As awesome as Civilization V is, I've used the internet long enough to know that everyone only wants one thing from it: that it eventually be more like Civilization IV. Now I'm a newbie to the series, but I feel like Civilization V was perfectly fine, and I even ignorantly defended it against people who said that it was so much less deep than previous games. "The depth is there!" I would say. "You just have to go look for it!"
If anyone would know, though, it's Firaxis, and it seems like the main thought process behind the DLC so far has been "Guys, we understand. Civ V WAS much more accessible. We'll make it more complicated and deep and like Civ IV. BUT YOU GOTTA PAY FOR IT."
With each of the expansions so far, the game has been trying to focus on one or two things. The previous expansion added religion, and really tried to improve diplomacy with spies and tweaking the trade system. This expansion goes more for expanding the culture victory, which has, in the past, been the easiest because you just have to build things and watch a number go up. They've also really tried to improved diplomacy with spies and tweaking the trade system. Wait, that seems familiar...
But seriously, diplomacy has been sort of busted in the game. The leaders were fickle and trades didn't always make sense and they'd go from smiling and being thankful to see you in one turn to immediately trying to kill you the next. The ties that bind you in Brave New World are much stronger. In the early game, you begin to set up trade routes with them that are much powerful, as you can start sending money, religion, even science around without having to go all the way across the map. If you ever go to war with that leader, then, you have to consider exactly what you're losing, and it can be pretty big--some of my trade routes did 30 gold per turn extra that I wouldn't have had otherwise. They're also mutually beneficial, as both of you get money and whatnot, not just the person who started the route.
You can also send your spies over and actually recruit them as diplomats, which allows you to trade goods for votes in the World Congress, an early United Nations. This meets a certain amount of turns, and you can suggest something for everyone to vote on, from embargoes against a country to putting on a World's Fair. Diplomats essentially let you buy votes--making it start to feel maybe a little too real. Your City-State allies also give you votes, making them start to matter more as well, and not just in the end when you're trying to win a Diplomatic Victory.
These changes really make diplomacy more fun. It's something you want to do, wheeling and dealing with other big leaders to make it so that you have your way on the world stage in a way you didn't before. It feels like you're more closely working together to help yourself work better alone. There's even been a change to the diplomacy screen, as simple as adding the resources other civilizations currently have, and that's all it takes to make it easier and more streamlined.
The other huge overhaul has come to culture, which feels perfect because that's the victory condition I usually go for. I'd become so good at it I was usually nearing the final part of it by the beginning of the 20th century, and I'd eventually run out of wonders to build. I'd just built literally everything, and all of my policies were made to help improve just how easy it was to build these things. Victory was essentially a game of lasting- turtle, don't offend anyone, and you can win no problem.
Things are nowhere near as simple anymore. For starters, the other civs are directly important for you to discover because your civilization has to actually become influential over them ("my people are listening to your pop music and wearing your blue jeans," they would say to me, and never before has Morocco felt more like America).
This is where the concept of tourism is then introduced. And this is where you then have to deal with the new Great Artist system. Where there used to just be a single pool they were pulled from, there are now 3 different ones: artist, musician and writer, and when they come into play, there are certain things you can do with them that are different. Artist can star a golden age, musician can go on tour, and writers can write political treatises for a huge one-time culture boost.
But if you really want to win, you have to make them create a great work of art. The difficulty lies in the way that these have to be stored in specific buildings- museums, theaters, Broadway, and only certain types go in certain buildings. Additionally, in the place of a great painting, you can also put in an artifact. At some point, I was actually churning out too many great artists, and I just had to have them sitting there until I created a place to store them.
Artifacts are retrieved from antiquity battle sites, which does a great job making the world seem a lot older and like there's been a progression. 3000 years ago you had a battle with a barbarian on this spot, and now you're digging up the remains. Isn't that cool? Isn't the place you've come to be since then so much more impressive than the sticks-and-agriculture society you started with?
To try to help with your tourism, you can actually group your pieces into themed groups, but there seemed to have been some sort of glitch going, because the number never showed up to show me what I was getting as a bonus. The tool tip as to what I should be doing also changed as I put things in the slots, which was weird. Eventually I just went through all of the possible combinations until I found the best one, so I hope they patch that because it kind of sucks.
All of this serves to make your culture more offensive, and you have to create an artistic culture that not only stands the test of time, but also encroaches on the society of others. It does feel like the sort of pop-culture imperialism you see thanks to movies or Coca-Cola, and as you slowly eke out influence in other cultures, it feels like you're doing a good job of building an important part of a civilization that gives you insane sway over others. It's still a more passive victory, but making it so you need to discover everyone and actually get involved with them directly gives culture a much better, and much more active, feel. Where there used to be many turns in a row where I'd just hit "next, next, next" without giving commands, the new objectives with culture made it so I had many less turns like that, which is a fantastic thing to achieve.
Think I'm done with the changes yet? Guess again, because social policies have also been changed! So this is a much smaller change- basically, Freedom, Autocracy and Order are now much more important, and they're the only ones that are locked. Unless I missed it, you can actually sign all of the other policies into place whenever, no matter what else is in place, and only those three lock you out of another choice. Exploration has also been added as a branch, which is OK, and really makes it good for the archeologists, who can see hidden sites when you're all the way through. Aesthetics is also new, and this one is all about bringing in tourism and artists.
These three main ideologies then play a really different role, almost like the religions did. Each time you upgrade your ideology, you're presented with a tree of policies to put in place. These can be simple ones, like I said, similar to religion (specialists consume less food), or they can be completely insane (purchase spaceship parts with gold), and as you build those up there's a growing sense of power that comes from it. I know they essentially too the existing trees and just made them bigger, but you also get more tourism and attention from other leaders based on the one you chose. Your diplomacy changes based on what you choose. It gives a personality to your culture and changes your interactions with others in a rather surprising way, making even your policy tree make a difference for the international play that it didn't have before.
It's not hard for me to say that Brave New World is the best expansion to Civ V that they've released. Gods and Kings introduced some important new things, but it pales in comparison to just how much they’ve changed things for this release. Their quest to actually make diplomacy fun and interesting and not just a game of gifts and petty turns has paid off, using systems already in place and springboarding off of them to give you more depth in your interactions. Ideas like the World Congress and Diplomats make the world stage so much more fascinating to play around in, and buying and selling allegiances as you see fit is a fantastic new introduction.
But I was almost dying over how much more enjoyable culture was. I already liked the culture victory because it suited my play style. I loved to abide and explore, letting my civ silently grow incredible as I watched others fall into petty wars. The way they've made it more active, though, makes you more interested in actually getting involved with other leaders, and spreading out the types of artists just made for turns and turns where new ones were popping up for me because I was just so well specced. It makes the power of culture so much more palpable than the oddly flat Utopia Project victory that was available last time, and I'm itching to go back in and just keep using the system.
Really, the best part about Brave New World is that it's finally addressed every victory condition in the game and made each one not only more equally viable, but also just as busy. Weaponizing culture works to bring it more in line with the other conditions--it's something you have to work towards and not something you just happen to achieve. On top of that, the diplomacy changes make this system more interesting as well, and it all comes down to one thing: if you have Civilization V and want to play more, you owe it to yourself to get this expansion.