It’s amazing to think that Civilization V is now three years old, having celebrated its release way back in 2010. And yet, with this second expansion, the classic game of addictive, turn-based exploration and expansion (plus a few more Xs besides) seems fresher and more challenging than ever.
The game includes a couple of interesting new game modes to explore, but the real feature is a mess of new civilizations to take control of, and a massive change to the way the game handles diplomacy and cultural advances, two areas that were left relatively untouched in the religion-focused Gods and Kings expansion. It really does feel almost like a whole new release, rather than an expansion, and it’s certainly re-sparked an addiction I thought I’d kicked a couple of years ago.
Truly, I keep telling myself, I will quit after just one more turn...
An embarrassment of nations
There are a whole nine new nations to choose from in Brave New World, and while some are indeed classic nation states, others represent new ways to look at nation-building. Venice, for example, is more city-state than a classic Civ, and is limited in the manner it can expand, though it has huge trade advantages. Other civs bring new meaning to the term ‘warmongering’, and if you run into one of these run by the AI you will be sure to feel their wrath in a hurry.
And with nearly thirty civs now in the game, it means even the largest games are going to be very different from game to game, as different combinations impact on the play experience.
Thankfully, this complexity of civs is backed up by an important change in the way the game deals with two core mechanics, diplomacy and trade.
The former has been vastly expanded, making real diplomatic skill really pay off. The game no longer feels like a slow death march to the inevitable moment when every nation decides to turn against you – instead, the delicate play of favour and influence can lead to remarkably peaceful matches, especially once events like the World Congress kick off, and you start to influence the world on a truly grand scale.
Which is not to say the AI is a pushover. If it finds a weakness, it’ll exploit it, and those aforementioned warlike civs (yes, we’re looking at you, Zulus) start rolling over your territory, even the most peaceful of neighbours might think it’s time to get in on the action.
Thankfully there are other ways to shore up relations and keep your civ on top of the curve.
Trade is no longer a disappointing abstract. Instead, Brave New World lets you manage it at a number of levels, both within your own civ and with other nations. You can set up land-based caravans and cargo ships between cities, or trade directly with your neighbours, quickly building up vital resource links and ongoing gold income. Working out what resources you have access to now makes expansion particularly rewarding – in one of our games we built up a salt monopoly that saw us pretty much cornering the market, and making a tonne of salt-starved friends along the way.
Internal trade is also good for moving around Food and Production surpluses to cities that need more of either.
Gods and Novels
Religion and culture have received massive overhauls as well, and the two now tie in rather nicely to the new Great Person and cultural building mechanics. Great people can generate great works, which in turn are put on display in the slots of buildings like Great Libraries. So, for instance, you might produce The Great Gatsby in the 13th century, store it in your capital, and then be able to cash in on the tourist trade as people flock to look at your civ’s cultural treasures.
It’s a little silly, but that’s one of the joys of the game, and as a mechanic it adds even more depth to aiming for a cultural victory.
It’s also possible to explore the world, uncovering Relics of previous ages, thanks to the ability eventually to build archaeologists. Even neater, the relics themselves often tie into actual in-game events, like the site of a cleared barbarian encampment. It’s just another great layer of detail in a game that is now pretty much packed with them.
Choosing religions is now more rewarding, too, and Christianity has been split up into three faiths - Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy and Protestantism. You can add new tenets of faith to your religions, slowly customising how they affect your civ, and by choosing the right attributes of your civ, you can even open up to multi-faith civilisations that don’t disintegrate in a cloud of unhappiness.
It can be a bit powerful, though, so we expect some balancing to possibly make cultural victories a little less of a foregone conclusion.
Then again, look at the steamroller of US pop culture... maybe it is just that powerful?
No matter what kind of victory you like to aim for, Brave New World brings a tonne of new ways to achieve it. It revitalises a three year old game to such a degree that it almost feels like a whole new release, making it one of the most essential Civ expansions we’ve ever played.
Now... just one more turn...