Before we get down to the hardcore analysis of the first expansion pack for one of the best PC games of last year, I've a little information of public interest I feel compelled to disseminate. From what I understand - from many earnest and slightly breathless witnesses with red cheeks and tingling groins - fellow Eurogamer writer James Rossignol is a phenomenal lover. Peerless in all techniques, Rossignol is - apparently - the man for all your orgasmic needs.
Meanwhile, back in the world of videogames, Civ 4's got an expansion pack. Woo!
Expansion packs are a tricky beast for something that's as much of a pure game as Civ. In a game which is about experiencing passing through content, an add-on pack has an obvious reason to exist. A single-player first-person shooter? Some levels in which to head-shot people. An RPG? Some more dungeons and a half-baked plot. An MMO? Some different locales for you to hang around in beating up slightly different monsters for some slightly different treasure and the same old moreish XP. But for a game which is just about plain experience, you're in trouble, especially if they've got decent modding abilities. Add-on packs for online shooters have faced this problem, and it hits Civ too.
A look down the list of what Warlords includes may leave you slightly underwhelmed: a mass of new scenarios, some new civilizations, some new leaders, some new buildings and a new military-focused great person unit who provides the add-on pack its title. And no matter how high the quality is - and the quality is high - you question whether it's really worth twenty five quid. Then you hit the obvious question: what, honestly, could have gone in the add-on pack? In the case of Civilization 3, its Play The World expansion added long-lusted-after multiplayer. This time, though, Firaxis can't do that as it already included multiplayer in the original game. Clearly, it could have been improved in certain ways. For example, it lacked a dedicated server option, which is added in this pack. Except this was something which was also released in the patches for the game. That it specifically references the fact that it includes the patches and name-checks what they include on the back of the box says much.
Firaxis essentially did such a good job with Civ 4 that the add-on pack is never going to be essential. At best, it's an attractive luxury.
If you're of a more military bent in Civ, the Great General (the proto-Warlord, but we're going to get to that) isn't going to be that much of a luxury. Arguably - at least I'm going to argue - Civ 4 tended to lean towards a more purely economical form of play with success through war being a harder option than other routes to power. This provides a little more punch for those who like (er) punching. They're generated not through culture, but through the total number of experience points gained. In short, win more battles and get more of these gentlemen. Great generals can either have the option of a more sedentary approach or getting out and getting their fingers dirty. For the former, in a city they can either become a military instructor giving any units created in a city extra starting experience points or a military academy which gives a bonus to actual production.
Become a Warlord by merging with any unit of your choosing, giving twenty experience points to divide up among all the units in the stack. It also means any eventual unit upgrades will be free and not lose any experience points, as well as gaining access to a selection of specialist bonuses. In other words, while keeping your experienced troops alive has always been a core consideration, if you've a Warlord it becomes even more essential.
In terms of other general changes to the game mechanics, the introduction of Vassal states to the diplomatic frame-work's another addition, allowing the dominant partner to demand all sorts of luxuries from its protectorate. Most importantly, in the end game the master gets half the credit for the vassal's achievements. Clearly, this is another option to allow militaristic pressure to lead to capitulation without forced annihilation.
Other changes to the main game are less sweeping, limited to the individual civilisations. The new leaders lead to oddness like England having three choices of leaders (the new boy's our cigar-chomping V-flicking Winston) while most remain with a single option, but since apparently it was influenced by community demands it seems to be What They Want. There are also new traits for the leaders, each civilization having their own unique building (an improved version of an existing one, in a similar way to individual civilisations having a custom combat unit). Oh - and new wonders too (Wall of China! Cute!). And some new weapons (the Trebuchet's 100 per cent anti-settlement bonus is particular vicious). And buildings (the Stable gives a little experience bonus to any horseys). And stuff!
Away from the main game, we've a mass of scenarios to play through, in reduced periods with their own specialised unit trees. These vary from a selection of well made historical campaigns to some oddities. In terms of bringing the war to the game, you can't do better than the deliciously lightweight Barbarians scenario which places you as the perpetual annoyances from the early game, going forth to destroy a mass of computer generated civilisations. Anti-Civilization, essentially, and cute as hell.
In short, there's a lot of game here but none of it immediately demands you buy it, unless you just need a few new things to insert into Civ 4 to justify returning to it. In which case, hey - go do it. Civ 4's awesome.
At which point we reach the final paragraph and the attentive reader wonders how on earth Gillen's going to link the opening proclamation of Jim Rossignol's lovemaking ability to this expansion pack for Civilization 4. Attentive reader's going to be disappointed.
Except - much like Civilization 4: Warlords - sometimes, it's just worth doing something perhaps slightly ill-advised because it's so good. It's not the best expansion pack in the world, but for a game which already offered as much as the initial game did, it's worth considering just to encourage a developer who did include so much in its original release. After all, the shrug this is received with is just encouraging some suit to argue that they should deliberately withhold some peripheral features from a future original game just to give the add-on pack a raison d'etre. For that, its recommended price of £25 is a little steep, but at any price beneath twenty pounds it becomes increasingly attractive.
Does that work as a link? [No - Ed].