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Civilization 5: Brave New World review

Cultural victory.

I have lost count of the cups of tea that have gone to waste at Firaxis' expense. The Civilization 5 developer is responsible for dozens left half-finished and forgotten, their heat dissipating as the decades roll by and Leonard Nimoy's honeyed tones note the founding of another milestone in human history or landmark feat of ingenuity. Scores more have gone cold as the music from that Hovis advert induces a Zen-like state and centuries run into hours and millennia stretch into days.

Brave New World does not solve this problem. In fact, it exacerbates it, leaving me with lots more washing up. I can't complain.

The main contributing factor to this new wave of tea abandonment is how well the additional systems and features of Brave New World are integrated into Civ 5, and how they serve to enhance the more recent additions in 2012's Gods and Kings expansion. Brave New World includes all the mechanics introduced there (although you'll still need Gods and Kings installed for its extra leaders and civilisations), and in going further it leaves my desk strewn with even more mugs.

While Brave New World's most high-profile additions, such as the new cultural victory conditions and powerful World Congress, are aimed at adding interest and depth to the long game, they are predicated upon a new mechanic that is introduced almost immediately. So, before yet another cup of tea gets cold, let's look at the versatile system that serves as the lifeblood of this whole endeavour: trade routes.

Some locations lend themselves more readily to certain strategies as the resources on your doorstep are enhanced by your chosen leader's unique bonuses.

Your first trade route becomes available after researching Animal Husbandry, which as most Civ fans will know is one of the very first technologies available to you. This paves the way for you to establish a trade route between your capital and that of any discovered rival civilisation or city-state. The land-based caravan that automatically moves back and forth along this route can only travel a limited distance and is unable to defend itself but, assuming you see to its safe passage by protecting it from roaming barbarians, it will continue to function for 30 turns before being eligible for redeployment.

While the route's originator gets the better deal, both parties reap the benefits of trade as gold, science and, later, religious influence is funnelled between the two. As the game progresses, the number of trade routes and the distance over which they can be established is bolstered by technological advancements and unique advantages conferred by certain world wonders. Valuable sea routes facilitate trade with cities further afield, but trade routes can also be directed within your own empire. This is particularly useful when you need to boost the food or production yield of newly established cities or overcome the initial output deficit of those obtained by force.

Trade routes add a layer of depth to the more traditional trading mechanic that, in Brave New World, retains the potential to be as stubbornly lopsided as ever. Sullen AI leaders still make ludicrous demands (cue Isabella refusing to trade her surplus cotton for anything less than silver, furs, horses, open borders and 8 gold per turn) while the potential remains for those leaders to blow hot and cold or denounce you seemingly on a whim.

Assuming you're able to avoid full-scale war, the overhauled cultural victory offers a new way to triumph over your rivals by providing a peaceful path to success. While such an endeavour is of course a long-term effort, its roots can be found as early on as the generation of your civilisation's first great person. Great writers, artists and musicians can be expended to generate great works, which are assigned to appropriate cultural buildings to generate tourism. If the amount of tourism you produce exceeds the amount of culture generated by all other civilisations then you achieve a cultural victory.

Despite improvements, the AI retains its skewed perception of what constitutes a fair deal.

Tourism points are generated slowly at first, but as a larger number of great people are born in your empire and used to create great works it begins to gain momentum. By the mid-game point you're able to build the new archaeologist unit and excavate antiquity sites, the spoils of which can be used to further impress the populations of rival nations. As you progress through the modern, atomic and information eras your ability to broadcast your illustrious appeal to the world becomes a potent weapon, and it's possible to gain huge bonuses to culture and tourism that bring you closer to winning through sheer global adoration.

It's a rewarding climax but one that comes with significant risks. The sustained effort required to construct the right buildings, produce suitable great works and unlock the most advantageous social policies to pump out a winning level of tourism can leave you lacking in other areas. If a militant neighbour decides to come sniffing around, then that heady mix of drama and poetry combined with the happiness bonus of new leader Pedro II of Brazil is going to provide little in the way of defence. Similarly, being situated close to Zulu leader Shaka is sure to stunt cultural growth as you're forced to contend with his early-world domineering. Your starting position on the map can help or hinder your intended play style for any given round and the key, as with so much in Civ 5, is balance.

Fortunately, the addition of the World Congress allows you to redress the balance on a regular basis. Being first to research the Printing Press and come into contact with every other civilisation allows you to host the inaugural World Congress, which in turn enables you to propose resolutions. While resolutions won't win you the game, they do facilitate collaborative projects that can benefit multiple nations, impose sanctions in the hope of pegging back an overachiever, or attempt to make up for resource shortfalls in your own game.

After the proposal of each resolution there follows a number of turns in which you can attempt garner support by cajoling leaders that you're on friendly terms with and gaining sway over city-states to help swing the vote in your favour. Deploying spies as diplomats in capital cities around the world can help reveal a rival leader's feelings about a resolution and how they might vote. Like much of Brave New World's content, the World Congress goes a long way to adding variety to the late game that in the past has been its most rigid and predictable section.

Manipulating the AI can sometimes backfire, leaving you vulnerable to attack from the likes of the war-loving Shaka and his fearsome Zulus.

In addition to trade routes, the cultural victory and World Congress, there's a glut of new leaders with unique powers and units in Brave New World, an expanded social policies system and two new standalone scenarios. This latter addition offers a break from the intricacies of empire-building to indulge in combat on multiple fronts or a race for points over 100 turns.

None of the new content introduced by Brave New World feels superfluous or half-baked. Where Gods and Kings fleshed out the early-to-mid game with Religion and Espionage, Brave New World significantly bolsters the mid-to-late game content and links its features and systems so intrinsically with the existing ones that it's not long before you can't imagine playing Civilization 5 without them.

However, the addition of the extra content and more specifically how it ties in with existing systems is not explained in the clearest of terms. The Civilopedia entries for many of the new concepts are surprisingly sparse, which makes it difficult to fully appreciate their intricacies without playing through them, and on the harder difficulty levels there's little margin for uncertainty. On a more positive note, the in-game advisors can be set to notify you when new options are available that pertain specifically to the new content, which at least makes you aware of your options as they become available, even if they don't fully explain their knock-on effects.

Understandably, all of this extra content equates to more menus and stats to pore over, which increases the time between turns as the CPU crunches the necessary numbers to take account of everyone's decisions. But then Civilization has never been a game to rush, and the increased scope for short-term gains that feed longer-term strategies pay tribute to that. The additional content of Brave New World ensures that, now more than ever, Civilization 5 feels like a complete package; a game to lose hundreds of hours to as you build an empire to stand the test of time, and one to which you'll sacrifice many a cup of tea along the way.

8 / 10

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