Galactic Civilizations IV – Review
Follow Genre: Real Time Strategy, 4X
Developer: Stardock
Publisher: Stardock
Platform: PC (Epic Exclusive)
Tested on: PC

Galactic Civilizations IV – Review

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Good: Epic soundtrack
Bad: Requires a significant investment of time and dedication before it becomes good
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Our review for Galactic Civilizations IV may have arrived a little later than you’d expect, given that the game actually launched in late April. As you’ll find out, however, there is a good reason for that: this is a game that requires a significant investment in both time and dedication before it shows its true colors. Having ventured into the deep galaxies of Galactic Civilizations IV, we have now returned, however, to share our findings with you.


The sheer amount of different playable alien species in the game, each with their own short backstory blurb, and the fact that Galactic Civilizations IV boasts a campaign mode may have you thinking that you’d be getting a deep narrative here. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case and it feels like a missed opportunity. It’s clear that the lore to tap into is present, as evidenced by the short story snippets that surround randomized events but ultimately, a clear story never unfolds. It’s a shame as an immersive, cinematic campaign that explains some of the game’s finer mechanics would’ve done a lot to fix some of Galactic Civilizations IV’s obtuseness, as you’ll find out a bit further down in this review.


It’s often said that a 4X game without decent visuals is nothing more than a glorified spreadsheet. Fortunately, Galactic Civilizations IV more than delivers when it comes to its visuals. This is an amazing-looking game, with vibrant galaxies and gorgeous character models. The only downside here is that the interface often looks cluttered, due to the sheer amount of information that the game is trying to convey at any given time. There is only so much you can fit onto a single screen, and you’ll be swapping between menus and zooming in and out pretty much constantly as you attempt to navigate not just the galaxy but also your options.


We’re going to go ahead and say that Galactic Civilizations IV’s soundtrack was our favourite element of the game. It’s suitably epic and wouldn’t feel out of place in a big budget sci-fi film. The game’s sound effects are okay but nothing to write home about, however. It also appears that in space, no one can hear you talk as the game suffers from an unfortunate lack of voice acting. There isn’t even an introductory narration, which seems like a missed opportunity.


We may not have had any experience with the Galactic Civilizations franchise prior to this game, but the developer reassuringly bills Galactic Civilizations IV as the most accessible entry in the series. It’s a 4X game, set in space and we do have some prior experience with the genre, so we were eager to see whether accessibility translates to a game that is strategically challenging, and most importantly, fun. As with any 4X game, the focus is on exploring your surroundings, gathering resources to expand your colony, and dealing with opposing factions, either through trade and negotiation or by force. While we can’t compare Galactic Civilizations IV to something like, say, Galactic Civilizations III as we haven’t played that, we did feel like there was a steeper learning curve than we had anticipated, even after making our way through a tutorial hosted by Space Clippy -a nod to Microsoft Word’s much-maligned mascot.

That learning curve has a lot to do with the sheer amount of mechanics that the game throws at you. The hex-based space maps were easy enough to wrap our heads around, and the narrative elements give everything a nice bit of flavor but when the game starts introducing things like ideology options and politics, we quickly start to feel overwhelmed. There’s a lot of trial and error involved here -blowing up a ship from a specific race might start a chain reaction that earns you the disapproval of allies of that race, and suddenly you find yourself at war with half the galaxy, for example- and while we admit that this does add a lot of realism to the game’s politics element it also left us afraid of taking any risks, which then led to us feeling like sitting ducks. This is a game that isn’t for anyone looking for a casual experience, and it will take you some time before you know what you can and can’t do without risking being blown to smithereens.

Galactic Civilizations IV feels needlessly difficult despite the touted higher accessibility level. We were initially wondering what we were doing wrong -as it turned out, it wasn’t us, it was the game’s poor communication skills. We imagine the majority of players would trust Space Clippy to guide them on their journey, but in an ironic twist, Galactic Civilizations IV’s mascot is almost as equally useless as its namesake. The game only explains the bare minimum and a world opened up for us when we took to the internet to take a look at some of the more obtuse mechanics. Take modules, for example, which are a consumable resource that -unlike every other resource in the game- you need to research and construct yourself. We won’t delve into Galactic Civilizations IV’s mechanics too deeply here: we wouldn’t have the room to cover everything and there’s an incredibly helpful wiki. Just know that if you’re intent on taking this journey into space, you’ll need to study up before you’ll be able to deal with the various alien races that inhabit the galaxy.

Granted, the game could use some polish in the way it delivers information to the player. There’s the aforementioned obtuseness when it comes to explaining specific mechanics, but we’d love it if an update could declutter the screen and make navigating and issuing commands more streamlined, for example. Another example is the game’s tech tree, which is a pain to figure out, especially if you’re a beginning player. Obtaining specific technology often involves working on various branches or hoping you get lucky and are able to trade it with a different alien race, provided they are willing to do so. Players that spend more and more time with the game will undoubtedly familiarise themselves with the more involved mechanics of Galactic Civilizations IV and figure out the shortest and most efficient ways to work towards specific sub-goals but it’s yet another hurdle to overcome.

That’s not to say that Galactic Civilizations IV is a bad game -far from it, in fact. It’s just that the time you’d need to spend before you begin to find your footing in this galaxy probably exceeds the time needed to fully complete other games, so if you decide to pick the game up, you’re picking up a commitment. Make no mistake, if this game clicks with you, you’re looking at a bona fide time sink, where you can easily spend hundreds of hours before you’ve seen everything or have played a campaign with every race at least once. This does come with the caveat that if you’re looking for a quick and action-packed title, then you’re better off looking elsewhere as the game is a slow burn that relies on tension and you can’t just go around attacking other races willy-nilly and expect to come out victorious. This is a game that rewards players if they are patient and with mod support supposedly coming in the near future, it’s players that decide to stick with Galactic Civilizations IV that will eventually reap the rewards of their time investment.


In a way, Galactic Civilizations IV does exactly what it sets out to do: it delivers a deep and engaging 4X strategy. If you’re a fan of the franchise or an aficionado of 4X games, you probably know what to expect already, and you won’t need this review to decide whether or not this game is up your alley. When looking at the game as an outsider, however, the picture is less clear. We can see the merit of Galactic Civilizations IV, and we understand what it attempts to do. The issue is that Galactic Civilizations IV feels like it’s preaching to the choir and catering to those that are already part of its fanbase, rather than attempting to draw in new players. Despite the promised increase in accessibility, this is a game we can’t recommend to anyone seeking to dip their toe into the genre when there are far more welcoming alternatives for that out there.

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