Civilization IV didn’t impress me at all when I first played it. It was all about building cities, maximizing improvements, and pumping out military units. The diplomatic model, I thought, was pretty weak, and I thought that the economic and military models were simplistic and made for a very boring game. I found myself having the same experience every game, and I uninstalled it after a few playthroughs. I tried it again a few months later, and once I peeled back a single layer of complexity, I realized that the game was absolutely packed with detail in every aspect, and ever since that fateful day I’ve been waiting for this expansion while meticulously updating my Excel files crammed with food production information and combat odds. I’ve caught the most widespread virus in PC gaming: onemoreturnitis.
"I’ve caught the most widespread virus in PC gaming: onemoreturnitis."
Beyond the Sword serves its purpose and then some, reworking virtually every major system in the game, adding several new ones, and adding several new civilizations, units, buildings, technologies, and all kinds of other good stuff. If you enjoy Civilization IV, then basically kiss $30 goodbye and get this expansion pack.
The new systems
Beyond the Sword, as the name would imply, focuses on economic and diplomatic improvements to the game, as opposed to the conquest-oriented Warlords expansion pack released a few months back (by the way, every change in Warlords is included in Beyond the Sword). The new systems include the ability to found corporations, colonies, and the addition of a new espionage aspect.
Corporations are founded by a Great Person and require access to a certain resource and grant your city bonuses in return. Depending on the corporation – there are several, ranging from seafood conglomerates to a record company – the costs and benefits are different. Some grant extra food, or wealth, or culture. They all require something in return. The seafood company requires access to clams or lobsters, for instance, and the mining company requires access to minerals. Corporations also consume wealth as a fee from cities in which they are present. The wrinkle that makes corporations more than glorified city improvements is the corporate executive, a unit that can be created in any city which the corporation has spread to. The corporate executive can spread the corporation’s influence to other cities within your own borders or to other civilizations, in the process granting bonuses and penalties to that city, but also increasing the amount of wealth earned in the city where the corporate headquarters is located. Right now, the system is a bit broken, and, combined with inflation late-game, a corporation can turn into a money-grubbing beast that can easily lay waste to your economy, but once this is fixed, things should even out, and no doubt corporations will be another integral part of a game of Civilization.
Another new system is espionage, which joins wealth, culture, and research as things which cities produce automatically. Players assign a certain percentage of espionage points per turn to their rivals, and after several turns players build up a balance of espionage points against a certain other player. These points can be used to incite rebellions, steal money from the treasury, destroy improvements, or poison water supplies. Various factors affect the cost of pulling these dirty tricks, including the presence of a spy or various buildings that can be built to guard against espionage activities. Plus, of course, spies can be built. Spies are invisible units which travel across the land and act like latter-day scouts and have the added ability of being able to infiltrate a city. Espionage is also available at a very early point in the game.
The new tidbits
Other important additions include various game type enhancements; for example, players desiring to skip all of that pre-Common Era nonsense or who just want to jump headlong into the Industrial Age can do so, picking a civilization and technologies and just going to town from there. Also, several scenarios and mods are included in the game, culled from the impressive Civilization IV mod community. Additionally, there are ten new civilizations, new leaders for old civilizations, the Apostolic Palace (the U.N of the middle ages), new promotions for units, and a whole range of other tune-ups and enhancements across the board. Half the fun of playing the expansion pack is discovering a new feature by accident. There are games that have run for several sequels that haven’t changed as much as Civilization IV changes with just this single expansion pack.
Diplomacy is much more of a cutthroat enterprise now – not only because of the added dimension of spying, but also because the AI has been beefed up considerably. Backstabbing and things like naval invasions and economic warfare are now a lot more prevalent. It definitely adds a new dimension to warfare when naval warfare is actually of some importance. Plus, the Apostolic Palace and United Nations get a real workout this time around, particularly in resolving conflicts and deciding who owns contested cities. Oftentimes a city where the conqueror is in an extreme minority will find itself up for transfer back to its culturally dominant civilization within a few turns of capture, thanks to the Apostolic Palace or U.N. This is a double-edged sword, obviously.
A whole range of small tweaks to forts (they’re extremely useful now), traits, technologies, buildings, and units round out this remarkable expansion.
The last word
The bottom line is that, if you enjoy Civilization IV on any level, then Beyond the Sword is well worth your time. The new mods alone, including space-based and mythological scenarios, are enough to keep a dedicated player occupied for days, and the new civilizations and systems introduce so many new layers to the gameplay that Civilization IV is practically a new game entirely.
"...Beyond the Sword is well worth your time."