Civilization V: Brave New World reviewed – finally, the system works

Civilization V: Brave New World

By on July 8, 2013 at 9:31 pm

The difficulty in reviewing DLC — particularly a pack that has been introduced near the effective end of life of a title — is that you need to figure out where the game begins and ends. By now, every player has been through the initial changes to combat, the single unit rule, the removal and subsequent return of religion and espionage. It’s fair to say that Civilization has grown significantly over the past few years, shrugging off its initial problems with AI, performance, balance and feature limitations. As of the first pack, Gods and Kings, last year, I would have said that the title was reasonably feature complete.

Some might say it was what the game should have been on release.

As I detailed in my original preview, much of the new goodness in this latest (and possibly final) effort ceases to include what was once lost, and instead attempts to improve on areas that generally aren’t fostered well in Civilization: the non-violent ones. The focus here is primarily trade, diplomacy and culture, drastically expanding the ability of players who find combat abhorrent or simply irritating (I’m not a massive fan of how it works in Civ V — stacks forever!) to steer their constituents/slaves/fiefs towards a more peaceful future. This reviewer may even go as far as to note it would be more… civilised.

As a result, attaining a cultural victory tends to be less about dedicating your unimpressive or stagnating cities to generating culture, and more about gaining the admiration and awe of your world peers. By building structures that attract Great Leaders, you can fill these libraries, galleries and museums with famous works that increase your cultural score. Coupled with a new tourism system, which takes into account how aggressive and restrictive you are towards foreigners, it’s entirely possible to not have a single active military unit, watching as your influence bubble grows significantly larger than your cities’ would generally allow.

But being a master of arts is not going to simply hand you an easy win on a silver platter, especially when other civilisations are less likely to care about how many authors they are responsible for birthing and more about how pointy their sticks are. Manipulating trade routes and hoarding culture tends to enrage other leaders faster than almost any other movement I’ve completed before. I’ve built cities in a cluster around another civilisation without more than an angry yelp every now and again, but the simple fact of having only a handful of troops but a chest full of gold and art pushed an Arabic prince so quickly to war he was barely able to wage it himself.

To match and balance out this insane fury Firaxis have brought Diplomacy, a very rarely utilised function of Civilization (mostly due to its generally arbitrary nature and pokey interface) to the fore in a manner that screams “UTILISE ME”. To demonstrate this fact, the developers introduced the first playable city-state to the game in the form of Venice – a civilisation that can do almost anything but expand. I absolutely adored playing as Venice, and did so for the majority of my playthrough for this review — for the first time, almost every strategy and convention I would use to harass and obfuscate my opponents could not be done simply by building cities across the map to block supply lines or reduce influence.

I’ve always generally been a fan of civs that expand quickly and early – in most cases you can overwhelm any other state on your continent/area, and set yourself up for the larger scale confrontations in the late game. But Venice’s natural ability to easily overpower or overwhelm opponents is completely moot. Any influence you can is based purely on how well you manage the city’s happiness and growth, taking advantage of its double cargo perk to flood the town with cash to buy your way out of expansion problems and impending troubles with other leaders. It’s incredibly difficult but also just as rewarding – especially when you find yourself fighting off other, full powered, civs, or teaming up with other city states to take down an oppressor.

It was during these sessions that I became very friendly with the Diplomacy screen, poking the bears enough to buy me time before flooding them with short term agreements for coin and research. I made pacts with other small nations to create a buffer for my fledgling Singapore-style powerhouse, and absolutely flogged every trade route possible. Being able to now use Caravans or Ships to simply automatically gain these gifts (from gold to science, food to iron) was fantastic — however war-time was a little difficult as I was unable to protect my vessels from enemy advance. All the while, I put everything I had into cultural growth, watching my points soar towards a victory.

Eventually the World Congress arrived, and I began my campaign to lead it. Each civ is provided with a number of delegates – these are fed from allied city states and also from the size of your civilisation. I used my now considerable wealth to buy out all of the available states, take over a number of elections, and eventually ruled the roost. I introduced new UN-style decrees to ban the major trade routes of my enemies, and abstained from anything likely to directly push them towards war with me. Eventually I took things a little too far, and that’s what ultimately lead to Venice’s mid-game downfall, but it was truly fascinating to see everything that was once absolutely broken work actually quite seamlessly.

The AI problems that plagued the launch product are all but gone — other civilisations are now generally loathe to attack if it affects their bottom line, and will usually give you the benefit of the doubt, even if you’re caught spying on them. On the flipside, civs now seem a lot less likely to agree to your proposals at all. I found it rare that without a stupidly generous sweetener, a civ I basically bent over backwards for rarely even agreed to a friendship pact. But the reliance on Diplomacy really only applies if you really dislike war — because killing your enemies is still arguably the easiest way to win the game. But the spectrum is now much broader, and the conditions for success are no longer as obvious nor narrow.

I enjoyed Brave New World a lot, and it was due mostly to the fact that other civilisations didn’t seem so spontaneously aggressive all of the time. Because of the need to sustain crucial trade routes and keep up appearances for authority over the World Congress, other players will think twice before marching into your territory. Once that line is crossed, the game will absolutely punish you for the face you lost thanks to your decision, and it will be much more difficult to come back for a more traditional victory. Ghandi would be proud.

Good:

  • Cultural Victory requires actual strategy
  • AI quality now finally the way it should be
  • Diplomacy is now required, rather than an optional extra
  • World Congress + Multiplayer = Hilarity

Bad:

  • Performance is much better but still lags in some cases
  • Very few changes outside of Culture and Diplomacy

Cilivization V: Brave New World is available from Green Man Gaming for $27. Don’t pay Steam prices.

This review copy provided by the publisher.

11 comments (Leave your own)

Ooooh, you make that sound so interesting! Might have to look for a cheaper variant than the $45 I remember it to be on Steam.

I really enjoy strategy games with little or no combat with Dawn of Discovery being at the very top of my list.

 

Murray Hibble: Might have to look for a cheaper variant than the $45 I remember it to be on Steam.

There’s a GMG link in the footer :P

 

People that say “this is what the game should have been on release” always seem a bit silly in my eyes :P Everyone bitched and moaned about the lack of religion in the original Civ V release, but forget that Civ IV wasn’t perfect from the get go either.

As for the unit stacks…. God I’m glad to be rid of them!! I always thought it was a bit silly to have enormous stacks of units as high as can be that just wouldn’t quit. Much bigger fan of the tactical play that Civ V brings. But you can turn that option off James, don’t forget that :)

Was there any other features that really knocked your socks off James, or was the Venice caper just too much fun to ignore?

Am definitely looking forward to the expansion, if you get a 10% off voucher from GMG it’ll knock the price down to $24!! What a bargain :D

 

ashigaru,

unit stacks makes sense though, archers that can fire like 500km like they do now, don’t make sense.

I liked unit stacks, even if they toned it down to like 2 units a stack or 3, either or.

 

ashigaru:
People that say “this is what the game should have been on release” always seem a bit silly in my eyes :P Everyone bitched and moaned about the lack of religion in the original Civ V release, but forget that Civ IV wasn’t perfect from the get go either.

As for the unit stacks…. God I’m glad to be rid of them!! I always thought it was a bit silly to have enormous stacks of units as high as can be that just wouldn’t quit. Much bigger fan of the tactical play that Civ V brings. But you can turn that option off James, don’t forget that :)

Was there any other features that really knocked your socks off James, or was the Venice caper just too much fun to ignore?

Am definitely looking forward to the expansion, if you get a 10% off voucher from GMG it’ll knock the price down to $24!! What a bargain :D

Got to disagree on this one. The problem is that Civ5 was inferior (and in many ways just outright broken) compared to previous Civ games. Fair enough they changed the things and I’m not bitching about losing stacks (I could handle change after so many Civ games) but. Combat, dipolmacy and AI were absolutely appalling to the point of being broken, there is no excuse for a game to take steps back from it’s previous incarnations.

The game was inferior to Civ4 in every way and anything new was a double edged sword and ruined the game at least as much as they improved it. The hex system introduced a new experience but was ruined by horrid AI, the graphic were a big step up but the requirements were insane resulting in turns taking literally minutes to complete. With every step forward came two back.

Civ5 started out bugged and broken, at best it was frustrating at worst it was non functional, after years and two expansions it has come good, but I’m sorry that’s not good enough, there is no excuse for a game to take it’s entire life cycle to be finished. If it was fair to good on release and great by the end of it’s life then that’s fair enough, but that isn’t the case.

 
James Pinnell

ashigaru:
Was there any other features that really knocked your socks off James, or was the Venice caper just too much fun to ignore?

Am definitely looking forward to the expansion, if you get a 10% off voucher from GMG it’ll knock the price down to $24!! What a bargain :D

I felt Venice really encapsulated overall what they were trying to accomplish with BNW – primarily the focus on culture as a strategic function for victory, rather than simply an easy way to expand your borders or amalgamate cities without attacking them. Coupled with an almost criminal way to make a lot of money via trade routes.

There weren’t any crazy features I didn’t mention in the review, since most of the changes were based around those particular systems.

On the flipside, there is another new civ, Shoshone, who can drastically expand much quicker, as each new city takes up more space initially, but I didn’t enjoy playing them as much due to the ease I already hold with that playstyle. Venice forced me to play well out my comfort zone.

The scenarios included are reasonably meh, as the Civil War one ironically only worked in Civ4 because of stacking. I know I can turn the option off, but the game’s entire design is based on it, and removing it effectively breaks the cohesion.

 

Biggest flaw Civ5 still has is that its modding community hasn’t gotten anywhere near the level of quality that we saw with Civ4 when it went Open Source. The solution, Stop dlcing the fuck out of the game and just focus on making it a more open product to work with that isn’t overly buggy and has all the features it needs to be bare minimum equal to previous iterations.

Where Civ5 failed is that we lost too many features from Civ4 and now had to wait till they re-added them in, in the same way that the Sims franchise worked where you had to wait for them to re-add pets. I immensely dislike that practice, if we’re being iterative we must be improving on what already existed as opposed to reselling old ideas for the newer model.

 

So they still haven’t fixed the terrible, terrible AI when it comes to negotiations?

I.e. in vanilla Civ V the AI will never, ever trade like for like with you, which is plainly stupid.

And have the fixed the fact that in vanilla Civ V the AI hates you if you are weak and hates you if you are strong and hates you pretty much no matter what you do?

 

caitsith01:
So they still haven’t fixed the terrible, terrible AI when it comes to negotiations?

I.e. in vanilla Civ V the AI will never, ever trade like for like with you, which is plainly stupid.

And have the fixed the fact that in vanilla Civ V the AI hates you if you are weak and hates you if you are strong and hates you pretty much no matter what you do?

Yes. They have. It’s much better now.

As for the Vanilla Civ V comments, yeah it wasn’t perfect and maybe a lack of Sid’s guiding hand influenced that, but since about 12 months after it was released I’ve enjoyed it immensely. I just wish people would give it a crack instead of being so stubborn about the issue. Especially when you can pick up the expansions so cheaply during a steam sale.

I think there are bigger launch stuff up crimes out there to worry about *looks at Simcity/Diablo III*

 

ashigaru: Yes. They have. It’s much better now.

As for the Vanilla Civ V comments, yeah it wasn’t perfect and maybe a lack of Sid’s guiding hand influenced that, but since about 12 months after it was released I’ve enjoyed it immensely. I just wish people would give it a crack instead of being so stubborn about the issue. Especially when you can pick up the expansions so cheaply during a steam sale.

I think there are bigger launch stuff up crimes out there to worry about *looks at Simcity/Diablo III*

I have played it recently, without Gods and Kings admittedly.

But in this latest version, is there any chance of, say, the AI trading you horses for steel? Or does it still require horses plus wine plus diamonds plus 8 technologies plus half your cities plus all your money for steel, in a deal which it then immediately cancels before declaring war on you?

 

caitsith01: I have played it recently, without Gods and Kings admittedly.

But in this latest version, is there any chance of, say, the AI trading you horses for steel?Or does it still require horses plus wine plus diamonds plus 8 technologies plus half your cities plus all your money for steel, in a deal which it then immediately cancels before declaring war on you?

It all depends on how you’ve treated them, it’s not like they’ll give it to you for nothing. Horses for iron may be possible, but then you’re more mobile. And if they’re close by that doesn’t end very well…

 
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