Galactic Civilizations III ReeXamination #1

It has been nearly six months since Galactic Civilizations III launched to mostly positive reviews. I gave it a “Recommend” on the eXplorminate rating scale. While the game hasn’t slid backwards since launch, I fear that stagnation may have been just as detrimental to the overall experience. The allure of GalCiv III has long since worn off and I find myself hoping Stardock really pushes the proverbial envelope with the upcoming expansion.


Stardock has released four major updates and three DLCs since the game launched (we’re on version 1.4). On top of this, they published a public “roadmap” for future improvements, which I really appreciate. It not only informs players of what’s to come, but also adds a degree of accountability. I certainly have some critiques regarding the improvements to the game, but Stardock’s level of support and engagement is not one of them.

What Has Been Added

With all the updates that GalCiv III has received since launch, there have been only a few major changes. The AI has improved to the point where I have had to play a couple difficulties lower than I’m used to and still, at times, have been steamrolled. Planetary governors are more trustworthy, but could still use more attention. The introduction of Steam Workshop support has brought user-created mods to everyone and that’s never a bad thing.

Since the latest patch, the AI enjoys fewer economic benefits because it no longer needs to rely on them. The AI finally seems to have the competence to construct planetary improvements in a way that actually makes sense, resulting in higher output rates.

These improvements also mean that planetary governors are significantly more useful. While I still don’t trust the governors enough to to terraform my planets and have full control, their respective focuses do seem to be fairly capable. To the delight of many fans, this has allowed Stardock to roll back some of the so-called advantages that the AI needs to compete in most 4X titles.

Unfortunately, the downside to these advances is that they often leave me with nothing else to do. Other than hitting “next turn,” and occasionally queueing up a ship or a new tech, there isn’t much to keep the player busy. That isn’t to say I prefer tons of micromanagement, but I feel the systems within the game offer far less compelling reasons to keep playing once you’ve figured them out.

Governor Screen
While maybe not perfect, governors are finally useful

One of the largest improvements to GalCiv III is the implementation of support for Steam Workshop. I admit I haven’t used it much, but in the one game where I used a community-built ships mod, it was pretty cool to have Star Destroyers go wreak havoc on the Yor. I’ve seen plenty of people compliment this addition on various forums.

As one would expect, there have also been a host of bug fixes with each patch. Stardock has updated its tooltips making systems like production and happiness easier to understand. These fixes are beneficial overall, but not game changing. Despite all the modifications, GalCiv III just doesn’t have the power to keep me engaged for hours on end anymore.

What Hasn’t Changed

The combat, victory conditions, diplomacy, and most of the core gameplay have not evolved very much. I’m optimistic that combat and victory types will be addressed in the future because neither are currently all that engaging. It still bothers me that diplomacy is mainly locked behind techs that enable agreements and treaties. According to Stardock, this system will be updated soon. Like many parts of the game, the core is there, but it just needs a little more in order to elevate GalCiv III.

My blue laser beats your green laser?

Let’s begin with the combat simulator. While the three damage types in GalCiv III may seem overly simplistic, there is enough variety when mixed with ship modules to give players a sizeable selection of choices. It also seems to be a little more inspiring than combat in other games such as Endless Space (which really was not my cup of tea). That being said, ship configurations don’t seem to offer enough variation in combat. At the start of a battle, initial ship placement puts combatants too close to one another, so missiles’ superior range doesn’t amount to much of an advantage. Similarly, the lack of range for kinetic weapons isn’t a big factor in a ship’s combat performance, either. However, at the end of the day, you will typically choose the damage type your opponent lacks defense against. Simply switching out five beam weapons for five missile pods doesn’t exactly scream “in-depth strategic decision” to me. On a more positive note, ship design can still be fun, allowing players to maximize a ship’s efficiency while building elaborate fleets. Bottom line: combat needs an overall revamp.

Invasion Screen
For all the effort required to invade a planet – I am left wanting a lot more

Planetary invasions haven’t fared much better. Currently, the game handles invasions in a very sterile manner – it appears to compare some defense values against the number of invaders and then arrives at an abrupt conclusion. That’s it! You can pay 500 credits to bomb a very fortified planet but clicking invade, seeing a percentage and then winning? Right now, the whole process is anticlimactic and undermines the amount of effort required.

How could they make the process even more tedious you wonder? Easy. Add single purpose transport ships. These sitting ducks not only use up a planet’s population, but they also require some smart flying so they aren’t intercepted en route. You also need a further investment of credits so that more advance invasions types are available. This system is very hands-on and not the least bit satisfying. I would love to have a planet buster module on a ship or anything else, actually.

On the bright side, the updated invasion viewer is finally scheduled to arrive almost 10 months after the game’s release. It is too bad players will still have to deal with a sub-par experience for that long, especially since it was something Stardock was talking about fixing even before the game was officially released. At least it is now on the horizon.

Combat may have room to improve, but it still fares better than the other available victory types. I am sad to report that Galactic Conquest is still far more interesting than a diplomatic, economic, scientific, etc. victory, since those mostly only require you to click next turn again, and again, and again.To be fair, many 4X games suffer from the same fate. Still, it would be nice to see the development team attempt something new as just about anything would be an improvement. For instance, a culture victory could be made more interesting with a more active system that required exploration and the collection of artifacts.

My other major issue is the underutilization of starbases. Their main purpose is to slightly augment various outputs on your planets as well as to claim and mine strategic resources scattered around the map. Both of these are useful, but I would like to see starbases play a bigger and more imaginative role within the game. They could have additional uses like planetary defense platforms, off-world habitats, a barrier to enemy fleet travel, and many others. Currently, starbases simply aren’t very inspiring. It feels like a missed opportunity. I am excited to see what changes are implemented this coming February.

The “Wheel” of Doom

Wheel Screen
The wheel in all of its glory – you’ll love it and hate it

What is this “wheel” I speak of, you wonder? A new/old/much-copied contraption which allows the player to determine how to focus their production of manufacturing, research, and economic growth. At launch, many people (myself included) felt that the wheel required too much micromanagement on a planet-by-planet basis. This tedium becomes very evident when managing empires of 50, 100, 300, or more systems!

Optimizing the wheel quickly took up the majority of the player’s time. That all changed with the 1.4 update when the wheel was disabled on a planet-by-planet basis – though it still existed on an empire wide scale. While that seemed to solve the matter of local micromanagement, it diminished the advantage of specialized planets. If a player wanted a world to only churn out battleships, some of the overall production would be lost due to the fact that manufacturing probably wasn’t set to 100% on an empire wide level. For some players, especially those who like to micromanage their empires to the ultimate heights of efficiency, this is really frustrating.

Brad Wardell of Stardock gave a lot of thought on how to fix this issue, and has temporarily reinstated the wheel to appease micromanagers. While I won’t go into the specifics, he has two separate discussion threads which map out his view on a possible solution. I believe the issue won’t be fully resolved until new mechanics such as government types are implemented into the game. Though, with the release of patch 1.5, an updated “wheel” is making its triumphant return. Will we be seeing the “village mob” with their torches and pitchforks? Or the galactic senate with its “hail to the victor” chant? It’s too early to tell.

Souls for the Dead

Another major shortcoming of Galactic Civilizations III is its lack of a “soul”. Honestly, when I hear other gamers complain about “the game feeling soulless” I kind of roll my eyes. For me, 4X is less about narrative and more about numbers, tech trees, and endless decisions that keep me up far too late. Yet, for GalCiv III, I feel it’s warranted.

I think that this “soulless” feeling comes down to the fact that the special events in the game often feel like little more than generic flavor text. It’s hard to really feel engaged by a major event when all it results in is something banal and undefinable like a +15 increase to my current ideology. Remember the end of Star Wars when the Rebel Alliance got +10 to production for ten turns for destroying the Death Star? Exactly. Now, I do have to mention that I do not own the mega-events or any other DLC. It’s possible that these mega-events add to the overall feel of the game, but they would need to bring a lot more to the game in order to immerse me in the setting.

Events Screen
Wait, what was that? I’ll only have 15 more ideology points?

Part of what makes  the game feel so empty the fact that, if you don’t constantly expand, you’ll quickly get left behind. This then becomes a war game where players are always on the receiving end of undue aggression. For me, 4X is about creative expression as well as attaining strategic mastery. The scale of GalCiv III is huge and its various mechanics reward territorial control as much or more than territorial development. I have, at times, run into an empire that dwarfs mine a few hours in. War is declared, and I fight valiantly. But alas, not long thereafter, I am extinct. As a result, I am unable to play a small, trade-focused empire with any hope of competing. I really can’t keep up with the AI in regards to tech unless I have a comparable number of worlds. If you aren’t the biggest fish in the pond, the pond will be the least of your concerns. This means you have to expand fast or fall behind, which ultimately takes away the ability from players to craft their own narrative as they play.

When compared to some other 4X games, I feel that the player is punished for choosing to remain smaller than other empires. You have to build wide, since you can’t build tall. GalCiv III does not empower the player to do this. I understand that a village should not be able to conquer the entirety of the Roman empire – without help, that is. Yet, in the multitude of my Civilization 5 games I wasn’t always the “biggest kid on the block” and still managed to avoid getting crushed as there were other ways I could harass and weaken my enemies. Unfortunately Galactic Civilizations III seems to lack balance in this regard, which, more times than not, funnels players into destroying neighbors in order to increase their territory.

Downloadable Content

DLC Scrren
Ever wonder what a universe ruled by squirrels would look like?

Let’s talk DLC. Almost every major patch has been accompanied by DLC. The first one offered a number of pre-built maps as well as access to the game’s map editor. Cool. The second offered mega events. Some seemed really cool such as the Dreadlords coming to invade. Hurray! Oh wait… crap, better build more ships! The most recent piece of DLC introduces the Snathi as a playable race. The Snathi may or may not be exciting depending on your phobias and the cool factor of “Evil Space Rodents”.

Each of these DLCs checks in at $5 apiece. For a more in-depth rant about these offerings, check out this article I wrote awhile back. Needless to say, I feel that, so far, GalCiv III’s DLC has been lackluster at best, but at least the game is continuing to get a lot of support. I have faith that Stardock will continue to improve the game year after year, just as they did with GalCiv2.

Onward and Upward

Going forward, players can expect an update to diplomacy before the end of the year. Then, February will bring a new expansion with two new races and other, as of yet unannounced, content. Hopefully, this future expansion will flesh out some of the weaker parts of the game with additional gameplay. The expansion will also bring updates to both invasions and starbases. Personally, I’m looking forward to these improvements since the current systems feel like little more than placeholders.

Much like the base game for Age of Wonders 3, or Civilization 5GalCiv III feels underwhelming at the moment. Expansions, DLC, free updates, and whatever else Stardock happens to throw at us should only help this venerable franchise reach its potential.   

Rob’s Additional Perspective:

I think what holds Galactic Civilizations III back more than anything is its complete lack of innovation. The base game is, for all intents and purposes, a solid experience. However, it’s a game I’ve played before in Galactic Civilizations 2…now with better graphics and a better engine. What’s even worse for the third iteration in this franchise is the fact that GalCiv 2 had more content, more innovative mechanics and much more personality for its time.

Sure, the AI update was welcome and the newest patch, 1.5 (currently in opt-in status on Steam), brought a couple diplomatic options that I wanted (though it still falls short: I want a “Close Borders” command, for the love of all things good), but the DLC and patches haven’t fixed the core issue of… dullness that’s pervasive throughout the game. Again, I’ve played a better version for hundreds of hours already: GalCiv 2.

I still think that GalCiv 3 has serious potential. The presentation is above par, the UI is very competent and Stardock has both the ability and history of trying things differently. The game just needed to get there sooner than it has. There is some serious competition coming from the Master of Orion reboot, Endless Space 2 and Stellaris. If Stardock doesn’t find ways to differentiate the experience VERY SOON, GalCiv 3 will be gobbled up by those likely powerhouses.

TL;DR: If you’re looking for an all-new experience with even a hint of innovation, look elsewhere. If you’re looking for a solid 4X foundation that plays decently, albeit way too safely, GalCiv 3 can still be fun. Consider it the space version of Civilization V: the game is pretty and competent, but woefully underwhelming. It will need expansions to fulfill the promise of its heritage.

You Might Like This Game If:

  • You enjoy ship design
  • You enjoy a more warmongering approach to games
  • Flavor text is one of your favorite things
  • You are looking for a good introductory game to space 4X

You Might NOT Like This Game if:

  • You are looking for GC 2.5
  • You enjoy maximizing economic output and the micromanagement associated with that
  • You are looking for a next-generation space 4X
  • You are looking for the last space 4X you will need for the next 5 years



Review Policy

Dallin has played over 150 hours of Galactic Civilizations III on Windows 7 – 3.8GHz CPU, R270 video card, with 8GB of RAM

14 thoughts on “Galactic Civilizations III ReeXamination #1

  1. Personally, I hate the wheel- I feel it adds a layer of unfun micromanagement that gets in the way of the more fun parts of the game. It actually made me stop playing the game until 1.4, and I fear that if it is kept, 1.5 will make me stop playing again unless something great is added.

    I still like Stardock as a company, SK was great and new, and that’s what I wanted to see more of from Stardock. I was disappointed that Stardock played it as safe as they did was GalCiv3. Hopefully the expansions changed things- and you’re right, the game still oozes potential, but it’s not realized any of it yet.

    I bought the game, and I mostly got my money’s worth so far- so if it reaches its potential late that’s great. If it doesn’t, I can shrug it off. I just know that if it doesn’t, I’ll be skeptical about GalCiv4m and moreso than I would be for say Civ6, despite GalCiv3 being the better technical game. I just feel Stardock’s best possible GalCiv may not be great, but just good. That’s not good enough these days- the standards have improved so much in the past couple of years with games like AOW3 and SK.


    1. I (Rob) agree that the wheel going away was best for the game and I hate seeing that it’s returning in a way for 1.5.

      GC3 just isn’t there for me yet and something needs to happen soon before the space 4X onslaught!


      1. I’m with you too, Quiet Bear. GalCiv3 is a nice, mass-market game. It’s vanilla enough that almost anyone will have a decent time playing it. However, it’s not a very inspirational game. I feel that Stardock looked at it and said they needed a sure-fire seller, especially since they were taking a fairly big risk on Sorcerer King at around the same time. The sales for SK have no doubt disappointed, so maybe they were prescient when going the vanilla route with GalCiv. But just like Rob, I wish Stardock had pushed the design envelope more.


  2. So as many of you know (and are already talking about) with 1.5 the wheel is back. Since the article was essentially finished when the opt-in was made available we left the section largely untouched. Instead let me add a few things here to address this new change.

    The wheel oh where to begin? I think since it is back in it will be here to stay in some form or another. I imagine that the economy will shift again come the expansion early next year which might dilute the players raw ability to command billions to only focus on research or or manufacturing.

    Whatever the solution is I hope it is somewhere in the middle. I agree (especially when empires get huge) it isn’t fun to have to manage every planet. But since it is a 4X I do like to have a level of control on my planets outputs that makes it actually feel beneficial to do more than click “governor x” and then forget the planet forever as the game goes on autopilot.


  3. I’d like to chime in. Rob and I talked about “The Wheel” on the latest WeX 57 (out soon), but to sum up something – The Wheel will be locked behind a potentially inconsequential tech wall. You’ll then have to build a structure on a planet to activate it AFTER its been researched. So, maybe, in this situation it’s not so bad. That’s at least how it read to me.



  4. “Add single purpose transport ships. These sitting ducks not only use up a planet’s population, but they also require some smart flying so they aren’t intercepted en route.”
    I fail to see the problem, attach transports to fleets that can protect them.

    “My other major issue is the underutilization of starbases.”
    Disagree, sure military starbases might need a little boost. But overall starbases can make a huge difference. Influence starbases are crucial if going for an influence victory.

    “I am sad to report that Galactic Conquest is still far more interesting than a diplomatic, economic, scientific, etc. victory, since those mostly only require you to click next turn again, and again, and again.”
    For diplomacy victory you have to be in an alliance with every major civilization, the ones that are still alive anyway. There is no economic victory. And for scientific you have to research three specific techs and build an improvement on a colony, it would help if that improvement wasn’t an upgrade. That is much better than in Endless Space/Endless Legend where economic/diplomatic victories are won by gathering money/diplomacy points.

    “Now, I do have to mention that I do not own the mega-events or any other DLC.”
    “Needless to say, I feel that, so far, GalCiv III’s DLC has been lackluster at best, ”
    Kindly explain how you can pass judgement on something you’ve never played.

    “You Might NOT Like This Game if:

    You are looking for GC 2.5”
    I do not understand this one, most complaints are that if feels like GC 2.5. Which isn’t a problem for me.

    “You enjoy maximizing economic output and the micromanagement associated with that”
    There’s plenty of that in GCIII.

    “What’s even worse for the third iteration in this franchise is the fact that GalCiv 2 had more content, more innovative mechanics and much more personality for its time.”
    Personally I can’t go back to II after playing III. And the vanilla GC2 certainly did not have more content than vanilla GC3.

    I wish my laptop wouldn’t overheat when playing GC3, then I could play it more.


  5. I’ll probably get some flack for this (it is also OT), but my biggest problem with Gal Civ III is the decision to make it x64 only. It may be bad to play a boring game, but it can’t beat not being able to play the game at all.

    For all the launch features, and for all the added features since, I still cannot understand the imposed limitation. Gal Civ III is certainly still a 32 bit game that would just take a little longer to run between turns. I cannot perceive in anything I’ve read about this game (and I’ve read a lot, considering my undying love for the first two games) any technical reason whatsoever that makes this game only capable of running in an extended memory address space.

    And with that decision, Stardock has unceremoniously shown me the door out. Me, who even stood by them during the troubled days of Elemental: War of Magic.

    Now, I can understand a 32bit version would require a fork with some important changes to data allocation, and result in a more densely threaded and slower game. Between the decision of a 32bit only, a 64bit only, or maintaining two forks (ouch!), I think I can see the allure of just going 64bit. But in a day and age where even the most exigent games are still 32bit compatible, Stardock has yet to show the promised features they called “their vision of Gal Civ III and future expansions” that can justify the 64bit exclusivity.

    As for the gameplay issues discussed on this article, having not played the game, this just confirms my suspicions that Gal Civ III has increased micro-management compared to the previous games. With an increased scale in potential civilization sizes, this can be a problem to some players. Trouble is I actually like micro-management to a painful degree. So Gal Civ III sits well with my persona. The problem that needs to be solved is lack of game balance. A micro-manager likes small, highly efficient and well controlled civilizations. But while the game offers plenty of micro-management it offers no actual benefit from it. A small and high efficient civilization is not going anywhere in this game.

    That players then feel forced to forfeit all the micro-management features in order to nurture bigger civilizations to stand a chance to actually score a win, is just tragic. Is like making a first-person shooter with all sorts of areas the players will never want to go. And it is one of the reasons the most discussed feature in this game is a tool to remove micro-management. It is painful to see Stardock having trouble deciding exactly what type of game they want Gal Civ III to be.


    1. Go to the Steam site and look at Stats, then Steam Hardware & Software Survey and finally OS version. 64bit versions of Windows account for 83,08%, OSX and Linux are all 64bit versions. I actually think it was a waste of resources for Microsoft to make a 32bit version of Windows 10.

      The largest map sizes in GC3 can’t even be played with only 4GB. I have problems with all graphics options set to lowest, this is also due to my old laptop. In GC2 there could only be a maximum of 10 major civilizations in a game. GC3 allows for dozens, provided your machine can handle it.

      Technology marches on, 32bit will be abandoned. The sooner the better.

      Also bellow is a list of games that require 64bit.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes. I’ve seen the “go to Steam stats” argument before. It’s actually the only argument being used. And I still feel it can’t be right. If read to the letter, it would mean 17% of the Steam market would be left out regardless of game complexity. It just doesn’t feel like that is in the best interest of anyone, in particular game developers.

        As for the game size (including civilization size), game data has always been partitioned. Even on x64 it is. A game map can be, theoretically, as big as the hard disk size, not memory. Of course, the downside is that the game will run slower due to the constant move of data between RAM and HDD. All that the x64 architecture ensures is that this happens less often due to the increased amount of RAM. In any case, it should be interesting to see, from those Steam stats, how many of the 64bit systems are running on just 4GB of RAM, to realize how in fact Gal Civ III 64bit may be detrimental to anyone playing on just 4GB of RAM (remember that with x64 compilation many of your variables effectively double in size. A 32 bit version of the game would in fact be more memory conservative on 4GB systems).

        The question however is still unanswered. As of this moment, there’s really nothing in Gal Civ III that justifies the choice to go 64 bits. What exactly do the developers think they are going to develop that warrants their choice to go 64 bits? Is there anything in that roadmap that tells us? I’m sorry, but I can’t see what…


      2. What I think is sorta strange is that Stardock, more than any other company I can think of, is making a “really big deal about being a 64-bit” game. Don’t most other new big releases require 64-bit OS?

        Part of me wonders about the optimization of their game and whether the move to 64-bit was to try and squeeze out better performance? I hear whispers that Ashes of the Singularity, despite not doing much more scale wise than TA did years ago, has poor performance for a lot of people. Makes me wonder….


  6. I appreciate the re-examination of GCIII. For me, any negatives of this game are far outweighed by the positives. I’m currently having a difficult time putting it down–my gaming queue is getting backed up because I’m thoroughly hooked on GCIII.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Multiplayer STILL doesn’t work for me, my wife, and my two friends (and we’ve opened tickets, tried different configurations, forwarded ports, the whole thing) and we’ve been trying to get it to work since day 1. Brad Wardell has told me on numerous occasions that it does work but the lobby is dead and all we’ve seen from others is problems.

    Considering we bought the game to play multiplayer with each other as well as single-player, we are NOT happy and we’re very tired of waiting.

    Be warned, potential buyers. Do not buy this for its multiplayer.



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