Civilization 4 Designer’s ‘Old World’ Is a 4X About the Ancient Era

If you’re a long-time Civilization player, settling your first city in Old World is going to feel pretty familiar. In fact, a lot of things about it will – from warfare to the way settlements exploit tiles to produce resources. That’s not too surprising considering it’s the work of Civilization IV lead designer Soren Johnson; his first new game since 2016’s economic RTS Offworld Trading Company. Even down to the look of the map, it would be easy to mistake the build I played for a Civilization V mod. And while it brings some new and cool tricks to the table, it plays a lot like one as well.While Civilization covers the entire scope of human history, Old World is, as the name might suggest, fully focused on the ancient era – roughly modeling the Mediterranean region in the period from the rise of early Iron Age civilizations until the height of European antiquity. Rather than progressing through nation-wide technological ages, you accumulate Culture on a per-city basis, which models how socially advanced that particular urban center is and affects things like what tile improvements and buildings you can produce there. You might have a very advanced imperial core full of advanced structures, for instance, while newly-settled or conquered areas in the borderlands are far less able to exploit their surrounding resources. There is still a technology tree, but it’s relatively limited in scope and many things you can unlock with it also have a culture requirement if you want to actually create them.

Old World Screenshots

New Foundations

The way you found cities is also different than it is in Civ. You can’t just order a settler to plunk down a marketplace and some houses anywhere. Instead, there are a limited number of city sites spaced roughly evenly around the map that everyone will be competing for early on. If any of them remain unclaimed for too long, they will eventually be colonized by barbarians who will begin producing armies to send out and raid the countryside. This takes away some of the choice 4X games usually offer in choosing a great city location, which I’m not totally sold on yet. It also means cities will always be roughly the same distance apart, so you won’t have dense, clustered empires competing with more spacious and sprawling ones.

Aside from the generic barbarians who can take up residence in a settlement site, Old World also has Tribes, which are specifically modeled on historical cultures like the Goths or the Celts and function as kind of a halfway point between barbarians and full-blown empires. They can conduct diplomacy, marry into the ruling family of major factions, demand tribute, and conquer territory. They might just be my favorite new addition to the 4X formula, though as a self-avowed barbarian fanboy, I’m a little disappointed you can’t play as them.The playable factions in this build include Assyria, Babylonia, Carthage, Egypt, Greece, Persia, and Rome. Each is led by a historical or semi-mythical founder and comes, in classic Civilization fashion, with their own set of bonuses and unique units. Egypt is great at farming along rivers and can recruit mobile Light Chariots and Kushite Cavalry. Roman units, including their unique Hastati and Legionaries, accumulate experience twice as fast in combat. Each faction also starts with a different suite of technologies already unlocked. The Greeks, naturally, excel at Stonecutting and Drama. Babylonia gets a head start in Rhetoric and Administration.

A Question of Character

These leaders aren’t simply immortal mascots like in Civilization, though. They’re individuals who exist in and interact with the world like a diet version of Crusader Kings. They have traits like Courage and Discipline which can affect your nation’s resource generation. They can age, fall ill, and die. They also, hopefully, get married and produce heirs who will carry on in their stead once they’re gone. Frequently, you’ll get pop-ups about a character’s life that require you to make a decision. In my Egypt run, Queen Hatshepsut ended up adopting a pet monkey who quickly drew envy from everyone at court, as they felt I was giving it too much attention. The way these interactions play out is not much more than a dialogue box with a handful of options to pick from, and it’s not as deep as interactive as Crusader Kings II. I’d love to see it expanded upon more before the final release.You’ll also be managing the state’s relation with each of its four most prominent families. Each city you found, you’ll have to select a family to be its patron. If you don’t want to make any of them angry, you’ll have to take turns and make sure they each patronize the same amount of territory. If the Julii already have one city and the Fabii have none, the latter will be mad if they are skipped over and Caesar’s clan are given another patronage. Each family is good at something specific and will grant bonuses to cities they patronize. The Argeads of Greece will allow you to build better cavalry, while the Seleucids will help their domains progress through cultural milestones faster. Families that stay in your good graces will be helpful, but those that are shunned can create problems.

As you progress through the years, you’ll also unlock laws that offer a choice between two paths with their own advantages and drawbacks. One of the first is deciding if you want to be a slave society, which increases production but also makes your cities more prone to revolt, or a free society, which generates more science. There are 15 categories of laws to mix and match, deciding everything from your civilization’s relationship with the gods to their currency system, but each is merely an A or B choice.

Drums of War

Combat should be very familiar to 4X veterans, with the exception that a unit being wounded doesn’t seem to affect combat performance like it does in Civilization. There are a couple wrinkles in how you create and deploy armies, though. For one, Training is its own resource that is spent to produce military units exclusively, while most civilian units use a separate value called Growth. This means you can have cities that specialize in raising armies, but aren’t so great at creating workers or settlers. You can still only build one thing in each city at a time, but how long it takes to do so can vary based on what you’re building.

For another, each nation has a limited number of Orders they can issue per turn. You might have a far larger army than your enemy, but if they have more Orders, they may be able to out-fight and out-maneuver you as half of your military sits idle. You can focus on getting more Orders like you would any other resource, and doing so turned out to be very powerful in the campaigns I played. At the start, unused Orders at the end of a turn are converted into money. But later on you can unlock the ability to bank Orders across several turns to, for example, prepare for a huge, coordinated assault.

Look to the Heavens

I didn’t play around much with the religion system, but there are four historical faiths you can adopt in the course of a campaign: Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, and Manichaeism. They’re all mechanically identical, giving cities where they are present a bonus to Culture growth. Over time, you can also unlock philosophical tenets like Dualism and Legalism that come with their own benefits. You don’t have to ever adopt a state religion, though. Some laws will lend themselves to creating a very strict religious hierarchy, while others favor a more pluralistic society. I really like the way this plays out, since most other 4X games tend to take a very narrow and anachronistic view of religion.

In spite of everything that’s different, Old World still feels mostly like playing a detailed Civilization mod focused on the Ancient Era. In all fairness, it is at a very early stage of development. But a lot of systems feel underdeveloped and don’t turn out quite as impactful as I would have hoped – particularly when it comes to combat and interacting with characters. It seems to focus mainly on adding little dashes of spice to the time-tested Civ recipe rather than majorly rethinking it, and as such comes across as strangely less than the sum of its parts. But I’ll definitely be keeping my eye on its continued development, as there are enough cool ideas lying half-buried in the sand to allow it to go forth and conquer its genre siblings one day. Old World is now available for pre-purchase on the Epic Store and will launch into Early Access this summer.

T.J. Hafer is a 4X and strategy game enthusiast. Talk games with him on Twitter at @AsaTJ.

What kind of game is Old World?

  • Old World is a 4X strategy game from Mohawk Games and designer Soren Johnson, who previously worked on the Sid Meier’s Civilization series as well as Offworld Trading Company.

When is Old World’s release date?

  • Old World is due to go into Early Access on the Epic Games Store in Summer 2020.




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