Preview: Civilization V: Brave New World
The Civilization series has been the cause of many sleepless nights for me, so it’s not too surprising that, as I start writing this preview, my eyes are red like those of an angry demon and I’m yawning once every three minutes. I didn’t sleep in the last 32 hours, and a vast majority of those have been spent playing the Civilization V: Brave New World preview code.
Civilization V was already quite conducive to the endless “One more turn and then I’ll sleep” cycle, and Brave New World multiplied the “problem” in an almost terrifying way, adding several layers of delightful complexity to the original package.
The most evident element introduced by the expansion are nine new civilization. Unfortunately I’m authorized to talk only about seven of them for now:
Morocco was the only directly playable civilization in the preview code (the other six were available as enemies). It comes with a bonus in gold and culture for each trade route with a city-state, making it a quite good choice for the expansion. The Moroccan Berber Cavalry enjoys a combat bonus in its own territory and in the desert, offering a good choice for turtling. Moroccan players can also build the Kasbah only on desert tiles, turning useless land into profitable space. Unfortuately desert tiles aren’t exactly all over the place in most maps, making this unique building very situational.
Poland has a rather interesting advantage, as it receive a free social policy every time it advances to a new era. That’s not a small thing for military-minded rulers, especially towards the endgame. If you’re aiming for the newly-introduce cultural victory, though, it becomes pretty redundant. You’ll have a ton of culture to begin with and a few free policies won’t help that much. The unique Winged Hussars are quite awesome, as not only they force defeated units to withdraw (if they deal more damage than what they receive), but they can also move after attacking. Poland also has the Ducal Stable: it’s basically a stable on steroids that also gives 15% more experience to mounded units and a production bonus.
Indonesia is a bit of a wildcard. It’s advantage grants two unique luxury resources for the first three cities built on a continent other than your starting one. If you’re planning on turtling, you may as well pass. The Kris Swordsmen are even more weird, as they get a completely random promotion after their first round of combat. The Candi replaces the Garden and gives an additional faith bonus.
The Zulu are definitely powerful. Not only old grumpy Shaka enjoys a discount of 50% on the upkeep of all melee units, but his troops also gain experience 25% faster. The Impi warriors are the real deal. They have an unique bonus named “Spear Throw” that basically gives then an additional attack before a round of combat starts. In my latest game the Zulu were my most immediate neighbor and the Impi (that replace the pikemen) easily ate my musketeers for breakfast, so much that they seemed almost imbalanced. If that wasn’t enough, the Ikanda (the Zulu version of the Barracks) grants a set of unique promotions to pre-gunpowder units. Combine the movement speed one with the Impi, and they become an even worse source of trouble.
Assyria is quite interesting if you play on higher levels of difficulty and if you’re heavy on the military side. It will absorb a technology from any defeated city. If you play on lower difficulty it becomes moot fast, as it’s too easy to race ahead in research and have no tech to steal. The Siege Tower is downright lovely if you’re the aggressive kind of player, as it grants all units within two tiles a 50% bonus against cities. The Royal Library is also quite nifty as it can host a great writing, and when it does it grants an experience bonus to trained units.
Portugal has a sizable advantage when trading with civilizations that don’t have the same resources. The Portuguese can also build the Nau which is basically a souped up version of a Caravel. It moves one tile further and can use an unique one-time ability when near foreign land that grants gold and experience. The real heavy hitter is the Feitoria, that you can build in the territory of a city-state, grabbing a unit each of the resources produced locally for yourself. It also doubles as a fort.
Brazil is really interesting if you want a culture victory. During golden ages you’ll produce twice as much tourism and Great Artists will be produced 1.5 times as fast. To enhance that effect, the Pracinha infantry earns points towards a golden age when it defeats enemy infantry units. You can also litter your jungle tiles with Brazilwood Camps, that will produce +2 culture after the invention of acoustics. Basically Brazil is the perfect civilization if you want to be a tourist attraction.
I already mentioned the new Culture Victory in passing, and that’s basically the real kicker of this expansion. Cities will now produce Great Artists, Writers and Musicians. Each of them will be able to produce great works that you’ll be able to store in dedicated slots that have been added to many cultural buildings. When those slots are filled they attract visitors and generate Tourism. Once your Tourism overtakes the total Culture of an enemy civilization, it’ll be counted as under your cultural “influence”. Put four or more civilization in that condition and you’ll achieve a Culture Victory.
After discovering Archaeology you’ll also be able to send special archaeologist units to dig sites around the world in order to gain artifacts that will count like the great works mentioned above. The interesting thing is that they’ll also serve as a reminder of your gameplay history, as you’ll find artifacts related to the events happened in the game. If you destroyed a civilization several tens of turns earlier, you’ll find its items on the sites of ancient battles. If you conquered a barbarian camp you’ll have a chance to unearth barbarian artifacts and so forth.
Initially I was skeptical about the new Culture system, but after trying it I have to say that it’s a whole lot of fun, and it’s refreshing to have another chance to win the game without adopting an excessively aggressive stance.
Trade has also been revamped. Caravans are back to replace the honestly horrible and unintuitive system that tied trade routes to roads. In addition to that, now we also have cargo ships to establish international sea routes.
The way trade routes were handled in the original Civilization V was one of my main gripes about the game, and this return to the origins solves the problem quite beautifully. In addition to that, it adds a new degree of control on the traded goods (you can trade production or food with your own cities and gold and research with foreign cities), featuring a nice balance of risk and reward. You can trade farther to earn more, but raising the danger of having your caravans raided.
One could say that this system should have been in the game from the beginning, instead of the oversimplified and glitchy road trainwreck, but better late than never.
Policies also get a nice overhaul with the expansion: as soon as you build your first three factories you’ll be able to chose an Ideology between Order, Autocracy and Freedom. Once you do, you can use the policy points you earn in order to unlock ideological tenets on a reverse-tree path (basically unlocking two level one tenets you can unlock a level two one, unlocking two level two tenets, you can unlock a level three one) with increasingly powerful benefits that vary depending on which ideology you selected.
This new system gives a rather radical spin to the endgame, allowing you to specialize your civilization quite a lot further than what you could achieve in the original game, increasing the importance of culture by quite a lot. Despite the fact that in theory it has the potential to spin out of control really fast, making the player excessively powerful (especially if you play on easier settings), it seemed surprisingly balanced in the three campaigns I played.
The World Congress is another of my personal favorites between the new systems. Once any civilization discovers all the other players, the World Congress will be assembled (with the civilization that discovered all the others as the host). Each civilization will be given a number of delegates depending on several factors, and will be able to propose a resolution or an international project. Then after a few turns each player will have to allocate each of his delegates to vote yes or not on all the resolutions.
It’s a subtle game of balancing and politics, and it’s really one of the most intriguing features I’ve seen in a Civilization game to date. I can’t help but hoping to see it become a regular staple of the series, because it adds a much needed new level to the previously quite thin diplomatic side of the game.
The preview code I was given access to also included one of the two scenarios that will be available in the final expansion: The American Civil War.
It features modified units to fit the conflict and a simplified set of mechanics to allow players to focus on the military aspect of the scenario (after all building wonders and researching the wheel wouldn’t be exactly appropriate to the war between the Union and the Confederate states).
You can only research a limit amount of technologies to improve your troops: Rifled Artillery allows to build Rifled Cannons with better range, Military Science that lets you upgrade infantry divisions to stronger Infantry Corps, Engineering lets you train Military Engineers that can build railroads and bridges, Repeating Rifles lets you train Carbine Cavalry, Ironclads (this one is self-explanatory I believe), Cavalry Raids let your cavalry pillage enemy improvements, Field Hospitals speed up healing rate, Balloon Reconnaissance increases the sight range of Great Generals, Military Railroads halves the construction time of railroads and doubles movement on them (which becomes really crucial later in the campaign), Scorched Earth allows infantry to pillage as well and Entrenchment doubles the combat bonus of fortified units. That’s pretty much it in terms of tech tree.
City management is also a lot more rigid, as each city can only produce specific types of units, and many are dedicated only to churning out money. Resources are also limited to iron, horses and manpower necessary to build cannons/ships, cavalry and infantry. Advanced mechanics like religion, trade, tourism and policies have been turned off (for obvious reasons). This is balanced out by the extremely high number of cities and by how close they are packed together.
Unit progression is also quite interesting. All infantry units start as “green”, suffering from a 20% penalty to their battle strength, but after their first battle a named commander will join the division/corps bringing along a random bonus, giving a sort of “personality” to every unit, which is very appropriate to this sort of very condensed and closely-fought scenario.
All these elements together create a very pitched situation with sudden turnarounds and counterattacks that offers a very different kind of experience compared to the rest of the game. It may not be as deep, but it’s definitely enjoyable, especially if you want to get away from the micromanaging for a while.
The scenario-specific limitations mentioned above are actually a positive element for the gameplay, as they shift the focus from the “build, research, build more!” rush of the original game to a more strategic and balanced approach. It’s very tempting to just try to rush and overpower the enemy capital, but you’ll soon find yourself pushed back and defeated.
Ultimately I can definitely say that my experience with Civilization V: Brave New World left me wanting for more. A lot more.
Not only the expansion restores trade caravans and their micromanagement, that were victims of excessive streamlining in the original game, but it also adds several new levels of complexity that improve on the formula of the series quite radically. It may not be a completely new game, but it’s definitely a quite fresh Civilization experience.