• Gameplay
  • Presentation
  • New Features
  • Addictiveness
  • Value

Four hours. That is the average amount of sleep per day that I have gotten since acquiring Brave New World, the latest expansion to Firaxis’ Civilization V. It’s affecting my work and education and I honestly don’t mind. Brave New World is just that good. While last year’s expansion, Gods and Kings, brought Civilization V out of a stale rut, it is Brave New World that elevates the game to completion and sets the stage for the inevitable Civilization VI. It’s as if Firaxis has managed to convert heroin into a playable format. I know that I’m addicted but I don’t want to stop.

Brave New World includes nine civilizations, eight wonders and two scenarios. It also completely alters the way the game handles trade routes, social policies, cultural victories and diplomacy. It’s possible to play Brave New World without Gods and Kings because the former includes everything in the latter sans the civilizations. There is no requirement to have purchased any of the Cradle of Civilization map packs either. While Gods and Kings focused heavily on expanding the early game by reintroducing mechanics such as religion, Brave New World places its emphasis on improving Civilization V’s endgame.

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Previously, the later turns of a Civilization game became a tedious chore as you merely clicked “next turn” on your way to victory. One way that Brave New World changes this is with the revamped cultural and diplomatic victories. Instead of simply completing five social policy trees, Brave New World requires that the player takes a more active role on the way to a culture victory. In order to win culturally, your civilization’s culture needs to engulf the culture of another civilization. To do this, the game splits culture into two resources: culture and tourism. Tourism acts as your “offense” while culture is your “defense.” When your total tourism output is equal to another civilization’s total culture output, you have conquered them culturally. This presents an dual challenge to the player. You need both a high tourism and culture output in order to make sure that your empire doesn’t get dominated by a foreign culture. It makes culture important even if you’re going for a different victory type, because you need to defend against an AI that may be attempting a cultural victory.

This is crucial once you unlock ideologies, powerful late-game social policies. The three ideologies, Freedom, Autocracy and Order, provide broad bonuses geared toward certain victories. However, after your civilization has adopted an ideology, it will exert an amount pressure on other civilizations based on your tourism output. If you choose an ideology different from the tourism leader, your empire could plunge into unhappiness causing rebels to spawn and forcing you to have a revolution in order to change your ideology. It’s a mechanic that provides a great deal of tension to the later stages of the game. Ideally you become the trend setter and are first to an ideology. But if not, do you brave the happiness loss and choose an ideology that benefits your strategy or do you conform and hope you can win anyway?

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Ideologies are even relevant in the revamped diplomatic victory. In Brave New World, the first civilization to find all other players on the map and research the printing press gets to found and host the World Congress. At the World Congress you can propose and vote on legislation that directly affects the game world. You can embargo trade with city states or other civilizations, fund the sciences or the arts and host the World’s Fair among other things. This also alters the way espionage is handled. Your spies can do double duty as diplomats. While diplomats, spies won’t steal technology but they will provide intelligence and they will unlock trade options that allow you to bribe other players for World Congress votes. Once most of the world enters the modern era, the World Congress becomes the United Nations and players can vote on a World Leader, signifying a diplomatic victory.

This means that making friends with opponents is more important than ever. If you make too many enemies they may propose things in the congress that wreck your strategy and economy. It also means that gold is more important than ever. You’ll need it to make alliances with city states or bribe opponents for crucial votes. Luckily, the revamped trade routes system addresses that issue. Formerly, trade routes consisted of a road between cities. Those have been renamed “city connections” and while they provide bonuses, they are not nearly as important as trade routes. Trade routes are formed by building a caravan or a cargo ship and sending it from one city to another. Each trade route provides you with a certain amount of gold, science and (in some cases) culture. It also gives a small bonus to the city you connect with. You can also send trade routes between your own cities to boost food or production.

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Your civilization gets a limited number of trade routes that grows throughout the game. By the late game, it is possible to be rolling in more gold than you know what to do with. This makes a diplomatic victory a little on the easy side and makes a civilization like Venice, which gets double trade routes, borderline over powered. Although you cannot control you caravans or cargo ships, you need to constantly monitor them in order to prevent them from being plundered by barbarians. The game almost requires you to have a sizable standing army in order to protect your trade interests, which somewhat balances the obscene amount of gold you can generate.

Trade routes also affect how wars are conducted. You’ll be less likely to attack a civilization with which you have significant trade. Even if you aren’t trading with someone, they may be trading with you and declaring war could damage your economy. While a declaration of war doesn’t cut off your trade routes, it does make them vulnerable to attack. The result is more pensive and thoughtful war for both the player and the AI. The AI is far less irrational and aggressive than in other Civilization games. It’s not uncommon to go all the way through a game with little in the way of warfare due to trade routes and shared ideologies.

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The result of all these additions is that Brave New World feels like a complete package. Every feature complements and supports another, forcing you to be much more versatile in your strategy and leading to dynamic and exhilarating games. If Brave New World has any significant issue, it’s price. At $30 on Steam, that’s a pretty heft cost for en expansion, especially if you already payed full price for the base game and any other DLC. While it’s hard to shake the feeling that this is what Civilization V should have been from the beggining, Brave New World adds so much that I find the price of admission to be well worth it.

Final Thoughts

You’ll spend hours tweaking your Great Works until you achieve maximum tourism output in order to offset the happiness loss that you took by choosing an unpopular ideology that is forcing you to leverage your trade routes to buy off votes to prevent a World Congress vote from demolishing your economy. By the time you barely eek out your grand strategy, you’ll look up at the clock that says 3 a.m. and finally notice the pile of empty cans and pizza boxes that has grown around you. You’ll wrench yourself away from the game and wake up the next morning with bloodshot eyes and a sore back. You’ll resolve to quick the habit and never touch the game again. But, almost like magic, Brave New World will suck you back in and you’ll find yourself in a never ending cycle of self-loathing and strategy bliss.