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Sid Meier's Civilization V: Brave New World Review

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  • PC

"Brave" isn't the right word for this last Civ V expansion, but it sure does offer up a lot of smart changes and upgrades.

Calling Civilization V's latest (and last) expansion Brave New World was an interesting, if not wholly accurate choice. We're now three years removed from Civ V's initial release, and a year from the last big expansion to overhaul this world-dominating strategy game. Brave New World is a bigger expansion than the last, and a more targeted one. It aims to revamp the sometimes tepid and mundane late-game elements with reworked culture mechanics, additional monetary resources, and a whole new method of diplomacy between civilizations. These are all changes that make perfect sense, and mostly manage to achieve Firaxis' goal of a better, less predictable late-game push, without making any major fundamental changes to the way Civ V is generally played. In this regard, Brave New World is perhaps less a brave step forward for this aging title, and more a sensible one. Then again, Sensible New World doesn't have quite the same ring to it, I suppose.

New civs, new mechanics, and new scenarios make up the content of Civilization V's latest expansion.

The most significant change to the core game is the addition of trade routes. Maybe it's just because I'm terrible at resource management, but I often found myself running into financial trouble in previous iterations of this game, especially once I started expanding further and further, building more roads, and so on. Trade routes make for an exceptional boon to players that tend to find themselves financially strapped, without just making it overtly easy to gain gold at all times. With these trade routes, you'll build either a land caravan or cargo ship to travel to other civs, city states, or even your own cities. You won't get gold if you travel to your own cities, but you can create food or production bonuses. Outside of your own empire, you'll receive nice gold bonuses (especially after you've built a caravansary in your originating city), apply religious pressure, and even gain some small science boosts from certain empires. The risk is that trade routes are easily plundered. Going to war all but assures your trade routes will get swallowed up, and early on, when barbarians are still a frequent risk, you'll have to make sure your routes are regularly clear.

These trade routes are extremely important for every civ in the game, but several of the nine new civs added for this expansion, which include Morocco, Portugal, and Venice, focus largely on wealth acquiring and trade bonuses. Unfortunately, few of the new Civs feel particularly creative or unique within the greater scope of the dozens of other civs already present in the game. The Zulus and Assyrians, for instance, are both traditionally warlike cultures to add to the already lengthy list of those, while the Polish do little of note except collect extra social policies at the beginning of each new era. Not all of them are this way, of course. Morocco probably makes the best use of the new trade elements, while Venice has the distinction of being the only playable city state. With Venice, you cannot create settlers nor annex cities, but you can use a Merchant of Venice unit to "buy out" city states and make them puppets. Unlike other puppet states in the game, you can purchase buildings and units for them, which gives you a bit more control than you'd otherwise have, while still preventing you from traditional expansion.

Cultural victories are much easier to achieve now, thanks to the new diversity of great artists, writers, and musicians.

Still, while not all the new civs are especially great, nearly all the mechanical changes made are to the game's benefit. Cultural victory, for instance, is no longer tied to the nebulous "utopia project," but rather through cultural influence that can only be earned through copious amounts of earned culture and tourism. You earn both those by spawning great artists, writers, and musicians, who each can create great works that will display in the museums, opera houses, amphitheaters, and great wonders you build in your cities. Each great work provides a culture boost, as well as a tourism boost. Tourism is essentially just a new metric that determines how desirable your empire is to visit. Early on, you won't get much tourism at all, but as you get past the industrial era, you'll start building tourism in large chunks. You can actually win through tourism by dominating that category, at which point you'll see a menu start ticking off civs that have become influenced by your culture. You'll even get some world leaders coming to you complaining that their citizens are wearing your blue jeans and listening to your pop music all the time.

The only problem with the tourism victory is that you really don't get the bonuses needed to gain that kind of influence until the very end of the game. By that point, you'll probably have already achieved some major progress toward scientific or diplomatic victory. That diplomatic victory, by the way, comes via the new world congress, which eventually evolves into the United Nations. Long before you can win the game, all still-active civs will be able to start voting on worldwide measures and laws that can have huge impact on the late game. If you're feeling friendly, you can simply suggest civs put resources toward a world's fair, or international games, which will afford the winners policy and tourism bonuses. If you're looking for more targeted measures, you can propose measures that will increase great scientists, or great artists, depending on which victory you're working toward. And if you're feeling antagonistic, you can vote to ban certain luxury resources that are key to other civs' survival, or even vote to embargo all trade with them.

Maintaining a number of active trade routes is key to keeping your civ's financial coffers full.

All that diplomacy and cultural influence also plays into the game's new ideologies, which are expansions from the previous cultural policies. Once a civ has either entered the modern era, or built three factories, you'll be able to choose an ideology from the options of freedom, autocracy, or order. Those obviously existed in the previous versions of the game, but here they've been split out into their own, much larger branches and tiers of policies. One of the key elements to ideologies is making sure your ideology is the dominant one in the world. If you choose, say, autocracy, but multiple other civs choose freedom, you'll have to ensure that your culture is the strongest of the world, otherwise your citizens will begin to revolt and unhappiness in the empire will spread quickly. You can change your ideology later if you like, though that comes with its own set of penalties. If you opt not to change and your citizenry become too unhappy, cities may actually revolt and join another civ. It's an exceptionally careful balance to maintain, but if you play smartly, you'll dominate your opponents.

All of these changes serve to make Civ V's late-game a much more enjoyable endeavor. The inevitability of victory is greatly lessened, and it's entirely possible to totally throw the established order of things into disarray if you happen to get some big tourism and/or culture boosts later on. For those reasons, Brave New World is easy to recommend to anyone who still has an active interest in the game. The new civs and added scenarios (which include the mostly throwaway Scramble for Africa and Civil War additions) might not bowl anyone over, but from a purely mechanical perspective, Brave New World's additions make this the ideal version of Civilization V.

Alex Navarro on Google+
55 Comments
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Posted by Voysa_Reezun

As a Lit nerd, I am just stoked for the famous quotes from great works of literature. I would also like to thank Jane Austen for writing Pride and Prejudice for the Moroccan people in 280 BC.

If Alex is struggling with keeping costs down in older versions of Civ. V, he should just a) build lots of trading posts and b) go the Commerce policy route and cut the costs of road development. Boom, rolling in the money. Actually, I had a much harder time staying in the black in the Brave New World add on, at least early, than I did in the base game or in Gods and Kings.

I am still figuring out how to manage culture in the new game, having not completed a game in BNW yet, but certainly it cannot be as mundane as collecting Social Policies and building the Utopia Project was in earlier versions.

Edited by barkadoodle

Love the brave new expansion. I think this is the first time I had fun with the diplomatic victory. City states become much more important, and the world congress adds a dimension of 'soft power' to the game that never existed before, because there are real consequences that actually can hurt or help other civs, and give real reasons for civs to like and dislike each other besides the obscure denouncements.

Finally it seems that the Civ guys have brought a level of maturity to the diplomacy system hat I've been looking for since I played the first Civ (yes, I'm that old). I think the only thing that seems missing is perhaps adding some environmental consequences to your growth actions that could be reasons for passing related world congress resolutions that could add more diplomatic tensions between nations. That would be fun.

Edited by GERALTITUDE

What didn't you like Alex? Or was it just not love...

Posted by ThatFrood

@branthog: I was the same way, Civ V was a tremendous disappointment for me.

I've played the game since with the expansions, after a long hiatus. It's much improved.

I'm still not comfortable saying it's managed to reach Civ IV, but at the very least it's differentiated itself enough and added enough complexity now to make it a different experience.

Posted by brink87

@sear said:

I normally like Alex's reviews but this reads more like a feature list for the game and has hardly any critique in it. The downside of reviewing Civ fairly is that you a) need to be an experienced strategy gamer to even know what the game does well or not, and b) you have to put a good hundred hours or more into a Civ game to even begin to form a really meaningful opinion about it.

I feel like Civ is just like sports games in the mainstream - focus on the new features, the graphics and presentation, etc. but without actually discussing the mechanics that the hardcore fans actually play the game for to begin with. Nobody actually writing game reviews for a living has the time, and rarely the niche interest, to give an opinion beyond that.

This.