Genre: Turn-Based Strategy
Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: Firaxis Games
Release Date: July 25, 2006
The Civilization IV: Warlords expansion pack performs at least two of its major tasks immediately. The game will, before you can even install Warlords itself, update Civilization IV to the latest version and offer XFire to you. Since I'm starting to get into more of XFire's compatible titles anyway, I went ahead and installed it; it's pretty nice, immediately recognizing all of my compatible games, with a few surprises, too. XFire does offer instant joining in Civilization IV, which I'd recommend if you're interested in Civ IV multiplayer.
The updates are mostly bug fixes and some balance tweaks, with one major exception. The new Pit Boss multiplayer mode is actually available in a free patch but is provided in the expansion pack for easy placement into the game. This feature neatly mixes the play-by-email and live multiplayer styles to allow for a fair number of players to play a truly epic Civ IV title. Basically, if everyone's on at the same time, it's just like normal Civ IV, except you can log in and out at any time. Turns are held until a player logs in and makes his or her move (it's common to see a 24-hour time limit on moves), allowing you to log in, play your turn, and log back out (for the convenience of play-by-email). As in normal multiplayer, you can perform non-turn actions at any time, such as city and tech management, and studying the map. This unique mixture is very good for patient players; if your group can all log in during a few set hours a day to play, then you can advance quickly, but if not, the game can still progress a little, at least.
The rest of this review assumes that you have already played Civilization IV. If you haven't, go check out our review on it. Warlords does not fundamentally change the same addictive, deep core of Civ IV, and if you can't get into it because it's "too slow," Warlords isn't going to change your mind. The game's still the same and requires slow, careful thinking about how to build up a vast empire.
The Warlords expansion pack, in terms of truly new items, offers four core features, none of which change the game too much on the base level; much like any Warcraft expansion, the results are little more than new wrinkles to the same title. The game expands the number of civilizations with the Carthaginians, Celts (yes!), Koreans, Ottomans, Vikings (double yes!), and Zulu (move "yes!" and "double yes!" around as you wish). The six new civilizations, of course, each get a unique unit and building. Most tend to be a bit less powerful as the modern age progresses, though.
Warlords also introduces the idea of turning a state into a vassal state. Vassal states get bit from the exchange and lose some happiness, but if you're the master state, you get a lot of very nice benefits, including being able to demand resources from your vassal, and automatically having them be on your side in war. The master does, however, pay more maintenance for his cities to control a vassal state. This option probably changes the game more than any other, introducing a significant advantage to not destroying that enemy civilization.
The existing and new civilizations both get new and adjusted leaders. New leader traits include Charismatic (very good for your civilization's happiness), Imperialistic (increasing your rate of Great General additions), and Protective (speeding up production of walls and castles and offering free defensive promotions for some units). Needless to say, these can very much twist up your play strategy; playing as, say, Josef Stalin will produce significant differences from playing as Augustus Caesar, for example. The differences are well-balanced against the original game's options for rulers, making some techniques more viable; some of the rulers get one of their original traits replaced with the new ones, too, so you should expect to see a few more styles of play, especially in multiplayer.
Finally, the expansion adds three universally available new units. The Trireme is a very good early-game ship and is optimum for wrecking galleys, while the Trebuchet is very good at destroying enemies who are fortifying cities, partially undercutting one of the most significant advantages of cities, and encouraging the keeping of some armies outside of the city. The Great General, which is kind of similar to the Great Scientist and similar units from the original title, can offer free experience points to new military units trained within a city, in addition to building military academies, which help to speed up production. More interestingly, though, they can travel as units by themselves, and then be set to lead another unit as a Warlord, while providing the other unit with the benefits of free upgrades and to special promotions. All of the available options can make your civilization significantly more powerful, and proper use of the Great General can produce a sea of changes in how the game is played.
If the existing civilizations and leaders aren't large enough a change for you, perhaps you'd like to play from the other side of the game. After all, those computer-controlled barbarians who mess with you through the earlier portions of game don't like just sitting around and getting themselves destroyed as a demonstration of your civilization's power. The Barbarian Horde scenario, one of eight such scenarios for the title, lets you do just that. Start from "X" turns of build-up by civilization, then smack it back down, complete with a Barbarian Horde menu to buy your new units, since you don't have cities in which to create them.
As a whole, the new scenarios aren't just a map and plop-down; new tech trees change what is available. Alexander, no matter how quickly his scientists work, isn't going to be conquering with airplanes. Special rules can change the game (i.e., replacing religion with family lines for the Reunification of China scenario), and often, victory options are significantly reduced (when playing as the Mongol Horde, your only option is to conquer all of China, and don't stop). Unique units, unique buildings, customized Civilopedias for each scenario, and even special menus take full advantage of the base game's incredible moddability to create eight semi-new games from the same base concept. You can even use the Custom Scenarios menu to play with modified maps and opposing civilizations. Needless to say, these scenarios represent the meat of the Warlords pack, and each offers you many hours of play by itself.
The few graphics patches are quite neat and emphasize human figures individually, with entertaining new music in the interface and intro, in addition to some new music in the game itself. These aren't exactly the point of the expansion, but it's good to have them nonetheless. Once you're actually playing, you won't see much difference.
In the "nice touch" category, the original title (with the updates and, if you opted for it, XFire) is still available, pure and pristine, to ensure compatibility with old mods or players who just don't want to upgrade yet. Just put in your original Civ IV play disk, and you're set. Given that Warlords is not compatible with original Civilization IV mods and scenarios, this is exceptionally nice. The expansion does not, however, provide mod tools on top of what is already there, but most games don't, so this is normal.
If you already have Civilization IV and have played it to no end, you're probably interested in one question: Are the upgrades worth it? My response: The scenarios are what makes this worth it. The main title is not going to be revolutionarily changed by anything this expansion has to offer, unless you never updated the main game to get Pit Boss support, but the new content does twist the game a little toward battle as the centerpiece, producing a slightly different experience. As with many of the Civilization expansions before, Warlords centers around unique forays into variants of the classic game in the form of scenarios. If you like playing games exactly as they are out of the box, Warlords still offers you plenty of variety to the title, but it might be skippable. However, if you like scenarios that switch up the gameplay at basic levels, love to play by wiping your foes off the map, or want to give the Barbarians a little love, then Warlords can easily be considered a must-get.
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