With the release of Brave New World, Civ V is finally a complete game.
By James Pinnell 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.
- 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
- 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.