The original Civilization V was a divisive game. While you can easily praise it for being an accessible strategy game with a number of smart refinements over its predecessors, it’s also easy to condemn it as a watered down sequel that lacked some of the complexity of the games that came before it. With the introduction of God’s and Kings (the game’s first expansion), the new systems took it a step closer to increasing the depth whilst retaining it’s refined and accessible approach whilst. However, it is with the latest expansion, Brave New World, that Civilization V really reaches its pinnacle, and the game’s approach starts to make sense.
The brilliantly smart changes and fantastic additions of this new expansion make the complete package one that is more streamlined, elegant and accessible than its forebears. Importantly though they introduce the level of intricacy and complexity that fans desire. Brave New World makes Civilization V into the strategy game it needed to be (one that is more accessible for newcomers but doesn’t sacrifice the depth series fans desire), and transforms an already excellent game into something truly remarkable. On paper the additions to Brave New World may not seem that impressive; the expansion introduces a few new systems to the overall game, these are mainly just refinements to existing parts of the game. This doesn’t seem like any kind of brave new approach, but the improvements the game makes really do drastically shake up the way its played, and make it a lot better.
The main improvement is in regard to culture. Culture has always been an appealing part of the Civilization franchise, but its handling in Civ V was rather disappointing. Though one could win the game through a cultural victory, doing so was an anti-climax and felt more like box ticking than any kind of grand achievement. In the vanilla game cultural victory was gained by completing the Utopia Project, this sounds really exciting but it really wasn’t. Gaining access to this project merely involved filling in five whole policy trees.
Policies are unlocked with accumulated culture, so the way to gain this was just to make a Civ that gained a lot of culture and just coast your way to your goal. It was a very passive way of winning, that was low risk and rather independent. Amassing culture for your policies didn’t get in the way of other Civs, and was a totally solitary experience.
It also devalued the actual policies themselves, as you would fill out trees you didn’t even desire, or adopt singular policies you didn’t want, purely so that you could win. It was a very undynamic win condition and, fortunately, no longer exists.
The cultural victory still exists in Brave New World, but the way you achieve it is completely different. Rather than existing in a vacuum, the new victory now totally dependant on the other civilizations around you. Rather than just increasing your own culture number in isolation (a very easy feat) you now have to make your culture appeal to the other civs in the game. This makes cultural victory more of a risk, and much more interesting.
If your own culture is high enough, and you have certain items to make it influential, other civlizations will fall under the influence of your very own culture. In many ways this is akin to the religious dominance introduced in Gods and Kings, as it introduces a similar element of risk and reward. Civilizations don’t want to be invaded by your culture, making victory in this way a more dangerous proposition, and one that requires more engagement with the other systems of the game than merely ticking off policies in your own little bubble. The game has been tweaked to accommodate this though, as civlizations perks, religious tenants, buildings and much more have been altered so as to include things related to these new systems.
Also a new form of currency has been added (in the vein of culture or faith) called tourism. Your level of tourism increases how influential your civilization is (in regard to a cultural victory) but also works the other way in regard to diplomacy. If another civ is gaining a lot of tourism from you they will be less likely to want to destroy you, meaning this new metric can be used as an offence and a defence, and this approach is really well handled. It’s a great system which you can work on in a number of ways, and it’s much less binary than before (making for a more active and enjoyable experience). Culture is no longer the Achilles heal, it is now possibly the most intricate and enjoyable part of the game.
The policy system itself has also undergone a change. The main focus of Brave New World is in regard to increasing the dynamism and interactivity in the end game. Adding more features to the later part of the game makes things more exciting and unpredictable than an inevitable march to victory. Engagement throughout is now far more likely, and the overall game is greatly improved.
One of these late game changes is the introduction of ideologies. Rather than just picking policies from the tree, in the modern era (or after building three factories), you can start to build up your own ideology from different frame works. It’s like a diplomatic equivalent of a religion, you add different perks with accumulated culture and these give you bonuses which cater to your style of play.
There’s a lot of freedom in this system, and it impacts diplomacy and culture. Your ideology may be a big resource gain for you, but not good for your citizens and thus will cause dissatisfaction and defection. However it can be very appealing and help your cultural influence. It’s a cool new feature that fits seamlessly into the overall game and with the other new additions.
Another important change is the introduction of the world congress. The world congress works a lot like the United Nations did previously (and eventually turns into this), but brings a larger impact and comes about a good deal earlier. The world congress is a system through which civs vote on new worldwide policies that have a large impact on the game. This can be used to help or to hinder your fellow players, and includes a lot of really clever policies that really ramp up the strategic element.
You can gain more votes for a number of a reasons, so smart players can put themselves in the position where their vote count makes them an unstoppable policy making machine (which is highly satisfying). There are cooperative elements, like working towards a world fair that improves the cultural impact of all civilizations involved, or increasing funding to the arts or the sciences.
You could also be a meanie though, you could embargo trade with other nations, ban luxury goods or impose a higher tax on armies in order to advantage yourself and anger fellow leaders (though of course these all have real strategic benefits besides just being a jerk). Certain policies will even show which other nations will approve or disprove if you were to put them up for the vote, and this creates a fun new way to appease or anger other leaders. There is a decent period of time between when you pick which policies to vote for and the actual voting, but this time isn’t wasted.
A fine addition is the ability to barter for a ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ vote in the trade screen, adding another layer of depth to the overall system. Admittedly the trade AI still isn’t great, but it is serviceable.
Culture and diplomacy are not the only changes here, the simple introduction of trade caravans is a small addition but a fantastic one. You now have a number of trade route slots (which increases over time due to various conditions) which you can fill with a land unit or a sea unit that can conduct a trade mission with other cities. They can be your own cities (which will help with resource management, as they can bring extra food and production), city states or even those of other civilizations.
The main appeal of this is that they bring in a lot of money, and other benefits such as resources, spread of religion and science. Every new change in Brave New World is expertly balanced in regard to the overall picture, and trade routes are no exception. They have a diplomatic impact as well as an economic one, as you cannot trade with a nation you are at war with. This provides another improvement to overall diplomacy, and another layer to the overall strategy. You can also use the system against other players, via the new world congress, by embargoing their trade and severely impacting their economy.
Trade routes enable a better way to accumulate gold whilst freeing up other methods that you can now use in different ways. It aids the overall balance, but reliance on it is suitably risky, as trade routes can be taken away or plundered. It’s a brilliant addition that is superbly implemented, in fact you will start to wonder how you played Civ without it.
These tweaks and additions are complemented with a handful of new civlizations and scenarios which cater towards the new features in Brave New World. These are fine additions, but not huge enough to merit going into great detail. Apart from the introduction of Venice as a playable civlization. Venice is of course a city, not a nation, and is the only playable city state in the game. Playing as Venice is very fun though, as it changes a lot of the accepted rules and makes you have to adopt a very different approach.
The key change is that you can’t properly control new cities, you can’t train settlers and you can’t annex enemy cities after taking them over. You can still puppet however, but only the capital Venice can manually produce things (you can purchase things in your other cities, but that is all). This changes things alot, but is balanced by Venice having a unit that can auto-puppet city states (it’s a unit you rarely get but a powerful one) and the fact that Venice has double the trade routes. This means Venice is still viable to play as, but interestingly different as you have to manage things in a completely new way. Like everything else though it is handled very well and serves as a great addition to the game.
The best thing about the new additions is how they all work together, and create a much more complex and engaging overall experience. The game as a whole is now far more engaging, and more dynamic. Every addition makes sense – and is easy to get your head around – but is well made enough to have a lot of strategic implications (and to carry a lot of appeal to the hardcore). It makes for a more elegant strategy game experience, one that is very fulfilling and expertly crafted. It may have taken two expansions to get to this stage, but Civilization V has truly capitalised on its potential and now stands as a landmark game in its genre.
Admittedly AI complaints still remain and certain features remain problematic, but Brave New World does a lot to negate this and brings enough excellence with it to make these problems somewhat excusable. The expansion doesn’t make it a perfect game, but it makes the overall package into something truly special.