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Keeping The Balance
In many games, Neutral is typically a code word for "sucks". Neutral alignments have been weak in many games, including such famous games as the Baldur's Gate series. These days, many games with morality systems don't even acknowledge that neutral exists. You can either be a goody two-shoes or a baby-eating baddie, with no middle ground.
That isn't the case in Galactic Civilizations 2. The neutral races in the game are quite potent, and have the benefit of being free from the instant conflict that can result when races of directly opposite ethical alignments collide. They may not have warships as powerful as the evil races, but their armies remain deadly, and are backed by diplomatic force.
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The honorable Arcean Empire is one of the most ancient races in the galaxy, exceeded in experience only by the Iconians. Their civilization is based on a code of warrior honor which is largely self-serving. The Arceans do not see honorable actions as being those that most find morally just. Instead, honor comes from actions which are glorious from the viewpoint of a military tactician.
The Arceans, being a warrior civilization, are geared towards combat. However, their abilities reflect their nature as an honorable race rather than an aggressive one. Their main bonus is a +20 to hitpoints, which means Arcean ships are substantially more powerful than others from the start of the game. Hitpoint bonuses are generally preferable to defense bonuses because they apply to all ships and are useful on ships regardless of what kind of weapons or defenses they mount. The Arceans also get a modest +10 to soldiering, which is simply nice to have. To balance out the hitpoint bonus, the Arceans also receive a -10 to speed. This penalty is significant, and makes the Arceans a difficult race for new players. Less experienced players are going to be significantly out-paced during the initial colonization phase, and will have a more difficult time winning the game as a result.
Super Warrior, the Arcean's Super Ability, fits the Arcean's warrior mold. It is also one of the best in the game. Super Warrior gives Arcean ships the first strike in any combat - and if an enemy ship is destroyed on this first attack, then it does not get to counter-attack as it normally would. This allows large fleets of Arcean ships to wipe out enemies before they even have a chance to fire, giving the Arceans a major advantage in war against any other race.
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The enigmatic Krynn first showed up in the Dark Avatar expansion, and have remained fairly anonymous ever since. They are neutral by way of religion, seeing neutrality and balance as an essential way of life. In other words, they are what Druids from Dungeons & Dragons might be if they ever got a hold of a spaceship.
The Krynn get quite a few bonuses, most of which are quite good. The biggest, most important bonus is a +50 to morale. This bonus is why the Krynn are easy to play, as morale has a huge effect on your economy. If your people are happier, than you can tax them more while building fewer moral enhancing structures, which means a better economy overall. The Krynn also get a +25 to diplomacy, which again makes them easier than normal to play. The morale bonus helps ensure you are capable of cranking out warships when war occurs, and the diplomacy bonus makes it easier to ensure wars happen on your terms. With an easy to run economy and friendly relations with most other races, the Krynn are simple to get the hang of. The Krynn also get a +10 to influence and a +50 to espionage. These bonuses are nice to have but far from game changing.
On the other hand, the Krynn are plagued by a Super Ability which is insultingly bad. Super Spy gives the Krynn the ability to build Counter Espionage centers from the start of the game, and also allows them to set their espionage slider higher than any othe race. Both of these features are useless in 99% of situations. They do not take away from how easy it is to play the Krynn, however - new players can simply ignore them and plow forward, using their massive morale bonus as economic training wheels.
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The Terran Alliance. Humanity. You should know them well already. Galactic Civilizations 2 gives them a diplomatic slant, depicting them as the masters of intergalactic relations. In the game's lore they are the race that spreads hyper-drive technology throughout the galaxy, creating the premise of the game.
The in-game tooltips surrounding the Terrans describe them as masters of diplomacy, and their natural +30 to diplomacy reinforces that. This large boost makes them everybody's friend, which in turn makes them an easy race to play. The other races will take an instinctive liking to you, no matter their alignment, making it unlikely that an antagonist will declare war. The Terrans also get a +10 bonus to speed, which means that the Terrans are great at the colony-rush stage of the game. The Terrans have a +1 bonus to trade routes, which doesn't matter at all. Also irrelevant is the -10 penalty to military production. It is a disadvantage, but empire-wide bonuses to military production are persistent throughout the game, and each step up will make that initial penalty less and less painful.
As you might expect, the Super Ability for the Terrans is Super Diplomat. This gives them an unspecified but substantial bonus when negotiating deals such as tech trades. It also makes other civilizations willing to receive you more often, which in turn means you can make better deals and more deals. Super Diplomat does not seem as glorious as, say, Super Warrior, but it ranks as one of the better Super Abilities overall because it syncs so well with the bonuses given to the Terran Alliance.
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The Thalan Empire
The Thalans are an insect race that claims to have come from the future in hopes of preventing the Terrans from causing a doomsday scenario that threatens to wipe out life not only in the universe of Galactic Civilizations 2 but also all life in all other universes, dimensions, and Star Trek plot devices. They're not a hive mind, but they do have the standard bug-race reputation of being hyper-productive.
This shows in their bonuses. The Thalan Empire receives a +33 bonus to both its Social Production and its Military Production. Even though production bonuses are plentiful in the game, these are still significant increases that are extremely useful to have and allow a well-run Thalan Empire to produce warships and planetary structures at an alarming rate. These bonuses are balanced out by a hefty -30 penalty to both population growth and diplomacy. These hits are the reasons why the Thalan Empire is difficult to play. The low population growth means a long incubation period must be suffered through before the Thalan Empire's economy is mature, and the diplomacy hit means that other races are likely to try and prey on your early weakness by declaring war. To add insult to injury, the Thalans receive only 8 points for further customization.
Thankfully, the Thalan Empire's Super Ability does take up some of the slack. Super Hive reduces the cost of factories by 75% and also gives all ships greater range. This goes a long way towards making up for economic weaknesses during the colonization phase, as the Thalans can begin pumping out colony ships more quickly and have to spend less money on factories in order to do so. The longer range also lets them colonize far-flung planets that would otherwise be out of reach.