Change has always been the force fueling the "Civilization" franchise. It's what pushes players to transform their fledgling tribe into a mighty empire. They have to react to changes in technology, trade, diplomacy and the military might of other nations. Complacency means defeat.
The game's developer, Firaxis, has the same mind-set. Never wanting to rest on its laurels, the team has created two expansion packs for "Civilization V." And lucky for players, developers have always offered smart refinements to an already great game.
Good first step
The first expansion -- "Gods and Kings" -- brought improvements to the early and late stages of a campaign with the advent of religion and spies. It also introduced quests that made dealing with city-states easier. Those were good half-steps, but the latest expansion pack, "Brave New World," fixes longtime problems that have plagued this entry.
Firaxis saw flaws in the areas of trade, culture and diplomacy and overhauled those elements so that they matter more during a campaign. The most obvious change is the streamlining of trade. When building cargo ships or caravans, players choose where to send them and the trade unit will go to that selection automatically. But that doesn't mean players can forget about it. They have to protect those trade routes from barbarians or hostile nations.
In the past, playing toward a cultural victory was boring and passive. But Firaxis revamped this part of "Brave New World," giving players more of an offensive option. Palaces, universities and opera houses now hold great works that artists, musicians and writers compose. Those masterpieces in turn boost tourism for a player's nation and bring more influence over rival countries.
Going even further in history, players can now produce archaeologists, who dig up ancient ruins and battlegrounds containing relics, and those can be shown in museums. If players go this route, excavating the past -- even if it's in another country -- becomes key and building places to display the relics is just as important.
And that leads to diplomacy, which is often overlooked. It may not seem to matter early on, but as civilizations progress, how players treat other empires becomes more important. Nations will remember who declared war on them and who broke treaties.
Later on with the World Congress and United Nations, past hostilities can come back to haunt countries as rival nations approve proposals that can hamstring a player's economy and cause at home. Certain luxuries or resources can be banned. This all works fairly well in the game, but occasionally, the computer-controlled nations can act irrationally or out of character.
Taken together, "Brave New World" makes "Civilization V" a more realistic history simulator, one that's endlessly replayable and contains scenarios that come eerily close to what goes on in real life. Like its predecessors, the expansion pack retains the game's fiendishly addictive quality, and with more viable paths to victory, players have an excuse to go one more turn.
Brave New World'
* * * ½
Rating: 10 and older