Sid Meier's Civilization V: Brave New World Review
Reviewed on PC
It’s 1990 and the Brazilian civilisation, led by President Pedro II of Brazil, has just recommended to World Congress that an International Games should be held, and this has met with approval from the American and Iroquois leaders. There’s no word from the Mongolian hordes - normally they only talk to anyone when trying to open borders, or install an embassy thus making things a darn sight easier to commit espionage. It doesn’t matter, they’ll get their pro-rata vote for or against the said motion. In the meantime a Great Artist has just created a new masterpiece in the city of Salvador. There are many similar in Rio, Sao Paulo and others, all of which contribute to the culture score, something which makes the Brazilian world and Rio in particular the most desirable place to visit. Tourism here is high. Very high. Everyone wants to come. So many in fact that we hope in time victory will be secured without the need to resort to military action (we try and avoid such things) or silly space programmes.
Civilization V was first released in 2010 to general acclaim. It was, after all, the latest version of a classic series dating back to 1991. Despite each version of the game being founded upon the same formula - start a city, build a civilisation, beat the others in one way or another - people had their favourite game or their preferred way to play. Certain methods were only possible in some games, or more attractive in others - the cultural victory for instance was only introduced in the third game and Civilization V did away with it pretty much. To make the loss manageable it did have wonderfully powerful endgame military weapons in the form of giant robots. So it wasn’t all bad. Anyway, Civilization V seemed incomplete as a game and even more so when 2012’s Gods and Kings expansion was released. It was clear that was no mere expansion pack, rather an extension to the game which introduced mechanics so well-balanced they became essential and the game unplayable without them. So too with a Brave New World Firaxis have done the same - with this they have finally finished Civilization V. We now have the true sequel and one which works very well, but which also needs to be totally renewed because it’s so familiar to its fans.
On booting up Brave New World there are modifications to what already existed but more importantly a number of new mechanics littered throughout from the early to the late game meaning that on the first few playthroughs you’ll be learning how everything works and how best to use it successfully, or otherwise should you find it doesn’t fit with your approach. Trade routes are actual specific things you need to set up now rather than just connecting two cities with a road or some other form of transport. Once you have researched Animal Husbandry you can build a caravan. Send that to a city state or a met civ’s city and you’ll have in place a shiny new trade route beneficial to you both. At least until war, or barbarians, destroy it. This gets you more stuff more quickly and can give you a boost early on when trying to get ahead of civs in one way or another, be it expansion or research. Wildly important early on, they disappear into the background as you head towards the midway point as more important things begin to demand your focus.
What that might be will vary. It might be religion or espionage, those mainstays from the previous expansion, which made things that much better and harked back to the older versions of Civ, making this feel more complete. However you’re likely to be thinking about a couple of other things now. If working towards a cultural victory - and who wouldn’t, right? - you’ll be doing the usual selection of builds and focussing on wonders where possible, but will also need to be aware of the new victory conditions. You’ll be using your great people - artists, writers, musicians and more this time around - to create various great works of art, or put on concerts in another civ’s state. All of this builds your culture per turn and importantly your tourism per turn. You have culture, folks want to come and visit you. If they visit you they take your culture back to their home and your influence on that civ grows. Grow your influence over a number of civs and you will achieve that all important cultural victory. Frankly the original requirements to win thanks to your culture seemed too analogous to other routes to success. Now it’s different to what we’re used to from previous games - you can’t just spam culture bombs on your boundaries to try and expand them and steal other cities and exponentially increase your culture that way. It is also more involving and strategic than without this expansion. Here it seems more balanced and nuanced if trying to achieve that win before Diplomatic or Space victories become the ultimate objective.
If you’re progressing your tech tree sufficiently during the middle third of the game you should also get the opportunity to instigate the World’s Congress, something which can happen when the Printing Press is discovered and a number of civs are in a certain era. This allows various proposals which all civs vote on, with each providing various benefits or disadvantages to one or more of you and them. For instance you might suggest banning a specific luxury which only one civ has therefore causing them an issue were it agreed. Or you might make natural wonders worth even more culture per turn if you happened to have discovered a large number of them within your boundaries. Whatever takes your fancy really. The votes happen every few turns and incorporate a really important strategic tool in the final third of the game which can help or otherwise depending on how it’s used. Schmooze with city-states and other civilisations to get them on your side and your preferred proposals will become legislature. If you’re at war with everyone they’re hardly likely to side with you. As you get to the mid or late game (depending on your tech tree choices) you can build archaeologists - a subset of the worker - once you have discovered the requisite technology. Brilliantly what has happened in the early part of your game has an impact in that interactions with barbarians become an antiquity site on the map. Once you have an archaeologist you can get them to dig at that site and find an artefact which can be put on show in one of your cities to generate culture or you can turn the site into a historical landmark and generate tourism that way. Again, a further tool you unlock part-way through the game to benefit those headed for the cultural victory.
The change to culture’s role and the way to win with it is fantastic. It brings with it all kinds of excellent mechanics which elevate the game a notch or two above where it sat before this expansion. There are other changes too, as mentioned. New policies exist and some of these are there to aid culture, but there’s lots of other nice benefits for people looking to win in other ways. The artificial intelligence has been changed apparently although it still seems as irritating as ever given an open borders agreement is unacceptable and only becomes so when you give up about six resources and some cash per turn in return. It frustrates just as much as it always has and really is broken at best. There are new civilisations to play as, from Dandolo’s Venice (who can’t build settlers) to Brazil’s Pedro who brings a tourism bonus during a golden age (Carnivale!). It is a nice additional selection but not many you would likely choose over and above the swathe already available.
What Brave New World does is complete Civilization V. The game was never really all there and it’s taken nearly three years to make it all the way. Whilst what is now available is arguably the best version of the game, beating out the second and third which are widely regarded as the series’ pinnacle. The problem however is that as getting here has been such a disjointed affair to a fan who has played the original and each expansion it’s too much of a gradual change, rather than that big step from the fourth title in the series. What was there before the brave new world is old hat. Mechanical military robots were amazing but now? The new cultural victory, the archaeological digs, it’s all very well done and with these new features going back to the vanilla Civilization V is unthinkable. What we have now would have made a brilliant game to start with. But the whole package is too little too late. Roll on Civilization VI.