I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t excited to come across an announcement for a new 4X strategy title. I knew from the first time that I picked up a controller and played the original Civilization in my early days that it was a genre that hooked me more than most. Each significant new entry in the genre seemed to bring new concepts that further honed these experiences and I never stopped looking forward to the new releases that were to follow.
Needless to say, the genre has expanded exponentially since the days of my childhood. The Civilization series itself has continued to build upon its depth with six titles in its core line and several spin-offs that it dabbled into foreign territory with. Outside of that, now legendary games like Endless Legend, Age of Wonders, and Master of Orion carved out their own unique spots with their innovative takes and established themselves as classics.
Old World caught my eye not only for being another 4X that seemed to carry some serious promise with it, but also for being helmed by Soren Johnson, one of the idea men behind Civilization IV. It brings along with it a few innovative ideas while adapting many modern mechanics from other successes in the genre.
A New Ancient World to Explore
Perhaps the most jarring change from its 4X peers is that Old World remains in the ancient world from start to finish. Although research still takes place and technology advances, the world doesn’t change as much as it would in other titles. The entirety of the game takes place during the scientific range that most players have moved past by the time they’ve built a few cities in Civilizaton. At the start, you’ll have basic version of slingers produced in small towns while late game will have Roman legionaries and Cathaginian howdahs marching out of sprawling cities that architecturally look about the same as they always have. Interestingly enough, both units and cities have a few aspects that set them apart from what we’re used to though.
Early units work similarly to what you’d expect from Civilization. Club-wielding warriors attack an adjacent target while slingers can attack from a few spaces away, though their damage decreases with distance. At the start of each turn, you’re granted a number of orders based on a combination of your buildings, laws, and characters that are used to give your units commands, effectively limiting your activities as you prioritize what needs to be done. You’ll occasionally have to decide whether you need all of your military units to act for the sake of a conflict that you’re engaged in or whether you’d like to more fully mobilize your workers to improve your territories at home. If you so choose, you can even use more than one order on a unit, drastically improving their travel distance though they’re still usually restricted to a single attack per turn unless they’ve been upgraded to do otherwise. Late game units tend to have some nice tactical benefits on top of simply having superior stats. Ballistae, for example, can strike multiple enemies in a row if they’re made the mistake of lining up nicely.
Cities take the Endless Legend style of management to the extreme. The majority of buildings take up a spot on the map similar to districts in Endless Legend or Civilization VI, which as you can imagine takes up a lot of space. Fortunately, every building and worker-built improvement (farms, mines, etc.) allows you to ‘build’ a specialist that alters that space’s production by fifty percent or more, whether it’s food, knowledge, or otherwise. It’s also a nice benefit that your cities’ territories expand much more rapidly and end up covering significantly more ground than what you might be used to, even if city sites are predetermined and limited. You may not be able to settle anywhere that you please, but if there’s a specific location you’d like under your control, you can conveniently spend some gold and have a worker colonize to expand your borders as often as you can afford. And, of course, wonders are present and as powerful as ever for those who were wondering.
A Nation on the Backs of Its Families
In a lot of way, Old World is what you might get if you threw Civilization VI and Crusader Kings II into a blender. It’s a turn-based civilization builder, but there’s a huge focus on individual characters that rarely shows itself in the 4X genre. Influential families hold the reins of your nation and are made up of individual characters with traits and stats that offer benefits and penalties depending on the roles that they’re in. Someone skilled in diplomacy will immediately improve your relations with other nations the moment they’re granted the position of ambassador. Similarly, assigning a brave character as a unit’s general will boost its capabilities to a noticeable extent. Perhaps even more interesting is that each trait has multiple uses; while a scholarly character makes a great tutor for your nation’s children, their wisdom will also offer bonuses to governing cities, serving on your council, and even leading military units, all offering vastly different bonuses (or penalties for negative traits) depending on their role.
Most of these characters belong to one of the three powerful families of your nation. They continually wrestle with one another to build their influence and it’s up to you to take action to ensure that they’re kept in line one way or another. Whether you founded it or conquered it, each new city is granted to one of these families and each offers its own unique bonuses to the territories that it controls. If cities are distributed unevenly, the families that aren’t being respected are likely to act out in ways that you’d prefer that they didn’t.
The Bottom Line
At the end of the day, Old World doesn’t seem like it’s going to unseat the king any time soon, though it’s unique enough to stand on its own as a worthy entry to the genre with plenty of potential to improve over the next few years. Civilization always takes a couple of expansions to go from good to great so I’m more than willing to wait it out and see where Old World takes us with some extra development devoted to it. The ancient era setting remains surprisingly fresh, though it does create an atmosphere that doesn’t seem to change that much. You won’t watch the wilds transform from rolling hills and dense forest to industrial smokestacks as your empire expands, even if you are constructing buildings right on the main map. I did enjoy the frequent random events that centered around the characters though, you can’t go wrong with throwing in some RPG-lite depth.
I’d currently adopt a wait-and-see approach for Old World in its current state. It’s shaping up nicely and I’m optimistic with what I’ve already seen, but it hasn’t yet achieved that staying power that the heavyweights in the genre carry with them and it needs quite a bit more depth for it to have a space cleared for it as one of my favorites. Here’s to hoping that Mohawk Games hones it into a masterpiece in the next few years!