We all have big dreams of world domination, but not everyone wants the full Civilization experience. Sometimes, we just want to take over the planet without having to try too hard! For those times, there is The Battle of Polytopia, a scaled-back version of the usual 4X gameplay that we’ve all grown to know and love.
After a brief tutorial, The Battle of Polytopia sets players loose to try to take over a map filled with potential enemies. Players take control of one of several civilizations to try to expand their empire to all corners of an increasingly crowded map. You can play against the AI or other players, though online multiplayer wasn’t available for us to test ahead of the game’s full launch.
Most of the actions that fans of other series in the 4X genre would expect are all here. You can build a unit, improve a tile, or explore the map, and there is a tech tree — like a skill tree — which you invest stars in. You get stars from the cities, which produce them each turn.
Unfortunately, because each civilization has access to the same tech tree and quickly produces more stars each turn than they can use, the late game descends into a frustrating back and forth where the two remaining parties have the same types of units of equal strength. That isn’t to say that the game isn’t fun in these late stages, but the systems lack any real depth to them, and we found each round to be more repetitive and missing the excitement of the early game.
The Battle of Polytopia feels and plays like an introduction to the 4X genre. Even games on larger maps won’t take longer than a few hours unless you end up with a long-running stalemate with an opponent. There is something intriguing about the balance of the game, where the only real difference between the world leaders is which tech they start with, but everyone researches everything so quickly that there isn’t much potential to build an advantage this way. They lack distinct personalities that would have given the game more character, giving no extra incentive to attack anyone who isn't close by.
The basic presentation of the game, with stylised polygons representing the different units and terrain. It is mostly effective, though we wish there was a way to rotate the camera so that units and buildings aren’t hidden behind late-game cities. The map quickly becomes too crowded with units vying to overwhelm well-entrenched foes and the art style doesn't do the player any favours at that point.
If you’re new to 4X games, we could see this being a gentle introduction to an often-overwhelming genre. There is certainly enough content here to get new players interested, though for returning veterans it will probably not scratch that itch for more than a handful of hours. For them, The Battle of Polytopia will be a brief distraction and very little else.