Review – Civilization V Brave New World – Working on the Backend

Civilization V originally launched with a bit of a whimper. Fans, who were used to the sheer complexity of the previous instalments, were a little disappointed at the comparatively simplistic approach taken by the Civ V team. Gone was micromanaging and city-based happiness, and the one unit per tile idea, while admirable, never seemed to work wonderfully as the AI just couldn’t deal with it effectively. Every game would pretty much play out exactly the same, which was a massive problem. The first expansion, Gods and Kings, added religion into the mix as well as making various balance tweaks, and it made the game far more interesting and variable, however, the AI diplomacy was still awful and competing civs would declare war on you for no reason whatsoever. More tragically, all of Gods and Kings’ content was used up for the first half of the game, leaving the back half just as boring as it was in the original Civ V. The developers seemed to have noticed this when they were making Brave New World with an emphasis on backend content. I hate to tip my hand too early, but it is altogether a masterstroke. There are still some niggling balance issues with the new additions, but the added content makes Civilization V one of, if not, the best Civilization games out there in terms of fun, strategy and variety.

As if anyone buys physical copies of PC games anymore.
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As per usual, this expansion has brought a series of new playable civs. You can tell that quite a bit of hard work went into crafting each one, as they all feel very unique as compared to the older vanilla civs. There are nine in total and they cover a good range. There are trading focused civs such as Morocco, Portugal, or Venice; culture based civs such as Brazil, and Poland; warmongers like the Zulu, or Assyrians; and civs that are a little harder to classify such as Polynesia and the Shoshone. Each one brings a new unique ability as per Civ V tradition, and a smattering of unique units and buildings. Truthfully all of these Civs are, on average, much more fun to play with than previous ones. Each of them either requires a unique playstyle or targets one of the new additions in the game, making them great to learn the ropes on. Venice is worth highlighting just because the entire game is changed for them as they can’t build any settlers or annex cities, requiring use of the merchant of Venice to puppet city states.

While Poland has a pimp for a leader.
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The biggest problem with the new civs is they give little reason to go back and play older civs. Unfortunately, this isn’t simply because they’re loads of fun to play. There is also a balance issue here. The Zulu for example have almost all of the advantages of Germany, but manages to push it three times further at the cost of a late game tank unit that nobody’s ever going to rely on, and a less than brilliant barbarian steal ability. Assyria takes what the Huns were good at (smashing cities), but pairs it with tech bonuses that won’t fade after the classical era, making them far less dependant on early sweeping. The Shoshone get massive tracts of land with every setter, which does what the American special ability does except free and on a much larger scale. They have better units, and their special scout can make them the powerhouse of the early game by letting them choose what bonuses they get with early huts, meaning they can get a tech lead, an early religion, a head start on culture, and more population instead of wasting time on barbarian reveals. Some older civs were changed, notably France, whose ability has been changed to play into the new tourism system, and other civs’ abilities do work really well into the new diplomatic or economic landscape, but other simply feel too boring or superseded, which is a shame. There should have been more modification to older civs.

Just like in real life, Shaka will straight out murder you.
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A new cultural victory is probably the biggest change in this game, and half of the backend content is based around it. Now, in order to win, you must impress all of your opponents with your tourism score. Tourism can be improved in various ways from buildings to creating great works from great artists, writers, or musicians. These works must be put into slots, which are available upon completion of culture buildings or wonders and provide a static bonus. What is less obvious is that you can get a theme bonus by stacking the right era, and civilization together. This encourages trading of great works with other civs in order to get the best bonuses you can. Culture acts as a counter to tourism and the more culture a civ puts out, the harder it is for them to be influenced by someone else’s tourism score. Truthfully, it takes an absolute mammoth amount of tourism to win culturally, but it is surprisingly fun to get there, and, unlike Gods and Kings or vanilla Civ V, the AI will let you get there.

The difference between your painting and Da Vinci’s is the purple aura.
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What I mean by that last comment is that diplomacy has been revamped. The AI will no longer just attack you for no reason. Hell, even with many negative modifiers, the AI won’t instinctively attack. This is great because it means that you don’t have to go to war and peacemongers can enjoy all of the new content. That’s not to say the AI won’t flatten you, but it isn’t a foregone conclusion as it was in previous games. As part of the new diplomatic landscape is the world congress, which is founded around halfway through the game. In this, civs can vote on various proposals such as banning resources, setting up embargoes, promoting the sciences or arts, or holding a massive worldwide event such as international games or world fairs. These events are really fun as when passed. All civs can contribute their production to finishing them and the one who contributes the most gets a massive bonus, with lesser bonuses for civs who reached certain milestones. The whole system is fun, and diplomacy has never been more important. You need allies in the world, both major civs and city states in order to prevent embargoes and opposing world religions from getting their foot holds. The diplomatic victory is won here instead of through the now extinct United Nations wonder, but it works pretty much the same. You’ll need enough votes to get declared the world leader. However, there are many other ways of getting votes other than simply buying every city state, although, that doesn’t hurt.

No amount of diplomacy stops Pacal from being a dick. The only way to stop his zealotry is with a gun.
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Gold is much more scarce in Civ V. It used to be that gold was generated from every tile next to a river, luxury resources, and you could always trade resources for massive amounts from the AI. This doesn’t work anymore. No gold from river tiles and you need a declaration of friendship to trade lump sums (another reasons diplomacy is so important). To obtain gold in Civ V, you must set up trade routes using caravans or cargo ships. These units can be sent to foreign civs and city states to generate gold and science for both parties. These routes also carry forth cultural and religious pressure, which may be good or bad depending on your position. Interestingly, you can send these units to your own cities in order to provide massive bonuses to food or production after the completion of a granary and workshop respectively. These allow the building of super cities really early and easily, but this comes at the cost of trade. Truthfully, it is a no brainer to put your early caravans on your own cities, but later, as the bonuses start seeming less impressive, trade does take precedence, especially when your wallet starts bleeding. Caravans can be raided by warring civs for large monetary bonuses and barbarians, who spawn much more frequently and are more aggressive (something that makes many previous barbarian centric strategies such as the honour tree, more viable).

What? You don’t know about the desert paradise of Hamburg?
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When each civ industrializes, they now get to pick an ideology from either freedom, order, or autocracy (Democracy, communism, and fascism, respectively). These ideologies provide massive bonuses and can be upgraded with social policy points like the regular social policy tree, which got two new additions for the culture and trading route game. These bonuses are unique to each tree and some of them are amazingly powerful. You get a tenant choice from a large list with each social policy point added to the ideology, and more powerful tiers are unlocked as you invest more points. Interestingly enough, ideologies play a major role in diplomacy and in the culture game. Civs like civs with the same ideology and dislike those on the opposing side. Also, culture can exert influence on civs of opposing ideology. If you run freedom and are culturally dominant, you may cause massive unhappiness to neighbouring civs, whose citizens yearn for your ideology. It is a great way to exert some massive pressure and it makes getting a strong culture buffer important for all civs, especially if you are playing with a less popular ideology.

Beware of Freedom even with its tempting two free tenants. Unless of course, you’re culturally dominant.
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Civilization V Brave New World turns the entirety of Civ V on its head, and it couldn’t have worked better. Due to the diplomacy revamp, war is no longer inevitable. The back end is loaded with fun as you rush to prove your cultural and diplomatic superiority, not to mention the excitement of sending your own Indiana Jones-esque archeologists around the world to plunder the cultural heritage of others. Tourism takes some getting used to, especially with the theme bonus, but when you get it, it’s a great system that has me far more interested in cultural victories than I ever was in vanilla Civ V. Its greatest weakness, as mentioned, is that the new civs are so interesting and fun to play with that older civs seem so ho hum by comparison. Altogether, if Brave New World is the final expansion pack to Civ V, Firaxis has left us with one of the finest strategy games on the market and a fine successor to the Civilization franchise.

Score – 10

– Mistranslations for the Modern Gamer

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