This review was originally posted on http://www.ferritales.com.
As the massive success of Call of Duty and similar titles shows, war is a popular theme in video games.
So much so that video games and war have become linked in many people’s minds. They go together like… war and video games.
While there are definitely other popular genres, a stereotype has grown around games that says they’re all about killing.
Is that what’s so appealing about war games?
In truth, war has shaped the human race. Our history as a species is defined by it in many ways–but not entirely.
While war has its place in games just as it does in human history, other themes are needed too.
Previously, Civilization 5 was a war game. Of course, there were alternative routes to victory, but it ultimately came down to who had the biggest army at the end of a match.
Maybe that’s clever commentary on reality, but Brave New World changed this dynamic by introducing more diplomacy and trade features. In essence, it made Civilization 5 less of a war simulator and more of a world simulator.
The expansion introduced a reworked culture system and new diplomacy options, civilizations, trade routes, units and technologies. It removed many counter-intuitive features of the game, improved the AI, and balanced out the power levels of certain civilizations and strategies.
For example, the expansion nerfed the popular strategy of “Infinite City Spam” by introducing a science penalty for each additional city. The strategy is still viable, as you can still pump out a huge army with tons of cities, but it’s harder to achieve a science victory purely through city spamming.
The new culture victory does feel like more of an active strategy than a passive one. There’s an offensive aspect to it now with the addition of the “tourism” attribute, which is used to overpower the culture of other civilizations on the path to victory.
It makes going for a culture victory less boring, but it’s still not the most entertaining way to win. Tourism only has a real effect in the post-Industrial era, which means for the majority of the early and mid-game, you’re sitting on your hands hoping you don’t get rushed by someone who actually builds units.
In addition, if you’re playing on a higher difficulty, the computer players will just build all the important cultural wonders faster than you possibly can through their gameplay bonuses. Overall, this feature could use some balancing.Perhaps through buffing the archaeologist, a new type of worker that aids in cultural victory, which for some reason is consumed after it discovers a great work from an ancient ruin.
On the other hand, the new diplomacy options brought about by the introduction of the World Congress feel fantastic. This is one of the primary factors in making the game more like a world simulator– each civilization uses its delegates to vote on important issues, like sanctions on a warmongering civilization or extra arts funding. This is probably the best new feature in Brave New World because it introduces actual diplomacy (although the AI can be pretty dumb about it, it’s great with real people).
The changes to trading and gold generation make earning money in the early game extra difficult, but the trade off in late game gold production is immense. It’s another feature that contributes to the world simulator aspect, as establishing lucrative trade routes encourages peace between civilizations and makes your empire just seem grander.
The one problem with the new diplomacy and trade options in Brave New World is that a diplomatic victory is too easy now. It’s even possible to win a diplomacy victory by accident while trying for another win condition. This is because of the massive amounts of gold generated late game, which can be used to simply buy off city-states and use their votes to win you the game.
The current state of diplomacy makes civilizations like Alexander and Ramkamhaeng especially powerful, as well as the city-state focused policy tree.
The game also introduced improvements to the AI system that are fairly noticeable. Computers are much smarter on ocean maps, and they will actually build a navy and use it competently now.
Unfortunately, the AI is still pretty bad. Computer players still need to cheat profusely to keep up with human players, to the point that building wonders on high difficulties is usually futile.
Computers got better at taking cities, but they will still sometimes move next to one and stand there for a few turns without attacking, which just lets you pick them off with your ranged units.
It’s a shame, because AI civs will most likely be a part of your Civ 5 experience. Unless you have an insanely dedicated group of friends to play with, it’s unlikely you’ll find strangers online who will stick out an entire game that can last hours.
It’s possible, but not reliable, so you’re stuck dealing with computers who want you to trade them three luxury resources and a city for peace even though their armies are dying like flies on your city walls.
The new civilizations bring some cool new strategies and abilities to the game. For example, the Zulu are now probably the best early game offensive civilization thanks to their discount on unit gold maintenance and other bonuses.
The Moroccans can turn desert, an annoying start for most players, into a treasure trove of food and gold production with their unique tile improvement. And the Shoshone feel exactly like they should as a civilization through their passive, Great Expanse, which greatly increases the range of their territory when placing a city.
The expansion also balanced some of the overpowered civilizations like Napoleon, but unfortunately it didn’t touch any of the underwhelming civs like Germany. The Zulu essentially make Germany obsolete, as their passive is just flat-out better at the same strategy.
There should have been more of an effort to balance some of the civilizations that rely on chance to be good, like Germany and Spain, as well as some changes to the civilizations that are objectively underpowered like Washington and Denmark.
Overall, Brave New World is a great evolution of Civilization 5 from a war game to a world simulator. Not every feature works, but most are fixable through future patches.
There are simply more paths to choose for victory, and choices are usually a good thing in games. It avoids forcing the player into a warmongering strategy–but don’t let that fool you into thinking a defense force is unnecessary.
Because if you do, you’ll most likely fall victim to an opportunistic civilization that views you as weak. And in that sense, war does have a place in games–just like it did in human history.