Preview: Civilization IV: Beyond the Sword

Firaxis adds tons of new stuff to an already excellent game

In 2005, Firaxis and 2K Games unleashed Civilization IV and conquered the empire building genre, garnering positive reviews and many awards. Now the team wants to do it again, with a second expansion titled Beyond the Sword.

The title Beyond the Sword fits quite nicely, as the expansion focuses almost exclusively on post medieval time periods, beginning with the advent of gunpowder. There will be new units, buildings and technologies for every civilization to acquire. These units explore, settle, defend and attack territories and other units.

In Civilization IV, cities produce resources. One of these, Research, goes towards an overarching idea or process that could improve many different aspects of a civilization. These technologies (Chemistry, for example) might improve life for the average citizen, making them more productive. These can also improve the war front, making existing and new soldiers more effective, thanks to something like Ironworking. Whatever the technology, each improves something about the efficiency and survivability of the civilization.??While the new units, buildings and technologies promise some great additions, they will only affect the Renaissance era forward. This definitely goes in the "good things" category, as the later portions of the technology tree and units have often been considered the game's weakest feature, as the winning conditions can usually be met before that length of time. This, too, will change. Firaxis has decided to change these winning conditions, making Space Victory harder to achieve (likely through expansion of the required technologies) and by making Diplomatic Victory a different process altogether.

Beyond just adding to the existing systems and their functions within Civilization IV, Beyond the Sword offers whole new systems to the game play. Two major changes make the game more strategic: Corporations and Major Events. Corporations, much like their real-world counterparts, exist multi-nationally, and when provided the correct resources will offer many economic advantages. Major Events, however, will make the game both more realistic, and as a common side effect, more difficult. Events might include natural disasters, causing major damage to a civilization's towns and infrastructure, or an event might be a drastic call for help from allies or even cities with the civilization. These events should cause both a large upset to the pacing of the game, which occasionally gets slow in the middle portions, and a large increase in difficulty due to timing and planning upsets.

Also coming soon to Civilization IV will be the ability to start right in the middle of the action. Players will be able to jump ahead to the discovery of electricity, or enter the game in the Age of Enlightenment.

Though most of the new content focuses on the later stages of the game, several additions will affect it as a whole. Ten civilizations such as the Netherlands, the Portuguese, Native Americans and Babylon are new to the series. Each comes with new leaders, who may effect what areas of a civilization gets bonuses and thrives, or increase bonus effects of existing technologies or buildings. There will be sixteen new leaders, but not all of them will be for the new civilizations: Abraham Lincoln for players of the American civilization. Hammurabi for the Babylonians and Sitting Bull for Native Americans have also been announced.

Civilization IV: Beyond the Sword offers heaps of content, from new civilizations and leaders to units and technologies. With the addition of corporations, the expansion of espionage, random events like natural disasters and even some new scenarios to challenge those exhausted by the traditional game format, Beyond the Sword saturates players new and old. Firaxis promises the best expansion it's ever made, and from the looks of things, it might deliver this July.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.