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Platform

PC

 

Genre

Strategy

 

Publishe

Stardock

 

Developer

Stardock

 

ESRB

E +10 (Everyone)

 

Released

April 30, 2008

 

 

- Ludicrous amount of new content

- Subtle visual enhancements that won't kill your rig

- "Just one more turn . . .just one more turn . . ."

- Comprehensive editor suite for mods

 

 

- Music/SFX could use more expanding

- Hellish difficulty for single player campaign

 

 

Review: Command & Conquer 3: Kane's Wrath (PC)

Review: Advance Wars: Days of Ruin (DS)

Review: Darwinia (PC)

 

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Galactic Civilizations II: Twilight of the Arnor

Score: 7.5 / 10

 

twilight of the arnor          twilight of the arnor

 

It's not enough that Stardock gives us one of the best slabs of 4X strategy goodness in the form of Sins Of A Solar Empire.  It's not enough that they already put out Galactic Civilizations II and the Dark Avatar expansion, with a tech tree that makes a sequoia look like a shrub and an array of bibs and bobs for starship design that have forever spoiled me in terms of how my mighty fleets should look as they plunder the cosmos.  No, they just had to go and stuff even more goodies down our throats.  Twilight of the Arnor brings literally stupid amounts of new stuff to the table.  This, friends and neighbors, is how an expansion pack should be done.  Not a filet mignon with a glass of wine and a sprig of parsley for garnish.  This constitutes a 36 ounce slab of meat with a bottle of steak sauce and a keg of beer.

 

Twilight of the Arnor has plenty of gameplay options, from a single player skirmish in a small sector of space to a battle royale between multiple opponents in a galaxy appropriately labelled "Immense."  For those who avail themselves the option, players can upload their high scores in the game and compete in the Metaverse,

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pitting your skills as a galactic despot against those of other players.

 

The thing to keep in mind is that you have tons of options available to you as a player.  Tweaking enemy AI, stellar density, age of the universe as it appears in your map, and that's just when setting up a scenario.  For the modding crowd, the suite of editing tools that are available to you allows you to do

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damned near anything you could want, from trimming down the tech tree to cooking up dozens of new planetary improvements.  While Sins Of A Solar Empire is fast paced without being overly frantic, the entire GalCiv series is turn based, which allows you a more laidback and thoughtful pace.

 

Of course, there's also the temptation to simply burn through the reports of what happened the last turn and dive right into the next.  Twilight of the Arnor continues the "just one more turn" feel of the series.  You know you've got a great game (or expansion pack) when you catch yourself looking at the clock, wondering how six hours slipped away, and how you only have five minutes to get ready before you have to leave for work.

 

Visually, it doesn't seem like all that much has changed from the main game.  Looking more closely, it's the fine details that look like they've gotten the most improvement.  The interface is still spare and clean.  The ships are still appropriately futuristic.  It really does seem to be the small stuff, the insignia used for factions, the animations on stars, that add refinement to the game's graphics.  Yet all of this is accomplished without being a major burden on your graphics card.

 

twilight of the arnor          twilight of the arnor

 

I have to say that one area where I think I felt a bit cheated was sound.  While there is a new soundtrack, it's hard to pick out from the original soundtrack.  Listening to it on it's own, the music forTwilight of the Arnor certainly has a distinctly different feel from the main game's music.  I just wish there had been more of it.  Likewise, the sound effects for various weapons and explosions don't seem to have undergone much in the way of improvement.  While it may sound like quibbling, being less able to or deliberately not adding to the sound effects and music library in a substantial fashion diminishes the final product.

 

Is Twilight of the Arnor a perfect expansion?  Not quite.  If there's one element that really causes this expansion to take a hit, it's the challenge level when you go through the campaign.  When you're playing against human opponents, that's one thing.  You've usually got a pretty good handle on what sort of challenge you can expect.  The challenge level you get from the computer as you're going through the single player campaign seems rather uneven, leaning towards radically difficult.  It's almost like the developers have a very specific pattern in mind to beat the scenario and failure to do so results your eventual destruction.  The fact you often start at a tremendous disadvantage compared to your enemies does not make the situation any easier.  The fact that you don't carry over any of the advantages from the tech tree that you made in the previous scenario compounds the difficulty.  And the ridiculously slow repair rates of ships and space stations exacerbate the difficulties in keeping a fleet in top fighting form.  If you're still not scared after all this, the single player campaign is for you.  For myself, I'll stick to single player skirmishes and multiplayer maps.

 

Let me explain again just how much Twilight of the Arnor will beat you down. It's not just the AI in the single player campaign that's a problem, it is the entire balance of the scenarios.  There were numerous times I had to restart a scenario because I was crushed in short order.  Even taking things down to the "Cakewalk" level of AI difficulty only prolonged the agony.  When you've got the AI cranked down to the lowest level, and yet you're still end up losing in a really hideous fashion, the problem is not solely in the AI.  Might it be a problem with the player?  Maybe, but I don't seem to have problems with other turn-based strategy titles like Civ IV (which had a 4X type mod in its "Beyond the Sword" expansion and which I thoroughly enjoy) or even other turn-based 4X games like Sword of The Stars.  To my mind, the game balance on the single player campaign, and only the single player campaign, was a major issue.  Didn't have a problem in the skirmish maps, the stuff that's randomly generated, and with me setting an AI difficulty higher than "Cakewalk."  For all the good stuff that Stardock threw in there, a badly imbalanced single player campaign just is not something I can gloss over.  If the expansion had been only that campaign, without any of the other goodies, the review score would likely be a lot lower.

 

- Axel Cushing

(August 25, 2008)

 

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