Two years after the release of Civilization V, 2K Games and Firaxis are preparing the latest entry in Sid Meier's fan-favorite 4X strategy series, and the Civilization: Beyond Earth release date is shaping up to be one of the biggest PC games of 2014.

Fans of Civilization and Alpha Centauri alike have been overjoyed the last couple of weeks, in the wake of 2K Games and Firaxis' confirmation that the two would release an all-new, space-age Civilization before the end of 2014. Of course, it's one thing to say that Civilization: Beyond Earth will be the spiritual successor to Alpha Centauri that so many have been hoping for over the last decade-plus. However, It's another to actually delivering on such a promise seems like a rather difficult objective.

Especially while still preserving enough of the core Civilization experience to both appease the franchise's most ardent supporters, and you know, keep whoever currently owns the Alpha Centauri IP from suing the crap out of 2K Games. To be honest, I wasn't sure anybody would be up to the task of meshing two franchises with the sorts of followings enjoyed by Civilization and Alpha Centauri, but it only took one gameplay demonstration to completely change my mind.

From the moment you begin playing Civilization: Beyond Earth two things are immediately apparent:

1. Everything from the user interface to the game's hexagonally-gridded map keep Civilization: Beyond Earth from feeling too different from its predecessors. While the studio may be looking to create an entirely new gaming experience, it clearly doesn't want to leave longtime Civilization fans feeling left out in the cold, either.

2. While it may bear the Civilization name, and be the company's own take on a spiritual successor to Alpha Centauri, Civilization: Beyond Earth will feel a bit different than either of the games that inspired its creation. In a good way. At least, that's the impression I walked away with after being shown a short gameplay demonstration on the first day of E3 2014.

Civilization: Beyond Earth Civilization: Beyond Earth (PHOTO: 2K Games / Firaxis)

Most noticeably, Civilization: Beyond Earth abandons the tech trees that have long been a part of the core Civilization experience, and replaced the trees with a new tech "web" that offers a more diverse means of expanding both the size and capabilities of your empire. Each entry on the web will be tied to one or more Affinities, the progression paths that will heavily impact the capabilities of your society. Each potential skill will have sub-skills that offer extra bonuses to those with a matching Affinity.

Your chosen Affinity will also impact your relationships with fellow CEOs, the corporate overlords who have replaced the various presidents and other historical figures from previous Civilization releases. Each of the three have very clear (and different) goals for humanity's latest home planet. Those who choose the path of Harmony will head a society that is looking to make this new planet the permanent home of mankind by finding ways to co-exist with the local flora and fauna, and seems to be the most-peaceful of the three specialties.

Those who choose Purity will find their followers obsessed with preserving humanity's legacy; or at least whatever semblances of "normal" human life can be replicated on the mysterious new planet where the events of Civilization: Beyond Earth unfold. And, if military might is your thing, there's also the path of Supremacy. Those who choose to pursue military might, above all else, will see their people continue to advance their capabilities (as a species) by any means necessary. If it means cybernetic implants and a host of other such modifications.

Civilization: Beyond Earth Civilization: Beyond Earth (PHOTO: 2K Games / Firaxis)

Your Affinity choice will affect a great many aspects of the Civilization: Beyond Earth gameplay experience, including altering the appearances of the various bases, farms and other structures that you'll build during a typical game. It will also impact how nearby CEOs respond to your actions, especially once one or more civilizations have advanced to the point of launching orbital satellites.

The all-new Orbital Layer of the map will add a new level of depth to the Civilization experience, as players vie not only to get their satellites into orbit the quickest, but also to position said satellites above strategically-important locations. Units currently taking shelter on a tile below a satellite will receive both offensive and defensive buffs, which could be the difference maker if/when it comes time to take over a rival CEO's city. But, players will also have to worry about the consequences of sending their satellites into their orbital territory of other companies.

Otherwise, you'll quickly find yourself with war on your hands, just as if you'd parked a sizable army along a border shared by your worst enemy. The same could be true if/when one or more civilizations make a beeline for one of the many resource pods that will be available to players in Civilization: Beyond Earth. Provided your explorers manage to track them down, of course.

On the plus side, you don't (technically) have to worry about defending whatever satellites you manage to send into orbit. Combat won't ever play out on the Orbital Layer, and our demo of Civilization: Beyond Earth didn't include any mention any means of directly attacking another player's orbiting gadgetry. However, it is still possible to lose your new toys to an enemy, should they manage to conquer a city with one or more satellites in its Orbital turf.

Civilization: Beyond Earth Civilization: Beyond Earth (PHOTO: 2K Games / Firaxis)

Resource pods will be filled with a variety of supplies from Earth, as a seeming replacement for the random villages that you'd encounter in previous Civilization titles, and tracking down the pods will apparently prove especially useful during the early moments of each Civilization: Beyond Earth match. Recovery won't be as simple as running to and from the drop-site, though.

As it turns out, the new planet serving as backdrop for the events of Civilization: Beyond Earth is full to the brim with all manner of deadly creatures, poisonous gasses and a host of other potential dangers for any would-be explorer. Getting to/from a resource drop successfully will be extremely fortuitous for your civilization, to the point it seems worth braving the planet's various dangers. However, you probably shouldn't be shocked if you lose an explorer or two during your first few games of Civilization: Beyond Earth. Fortunately, various future-techs (like the orbital satellites) will make it possible for players to clear out heavy concentrations of poisonous miasma, alien hives and other such threats.

Sadly, our hands-off demonstration of Civilization: Beyond Earth seemed to end almost as quickly as it began, leaving us with dozens of questions about the next entry in the Civilization franchise. Among them, was whether or not Civilization: Beyond Earth would eventually makes its way to PS4 and/or Xbox One; however, members of the dev team could only tell us that (for now) Firaxis remains focused on the PC, Mac and Linux builds of the game. They also couldn't confirm the game would be coming to SteamOS, specifically, but recent confirmation that Civilization V now supports Valve's new operating system probably tells us all we need to know. And there's still nothing more specific than Fall 2014, when it comes to a launch timeline for the game.

For the time being, I suppose it's enough to know that Civilization: Beyond Earth looks like it'll do a damn good job of meshing two of the greatest strategy games in the history of the genre. But Fall 2014 can't come soon enough.

Be sure to check back with iDigitalTimes.com and follow Scott on Twitter for more on Civilization: Beyond Earth as we keep a close watch on the latest project from Firaxis in the months leading up to the Civilization: Beyond Earth release date.

Are you looking forward to the debut of Civilization: Beyond Earth? Curious to see all the ways in which Firaxis will mesh the core gameplay of Alpha Centauri and the Civilization franchise? Wish 2K Games had picked up the Alpha Centauri IP and made a proper sequel instead?

Let us know in the comments section!

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