Most of my life has been spent with my nose in a book…yes, strange but true. And, indeed, many of them have been very solid, almost painfully so, texts on history that I waded through during the course of my education and remarkably some of it has stuck with me. I know what Caesar said when he crossed the Rubicon, I know a lot of what Hannibal said before he crossed the Alps, and I know what Oscar Wilde said before he shuffled off this mortal coil. So, with all this in mind, I sat down to play Firaxis's Civilization IV: Warlords expansion with a good deal of curiosity and expectation. Reading history is one thing, friends, but getting to actually make it yourself is something altogether different.
The last Civilization game I played was number three back when I was in college so I knew I was in for some changes, but I didn't quite realize how many. The graphics in the game have been overhauled and improved to such an extant that even I was amazed, and I quickly got sucked into the mechanics of the game. There are 11 map types for you to choose from in which you can alter the type of place it is..more arid, or more tropical, basically whatever you would like. You can also increase the size of the planet you are playing on from very tiny to staggeringly huge..speaking scientifically, of course.
After that it's time for you to pick the nation you will be the unquestioned ruler of. There are 27 of them, from the Americans to the Zulus, and each have different qualities which make them special. What's new about this incarnation, though, is that you don't get one leader per country like you would before. Let's take America, which I tried first, as an example. The American Empire in the game offers two rulers for you to play as: George Washington and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Roosevelt is Industrious and Organized which means that, for you, Wonders will be built 50% faster and the production rate of forges will be increased as well. His Organized nature means that you will have your costs in Civic Upkeep cut in half and the lighthouses and courthouses you build will be built twice as quickly.
George Washington, on the other hand, is Expansive and Charismatic which brings it own set of attributes to the table. Your cities will get a +3 health boost and granaries and harbors will be produced more speedily. His Charisma characteristic adds a point of happiness to each city, lessens the cost of movement by 25%, and awards another happiness point from every Monument or Broadcast Tower you construct in your civilization. The ability to match different leaders to different civilizations can help to make the playing experience novel each time you play.
But now let's get down to the good stuff and talk about the scores.
Gameplay-8 I really liked the turn the gameplay has taken in Civilization IV. A lot of the functions in the game are automated so, if you build a worker, you can choose to automate his movements so he will build roads, establish mines, farms, and other necessaries while you get on with the business of ruling the world safe in the knowledge that the forest will be cleared, the mine will be built, and the road made to be traveled. Research, of course, still plays an important part in the construction of your civilization but here as well the game lends a helping hand. Each time you are asked to research a new technology the game will offer recommendations as to what you will research and what it will benefit…the military, the economy, what have you. There is also an in game technology tree where, if you want to end up with a specific technology, you can click on it and the game will keep researching those technologies until it's reached the one you want and prompt you again. Taken the normal way, though, every time you have researched a new technology a window will pop up to tell you so. The window contains the name of the technology you've discovered, what it leads to, what you can do with it, and a pertinent quote read by Leonard Nimoy. I couldn't help but grin listening to Leonard saying “beep..beep..beep” when I discovered Satellite technology. But I digress.
Graphics-9 I have to be honest when I say that I love the graphics in this game. The graphical engine has been reworked to bring a completely new level of detail to the game. You can watch your workers toiling with their shovels as they work to build a road, see sailing ships slowly cruising around your territory, and even watch a small tractor dump it's load of coal into the furnace of a fuel refinery. You can view the world anyway you like as well from a close up shot to focus on a particular point of interest or you can even zoom out to view the entire globe and everything on it. The combat system as well is something to see, even when you're losing, as your units and whatever opponent you're fighting duke it out. For instance I had a team of archers defending a city; a warrior rushed him and the archer swung his bow and whacked the warrior over the head with it; I almost applauded.
Even when my units lost I didn't mind that much because it just looked so good. Another touch that I appreciate is that, when you construct a wonder, a window will pop up to show a fast forwarded video of the construction of the particular wonder you've got. Also, when you build a wonder or another civic improvement, you will see it in the environs of your town. It has to be mentioned that they also made an animated version of all the leaders in the game which, while having a vaguely cartoonish air, are still well rendered and realistic.
Audio-8 The audio in the game, with the exception of the background music, is good but it works within the game rather then growing in size and taking over the game. There is the background music which changes itself according to criteria that escapes me, the growls of animals and the grunts of your warriors as they take on their enemies which also brings along the thwack of their weapons as they connect. In addition you have the flare of trumpets and an animated avatar of your neighbors as they appear to demand or ask stuff from you.
Value-9 The game retails for 30 dollars, which is ten less then the Civilization IV game itself which may seem a lot for an expansion, but with the depth of the game, the way you can change the game to match your own tastes and likes, and for how well designed it is, it's worth shelling out 30 dollars for it. I rarely get sucked into a game quite that fast so even I was impressed by it. This being a being PC game, however, it's not just the contents of the game you are buying. You buy access to the entire online community that is in place. At the 2k games website located here you can download patches and mods, a fansite kit, and links to other community sites that involved Civilization IV so I'd call this a very good buy for the money.
Curve-9 Like I said before this is an outstanding game due to it's updated graphics, the widely varied choices you can make, and the wholly engrossing nature of the gameplay. Where it might not appeal to everyone, though, is the regular step by step nature of the game. It's not a game you can pick up and put down. The normal length for a game, at least when I first played it, was an hour and a half…an enjoyable hour and a half, to be sure, but still an hour and a half. In addition, even though a lot of the functions of the game are taken over by the game, you have to pay attention and manage what's going on.