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Old World
Old World

PC
Genre: Strategy
Developer: Mohawk Games Official Site: https://mohawkgames.com/oldw...
Publisher: Epic Games Classification: MA15+
Release Date:
2021
Old World Review
Review By @ 02:07pm 14/07/21
PC
Queen Neferure of Egypt has gone insane.

As a child, she was given a pet monkey by her mother, the previous queen, and it has remained at her side even as she inherited the throne. Although a constant distraction during courtly matters, Neferure's monkey has proved a useful companion, pilfering jewels from the homes of rich nobles and swelling the Egyptian treasury. But this time Neferure may have taken things too far.

Queen Neferure's only son and heir, a slothful fool who she foresees frittering away her empire's advantages should he succeed her, has just uncovered the plot to have him assassinated. He's not sure what's more shocking, that the murderous scheme was orchestrated by his own mother, or that the trained killer is none other than the Queen's pet monkey?



Old World is a turn-based 4X strategy game from Mohawk Games, the small studio founded by Civilization IV designer Soren Johnson, and it has just emerged from Early Access on the Epic Games Store, hitting version 1.0 on July 1. The imprint of Sid Meier's Civilization series is indelible upon Old World's hex-grid map, but Mohawk adds colour and detail with a layer of character interaction and development -- of courtly politics, sibling rivalry, familial favours, and simian espionage -- that borrows heavily from Crusader Kings. The result is a deep, complex and story-driven Civ-style game that succeeds at capturing at least some of what it must have been like to actually rule a Mediterranean empire a few thousand years ago.

You do many of the usual Civ things in Old World. You produce settlers to found new cities and workers to exploit the land. You train spearmen to defend your homeland and siege units to conquer your neighbours. You build barracks and shrines, theatres and libraries. You research new technologies and introduce new laws. And you erect ancient wonders like the Pyramids. If you've played a Civ game, and particularly the hex-based, one-unit-per-tile mode of the most recent series entries, then the early turns of Old World will feel very familiar.


"Workers improve the tiles within your city borders, turning hills into mines, riverside forests into lumbermills, and fertile plains into farmlands...”



But there's a sense that Mohawk took the opportunity to reconsider every aspect of a Civ game. As if it held each component under the microscope and assessed its contribution, discarding some and reworking others. (You can read more about the development process in our recent interview with Mohawk's Soren Johnson.) As a result, experience with recent Civilization games will only take you so far.

Some elements are common while others will defy expectations. Workers improve the tiles within your city borders, turning hills into mines, riverside forests into lumbermills, and fertile plains into farmlands. But production isn't abstracted into "hammers" the way it is in Civ; to build that pasture you need wood, to train those soldiers you need iron, to construct the Hanging Gardens you need an absolute shit-ton of stone.



This means you spend more time thinking about how you're going to work the land you have. Something like deciding whether you clear the forest on one tile to build a farm can feel like an agonising choice: you need the wood urgently, but chop it down now and it won't be around later once you're able to build a lumbermill. Or maybe it should be a mine instead? Or a granary surrounded by farms?

This emphasis on the land also affects your strategic thinking around where to expand your empire. New settlements that double down on your existing resources might prove a useful advantage when trading with other empires, but what happens when those relations turn sour? It can be beneficial to establish colonies rich in complementary resources, but there comes the danger of spreading yourself too thin. My time ruling Egypt provided a good example of how this sort of decision-making can have rippling effects for the rest of the game.


"By the time I'd settled these cities, my scouts had discovered some heavily forested regions to the northeast in what is now Israel...”



Playing on the premade "Old World" map where all eight empires start in the real life equivalent locations around the Mediterranean and Middle East, I settled my capital deep in the Nile. To the north and south were lush floodplains ideal for farming, skirted by arid hills and the odd mountain, all prime spots for mines and quarries. But aside from a few patches of regenerating scrub that I could clear for a little bit of wood every few turns, there wasn't a tree in sight, meaning I'd struggle to build necessary improvements and be unable to train certain military units. Queen Neferure, like her mother before her, needed to get wood.



Using the same save, I played out this scenario in two ways: the first time I founded my expansion cities along the Nile, settling the nearest new city locations, one to the south, one just north of the capital, and two yet further north at the extremes of the delta. By the time I'd settled these cities, my scouts had discovered some heavily forested regions to the northeast in what is now Israel and a few patches to the west along the northern coastline of Africa. Trouble was, the Assyrians had already moved into the former while the latter region contained no rivers, and thus unable to benefit from Egypt's inherent bonuses. My solution was to trade for wood at every opportunity, selling surplus food to fund the imports, and employ workers to keep clearing scrub from the few tiles unimproved by my voracious agricultural industry. It worked, after a fashion, and the constant trade kept me at peace with Assyria and later Carthage, as they expanded up to my western border.

Second time on this save, I opted to be more aggressive. I skipped settling my second city on the Nile and instead raced northeast, eliminating the barbarians who occupied the forests there, and settled along the Jordan River before Assyria (not to mention nearby Babylon and Persia) could do so. Later I backfilled the land between this outpost and my capital, settling in the same spots as in the previous save, leaving me with more cities overall, a reliable supply of wood from lumbermills in my own land, but three neighbouring empires who weren't at all impressed with my belligerent landgrab. War, inevitably, followed and the overall trajectory of this playthrough charted a much darker, more militaristic course, a fate seeded by one decision made decades earlier.


"Managing the line of succession plays an important part in the strategy, as you marry and have children you're able to make decisions that shape your heir...”



The timescale is much condensed when compared to a Civ game. Games last 200 turns, with each turn representing the passing of just one year. With a bit of luck, and good health, the ruler you're playing as by the end of a game may be the great-great-grandson or daughter of the ruler you started with. Managing the line of succession plays an important part in the strategy, as you marry and have children you're able to make decisions that shape your heir -- their personality, interests and relationships will impact the type of ruler they become, just as your parents' influence prepared you for the role.



There are a lot of stats to consider here. Not just your own, or your heir's, but the governors you assign to your cities, the generals who lead your armies, the diplomats, chancellors, spymasters and other assorted hangers-on who attend your court, all of them are described by various stats that affect their performance or enable certain unique abilities. If you're used to the more autocratic rule of Civ, it can feel strange and overwhelming to keep track of the many different characters and families. But Old World doesn't want you to obsess over such numbers or get bogged down in min/maxing. It wants you to role-play.


"What's more interesting is how these narrative events colour the world, bringing to life the various family members and foreign dignitaries...”



Narrative events occur almost, if not every turn, offering consequential choices. Your daughter is excelling at school: do you send her gifts to celebrate, or do you warn her to not lose focus on her studies? The court scientist has spotted your daughter's gift: do you encourage her to explore more experimental research, or order her to stay away from such nonsense? She returns home one day with a baby monkey: do you banish the beast, or encourage her to keep it as a pet?

At a mechanical level, all these choices alter the stats and abilities of the cast of characters under your sway, allowing your daughter, for example, to become wiser, more charismatic or disciplined, or to gain various enduring traits -- such as heroic, pious, debauched, or possibly insane -- all of which will influence their capacity to rule and inform the narrative events they will encounter and the choices they're able to make. But what's more interesting is how these narrative events colour the world, bringing to life the various family members and foreign dignitaries in a manner that elevates them as something more than a collection of mere numbers.



Highlighting the characterisation, personal relationships provide a meaningful narrative thread through international diplomacy. The recent decades of peace between Egypt and Carthage can be attributed to Queen Neferure's close bond with Queen Dido. But Dido is now well into her 60s and increasingly frail, and so Neferure is concerned for the future of the two empires, especially after Dido's daughter insulted her at a banquet two years ago. Will Neferure's son, slow-witted fool that he is, be a match for her, or will she run rings around him? Such examples of character drama drive global politics, and when they're layered atop the Civ-standard factors that influence relations (competing for the same territory, establishing trade routes, building a wonder coveted by another empire, etc), bring an ebb and flow to events that feels natural and easy to grasp.


"Maybe you want to kill five enemy military units, or maybe you want to build four amphitheatres; perhaps you wish to enact a Constitution...”



The elevation of the various political players into real characters also factors into the way Old World determines its victory conditions. Building each world wonders grants points along the path to victory, but the primary route is paved with ambition. At certain intervals, as the years pass, you're given the opportunity to set ambitions for your current ruler; achieve them and you are awarded more victory points. Maybe you want to kill five enemy military units, or maybe you want to build four amphitheatres; perhaps you wish to enact a Constitution, or maybe you just really want to build the Museum. Ambitions must be completed within a certain number of turns, but can also be earned as legacies after the ruler's death. They serve as objectives for the phase of your ruler's life--mile markers for next stage of the game--and mean you always have something tangible to work towards.

Unlike in Civ where you need to decide early on whether you're pursing a science or culture victory, the way victory points are accumulated here means you're able to explore different styles of play without compromising your prospects of winning. It also dovetails with the distinctive personalities and characteristics of each generation of ruler and allows you to role-play in a way that takes advantage of their abilities. One queen can afford to be more militaristic in her ambition, if she has the predeliction for it, while the next may be attuned to a more scientific outlook. Managing the transition from one ruler to the next, while keeping the plates spinning on what are likely to be quite distinct current and legacy ambitions, is hugely rewarding and quite unlike any other 4X strategy game I've played.




"It feels like you're playing Civ, but with some Crusader Kings characters who grow alongside you...”



There's a lot more to Old World than the glib description of "Civ meets Crusader Kings" can convey. Yet it succeeds because it feels like a genuine meeting between the two, a deeply considered merger that applies the strengths of both games to cover their weaknesses. It doesn't feel like you're playing Civ, but with some Crusader Kings characters butting in every now and again with some silly tale or grievance. It feels like you're playing Civ, but with some Crusader Kings characters who grow alongside you, whose relationships to you and each other actually matter, and who prove that the great stories of empires aren't about production rates per turn--they're about the people who lived through them. And their pet monkeys.

What we liked
  • Reinvents the Civ formula with a raft of intelligent changes
  • Narrative events bring the cast of characters to life
  • The Crusader Kings bits and the Civ bits actually interact in deep and compelling ways
  • Training a pet monkey assassin
What we didn't like
  • Some features aren't as well tutorialised as others
  • Doesn't have the visual flair of Civ VI
More
We gave it:
8.5
OUT OF 10
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