Soren Johnson and Mohawk Games have delivered a 4X strategy game that takes Civilization and switches it up in a few key places.
The latest title from famed strategy game developer and lead designer of Civilization IV, Soren Johnson, has now left Early Access on the Epic Games Store, and has officially launched. Created by Mohawk Games, and known as Old World, the title is a turn-based strategy game and is essentially Civilization if you never leave the ancient eras. You're in charge of leading a dynasty of people in a time where technology is incredibly primitive, and it's your duty to navigate this hostile world, packed with rival cultures and leaders, to ensure your people and your bloodline survives the test of time.
Built as a traditional 4X strategy, the immediate impression you get of Old World is how similar it is to a Civilization game. The world design, combat style, city construction, just to name a few, are all reflections of the iconic strategy game. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of differences, which I'll get to in a moment, but if you compare Old World against Humankind for example, another historical 4X strategy title, you can clearly see how one shares a lot of similarities with the Civilization series, whereas the other is working on delivering something a little more unique.
The similarities aren't a bad thing however, in fact considering Johnson's career, you'd be a little miffed if the experience gained working on the Civilization series wasn't used in bringing Old World to life. With this in mind, you can expect a polished and well thought-out strategy game where you as a player get plenty of options as to how you wish to lead your people, too many options to count if anything.
Before I dive into the intricacies of building an empire and how that plays in-game, one of the areas that caught my attention was the character choices, because you might think it is lacking a little at first glance, but there is a good reason for that. In Old World, you don't pick a leader to last the entire game: you choose a dynasty. What I mean is that leaders are mortal and will die during the game, and your task is to ensure you have a successor in place, else it's game over. The reason this mechanic is so unique is because leaders can die from old age, after a plentiful and long life, or instead abruptly in the heat of battle, which means preparing your blood line for anything is absolutely vital.
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Building a dynasty that can survive the harsh reality of time will mean you have to manage marriage proposals, and how you raise your children, because at the end of the day, you'll probably end up playing as one of them at some point in the game. And you have to do this on top of the usual 4X strategy mechanics of creating a functioning society and maintaining diplomatic relationships with rival civilizations. Needless to say, doing all of this successfully is pretty damn hard, and you will fail and struggle at times, especially when at war.
Talking about combat, there's not a whole lot to harp on about here: it's the typical 4X strategy deal. You create units using resources that are within the boundaries of your civilization, and then you can move each unit a specific amount of distance per turn, or rather upgrade them, or use them to attack, but you can only make a limited number of moves within one turn. The main differences with OId World are the forced actions you can issue, which can be to have a unit move further in one turn for example, but this costs resources and usually doesn't sit right with your subjects.
I did find the combat faced an issue I've encountered frequently in 4X strategy games, which is that you'll encounter civilizations that seem to have an endless supply of troops. It doesn't matter how much resource and effort you put into developing your own army, they always have more units, and it makes it difficult to warrant engaging in conflict rather than just focussing on your own cities.
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Looking at city development, instead of pressing a button and having a new building crammed in your city tile, Old World uses a districts system that allows you to create a sprawling city, meaning instead of having everything in one place, you can choose where to build mines, barracks, forts, even pastures. It's extra customisation options that further allows you to refine the productivity of your nation and its cities, but it can be a little complex to keep track of, and moreover, is very costly on your resources.
The resource system is, and you can probably see a theme here, typical 4X strategy. You'll be able to farm the land within your boundaries to fuel the development of your cities, but considering the city building design, it's more hands-on and less of a passive generation system. The main problem I found was that I had a massive abundance of one resource and a very slim amount of another, but the fix for this is a marketplace system that uses algorithms from Offworld Trading Company, and allows players to buy/sell resources at any time. It's a pretty handy feature that doesn't go unnoticed and makes Old World feel that little more unique.
You might be wondering at this point, how do you win Old World? Well, the best way to do this is to begin and complete Ambitions, which are lengthy, dynamically generated challenges set by members of your dynasty. The catch is, they need a lot of focus, and will disappear shortly after the person who set it dies, with negative repercussions if you fail to fulfill the requirements. This system again is pretty unique, and provides a way to win, if you don't thirst for blood, and instead prefer to keep to yourself.
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The other main part of Old World that I have yet to mention is the technology system, and I've chosen to avoid it till this point because it may just be my least favourite part of this game. Unlike Civilization or other 4X strategy games, you don't have a tech tree where you can plan out the direction you want to take your dynasty. Instead, what is delivered is a card-based system, where after you have researched a technology, you can select one of four new technologies to focus on. Needless to say, in a strategy game like this, there's already enough randomly generated content to throw a spanner in the works that having an RNG-based technology system just feels like overkill, and takes control away from the player.
But, technology rant aside, Old World looks and plays great. The performance of the title is fluid and fast and the UI has been designed in a way that promotes ease of use for the most part - despite the fact that you have so many options it feels like you're in the cockpit of a fighter jet a lot of the time. Either way, for a game that is competing with Civilization and soon will have to deal with Humankind as well, Old World is a 4X game that offers up plenty of reasons to choose it and to dive into it over the alternatives available. It's hard to say much other than the fact that this game is enjoyable through and through.
8 / 10
Successor system is unique and brings a lot to the game. City development gives a lot of options to the player. Looks great and plays very fluidly.
A lot of similarities with Civilization. Randomly generated technology systems are a little annoying. Combat can be brutal.