Civilization V: Brave New World

Brave New World, the second expansion to Sid Meier’s Civilization V, is finally upon us. I was quite fond of the original game and its first expansion, Gods & Kings, so I was very much looking forward to this one. Unfortunately I’m somewhat disappointed, as I’ll explain below. But first, here’s a rundown of information and other opinions on the new expansion.

The big new features in Brave New World are detailed in the manual and the various reviews, but there are also a number of smaller changes that I wanted to mention. These are in addition to the changes introduced by the recent patch.

  • Airports are back and once again allow airlifting units between cities, aside from producing tourism. Not a crucial feature but a nice one, and long overdue.
  • A city’s available buildings are now sorted by order of discovery, rather than alphabetically. Not really an improvement, I’d prefer to have them sorted by function.
  • Each unhappy face now generates cumulative combat and production penalties, rather than just one big penalty at 10 unhappiness.
  • Each new city now incurs a cumulative 2.5–5% penalty on research costs, depending on the map size, similar to the existing 5–10% penalty on policy costs.
  • Iron is now revealed with bronze working, allowing better city positioning during the early expansion phase.
  • Completing the Terracotta Army now creates a new military unit of each type you already own. Obviously the Firaxians are big fans of Rise of Nations…
  • The somewhat confusing term Local Happiness has been replaced with a clearer formulation: “cannot provide more Happiness than there are Citizens in a city.”

Is the AI any better? Not if the new version of CIV5HandicapInfos.xml is any indication. Compared to Gods & Kings, the AI now receives additional bonuses on all levels between King and Deity. This is the first Civilization expansion I can recall that actually increases cheating, fitting right in with the generally half-baked feeling of Brave New World. On the upside, the AI is less inevitably hostile than before and may actually maintain lasting friendships.

I’ve updated my Civilization V Manual Addenda with information on the new expansion, including details on the new ways of AI cheating. I couldn’t write any actual addenda since Firaxis didn’t ship a proper manual – please consult the in-game Civilopedia for information on the new expansion. The rest of this post gives my first impressions after a couple of games, and explains why I’m rather less enthusiastic than the reviews linked above.

First Impressions

Jon Shafer’s original design vision for Civ5 was to emulate the obviousness and simplicity of a board game. While that vision was never fully realized, it was indeed possible to play Civ5 mostly from the main map, with the aid of various pop-up displays. Gods & Kings even recreated espionage and religion without the micromanagement that had burdened them in Civ4. Convoluted spreadsheet dialogs existed but were only needed for micro-optimizing empires on higher difficulty levels – playing on Prince or King, I generally ignored them. The game flowed smoothly and often with little user input outside of major wars. Unfortunately, Brave New World considers these features bugs and sets about to “fix” them.

The trouble starts with the new trade route systems. Caravans do move automatically – but only for 30 turns. Every single trade route must be manually re-established after its 30 turns have expired, followed every time by a monumentally obnoxious Are you suuure? dialog. Moreover, all your trade routes are instantly destroyed and must be manually rebuilt whenever your trade partner declares war on you. You cannot ignore this system, either, because it’s now your major source of gold income.

At least trade routes appear on the map, unlike the revised culture system which ditches map visibility entirely. Three new flavors of Great Artists create corresponding flavors of Great Works which are put in corresponding flavors of building slots. Thence they can be moved to escape an invading army, or swapped with other players for theme bonuses. Nice ideas all – but only visible and accessible through tiny icons in a new spreadsheet dialog. Same for the new late-game system of tourism: your influence on other nations is only represented as numbers and bar graphs in another dreadful dialog that I still find inscrutable after four games. If the goal was to revive the cultural pressure mechanism from Civ4, why not go all the way and have culture shift borders directly on the map?

Accessibility aside, some of Brave New World’s innovations are rather half-baked. The new trade route system inexplicably coexists with the old one, now renamed to “City Connections,” that continues to operate independently. The result is a confusing mess. Some buildings and wonders still affect the old system, others the new one. I can establish a trade route with my own city to boost its production, but it won’t give me the “city connection” gold bonus unless it also has a road or harbor! Why weren’t the two systems unified?

Diplomatic resolutions once again allow self-votes which Gods & Kings had wisely abolished. This has the predictable effect that resolutions which would confer advantages on only one empire, such as hosting the next assembly or getting elected World Leader, are routinely deadlocked by self-votes – or else go to the player who has bought up the most city states, as that’s considerably easier than convincing other nations to vote against themselves.

On top of all this, the AI doesn’t know how to use these new systems. Computer players will initiate global projects that confer huge bonuses on the biggest contributors – and then forget their own resolutions, producing just a fraction of what a handful of my own cities generate. Archeology should trigger an exciting competition for antiquity sites in foreign countries, but I’ve yet to see the AI acquire a site that was even a few hexes outside its own lands. On Prince, the newly increased research costs prevent the AI from even attempting a science victory, and the reduced level of aggressiveness means that its tactical idiocy is no longer compensated by excessive army production. Compared to Gods & Kings, the AI in Brave New World is noticeably weaker at the same difficulty level.

Although I do like some aspects of the new expansion, such as the refined and enhanced Social Policy tree, I’m rather disappointed with the whole package. Certainly it has not made the overwhelmingly positive first impression that Gods & Kings had. I advise waiting for another couple of patches.

2 thoughts on “Civilization V: Brave New World

  1. Rob C

    I agree with almost everything you say, but I’m one of the people who isn’t as keen about Civ V in general – despite my many hours logged in. Ignoring the AI for a moment, I like most of the changes BNW adds – except the implementation of tourism / archeology. That is just a bunch of busywork. It doesn’t really make sense either as an AI Civ culture flipped a city half way across the world. To me its not even clear how to do that.

    I like the new trade routes, despite the annoying confirmation and 30 turn renewal, but it could have been so much better. Trade routes should have been permanent until canceled. That could be applied to diplomatic agreements too. I would have like to see trade routes that rewarded the player for keeping them in place for an extended period of time.

    The civics tree seems much better and the perks make more sense with the tree they are in. I also like that there isn’t any limitation on the combinations one can select – except for the order / freedom / ??? policy.

    I agree that the AI is less hostile, but the AI finally attacked me in my 2nd game. It didn’t go well for it despite my small army size.

    I don’t like how the assembly still amounts to an economic victory – whoever can pay off the most city states wins. Peace of cake when I played as Venice.

    If I never played any other Civ game I think I would be more satisfied with Civ V, but it just doesn’t have the same grip on me its predecessors did. I went 8 months without touching it.

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  2. Christoph Nahr Post author

    I can sort of see why diplomatic agreements are locked in for 30 turns because they represent a mutual commitment, e.g. you get a harsh penalty when attacking during a declaration of friendship. The same 30-turn period for trade routes is just bizarre, though. I agree that they should be permanent unless explicitly rerouted, and increasing bonuses for longer-lasting routes are also a good idea. (That was how Civ4 implemented them, I believe.)

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