This game is one that I had heard a lot about, mostly through two playthroughs that are still roaming around on the internet. I highly recommend them both, so long as you have a high tolerance for language and an interest in strategic videogames. (Here and here)
Galactic Civilizations II has it's closest cousin in the Civilization series, which I was already a major fan of. They are both part of a class of games called 4x, which basically refers to the fact that they are turn based, require advancement along technological, economic and territorial branches, and are incredibly addicting. What some have called the "one more turn" factor is very, very strong with games like these, and Gal Civ 2 is absolutely no exception. In fact, I would say that this game completely outdoes Civilization, for a variety of reasons.
The background of the game is that there were a bunch of alien civilizations restricted to hyperspace travel via slow, hard-to-build stargates. Then one of them discovered the humans, who manage to invent a portable, faster version of the technology to make more effective FTL systems. They willingly share that information with everyone--thus creating absolute chaos in the process as all those civilizations start declaring wars, claiming territory, and generally making a mess of the previous, stable universe. Of course, that is all on the periphery, since I've pretty much ignored the story campaign in favor of the sandbox mode, but I guess it is important to set things in context.
The depth of the game is absolutely breathtaking. You have a number of options available to you throughout the experience that can actually kind of overwhelm you at times. From the outset, you can choose what kinds of inherent skills your race has, what type of galaxy you will play in, and what enemies you'll face. Once you get into the game, you can not only name your own colonized planets and such, you can also design and build your own spacecraft (!!!!), balance your own economy, engage in trade negotiations and diplomacy that actually matters (one area that always seemed to fall flat in the Civilization games) and pursue one of five different paths to an ultimate victory. Those range from outright conquering everyone, to creating a grand alliance of nations, to researching the meaning of life. If nothing else, the game has more or less infinite replay value, simply due to the sheer number of possibilities you will constantly face.
It isn't an easy game by any means either. The many different possibilities mean you have just as many chances to utterly fail at what you want to do. My first game went well--I managed to win an alliance victory after brutally sabotaging the game's major superpower, convincing half the galaxy to band together against them and then leveraging those connections for a victory. Then I played a second game where I spent myself into a bankruptcy my little star nation couldn't recover from before the others started to roll through my territory. My third and fourth games went well, and I marched through my normal difficulty opponents with ease. Feeling confident, I started a game where the AI was ticked up by one notch.
I promptly got my head handed to me, where I soon realized that not one but three or four brutal civilizations were ready to completely wreck my plans and destroy me within a short amount of time. I dropped back down to normal level, just to salve my poor self-esteem, and I now look on the higher level AIs with justifiable fear. I haven't even thought about the upper level difficulties yet; my overconfidence was my weakness last time.
All in all, the entire game has been a good experience. I hesitate to label it a worthwhile investment of time, but it definitely was worth the money I paid for it, and I believe has given me some time to relax after the overtime I've put myself through for the start of the year. Now that I've finally managed to get this review up, maybe I can get back to business on the other stuff.