In the two and a half days since Civilization V: Brave New World was released, I’ve already spent in the area of 12 hours with the game. The reasons for that logistical miracle in my life are not interesting, but needless to say that is a pretty unusual stretch of time for me to spend with a game in such a short span. To be honest, I hadn’t intended to spend nearly that long. I had not spent the previous weeks and months anxiously waiting for the expansion pack, and had a passing interest at best in what the Firaxis team was doing with the game. I figured my time with Civ V had probably come pretty close to its end, and I had moved on.
I was wrong.
Like a lot of people, when I think of great expansion to Civilization games, my immediate thought is of Civilization IV’s “Beyond the Sword” expansion. “BtS” did a lot of things to move the series forward when it was released in 2007, like adding Corporations, Espionage, additional win conditions and the requisite new civs, new buildings and new resources. On paper, “Beyond the Sword” isn’t automatically anything remarkably special, but its implementation into Civilization IV was so clean, so tonally on point, that everything about the game immediately felt like it should have been in the game the entire time. It was the puzzle piece that brought everything about Civ IV together into a coherent and exceptionally elegant game.
That is what “Brave New World” feels like for Civilization V. It is an expansion that looks pretty good on paper, but in execution feels like the game fully realized. In one fell swoop suddenly all the parts of Civilization V are working in unison consistently throughout the entire span of the game.
What “Brave New World” adds to the feature list is headlined by three key feature enhancements. The first is a revamped and dynamic trade system. The second is the addition of an ideological component onto its existing culture system. Both of these first two systems are wonderfully simple to understand — a statement that couldn’t have been as easily said about espionage and corporations in “Beyond the Sword” — and mesh smoothly into a game already dense with religion/faith, espionage, city-states, diplomacy and culture mechanics.
The third system, another culture offshoot built around a tourism mechanic, is a little more complex. If you can wrap your head around the idea that it was blue jeans and rock and roll that won the Cold War then you can wrap your head around the implementation of culture and tourism as a winning strategy in the game. The actual application generally has to do with using Great Artists, Musicians or Writers to create works of art that influence other civilizations.
Though hard to really explain without going into detail, the actual game implementation is surprisingly intuitive once you begin to think of tourism as an offensive resource you can use to impact other cultures and even eventually win the game. My first round of “Brave New World,” in fact, ended for me with a Culture victory, and once I had the basic concept down, getting there just made sense.
On the whole, though, what I like about “Brave New World” is that it is not safe. The mechanics, the way the new civilizations influence play, the way they’ve changed some of the basic concepts of the game, never feel like it was phoned in. Everything feels like it was added with purpose, and that the team didn’t shy away from taking chances. Tourism, ideologies and trade all feel like they fundamentally force you to make a shift in the way you approach the game, how you earn money, how you defend against other civilizations, how you influence your opponents, and how you ultimately build your civ. It expands the way you can play the game, rather than adding a few trappings onto the established framework. Particularly in the mid and late game, the way you interact with Civilization V feels both new and familiar.
The thing I always said about “Beyond the Sword” for Civilization IV is that you could never go back. The elements of that expansion slotted in so well that you almost can’t remember how to play the game without them. That holds true for “Brave New World,” and it’s just about the best thing I can say about any expansion pack.