Depending on who you ask, globalization is either the force that's ending wars and offering new opportunities to developing countries, or it's the force further dividing the world into haves and have-nots. Regardless, there's no denying that the U.S. is now bound to countries like China in a way that was unimaginable 30 years ago, and I can't help but view Brave New World, the new expansion pack for Civilization V, through that lens.
In Brave New World, I've spent at least as much time in tense negotiations with the Russians and the Indians as I have on the battlefield. Trade routes now connect the world in a way they never did before, hosting caravans loaded with gold, science, and religion crisscrossing the globe. Tourists pack my museums to see the works created by my great artists, writers, and musicians, and my entertainment is beamed to them through the Internet. It's a reflection of a world where someone might not have reliable water or electricity, but can still see their share of bad Hollywood movies.
It's a hook that I find irresistible, not just because it's a subject that I've studied extensively, but because it's fertile ground for the kind of emergent storylines that Civilization V thrives upon. The World Congress in particular is a place where I frequently find myself concocting stories in my head, attributing traits and motives to the various A.I. leaders that I deal with on a regular basis. I've found that Gandhi is something of a schemer, willing to make a big show of support, but mostly content to let everyone else battle it out while he picks up the pieces. Washington seems high-minded and moralistic. Montezuma and Napoleon are probably psychopaths.
I've had to deal with each of them in turn, and while their individual quirks are probably just my imagination, it's to Brave New World's credit that I'm willing to ascribe any personality to them at all. If Firaxis' goal was to get me communicating and bargaining with these personalities, they've certainly succeeded. Probably my most memorable moment in Brave New World came when I only needed a few more votes to get a Diplomatic Victory, triggering a furious round of negotiations as I tried to bribe India, Russia, and the Shoshone into supporting me. Gandhi and the Shoshone were amenable to my overtures, but Catherine just wouldn't budge, no matter how much I offered. I even offered whole cities to her.
In the end, I had 23 votes, four shy of what I needed for victory. Four measly votes. Apparently Catherine was mad at me for declaring friendship with the Indonesia. If that's the case, she really knows how to hold a grudge.
I will say that, for all of its emergent storylines and interesting moments, the World Congress does tend to concentrate a too much power in the hands of the host, who controls a large chunk of the votes. Not only that, but hosting duties are awarded to the first nation to discover every other civilization, which can be a matter of pure luck, since players can sometimes end up being tucked away on an island somewhere. If you're trying to get elected World Leader, and you don't get to be host right away, you're probably better off finding another route to victory, because wresting away hosting duties requires a lot of schmoozing and lot of resources.
Brave New World also suffers just a bit from murky mechanics. There are a lot of new cultural mechanics at work here, but it's not always clear how to get enough influence over another country for a Cultural Victory. The best I can figure is that I just need to research the Internet to double my influence, but even with +200 tourism, it feels like I'm not making much of a dent in other cultures. Not even the deadly one-two combination of the Uffizi and Broadway has been enough to make a difference on that front.
Still, I think it's fair to say that Brave New World has addressed many of the criticisms of the original game, the biggest being the outsized role the military played in attaining victory. Playing as Venice in my most recent game, I spent almost all of my time building trade routes, schmoozing with the World Congress, and buying up other city states. I barely fired a shot, which I found rather satisfying. I'm not a averse to a good war here or there, but I like to have options in my strategy games. And until now, Civilization V has been a little too focused on aggression for my liking.
With that in mind, I find it easy to recommend Brave New World to Civilization V veterans, and even those who might not have picked up the game to this point. It does a lot of interesting things with the global economy, and its World Congress ties in rather nicely with elements like espionage and religion, which were introduced in the previous expansion. It's not a perfect reflection of globalization (what game is?), but in these turbulent times, it never hurts to have a little more perspective on how the world works.
The Nitty Gritty
Visuals: Civilization V has held up rather nicely over the past few years, and it runs well on even mid-range PCs like my own. One thing I really like is the way the world slowly transforms as farms, trading posts, and fortresses begin to crop up across the map. It makes me feel as if I'm watching human history unfold in real time, which, as a history fan, I find endlessly fascinating.
Music: The music remains largely unobtrusive, mainly consisting of New Age choral music that hovers in the background. It's actually rather soothing until a sudden sting tells you that another civilization has just unlocked the Great Library, and you start cursing Gandhi's mother.
Controls: Civ V's user interface is as clean and engaging as ever. The help screen is especially useful, offering easily searchable and comprehensive entries on every unit, building, and civilization in the game. For those just coming into Civilization, it's essential.
Lasting Appeal: Brave New World has really got its hooks in me. If not for the fact that I have another review to worry about, I would probably be playing it right now. Regardless, I plan to pick it up again in the near future, if only because I want to finally earn that elusive Culture Victory. Brave New World puts many concerns about Civilization V's depth and lasting appeal neatly to rest.
Brave New World smartly builds on the foundation laid by Gods & Kings, adding a great deal of depth without becoming needlessly complex or confusing. It swings the pendulum from war to peace, encouraging you to engage with other leaders in new and interesting ways, and weaving in trade routes and other familiar elements of the global economy. It's an essential addition, and its represents one more step along the path of Civilization V maturing into the kind of strategy game we thought it would be when it was released in 2010.