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Posted on Sep 22, 2006 in Electronic Games, Front Page Features

Civilization 4: Warlords Expansion – Game Review (PC)

By John Tait

Every addict remembers their first taste, and so I clearly recall Sid Meier’s original Civilization in luscious black and white on my Mac Classic; a game which made me realize I would happily forgo food, drink, sleep, and human companionship just so I could finish off those filthy, treacherous Babylonians once and for all; a game which nearly caused me to strangle my equally-addicted college roommate when he camped out at my computer for a week. Years later, each new Civilization release, games and expansions alike, reminds me anew of that power. Though I have my favorites, each Civilization release – to Sid Meier’s everlasting credit – is simply a cut above.

Last year, when Civ 4 came out to unanimous critical acclaim (though embarrassing early bugs made players slower to agree) I snapped it up and went through the same process that many Civ fans did, needing a little time to adjust to the 3D graphics, the simplified combat system, the interface innovations that made micromanaging not just easier but nonexistent, if desired. While not my favorite Civ of all time (Civ II, there) Civ 4 was certainly the best designed, most attractive, and the most fun of the bunch.

Now comes Warlords, the first expansion for Civ 4. In an age where publishers realize that what once was one fifty dollar game can now be divided into one fifty dollar release followed by two thirty dollar expansions, it’s easy to be cynical about slapping down thirty hard-earned dollars for material one should have received with the original purchase. The Civilization series, luckily, has a history of providing solid, if unsurprising, expansions packs. Warlords continues this trend, offering just enough new features to keep things interesting along with a selection of very strong scenarios.

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An important consideration in any strategy game expansion is how much it changes, for better or worse, the basic game experience. With Warlords, Firaxis espouses an "if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it" attitude. New features and changes to game play are subtle and well-integrated – maybe too subtle and well-integrated. Yes, it’s fun meeting the six new civs (the Celts, Koreans, Vikings, Carthaginians, Zulus, and the Ottoman Empire) and new leaders (check out chunky Winston Churchill and the dyspeptic Brennan of the Celts) or trying out new wonders like the Great Wall (cool – no more barbarian raids) or the new special units (Viking Berserkers? Yes, I’ll take a dozen.) But in my first test drive of sandbox mode as Hannibal of the Carthaginians I quickly forgot I was playing an expanded version and settled into a comfortable, familiar Civ 4 groove. While this is probably exactly what Firaxis intended, I found myself wishing for something that felt a little more . . . expansive.

The Warlords of the title are one interesting new innovation, beginning as great generals that spawn through battle victories or tech achievements and functioning like the other great people in the vanilla game, serving as a military instructor in a city, allowing the creation of a military academy to train extra troops, or transforming into a Warlord unit that offers considerable experience benefits for troops it’s stacked with. The new game concept of Vassalage offers an interesting (if pricey) option for conquerors, turning other civs into puppet states — until they change their mind and secede, that is.

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