My long-ago pre-ordered copy of the Civilization IV expansion pack “Beyond the Sword” arrived today, and after a very busy work day, Friday family dinner and the usual bed time dawdling rituals from the kids, I found myself with a bit of free time (the wife is just back from a business trip to Europe and hit the hay early). The expansion is Windows only right now, so thank goodness for my cheapie Windows Vista box. Unlike my installation of earlier versions of Civ IV, there were no Vista-related snafus and the game ran the first time I tried it with no problems.
The basic look and feel remain the same as the original Civ IV although it appears that the graphics have been tweaked to look more responsive and detailed in movement. There are also a few minor information display additions, such as showing just how many culture and research points you’re generating every turn. There are the requisite new civs and new wonders, including a generic Native American choice, which are always fun to play around with.
Unfortunately, I’m finding two of the major new game features really complex. Espionage has been beefed up with the return of the spy unit and a whole budget line that has to be allocated against all of the opponent civs. It’s gets really complicated as you first set an espionage budget, taking money away from scientific research or your treasury, then use a weighting system to sub-allocate the funds against all civs you’ve encountered thus far. Beyond basic benefits like showing you demographic info about opponents, engaging in espionage missions requires sending a spy to one of their cities and choosing a mission which costs additional gold. The price fluctuates wildly based on a number of factors including how many espeionage points you’ve allocated historically against a particular civ. Still with me? Any way, it’s impossible to ignore espionage since the computer-run civs use it and I’m not sure it adds anything to the fun factor.
Next up on my complexity complaints list is the inclusion of corporations. I’ll spare you the horrendous detail of how these entities work but basically players can found any of a half dozen corporations in the mid to late game. Corporations act sort of like religions but with economic and resrouce benefits instead of cultural effects. I can see how some designers maybe missed the fun religion provides in the early game, but this is a lot to master. Maybe I’m getting old and crotchety.
Of course, in one’s night’s play, I’ve barely scratched the surface. There are also a host of scenarios included, some of which offer really way out twists on the basic game. One appears to take place on a dystopian future Earth and another is straight out Civ in Space. I’ve never been big on scenarios, so I didn’t dip my toe in those waters yet.
Looking for a more in depth review? Gamespot raved about BTS, although they’re obviously much more hardcore about their gaming than little old me. IGN also liked it, saying it’s almost worthy of being called a sequel, not a mere expansion pack.