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Review – Civilization IV: Warlords

posted on August 16th, 2006 by golden jew

Is that the Great Wall of China surrounding your civilization or are you just happy to see me?

Because I (and most other gamers) am incredibly weak willed, the expansion for the fantastic Civilization 4 was something I was going to buy regardless of reviews, and regardless of quality. Although it won’t win any awards, the Warlord expansion gets the job done and is a worthy buy. And worse, because of fundamental changes to the game setup (much for the better), if you’re a Civ player, you undoubtedly have already shelled out the money to buy the expansion by now (once again making one of my reviews irrelevant within the first paragraph, I’m batting 0 for 2 here these days). But, for this site’s sake, I suppose I’ll write a review anyway. Onward!

There are two main reason s to pick up the Civ 4 expansion: changes to the overall gameplay, and the scenarios.

First off, changes to overall gameplay. Most Civ players are to some extent, detail oriented, OCD freaks. This is one of the ways in which Civ 4 was such a fantastic evolution of the franchise over 3: more complex leader traits, separate leaders for some civs, more resources, resources have more effects, a deep, yet understandable combat promotion system–all the little things Civ players love. Firaxis has built upon some of this by adding three new leader traits, 6 new civilizations, 4 new leaders to existing civilizations, and changing 14 out of the 26 existing leads to accommodate the new traits. The net result is a nearly complete makeover to the civilizations and a more robust feeling of differentiation and individuality among them. Building on this concept of more individuality of civilizations is the addition of civilization specific unique buildings. Much like the pre-existing civ special units, these buildings replace an existing building and offer better bonuses.

All of these changes are good, and not unanticipated. Civ 3 did the same thing, with the addition of new civs, new traits for civs, and a restructuring of pre-existing civs. However, what bothers me is that these changes come across as very artificial and pre-determined: it is clear that Firaxis knew they’d be adding new traits and new civs. I’d go so far as to say they were most likely designed during the generation of the original game. I understand the desire to make money via expansions, but when you mess with core mechanics (such as civ traits), you’re forced to go back and retool existing civs in order to properly distribute the new civ traits. It’d be nice if Firaxis tried to deliver more “bang for your buck” content by adding more leaders perhaps (thus reducing the need to directly impact so many existing civs, the new leaders for the civs can take advantage of the new traits), to make the game changes seem less “artificial.” Simply going back and changing the traits on over half of the existing leads seems to be somewhat lazy and amateurish.

I bet he listens to viking metal.

In terms of gameplay, there are two major changes. The first is the addition of the “Great General” unit, which is a new great general centered around battle. The Great General can be used to bolster military production, new unit experience, or it can join a stack of units and lead them to victory. The Great Generals are fun to play with, and are definitely overpowered compared to the other “great person” units, but given that there are only a few of them emerging per game, they remain relatively balanced.

The other major change is the introduction of the “vassal” system. In this, civilizations can become the bitch of bigger civilizations. The vassal state gives up all rights of their own diplomacy in terms of alliances and war (they have to follow their master), and the master can also demand any resources (used or unused) the vassal has (refusal means war). In exchange, the vassal gets the protection of the master. A state can become a vassal either through close diplomatic ties (boring), or capitulation in war (fun!). This makes for some very interesting games diplomatically with the entanglement of defensive pacts, alliances, and vassals (World War anyone?). It also makes picking on the bottom feeder civs much harder as they usually find a master to hide behind, this making easy land grabs much more difficult.

The new scenarios are fun, and show how flexible and versatile the MOD engine is. This is where the expansion really delivers… if you’re into scenarios (which I’m not). Some of the cool aspects include the Alexander the Great scenario, where your victories lead to new suffixes (such as upstart, victories, brave, etc) and accordingly new civ bonuses, or the Viking scenario where you can hunt for treasure and ransom cities. One example of how clever MODing meets bad AI programming is the Chinese Unification scenario, where “bloodlines”? replace religions. Technically, one should be able to use these bloodlines to gain a diplomatic edge. However, the AI is so xenophobic, they never open their borders to the nobles that spread bloodlines, and you can’t really take advantage of this aspect of the scenario.

Lastly, the little stuff. There are a number of very good interface corrections which on the whole probably should’ve been in the original game in a patch, not in an expansion. There are two new regular units and three new wonders. Nothing spectacular there, but decent additions. One thing you won’t see are new resources, except in some of the scenarios, which is a shame.

This new wonder is called the Fruit Stand. Just kidding, no offense meant to whichever stupid culture this wonder belongs to.

On the whole, the Warlords Expansion is a fun, sufficient addition to the Civilization 4 franchise. While one could take the morale high ground of not purchasing it over the fact it could be nominated for “minimal effort in order to extract more money from fans” award long before the “best content for your dollar” award, the fact is it adds a sufficient amount of critical content to make it worth buying. In future expansion, it’d be nice to see more original content, however, and more “Civilization Unique” content. The new civilization buildings are a great start, but items like a secondary civ unit (perhaps tricky to balance given the timeline issues), other civ buildings, civ specific resources, or perhaps even civ wonders would go a long way towards building out the individual flavor of each civilization. Perhaps even adding things like “civ archetype” units that affect similar civilizations (such as Asian cultures, European, etc) might be interesting.

The Civ engine is very moddable, and very strong, so there are a lot of options available to Firaxis. My hope is that the next expansion is resource centric: already the MOD community is doing some amazing things with resources (including stockpiling in cities, buildings that convert resources into other resources, etc), so my guess is Firaxis will jump on that bandwagon to take more of our money in the next “just enough coolness to be worth buying the second it comes out” expansion to Civilization 4.

2 Comments

  1. Christian said on August 16, 2006:

    I think this Civ 4 fandom is a sign that Golden Jew is training to conquer the world.

  2. GoldenJew said on August 16, 2006:

    Why conquer when I can purchase…

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