The next expansion for Civilization 5 comes in peace, or it mostly comes in peace. Brave New World is Firaxis’ attempt to completely reinvent the endgame of the turn-based civ-sim. Firaxis want to make Civ’s end-game as dynamic and as engaging as the earlier stages of play.
They’re all too aware of how their game gradually becomes static, turning from exploration into economics, replacing the adventure with administration. They hope that this expansion will change all that, and so they’re giving us art and archaeologists, culture and camels.
“Yeah, we’ve always had that problem in every version of Civilization. How do we make the endgame compelling?” asks producer Dennis Shirk, as he describes a problem where the fun has ended long before the game itself. Games like Civilization are commonly known as 4X titles because, as you play, you explore, expand, exterminate and exploit. But, as Dennis points out, the later stages of a Civilization game tend to see all of the map revealed and have the various factions filling up the last empty areas of the map. The chances to either explore or expand are lost, effectively cutting out half of what makes the game.
While players who prefer an aggressive, militaristic approach can continue to expand by dividing and conquering, that’s not everybody’s style. The idea always was that the Civilization series could also present peaceful routes to victory. That’s where Brave New World fits in. “This is really an expansion for the builders out there, people who’ve really wanted to explore the interactions between the civilizations, the diplomacy layers, and build that massive empire that exerts your will peacefully.”
To this end, they’ve substantially revamped the culture system to make room for more of those non-violent possibilities, giving peaceful players way to more effectively assert themselves.
Civ now has works of art, which can be created and used to populate wonders: you can now hang the Mona Lisa in your Louvre, or perform a play in your theatre, giving yourself a substantial culture boost. You can also send out artists on tours, perhaps moving one of your famous composers through a neighbour’s cities to show them just how cool you are. Along with your culture rating, you’ll also be keeping an eye on how much your civilization pulls in the tourists, which is also a measure of your influence. Attracting tourists can be a great way to boost both your culture ratings and your bank balance.
Perhaps cheekiest of all the new additions are the archaeologists, who you can send out to snatch ancient artifacts and haul them home for your viewing pleasure. Artifacts are generated based on historical events in the game. If a pitched battle was once fought on a particular hex, then two thousand years later there might well be a culturally significant find there which all the world’s archaeologists will want to plunder and haul homeward, each of them shouting how it “Belongs in a museum!”
Brave New World also adds a few branches to the tech tree and reintroduces a more old-fashioned approach to trade. You can once again build trade caravans and send them off to neighbouring civilization. Caravans can make you a lot of money, but they’re vulnerable units that you must keep your eye on.
Shirk recognises that these additions constitute a major change in the way Civ plays: and that’s on top of the new mechanics added in the last expansion, Gods and Kings.
“You’ve got Gods and Kings systems that are being brought forward here,” he explains, adding that players won’t need that expansion to play this one, but many of the systems behind it, as well as the lessons learned, will be carried forward. Teaching the AI to master or even to counter these new ways of playing has been a constant challenge. “While all the game systems are playing very well, we’re still teaching the AI to think tactically,” he continues. “A culture victory still a little too easy.”
Firaxis are making sure that the AI protects its caravans, that it knows how to behave when it finds itself in difficulty, that it knows when it’s appropriate to respond militarily or economically. Shirk isn’t shy about describing test situations where it has ruined its economy or responded to threats by building lots of camels. Testing needs time, he says, and Firaxis don’t want to rush. He adds that he’s glad to not feel the pressure of an imminent release date that some developers do.
“You can get to a point when you’re in beta, where all the machines are firing, marketing, PR, and there’s always a pressure to release,” he explains, but adds that Firaxis won’t be scared of holding a release back if they feel it won’t meet their own standards. Much like they did with XCOM, then? “Yes. XCOM was able to do that.”
Alongside the new game mechanics, Brave New World will also introduce a collection of new wonders (including the Parthenon and Florence’s Uffizi Gallery), nine more playable civilizations, (including the Poles, whose cavalry can push other units one hex backward, plus an old favourite, the Zulus).
There’s a lot more to come, including new scenarios, new units and new buildings, but Firaxis aren’t announcing everything yet. But we end on a philisophically devious note.
Should any other world leader give you trouble, Brave New World’s new World Congress might be your chance to attack without resorting to all out war. The Congress is formed once one civilization has met all of the others. It allows world leaders to gather together to discuss global affairs and, quite often, stick pins in each other’s plans by proposing big, game-changing resolutions. For example, you might table a motion to ban the hunting of whales, ostensibly because it’s humane, but really because one of your rivals relies on whaling to support their economy.
Diplomacy has never felt so devious.