It's the Civ game you've all been waiting for
When Civilization V launched a few years back, a lot of die-hard fans were disappointed with the lack of depth the game had to offer. The graphics were sharp, the interface was clean and intuitive, and the overall gameplay was very nice -- but it was missing some key mechanics introduced with expansions to Civilization IV. Brave New World, the latest expansion for Civ V, brings in a massive amount of depth to the game with simple mechanics used in brilliant ways.
The major revamp here is to the game's core culture system, with the culture victory being redone to incorporate new tourism points. Along with culture getting some love, there are also new archaeology sites, trade routes, an ideology system, and world congress that really change-up the end game.
Each of these new systems is simple to grasp, but they work with one another and existing mechanics in a way that really opens up fresh ways to play, making this the best version of Civilization.
Civilization V: Brave New World (PC [reviewed], Mac)
The way a cultural victory used to work was that the player simply had to unlock every available policy for their civilization. This meant that all you had to do was earn as much culture as you possibly could to buy policies quickly, and it was important to keep your empire small since more cities would drive up the culture cost of new policies. This system seemed to be fine, but it always felt you were playing the game without any impact from other civilizations. You just had to sit back and build your little culture farms while other players duked it out for world domination.
Now players have to fight against each other to become the dominant culture in the world, thus winning the new cultural victory. Cities can produce great works through great artists, writers, painters, and musicians. These great works, which represent cultural milestones that your civilization has created, are placed in museums or other cultural buildings and generate tourism for your empire. To win a cultural victory, you have to produce more tourism than other civilizations have made culture.
Basically, tourism represents your attack points and culture is your defense points. When you have generated more total tourism then they have generated total culture, you win the game. If you have a dominant culture, other players' cities can defect to your side. This new victory is much more satisfying than the previous system, and it can be challenging when you have a lot of players trying to achieve it, since everyone will have a really high culture value. Civ IV players will also be happy to know that great people can "culture bomb" other players, meaning that you can go into their territory to spread your culture and tourism with a massive burst.
Along with great people being able to make great works, artifacts can also be found at new antiquity sites using the Archaeologist unit. These sites will appear at places where earlier events happened in your game, places such as where you fought an enemy or you destroyed a barbarian camp. You can either dig out an artifact that can be placed in culture buildings to generate tourism, or you can turn the site into a landmark that will give you culture points. The older the site is, the more culture points you get from it.
Later in the game, as players enter the modern era, they can adopt new Ideologies, which are basically a new set of skill trees tied into the existing policy system. Each player can only pick one ideology for their civilization: Freedom, Order, or Autocracy. These each have unique bonuses and new policies that players can adopt, and they also have a big impact on your relationship with other leaders. Everyone who adopts Freedom is much more likely to be friends with each other, and they probably won't get along with anyone choosing Order. Wars can erupt between ideologies, and it adds a really nice touch to the end game. It's not a huge departure from the policy system, but it does add enough to keep things interesting.
Another end-game feature is the World Congress, which opens up when one civilization has met every other leader and they have the printing press. This player becomes the leader of the World Congress (which you can rename to anything you like, so my leaders met at the "Greater Council of Sloths"), and players can vote on issues that will affect everyone. The hosting player and the player with the most delegates can propose laws to be put to a vote. Delegates are gained by advancing in eras and by having allied city states. This really makes having lots of city states on your side beneficial.
The laws enacted by the World Congress cover a variety of things, including banning a particular resource from play, increasing taxes on standing armies, enforcing a world religion, and events like the World Fair that lets players donate production to win prizes. It's really a system of trying to help yourself while inflicting serious pain on other players. If the winning player has a huge army, you can rally together with other players to bankrupt him by increasing the gold cost per turn of military units.
If all of these new changes sound like fun, I have even more exciting news for you. My absolute favorite addition here is the reintroduction of Trade to the series. Players can build trade caravans and cargo ships, which are used to establish trade routes with other players, your own cities, and city states. You can get stupidly rich by investing in a lot of trade routes, and there are wonders and buildings that can improve the amount of gold you earn and how many trade routes you can have.
You can earn so much money with trade routes that it adds a whole new way to play the game: being a rich country who just buys anything they want. Money is power, just like in the real world. You can bribe other leaders to vote your way in the World Congress, you can pay them to attack your enemies, you can buy research agreements to speed up your technological growth, and you can buy new units and buildings. If you spend the early game building up your gold income and trade routes, by the modern era you will be rich enough to get anything you want and make other people do your dirty work. It's a glorious way to play, and it is definitely my new favorite method of global domination.
In one game, Egypt was being a dick to me, so I payed off three other leaders to declare war on him. His empire fell and I didn't even need to declare war or build an army. I felt insanely powerful, which isn't something that was present earlier in the game if you had a lot of gold.
Along with all of these new mechanics there are also nine new leaders, new technologies, new units, two new scenarios, new wonders, new great person types, and a lot of tweaking to older mechanics like Religion and diplomacy. The patch notes and changes are lengthy and detailed, so I won't dive into each item, but it's a lot of little things that all add together to make Brave New World into the best experience I have had with the series, and I have been playing since the first game.
My only major complaint is that this essentially makes Gods & Kings worthless since this has all of the mechanics from that expansion included, and you don't need it to play Brave New World. There are still unique leaders, units, and scenarios in Gods & Kings, but it's not enough to warrant the $30 price tag it still has. Brave New World is also currently $30, and that seems a bit steep for an expansion that could also be replaced in the future.
If you didn't pick up Gods & Kings for some reason, I really suggest skipping it unless you can grab it for cheap on Steam. Brave New World is the expansion you need to get instead, and I highly recommend it to fans of the series.
If you have been sitting out on Civilization V because you feel it's not as awesome as Civilization IV, you really need to get on this side of the fence now. Brave New World brings in all the best parts of Gods & Kings and it makes the game into something complex yet simple to learn. The ways you can play are greatly opened up with the new systems, and you can take very different approaches to each victory type. While it still seems less complicated than Civ IV with all of the expansions, Civ V with Brave New World does have a lot more going on and it's just easier than ever to get to all of it. That's always a good thing.
THE VERDICT - Civilization V: Brave New World
Reviewed by Joshua Derocher