Civilisation IV: Beyond The Sword

   24/09/2007 at 21:29       Sam       8 COMMENTS. - Score 4/5
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Love em or loathe em, expansion packs allow gamers to get another fix of a favoured gaming drug without having to wait for the suppliers to create a whole new fix. Expansion packs have been a staple of successful games for around 15 years now. Many have added much to their parent title. Plenty others have been cynical, vapid attempts to squeeze more money out of enthusiastic gamers. Fortunately for fans of Civilization the latest expansion pack belongs in the former camp.

Beyond the Sword contains the expected smattering of new units, buildings and actual civilizations. There are also a number of gameplay tweaks and some improvements to a few of the advisor screens. But wait! There's more! Espionage has received a major upgrade while the end-game has been enhanced by the addition of Corporations, a sort of modern day equivalent to Religion. Riding piggyback are also a number of mods, some of which, like the UFO-inspired Aftermath, use the game engine in wholly unexpected ways. When you consider the very reasonable price Beyond the Sword is going for, plus the fact it contains all the additions, (except scenarios) from the last expansion pack, it's next to impossible for me to not recommend it to owners of Civilization IV. When you appreciate the loyalty of Civ fans it's fairly hard to conceive of many who will have not already at least made up their mind as to whether to purchase Beyond the Sword. Which kind of makes any review fairly redundant.

However, Luke sent me some review code, so I'm duty bound to provide a something a wee bit more lengthy then, "It's ace, go buy it". So let's start off with the mods bundled with BtS. I've never been much attracted to Civ mods before, finding more then enough to keep me awake till the wee hours in the standard game. However, the mods packaged in BtS are more then a little unusual. There's the aforementioned Aftermath, which is unfortunately not much more then a curiosity. There's another total mod which takes the GUI and core gameplay out into space, with cities replaced by star systems and roads by warp lanes. This particular mod is a lot of fun and does a good job of striding the gap between Civilization IV and Master of Orion. Then there's Next War, a future conflict mod which expands on the normal game by adding giant mechs and mind control units, as well as clones and arcologies. This mod can even be bolted on to the end of a normal game of Civ. To be honest, it's a shame that Firaxis did not pursue this avenue themselves, for as well done as the mod is, I think many gamers would like to see their Civilizations stretched out further into the future then the androgynous Future Techs allow. However, I'm thankful they included this and the other mods and now I've burst my cherry on them I can appreciate the extra value they add.

Speaking of which, the addition of Corporations was probably meant to bolster vanilla Civ's endgame, which previously had a tendency to run out of steam over the last hundred years or so. Unless that is, you had decided to go on a military rampage, something you can now get more out of with the inclusion of Stealth Destroyers, Paratroopers and my favourite, Mobile Artillery. Anyway, I (bloodily) digress. Corporations function very much like Religions do. They only start to appear once you have researched the corporation tech with more companies becoming available as you progress further along the tree. You need to use a great person to found a corporation, which is in effect a world wonder. Once the corporation is founded you can spread it to other cities with the executive unit. Depending on which one it is each corporation brings a cash benefit and extra hammers, culture and so on. Corporations receive boosts from particular resources: if you have access to a lot of metal ores then founding the appropriate corporation could give you a real lift. However, there's a glaring problem with these entities which made them something to avoid after testing them out in my first play of BtS. When cities get large near the end of the game keeping them healthy can be a burdensome task. Until that is, you discover environmentalism, which all but eliminates this problem. However, the environmentalism civic increases the cost of corporations by 25% which can see a previously profitable society plunge into the red in the space of one turn of anarchy. I can see this being tweaked in a patch but till then, for me, a big feature of BtS is worth approaching with much caution.

The same initially appears to be the case with colonies, another new introduction. Colonies are not like the useful extensions to your area of influence as in Civ III. Rather they are cities which used to be part of your empire to which you have granted a form of independence to. Unfortunately they are another addition which is more of a nuisance then something which enhances the player's depth of enjoyment. Any city you either found or capture that lies on a different continent from your capital will soon start clamouring to break away and begin their own empire. You can ignore them without having to worry about them revolting and screwing things up for you, but much like cities that take great glee in informing you that now would be a fantastic time to build a new settler, the constant pop-ups get annoying. So much so that you may be tempted to cast them off to stop their whining. Which is, I suppose, somewhat historically accurate yet remains disruptive.

However the revamped espionage would certainly make it onto the list. Spies had been fairly impotent for the last few iterations of Civ so the changes in BtS are more then a little welcome. Espionage becomes a commodity like culture and research with players immediately able to adjust its rate. The more espionage points you accumulate the more operations you can carry out against your opponents. The new espionage screen allows you to weight your espionage points so that troublemaker Ghandi gets more attention from your spooks then the peaceful Tokugawa. Accumulate enough points against a Civ and you can see what they are researching. Gather some more and you can view their cities. Send a spy over for a gander and if you have the points you can ferment unrest, pilfer funds from their treasury and generally cause trouble. You can also make you spy hang around dead drops and nab enemy spies trying to do the dirty on you. New buildings such as the security bureau and intelligence agency help with creating the mood of Cheney's America.

The building list has also been expanded with constructions like levees, which allow you to eek an extra hammer out of river tiles and public transportation which helps reduce pollution effects. There's a smattering of new wonders to tinker with as well. The Statue of Zeus, which increase the war weariness of opposition civs and the Apostolic Palace, which acts as an early version of the UN, are some of the five notable additions. Two new national wonders join the fray as well, with Moai Statues bolstering the hammers of sea squares in one city and the national park, which maximizes the benefits from the new Forest Preserve improvement while eliminating all unhealthiness in the target city. The new civilizations add new combinations of the various qualities which have always made up each civs potential while adding a few new unique units and buildings to muck around with.

These new additions alter the gameplay just enough to encourage the player to approach the game in a new manner. As the Warlords expansion gave you enough killer toys to tempt even the most peace-loving hippy into rampaging across the globe in an orgy of destruction the new units, wonder, techs and buildings will subtly alter a player's approach while the improved espionage and introduction of corporations will have a more profound impact on how a game unfolds. Navies are not just for egos as the AI seems to have realised they can build floaty things too and using Privateers to disrupt ocean trade routes is a fun way to add to the coffers while upsetting a rival's economy. The reintroduced random events also lend an air of unpredictability to the proceedings, with volcanic eruptions and floods causing disruption while beneficial events like biotech discoveries or a lusting for your civ's particular kind of fur coats help to lighten the mood somewhat.

Even though a couple of the new features do not work as well as intended the overall Beyond the Sword experience is an improvement over the plain Civilization IV. Corporations are entirely optional so can be left out until they are fixed. Colonies can be ignored and even if you do decide to grant independence, the new empire is automatically made a vassal state of yours so will not cause any trouble. However, improving upon Civilization is a hard task and while Firaxis have done a wonderful job again I hope there are no more expansion packs for number four. Beyond the Sword shows signs of how you can stuff too much into a game not initially designed to hold so much content. I look forward to Civilization V with great anticipation and till that game graces the world I will continue to play the fully expanded version of Civ IV which now graces every computer I regularly use.
Stars
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dirigiblebill - on 25/09/2007 at 12:36 wrote:
 
Now why am I not surprised that you're a Civ player? ;)

/goes to read review
 

Khanivor - on 25/09/2007 at 21:31 wrote:
 
pew! pew!
 

dirigiblebill - on 26/09/2007 at 13:15 wrote:
 
Gentlemen, you can't fight in here- this is the War Room!

Last time I played a Civilisation properly was Civ 2 on the *Playstation* of all formats. Just don't have the time these days, though if they do indeed port it to the DS/PSP I may find space for it on the shelf.

Nice review.
 

Khanivor - on 26/09/2007 at 21:12 wrote:
 
Well the games run a lot quicker these days. You can still choose epic speed but it's possible to finish a game in 3-5 hours.
 

Tabasco - on 27/09/2007 at 09:39 wrote:
 
Good review Kanny!

Did I read that right? If you don't already have Warlords you get that plus Sword in this pack?
 

Khanivor - on 27/09/2007 at 18:37 wrote:
 
Aye, only thing you'll miss out is the Warlords scenarios. IOW, feck all really.

I'm actually looking forward to getting to work. It's slow as hell now the season is winding down and the boss is out of the office for the next 10 days...

It's 1775 and I have to consolidate my gains from the Khemer empire before taking my now battle hardened troops further south and extinguishing the rest of their uppity people. Then the Spaniards get it in the pie hole o/
 

Tabasco - on 28/09/2007 at 09:24 wrote:
 
Knew I shouldn't have bought Warlords about 2 weeks ago... :o(

Ach, still getting this though.
 

DocX - on 03/10/2007 at 13:13 wrote:
 
I keep meaning to get this. Good review btw.
 


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