simply not liking it. The review isn’t useful in any way, as it doesn’t explain any specific faults or expectations, but at least we know hyphens aren’t going out of style any time soon.

MeestYk gave it a 6:

10 for wow graphics, -3 for boring turn-based,-1 overrating this game by smucks (mag reviews). Look for true excitement elsewhere. TB games are for grandpas.

I can’t believe the basis for this review was the game’s graphics…. I mean, they’re nice, but it’s a TBS. It’s not going to be anything like Crysis. But this guy loved the graphics. And then hated the fact that it was turn-based. And then misspelled “schmucks” in a way that doesn’t even make sense (I could at least understand the thought process behind misspelling it “shmucks”). How can you (a) dig GC2’s graphics if you’re not a TBS fan, and (b) bother to get the game if you hate TBS games? Hell, if I hated TBS games, I wouldn’t even bother to steal them, much less play them long enough to write a review about their awesome graphics….

Eric C gave it a 5:

yes space and stradgie, you’ll find your self 5 hours later wondering why.

Okay, well, this should be proof that humans aren’t evolving, but really doesn’t offer me any material to criticize intelligently.

Richard S. gave it a 3:

I first started playing galactic civilization games in 2003, at the time it was fun and it passed time somewhat enjoyably. Stardock has released their second expansion to the title five years later and it’s a poor job. For starters, the game isn’t even officially released. They have a system where they say that the game is “Generally available” and mask the fact that anyone who examines its development can see that it is still a beta.

Finally, a meaty review! Richard is wrong about the beta thing, though — the game was officially released, and Richard is just an idiot for quibbling over Stardock’s wording of it. You can argue that it feels like a beta all you like, but that doesn’t make it true. Oh, it needs some work for sure, but I think that’s true of most games I’ve played, and the difference is that Stardock will actually do that work.

The races AI isn’t fully finished, the ascension victory is a poor addition in it’s current state, and there’s a gamebreaking issue where the technology costs keep exponentially increasing and renders a fundamental gameplay element unmanageable. This is an idiotic move by Stardock and is a business move because they admit it’s not done yet, but they want the money up front.

Now here I think our friend Dick (mind if I call you Dick?) is confused. The AI is going to be improved, Brad Wardell (CEO of Stardock) has said that, but it’s not unfinished. It’s actually better than it was before the expansion, but it hasn’t gotten all the work Brad wanted it to. Big difference.

The tech cost escalation deals with massive user complaints during the beta that technology was going too fast. I’m sorry if this guy doesn’t like it (no I’m not), but that was the point of the beta – paying customers got to say what they wanted, and finishing the tech tree too fast was a huge issue. Now, the increasing cost formula initially needed some tweaks (it seemed okay to me in my first game, but I was the tech leader by a huge amount, so tech didn’t much matter), but the recent update may already have fixed that, and Brad himself shows his dedication again by asking us, the players, if the update took care of any complaints.

Next off is the additions to the game in terms of what the AI says, they now have even more insulting responses aimed directly at the player. I imagine the developers thought these lines were funny, but the player has to read these belligerent responses over and over and it just doesn’t add anything.

Now I get it! This guy didn’t cry because of the tech cost increasing – he cried because the AI kept insulting him as it kicked his ass on the “Cakewalk” setting! Note that the AI only insults the player when it’s kicking his ass.

Also note that before this change, the belligerent responses from the AI were less varied. So even if you don’t like the addition, at least it gives more variation than before.

The general feel of stardock’s attitude towards this game at this moment is apathetic. They said they’d only support it after 2.0 (It’s official release), if it’d make them any more money which gives the impression they aren’t passionate about making this game the best they can make it.

2.0 is the final GalCiv 2 release. Not the “official” release. The FINAL release. The words share many letters, but if you look closely you can see that they are not the same.

Stardock will not continue to add content to the game after 2.0 unless they keep getting sales. GC2 has been around for a while now — about two and a half years — and has gotten continuous support. I can’t figure how any company would be expected to keep supporting the game forever unless it was still bringing in revenue. These guys have always gone the extra mile, adding features and content to free updates, giving us almost a whole new game at each expansion. Surely we didn’t think that would last forever, did we, Rick?

The AI has gotten better, the new techs are nice, and there are general improvements to the interface and graphics in the game. It’s overall, much more unstable, and I had it crash about five times in a session, with graphic errors on the side. Stardock doesn’t deserve any praise for this game. It’s a shame it’s scoring so highly. Please avoid this game until it’s patched, or better yet, don’t buy it at all. You can spend your days on better things.

I can’t disagree here – the AI has gotten better, the new techs are nice, and the UI and graphics are improved. I don’t know about “much more unstable”, but I can’t claim to know how well it runs for Dickie here.

Here’s the shocker: it really and truly is a shame it’s scoring so highly. I think an average of 95% is indeed too high for this game as well. It’s simply not that amazing. It still has outstanding bugs, balance issues, etc. It has no multiplayer (I actually don’t care at all, but that’s usually factored in to reviews). Its graphics aren’t incredible (again, I don’t care, but reviewers very often do) even though they are very nice for a TBS. The game is difficult to learn, and very different from the average TBS. People who love the Civ series have to make major adjustment or they’ll get totally clobbered by the deep economic struggle that Galactic Civilizations games are famous for.

When a game gets a rating this high, people expect a lot more than it can deliver, and that makes more unhappy customers who will bitch and moan and waste Stardock’s valuable time.

At least I’ll have more people to make fun of, though.

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