I fully expect to see two basic review styles of Civilization: Beyond Earth. One will lean heavily towards “its a mod/expansion for Civ V”, while the other will dig into specific changes to try and explain why it ultimately feels like a very different game. Let’s call the first one an EG-style review, just to bring back an old joke.
Anyone who has played Civ V a decent amount and plays one or two games of Civ:BE before posting impressions will likely EG it. I think the main reason for this is that you CAN play Civ:BE like you would a game of Civ V and have some success, especially if the difficulty is set low enough. Like a lot of games, if you only scratch the surface of something you might miss the good stuff a layer or two deeper.
Having dug into the game a bit, my take is that Civ:BE is the result of letting the devs spend 90% of their efforts on design and systems, with just 10% focused on the engine, graphics, and all the other superficial stuff. The game plays like a loosely focused story of space colonization, where the direction and ending of the tale is in your hands. It has more of a narrative feel than Civ V, with more focus on the mysteries of space, aliens, and how future technology might shape the human race.
I don’t think the game today is as deep and complex as Civ V after it’s expansions, but it still has plenty of interesting decisions and systems going for it. Unit variety is limited, but it does cover all the bases. Also the way units upgrade is new, ties into your overall progress, and isn’t the ‘new replace old’ system of Civ V. Your starting military unit will self-evolve (rather than require you to pay to upgrade him), and his evolution path isn’t just linear or exclusively tied to researching a technology.
It’s also painfully clear that Civ:BE is a good game, but will be a great game once its ‘finish’ with future expansions. The game needs more civs (especially civs not from earth), more aliens (along with deeper, city-state style options to become a bigger factor), and just overall more ‘stuff’. Also while the game has been technically solid, some bugs can be found and technical glitches do occur, but then it is a Civ game near release so that’s almost expected.