Galactic Civilizations 3: Intrigue Review

What is it?

Galactic Civilizations 3: Intrigue is the latest expansion for the third iteration of theGalactic Civilizations (GalCiv) series. The expansion introduces some new features, among them are:

  • Governments – once you’ve obtained your second colony, you can begin to choose among different governments that allow for various bonuses to production levels, diplomatic capabilities, access to the black market, unique ships, and much more. 
  • Commonwealths – once you’ve reached an empire size that feels difficult to manage, you can award sovereignty to a planet collection of your choice and they will forever be allied to you and share their income with you. 
  • The Black Market – not unlike Endless Space 2’s market, it’s basically a supply and demand system for all of the resources that are now a part of GalCiv 3.
  • GNN News Robot – exactly what you’d expect. 
  • Some new technologies and other content – nothing earth shattering here and nothing that particularly jumps out at me. 

Intrigue is likely the last expansion for GalCiv 3 and it comes after the fantastic Crusadeexpansion, so there’s a bit of pressure on Stardock to live up to the expectations of something like Twilight of the Arnor from GalCiv 2 (its last expansion) and the expectations set with Crusade (the last GalCiv 3 expansion). Both of those are incredibly high hurdles to overcome. 

What I liked:

I’ll begin by saying that the entire package of GalCiv 3 has really become its own thing – finally leaving the shadow of its prequel predecessor – and is a game that I enjoy very much. What, specifically, did I like about the Intrigue expansion?

  • Governments: There is a large variety of governments to choose from, each with their own prerequisites, that offer various bonuses and drawbacks to adopting them. A couple governments, including the ‘Emergency Coalition’, act as a great last ditch effort in certain circumstances. Are you losing your war against the Drengin? Are things looking rather dire? Enact the ‘Emergency Coalition’ and you’ll be offered a great battleship and extra bonuses to help you turn the tide. However, you’ll lose research capabilities as you focus your war efforts.

    The governments are dynamic and plentiful and remain relevant throughout yourIntrigue games. Some of them only become available after some moderate to significant investment in your preferred ideology, thus keeping the government choices relevant for much longer than you’d expect. 

  • The Black Market: Whether or not it’s a “no-brainer” addition to a game like this, or a bit derivative of Endless Space 2‘s resource market, it’s still a welcome addition. Too many times have I found myself desperate for a particular resource, only to find that the AI won’t trade for it and there aren’t any more planets to colonize in order to hopefully find it. Now, you can just save up your funds, explore more ruins, or simply sell your own resources on the black market to acquire those resources you need. 

    In a game that relies so heavily on your ability to obtain resources and use them to their greatest effect, the black market was sorely needed and a welcome addition. As of the time I write this, it appears that some of the prices of resources are off, sometimes wildly too expensive and mostly just too expensive to be viable. However, that’s something that can be fixed and I expect Stardock will be taking a look at this soon, if not already. 

  • The GNN News Bot: If GalCiv 3 significantly lacks in any one area, it’s in its world-building. Admittedly, I’m a bit spoiled by games like Endless Space 2Endless Legend, and even Stellaris in this regard, but GalCiv 3 needs some love here. While the News Bot doesn’t do a whole lot to rectify this, it still adds a bit more personality to the game and is more fun than watching a notification queue in the UI. ​​

What I didn’t like:

  • Governments: I feel like Stardock missed an opportunity here to make governments truly asymmetric and allow for wildly different gameplay. That’s not to say that they’re a complete miss, because they’re actually pretty unique and fun, but it would have been cool to see some governments change gameplay dramatically enough to change the way I played my game entirely.

    A government that  has denied war’s value and shirked research in that branch, but gained a significant boost to other tech types? Hell yes, but you better play your cards right or else you’ll get steamrolled and best you only adopt that government for a short time. That’s just one example and I can think of many more. 
  • Commonwealths: I feel like Stardock is its own worst enemy here, as the colony governors are actually good enough to give full control of colonies that you don’t really want to worry about. The only time I found Commonwealths to be of any value were when I’d have too many planet for my morale to handle, thus creating them increased my empire’s morale and it’d make things much better for all involved. 

    However, I just didn’t use Commonwealths all that much and I feel like Stellaris did a better job minimizing micromanagement with their sector mechanic. I don’t really want to give up control of these new entities entirely and the fact that they took away from your projected power on the power graphs felt really unsatisfying.

  • The Lack of New Races: Brad Wardell, the CEO of Stardock, has previously publicly said that he’d planned on adding more races to GalCiv 3, but was frustrated by the reaction that the base version of GalCiv 3 was getting via its Steam Review Score, and thus he wouldn’t be green-lighting the DLC featuring those races. That being said, I still expected to see one or two in this new expansion, but they sadly didn’t happen. Admittedly, this was never even hinted at, but its exclusion makes the overall package of Intrigue feel less meaty, which leads me to my next point…

  • The Lack of Content, In General: What’s included in Intrigue is pretty polished and the mechanics and content are all welcome additions, however, it just feels like the entire package is a bit light on content for its $20 price tag. As I alluded to before, the Crusade expansion has certainly spoiled us, but you can also compare Endless Space 2‘s Vaulters expansion, which brought many new ship modules, new heroes, an entirely new pirate gameplay mechanic, a new main quest, and a new minor faction, and not to mention, an entirely new faction with a unique gameplay focus and aesthetic for half the asking price of Intrigue

​Stardock has clearly learned its lesson from the release of the base game of GalCiv 3, as it’s done a lot to make the game, with all of its expansions and content packs, a significantly more enjoyable experience. However, it feels like Stardock plays it way too safe and, despite Brad Wardell being particularly innovative in his hey day, they haven’t brought much in the way of innovation to Intrigue. Sure, the governments are pretty unique, but the rest of it  – the Commonwealths, the GNN robot, and the Black Market – feels way too familiar and doesn’t feel like new territory. 

That being said, as a whole product, Galactic Civilizations 3version 3.0 is now a game that I’d feel comfortable recommending without any real caveats. I wish they’d still address the world (universe)-building issues that I currently feel that they have – like strange flavor text in diplomacy and a general lack of wonder in the universe – and really, just diplomacy in general, but as the game stands, it’s an enjoyable, deep 4X game that’s a bit rough around the edges. 

As an expansion, though, I can recommend it, but only just barely at the price point it’s currently at right now. If it were $10, or even $15, it’d be an easy recommendation considering the content, so if you’re on the edge, wait until the next sale. It’s not like there’s not a lot of 4X games to enjoy until then, plus the base game now includes Crusade and that’s probably the best expansion for any 4X I’ve seen in a long, long time. 

Update: After another 20 hours with Intrigue, I can wholeheartedly recommend it. It’s not just that the content has become “more valuable”, but it is a lot more nuanced than I originally thought. The governments really do change the way I play, plus the 3.0 changes are worthy of supporting Stardock, as they’re fantastic. Full stop. I would never have believed that GalCiv 3 would become a game that I enjoy as much as I do, but it has and I’m happy to report that. Well done, Stardock!

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