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Civilization IV: Beyond the Sword

Civilization IV: Beyond the Sword

Platform: PC
UK Price (as reviewed): £14.95 (inc. VAT)
US Price (as reviewed): $29.99 (ex. Tax)

I think it would be safe to say that turn-based strategy computer games are definitely not for everyone. However, the critically acclaimed Civilization IV directed by Sid Meier seemed to expand the niche to a much wider audience through intricate strategic gameplay and fascinating timescales which just go on and on and on....

Civilization IV: Beyond the Sword is the second expansion to Civ IV, bringing various new gameplay elements to the already brimming table. These come in the form of an espionage system to spy upon your allies and foes; corporate competition to decimate rival economies; random effects that turn the tides of battle; brand new scenarios or modifications to drastically change the gameplay and various other new leaders, units and AI improvements.

Civilization IV: Beyond the Sword probably won’t sway the heart of any Civ IV hater, so if you didn’t like the original game, unsurprisingly, you won’t like this expansion either. That said, the expansion appears to offer enough to draw in old fans bored of the original and keep the hardcore enthusiast entertained at the same time, so let’s have a look at it then, shall we?

I see you…

The new espionage system has stirred up some mixed opinions, dividing the community quite decisively. Some claim that it’s a waste of time which merely detracts from the game and others are adamant that it’s essential to a swift tactical victory.

Civilization IV: Beyond the Sword Civilization IV: Beyond the Sword
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I’d like to try and force a middle ground.

On one hand, pumping out spies in the early game only to have them caught and killed is obviously not going to be beneficial to your economy or growth and will undoubtedly lead to a quick defeat. On the other hand, if used wisely, it’s another method of hampering the enemies’ success without relying on warfare. In this way, it adds a new element of gameplay which will undoubtedly enrage the warmongering generals out there, causing them to smash their unruly fists on the table as a spy wreaks havoc within his army.

However, I personally found myself not really using the espionage system, mainly because I found it a little tedious, but the deciding factor about the espionage system is that it works well without having to understand or utilise its finer points. Fiddling with the slider option to accumulate espionage points helps protect you from enemy spies and gives you the ability to use the points more effectively in the later game.

Another major gameplay change is the corporation system that, simply put, acts as a late game religion. Its use is to aid economic victory by sending out agents who, instead of generating influence, generate coin by establishing various corporate buildings like sushi bars.

Civilization IV: Beyond the Sword Civilization IV: Beyond the Sword
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A major problem with the corporation system though is the convoluted requirements that are meant to utilise resources that aren’t as necessary in the late game environment. These resources are very exact and can be extremely difficult to collect, which indicates that the system is more for the hardcore Civ IV fan; coaxing them back from other strategy games by providing a new complicated element of gameplay to master.

I was also rather sceptical of how a chain of sushi bars could destroy a nation’s economy. More likely it will just give them food poisoning or something…mmm, deadly blowfish.

The last major change is the introduction of random events, which are obviously there to spice up the gameplay a bit. However, once again, cynicism got the better of me and I really had to question what random events bought to the game.

In some cases the events seem inexplicably random where all of a sudden a forced marriage between two allies tears apart the diplomatic system that I had been working on since early in the game, or a plane crashes into one of my towns decimating it. All of the events appeared to be detrimental to my success, but maybe that’s just me.

I felt as if the random events were a desperate attempt to try and add something new and give the game a more unpredictable feel, but it didn’t seem to work all to well. Suffice to say, it didn’t take me too long before I had turned them off in the options and got on with building my spaceship, brick by predictable brick.