Galactic Civilizations III: Mercenaries Review

Opening screeny

Hello, Old Friend

I’ve had a strange relationship with Stardock’s Galactic Civilizations III. When it was first announced I was mad excited, ready to fork over a hundred bucks for the Founder’s Elite version. I could name my own planet? Count me in! However, this initial exuberance slowly faded into Early Access reticence. By most accounts the game was in a very incomplete state, so I held off on purchasing it. I still read the news and the user reviews but I wasn’t ready to pull the trigger. GalCiv III dropped in price several times leading up to release in May 2015, but still I waited. Finally, I bought it at half price in September 2015 and promptly bounced right off of it. I put in a dozen hours, with a spark here or there, but the flames never truly caught in my 4X gamer’s heart. I bought the subsequent DLC on sale, mostly in an attempt to fan the flames, but GalCiv III remained largely unplayed.

Then, on the 18th of February, I picked up the first Galactic Civilizations III expansion pack, Mercenaries. By this point I was hellbent on falling in love with the game. It had been nearly a year since its full release. There had to be something wrong with me, right? The game, while not universally loved, had decent reviews (77% positive rating on Steam as of this writing) and had sold quite well for Stardock. Maybe I was broken? Well, maybe so, because I fired up Mercenaries and couldn’t put it down.

To be honest, it’s seems unlikely that my newfound addiction is due solely to the Mercenaries content. Overall, the expansion is light on new, game-changing features. Still, I believe GalCiv III is a better game than it was at launch and has a bright future thanks to Stardock’s dedication to the game’s evolution.

But enough of that, let’s get under the hood of the first expansion, shall we?

eXplore the Galactic Bazaar


Surveying in Style

The biggest new feature is the addition of the Galactic Bazaar. It’s a station, usually found early on in a game during the eXplore phase, that offers mercenary ships to every faction… for a price. They always cost a hefty bit o’ coin, and they can also cost a combination of mining resources like Durantium or Thulum. Mercenaries are also divided into three tiers based on the currently available technology. What does this mean? Mostly, the best ships won’t be available for quite a while, but early on you can usually afford a ship or two if you want to part with planetary development cash in order to purchase them.

Different mercenaries will be available from game to game. There are 70+ units, but only 36 are available for hire, broken into 12 ships per tier. This keeps the Galactic Bazaar fresh every game, but it can be disheartening to not see your favorite ship on offer. Just to rub it in, if another empire hires a certain mercenary, it’s gone from the Bazaar – forever – and it’ll say “Hired by the Drengin” over the missing ship. Makes me want to throat punch the chipper fella behind the counter. The AI does pick up mercenaries from time to time but I’m not sure if it’s smart enough to fully tap into their potential.


Zipping around the universe on your very first turn

Every ship is fully realized and seemingly useful, depending on the situation. However, one thing you cannot do with merc ships is upgrade them as you make it deeper into the research tree. What you see is what you get, for the entire game, or until your merc perishes while serving you. Take care of them!

By way of example, here are a couple of my early game favorites. I love the Ysengard. Available early on, it’s a survey ship with a couple extra moves per turn and the ability to gain an extra 100 credits for every anomaly surveyed. Not bad for some quick early cash. The H12-Super is also great for early exploration. A quick little bugger, this scout can map the local universe in no time flat, and his backstory is kinda cool too.

It’s interesting that each ship is owned or piloted by a named mercenary. Flavor text explains the ship’s history and rationale for their specific bonuses.

Universe eXpanding

In the beginning, there were eight races. That is, at GalCiv III’s release. We’re not counting prequels, of course. The Snathi were added in The Revenge of the Snathi, their own $5 DLC. Now, with Mercenaries, Stardock has eXpanded the roster with two new races: the Torians and the Arceans.

Hey sexy

Hey sexy…

The Torian Regime are an aquatic people, led by Tlas Kzientha who is seemingly-wise and maybe a little tired in his animations. They have recently earned their freedom from the Drengin, who have enslaved them twice. The Torians have the Amphibious ability, which enables them to colonize aquatic worlds at any time. Amphibious also allows them to terraform a single extra water tile on planets every age. Their other ability, Discreet, grants the Torians a free first tier mercenary when they first encounter the Galactic Bazaar. In addition, they have bonuses to research, morale, growth and food, but they are at a slight disadvantage when it comes to ship repair speed. I like the Torians. I mostly turtled with them. I could quickly grow my populations and use their 20% research bonus to great effect.

The noble Arceans

The noble Arceans

The other new race, the Arcean Empire, is led by Lord Verga. They have also been recently liberated from the Drengin, thanks to the ever-vigilant Terrans. They have a history of neutrality, but they are a hardy, spacefaring race. Their first ability, Warriors, lets them ignore 10% of all damage done to their ships, of any type. It also gives every ship weapon a 10% longer range. Good stuff. Even better, their other ability – Vigilant – increases the area of effect around their starbases. Enemy ships in this area are slowed and player ships are granted a damage buff. The Arceans receive boosts to planetary invasion, ship repair, logistics, sensor ranges and ship hit points. All of this comes at a small hit to the morale of their peoples, though. I enjoyed the Arceans. Like the Drengin, they are a warrior race but are much more noble than their oppressors. They are a tough lot, especially when you combine the power and range of their starbases with the durability and strength of their ships.

eXploiting the Torians

+5 Malevolent Ideology...

+5 Malevolent Ideology with every win? I’m in!

Or not! The new campaign puts you in charge of the Torians. Actually, it’s a just a single scenario, but it’s a decent one, as far as scenarios go. The Torians, recently freed from the Drengin – thanks to both the Terrans and the Arceans – must lead a ragtag band of revolutionaries out from their single star and, eventually, overthrow the Drengins in order to establish their own regime. The scenario starts you in an alliance with the Terrans and the Arceans. The Drengin are on the run from your combined forces. They are bigger and stronger and it’s your mission to take a single, well-fortified planet from them. It is, of course, located deep within their borders.

One interesting omission, not just from the campaign, but from Mercenaries as a whole: there are no new Steam Achievements. There’s no achievement for finishing the new “campaign.” There’s no victory achievement for finishing a game with the Torians or the Arceans. I know, I know, not everyone chases after achievements, but Stardock should at least add them for the new gameplay elements, races and such for those of us who do enjoy achievements. Maybe add some unique and interesting achievements like those in Europa Universalis IV and Sid Meier’s Civilization V?


Time to take out the trash

Time to take out the trash

I suppose new ships and ship parts will be part of any new GalCiv III expansion. All the better to go eXterminating with, amirite? The 70+ ships offered in the Galactic Bazaar aren’t the only new ships, either. The Torians and Arceans also come with their own ships and designs.

The Torian ships are a bright green lined with a golden yellow, looking like they just surfaced from the depths of the ocean because…they probably just did. They sport names like Spawner, the colony ship; Teemer, their trade ship; and combat ship names like Dolphin, Stingray and Pincer.

The Arcean ships look as if they were developed by a fantasy paladin: all white and gold and noble. Unfortunately, their ship names aren’t quite as creative as the Torian ship names. Erector, Lancer, Cosh, zzzzz…someone fire that paladin. Nevertheless, the ships look sharp and represent their owners quite well.

There are also many new ship parts, leading to “tons of new ships designs,” as advertised. I have no idea how many new parts were added, since my addiction is newfound. I definitely didn’t lack for options when creating my own ships, though.


Pew Pew

As a whole, there seems to be a lot of dissatisfaction with GalCiv III “around the office.” I believe one or two of us have enjoyed it which would make me three. But it certainly doesn’t seem to be grabbing everyone. Without a doubt there are still features and fixes missing from GalCiv III, even with Mercenaries, some of which the community has been clamoring for since release.

Still needs better invasion mechanics? Yes, they’re boring as hell.

Better diplomacy? Perhaps. I hear grumbling about this but like it well enough.

Starbase spam?  Still there…

No espionage? Still missing, but Stardock has said they want to give it the time it deserves so hopefully it’ll be a bigger, better feature when it is introduced. Probably in an expansion similar to Mercenaries.

Anyway, I don’t want to stray too far into reeXamination territory. I didn’t play enough GalCiv III before Mercenaries to offer a true comparison. I do find it interesting to ruminate on what has finally ignited my love for GalCiv III; unfortunately, I can’t really pinpoint what has made it so fun in my eyes after nearly a year.

Oh yeah

Oh yeah, that’s a beautiful blank slate

So, if Mercenaries by itself didn’t bring me back to the table, is it worth the $20 price tag? Personally, I think it was. I almost hate to say that, considering the short laundry list of new features, and the minimal impact of the Bazaar. Still, I’ve enjoyed the overall package. The Bazaar gives one more option to would-be rulers. It’s not a one-stop shop for every need at every corner, though. The ships are expensive, in both credits and resources. However, the Bazaar can be pivotal at certain points in a game. Are you about to launch a full scale invasion? Pick up a nasty escort ship and a special invasion ship and they might be just the boost you need to overthrow the enemy in your sights. Lose your scout ship in the first twenty turns? Quick, grab a fast ship from the Bazaar and get back to eXploring. There are specialized ships for any occasion, if you get to them first. It’s an interesting new feature that adds another facet to the gameplay, even if the content as a whole falls short of what a full expansion should be.

TL;DR: If you already love Galactic Civilizations III, you probably own Mercenaries already. If you’ve been on the fence, this may not be the expansion to put you over, but it’s another step in the right direction. Mercenaries offers new races, a new campaign scenario, new gameplay through the Galactic Bazaar, and a ton of new ship design options.


You Might Like This Game If:

  • You love Galactic Civilizations III.
  • Enjoy cute aquatic aliens and burly not-so-aquatic aliens.
  • You love shopping.
  • You can’t stop building ships. New options, wheee!

You Might Not Like This Game If:

  • You hate Galactic Civilizations III.
  • You’re waiting for big fixes to invasion mechanics. Or diplomacy. Or espionage.
  • You’re allergic to fish.
  • You’re looking for new Steam Achievements.

Review Policy

Chris has played Mercenaries 40+ hours on an Windows 10, Intel Core i7-4790 CPU (3.60GHz), 12GB RAM, nVidia 4GB GTX 745.

14 replies »

  1. Owning it since pre-launch I have never played it. And I bought 2 of the DLC This review is the first thing that has actually tempted me to try it – I think I will buy this and the other 2 DLC first time I see it on sale again. Thanks Chris.

    On Steam I am “I’m Spartacus”

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I think a lot of people coming into Gal CivIII had unrealistically high expectations, myself included. My first exposure to GalCiv was with the ultimate edition of the second game that had a huge amount of content and really well thought out diplomacy/AI. This has already been discussed, but it took Stardock several years to get the game to that point. With continued support, I think GalCiv III will eventually get to that point and surpass it.


  3. “If you’ve been on the fence, this may not be the expansion to put you over”
    yup, very true. In fact, I’m going to wait for two more expansions and not just one more ’cause this one is not substantial enough.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This expansion actually had a major negative for me, which was a small but significant change to starbase placement restrictions which actually *increased* starbase spam. Which was already very bad – 150 turns into a Huge game with only a couple dozen planets under my belt, I am spending over 80% of my time directing constructors and upgrading starbases. This is Not Very Much Fun At All.

    Some people say, “so don’t spam them”. The AI isn’t very good at it, to be sure, but constructor modules are so cheap and pay for themselves so quickly that it feels wrong and annoying to ignore such an easy and efficient way to boost every aspect of my economy.

    And there is no “hump”, past which the problem goes away. You are always building constructors because you are always discovering new modules. So, despite the fact that it is in many other ways a brilliant game and ticks most of my 4x boxes, I’ve shelved it for now in hopes that Stardock will eventually come up with a decent solution.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks for sharing your review, Chis.

    I’d be curious to know how well Mercenaries has sold. My impression is that it hasn’t been terribly popular – with only 35 or so reviews on Steam since release, most less than stellar.


  6. By the way Chris – love the Jeffrey SInclair to Mr. Garabaldi inside joke from Bab 5 – use it all the time

    myself but hardly anybody ever catches on. But Nate would.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I was really let down by Gal Civ 3. I found 2 really late into its shelf life and absolutely loved it, which was a real achievement for the game given its age when I bought it.

    3 though, just didn’t grab me as much. The spark just isn’t there. I too went back to it after Mercenaries and played 20 hrs or so, still not in love with it. But it will appeal to some and its certainly not awful.

    good review guys.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks! Certainly seems to be a divisive game. I’m a few hundred turns into a massive game and having a great time. I feel like there’s plenty of room to grow, with the attention it’s certain to get in the coming years, and the engine is an outstanding backbone for what should be an excellent successor one day. Hope so!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Thanks for the review. Mercenaries, along with patch 1.71 that solves starbase constructor spam, has pushed GC3 to the top of my must-play list. In fact, I’ve been playing it so much I don’t have time for any other games right now.



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