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The Citizens Of A Galaxy
When Galactic Civilizations 2 first hit store shelves the race you picked was nearly inconsequential. Some races were given better bonuses than others, but even those differences were minor. The tech trees were exactly the same, and everyone had the exact same structures and play-styles. The lack of variety among the races was one of the major complaints about the game, as 4X space strategy games have traditionally offered an array of diverse and interesting racial choices.
The expansions, Dark Avatar and Twilight Of The Arnor, have tried hard to address that issue. Racial choices aren't just for decoration anymore. This race guide summarizes the differences between the races in Galactic Civilizations 2: Twilight Of The Arnor, paying particular attention to play-style and difficulty.
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The human-like Altarians are a race of religious zealots whose ethically pristine gods encourage them to do good whenever possible. They are militant, however, making them the game's crusaders. When played by the AI, they are eager to go to war with the evil races. When played by the player, they are received extremely well by other good races, while the evil races will quickly look to pick a fight.
The Altarians, despite their warrior nature, are given a penalty to their weapons. In compensation they receive a +25 bonus to research and one extra movement point for every ship per turn. These bonuses and penalties are average overall. The research bonus is the highest in the game, but the weapons penalty makes it harder to capitalize on the research in times of war, as you'll need more powerful weapons just to keep up with other races. Although oriented as fighters of evil, the Altarians are actually in an extremely sticky position when it comes to fighting the evil civilizations. Both the Drengin and the Korath get major weapon bonuses which will make them hard for an Altarian player to fight off.
The Super Ability for the Altarian Resistance is Organizer. This ability forces all other races of similar alignment to come to your aid if another race declares war on you. The ability also makes all other races of your alignment view you extremely favorably. This ability can be useless or powerful, depending on the alignment you're going for and the alignment of other races in the galaxies. Remember, just because the Altarians are considered a good race doesn't mean you can't mold them into an evil one. The situational usefulness of the Organizer ability is the reason I consider them an easy-to-hard race; if you are surrounded by friends, the game will be a cake-walk. If there is no one in the galaxy that will come to your aid, then the Altarians will be difficult to steer towards victory.
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The Drath are an old race who originally inhabited the planet Altaria, but were booted out by the Altarians, who also evolved on the same planet. Eventually the Drath escaped to their new homeworld which they, apparently lacking in imagination, decided to call Drath. The Drath are a manipulative race who prefer under-handed dealings to straight conflict. Even so, they are reluctant to engage in violence against others.
The Drath have two strong bonuses. The first is a +30 bonus to diplomacy, which represents their sly nature and quick wit. They're nearly as good at the Terrans at the negotiation table, and as a result the other good races and the neutral races usually won't declare war on you as long as you don't provoke them. The second, surprisingly good bonus is a +50 bonus to soldiering. This is a massive bonus, far higher than any other race gets, and it makes them very efficient at war-making. The cost of building transports is not insignificant, and the Drath will have to build fewer to take a world. On the downside, the Drath have a -20 population growth penalty. This hurts badly in the early game, and makes the Drath a hard race for a new player to learn the game with. Their economy grows slower than any other race besides the Thalan Empire and isn't spectacular even when fully bloomed.
The Drath's Super Ability is Manipulator. This ability makes it very easy for the Drath player to bribe other races into attacking each other, and the Drath gain an economic bonus that becomes larger as more races go to war. This is a situational ability, as it requires that there be a reasonable number of races in the galaxy. It can also be hard for a new player to use effectively, because as good as the bonus is, having a large empire go to war with a small one can have unintended consequences. Veterans can make great use of the Manipulator ability, however, and use it to fund their own galactic conquest.
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The Iconians are one of the oldest races in the galaxy. They are the elders amongst the group of races represented in Galactic Civilizations 2. They evolved during the era of their Precursors, which is standard sci-fi speak for "a hell of a long time ago." Their race was nearly annihilated when the mechanical Yor, who were created by the Iconians, were made sentient and paid their respects to their creators by killing nearly every last one of them.
The Iconian's near-extinction is probably the reason why they, despite being an ancient race, appear to be so terrible at everything. They gain no bonuses to economics, weapons, defenses, speed, research, or production. The only interesting bonus they receive is a +20 to morale. They also receive a +100 to espionage, but espionage is no way to bring down an empire, and this bonus is ultimately more of a slap in the face than a real advantage. The Iconians receive a mere 7 points for customization, as well, which is the lowest in the entire game.
The Super Ability for the Iconians is Adapter, which allows the Iconians to colonize Aquatic and Toxic worlds from the beginning of the game. This is a fairly big deal, as it helps the Iconians gain a foothold on planets well before other races have any chance to grab them. That said, the Iconains remain a difficult race to play because they gain no bonuses of worth. Even the Adapter ability is not as wonderful as you'd expect. While it is useful to get a toe-hold on planets before others have a chance, the Iconian economy is often too weak in the early game to support more than a few of these worlds. The Iconians may get the ability to colonize these planets for free, but they still need to undertake research to get them to function at 100%.
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The Torians are a race of happy-looking fellows who were once enslaved by the Drengin. The Torians, always peaceful, had nothing with which to repel the Drengin when they arrived to conquer their world. After thousands of years, the Torians were finally able to overthrow the Drengin and kick them off their home world of Toria. As you'd expect, the Torians are none too keen on the Drengin or the Korath, but they are otherwise an extremely friendly race.
In terms of bonuses, the Torians don't get a lot. They gain a +10 to morale and a +10 to population growth. That's it. Both of those bonuses are extremely insubstantial and could be gained by spending a handful of points on a custom civilization, unlike the massive bonuses enjoyed by races like the Terrans and Korath. The Torian's complete lack of bonuses oriented towards warfare make it difficult for the Torians to get ahead through violence. This certainly fits in with the lore, but will make it tougher on the player. The Torian Confederation is also disadvantaged by receiving only 8 extra points for customization, which is less than the norm.
The Torian's are saved only by their Super Ability, Breeder. Breeder gives the Torians an 800% bonus to population growth whenever the approval rate is at 100%. This makes them absolutely explosive at the start of a game. By reducing tax rates to the point where approval is at 100% on all planets, the Torians can quickly build a wave of population that makes them a force to be reckoned with in the early and mid game. This strategy does require some experience with the game, as your low tax rates will result in big budget problems that must be managed with care. In addition, the Torians are weak in later stages of the game, which means the player must act quickly to secure a large chunk of space. This isn't easy, but it is far from impossible, and the ability is not situational. Unlike the Altarians and the Drath, the Torian's Super Ability is just as useful in a small game played against two races as it is in a massive game played against ten.