I remember the first Galactic Civilizations and the surprise success it had. Since then the franchise has gone through steady, regular improvements through expansion packs and a new release. Galactic Civlizations II: Dark Avatar, is just such a regular improvement. Featuring some new races and a new campaign, most of the changes are subtle and under the hood. However, there are some really cool things that come to the forefront.
Galactic Civilizations has been culling ideas from some of its predecessors for some time, while also developing its own. The trend continues in Dark Avatar. Like the Master of Orion games, players can not colonize all worlds from the start. There are water planets, heavy gravity worlds, toxic environments and radioactive wastelands. Before these can be colonized, the proper technologies have to be discovered – and then refined. Simply being able to colonize a heavy-G world doesn't mean you're going to thrive on it until more research is done.
The new campaign bears some similarity to Star Control 2. Dark Avatar continues the story with the Drengin Empire effectively ruling the galaxy, making slaves of other races. However, the Korath Clan of the Drengin Empire are more into extermination of their foes. Star Control fans will doubtless be able to guess where this is going.
Dark Avatar doesn't lack for grand ideas, however. The first and perhaps most noticeable are the mega events. These are seemingly random events with galaxy-wide consequences. For example, after conquering the Korath with my custom race focused on technology, my Influence level shot through the roof thanks to all the new worlds. With my technological advantages this only got worse, and even though I hadn't been planning a cultural victory, the game fired an event where other races accused mine of attempting cultural conquest. They got a huge bonus to their influence and I was left reeling, with many worlds now falling under the spell of the Krynn and Drath Legion. Fortunately, these Mega events are optional. They can and often do wildly change the balance of the game.
Super Abilities are another new feature of Dark Avatar. Super Isolationists keep their enemies going through their space at only 1 parsec per turn, Super Traders start with all trade technologies, and so on. There are asteroid fields in most star systems now, which can be mined for production resources. To make things more interesting, the fields can be assigned to any planet the player owns – meaning that resources can be focused as needed. Is a food/economy planet that's slow to upgrade its structures to the highest tech ones? Sending mining resources there will greatly speed production.
In the small refinements front, the interface has been cleaned up a bit. One noticeable improvement is in the tech tree, which no longer sprawls nearly as much as it did. Now, all “Laser” weapons fit into one block, which has sub-divisions for “Laser II”, “Laser III”, “Laser IV” and so on. This makes navigation of the tech tree much easier.
Opponents can be customized as well. Curious to see a “Good” race that is hell-bent on military conquest? You can make it happen. Or perhaps you'd like to see evil, genocidal Insectoids who are peaceful as lambs? All that is a slider away.