I took the day off to focus on my playthrough of Civilization V: Brave New World. I took the dog out, toasted a bagel and grabbed a bottle of coconut water before sitting down at around 10 AM, thinking I’d play for a few hours and then handle some of the real life responsibilities I needed to get done. At the time of this writing, it’s now 2 AM, my dog is frantically pacing back and forth, I haven’t eaten anything other than my bagel and the bank has long since closed. This is exactly what I was afraid would happen when I agreed to review the expansion pack; I just knew it would become a colossal time sink. I have no idea where the day has gone, but I do know I’ve been having a blast.
The largest and most noticeable change to the core Civilization V experience here is the complete overhaul that the culture mechanic experienced. To achieve a cultural victory previously, you simply needed to complete five different social policies and build the Utopia Project. There wasn’t anything inherently wrong with this, but it was definitely my least favorite victory strategy. It was a hands-off approach to a game that usually requires a fair deal of micro-management.
Brave New World completely turns the system on its head. You’ll still gain culture through building wonders and buildings as well as enacting social policies, but Firaxis has introduced a brand new mechanic via tourism. Cultural buildings will now often have slots for “Great Works” that can be filled via the new Great People: The Musician, the Writer and the Artist. When you’ve earned one of them, you’ll be able to consume them and fill the slot with a historically important painting, song or book.
Outside of Great People, the other way to raise your tourism level is by taking advantage of the new archeologists added to the game. While they don’t show up until later in the game, they may be one of my favorite little additions. Once you’ve researched the ability to build them up, you’ll start noticing ruins scattered across the map. These ruins are all dependent on your current game, referencing things that have happened in the past such as a drawn out battle against some barbarians as your civilization was just starting to get off the ground.
With each Great Work you possess, you’ll generate tourism points. In order to win a cultural victory now, you’ll have to generate more tourism points than your opponents have cultural points. It’s really a novel way to turn this victory path into something more engaging, and adds a new layer to strategy. It’s no longer enough to just sit back and rake in points while hitting next turn, you now have to manage your Great People in order to make sure you’re getting the best bang for your buck with their works as well as keeping an eye on your archeologists and your trade routes.
The aforementioned trade routes are an absolute game changer. As opposed to just having to work your tiles to garner gold, you can now build up caravans and trade ships to send off to city states or other civilizations for a massive bonus in gold as well as a few other resources. I quickly abandoned my normal approach to Civilization V of rushing towards the end technologies as soon as possible in favor of building up a Scrooge McDuck-sized fortune.
These trade routes can be plundered by barbarians or other civilizations, so you’ll want to make sure you’re protecting them as they go off, especially if they’re going to cross the seas. You’ll need to be careful about who you’re trading with and what they’re bringing along specifically. In my attempt to simply buy the world, I was giving England and Ethiopia a huge bonus in science as well as allowing their religion to permeate into my capital, giving them an invaluable leg up against me.
Trade routes are borderline overpowered if used correctly, but there’s a massive wild card in play with the new World Congress. The World Congress shows up about half way through the game, and allows players to vote on multiple resolutions, from everything to putting trade embargoes on entire civilizations to giving bonuses to culture or science.
The host nation (which can also be voted on to oust someone from power) gets an extra vote, and eventually you’ll get a vote for every city state that you have an alliance with. Since quite a few turns take place between choosing which resolutions you’d like to vote on and the actual vote, there’s plenty of time for shenanigans. If you send a spy to a civilization’s capital to act as a diplomat, you can make trade agreements in order to ensure things will go your way.
The one problem I really had with this is that on the easier difficulties it’s borderline broken. If you can build up a massive economy early on, you can simply buy the votes of city states, allowing you to push or kill any resolution that could possibly come up. Granted, this is probably a very accurate representation of politics, but it does get a little boring by the end when you’ve done nothing but run the table. This was possible pre Brave New World as you could employ a similar tactic to win a UN vote and secure victory, but it would have been nice to have seen that this was stemmed a bit.
The last major change you’ll find is the inclusion of ideologies. This is basically a retooling of the Social Policies already found in the game, but it does offer a bit more flexibility. Once you hit the Industrial Era, you’ll be asked to choose from either Freedom, Order or Autocracy, each with their own unique branches which favor certain win conditions. You can change later, but you’d be investing a plethora of cultural points by this point, so I’m not sure how smart that would be outside of very specific situations.
What sets these apart from the normal Social Policies is that the branch is a bit more expansive with three distinct tiers, and you’ll have to make some tough calls about what you leave behind. By this era, you really should have an idea of how you’re trying to win, so this is a fantastic tool to try and hammer out those last details you need in order to secure a victory.
The new cultures are well balanced, but only one really stands out as something really new. The Venetians can’t build settlers and conquered cities can’t be annexed. Instead, you’ll have access to twice as many trade routes, allowing you to amass a fortune in a very short period of time. Their version of the Great Merchant has also been replaced with The Merchant of Venice, who can either conduct normal trade missions or can straight out buy a city state. Without settlers, this is really the only chance you have to acquire new territory outside of going to war, so this is an invaluable skill. Playing through as Venice is essentially playing the One City Challenge mode taken to a different extreme. I’ve never really experienced anything like them in the Civilization series, and it’s something worth trying at least once.
The Shoshone offer almost the polar opposite experience. You’ll be gifted almost twice the landmass when you found a new city, allowing you to eat up massive chunks of the map very early in the game. Add in a combat bonus when in friendly territory, and you have a recipe for a very frustrating civilization to go to war against.
This is such a minor thing, but I wanted to applaud Firaxis for giving me the ability to turn on fast combat and fast movement from the options screen without having to restart a map. Watching some important battles out is a blast, but it’s more than a bit tedious to wait as 5 different bombers slowly plod to their destination and turn around.
My only real complaints regarding Brave New World really aren’t with the expansion, but the failings of Civilization V as a whole. The AI is still pretty inconsistent, the game chugs horribly near the end, and you’ll have to have a beast of a rig to play some of the larger maps to conclusion as the game really doesn’t know how to handle that much going on at one time.
I’ve had an absolute blast during my time with Civilization V: Brave New World. Firaxis has done so much right here, and it honestly feels like a brand new game in some regards. Civilization IV was my favorite up until the inclusion of Brave New World. With the completely revamped approach to some of the mechanics, Civilization V: Brave New World firmly stands as the best offering in the series. If you have even a passing interest in the genre, you owe it to yourself to pick up this stellar expansion. I just highly suggest you clear your calendar beforehand.
This is based on a PC version of the game given to us for review purposes.
Civilization V: Brave New World still suffers from some of the same issues that have plagued the stand alone title, but this expansion completely changes the way the game plays at points. This is a perfect time to come back to the world of Civilization. Just make sure you don't have anything else to do.