TL;DR – A game that sits in the middle between Civilization and Total War, taking things that work from both.
If there is one genre of games that I will always been drawn to, it is the 4x (EXplore, EXpand, EXploit and EXterminate) strategy genre. It can be in space, in a fantasy realm, in the past, or somewhere completely new, I don’t care just hook it up straight to my veins. When I heard that Soren Johnson, the lead designer of Civilization IV, was diving back into the genre my interest was peaked and now that I have had a chance to play the game I can see why. One thing I do need to point out before we proceed, this is an “early access” game in that it is not yet finished. This means that this is only a first look, a first impression of the game and not the full review, which is why there is not a score above.
So to set the scene, Old World (or as it is styled Ōld World) is a game set in the past charting the dawn of civilization through the classical era to almost the medieval era. In it, you play one of seven civilization/leaders from the dawn of time. Ashurbanipal of Assyria, Nebuchadnezzar of Babylonia, Dido of Carthage, Hatshepsut of Egypt, Philip of Greece, Cyrus of Persia, and Romulus of Rome. However, unlike Civilization and other similar games, you don’t just hold on to the one leader for the whole game, because like in real life, leaders get old and die. This means as well as maintaining your expansion you need to make sure your heirs are ready to take over. This brings the game a little of the way into the territory of the popular Total War series. On the whole, I quite liked the dynastic politics in the game, however, has the game goes on and your heirs and siblings etc start popping out multiple babies a turn, it can be a bit hard to keep track of. Which is just about when your sister kills you in your sleep for ascending to the throne over her as what happened in my first game. You also need to keep different dynastic families from squabbling, giving you potential problems from afar and within.
From a gameplay side of things, it does play similar to other 4x games. You will travel across the land trying to find all the Sacred Tombs that give out bonus to the first that collect them. You build cities, research technologies, and develop the land. However, all of these are presented with a little twist on what has gone before. For example, with the technologies you get given four random techs each time, so you don’t know what you could get. Do you go for that one-time boost of stone, or do you get the tech for building lumber farms, because it might not be there next time and wood is needed for almost everything, but then I want to build that wonder and you need a hella amount of stone to do that? Also, you can’t just plonk down a settler anywhere and call it a day, you need to find a City Site, and they are limited on the map and could be held by minor factions or barbarians or a rival. The one thing that took the most to wrap my head around was the way movement worked. Each unit has a set amount of actions they can perform in a turn (though you can force march them to do more if you have enough military surplus). However, there is a global limit to how many orders (movement, building, attacking etc) that you can do that is tied to your leader and how much legitimacy they have. It takes a bit of a mind shift, but I did like that there were times when I had to stop my workers because we were at war and those elephants weren’t going to get the front line by themselves.
At the moment the focus of the game is as the name suggests in the old world and that means that it is mostly focused on the Fertile Crescent and the classic Mediterranean. It also is not looking at the large swaths of human history, rather a smaller more contained snapshot. I don’t know if there are more civilizations/leaders planed down the line to mix this up but as it stands the most out-there element for the game is that the Danes are one of the minor tribes. I think your enjoyment for the game is going to come out of how much you like Bronze Age civilizations from this geographical era, which is mileage that will vary from person to person. I will say that bar the art assets, as it stands I don’t feel that there is a lot of difference playing between the different civilizations which is going to limit replayability of the game at the moment.
The presentation is where the rubber hits the road in an early access game and it is here where you can see the game’s promise and also its present limitations. For this review, I played the readily accessible version that was available at the time of writing. This means that I don’t know how well the game works over multiplayer nor any of the improvements that might be coming its way. The presentation is a little of a mixed bag at the moment with some features working really well, some features not quite there which you would kind of expect, and others that do feel like a bit of a disappointment even with this early access setting. I’ve had a go at a number of the maps and I have found all the terrain details to be stunning. It does make the world feel alive and vibrant as you explore around. There is more verticality to the maps that what you would find with Civilization, but not as much as what we have seen with Humankind, once again fitting in that middle ground. To add to this, I enjoyed the music though it did seem a bit disconnected to the game at times. In my playthroughs, I didn’t encounter any major bugs though it is still clear that things are a bit rough around the edges.
One area where you can see the early access nature of the game is in the animations. At the moment most units don’t move naturally around the map but kind of plonk from tile to tile which can be emersion breaking at times. Where you can really see that happen is with any of the naval units that face the same direction no matter what. Also while the map itself is really beautiful, the way you interact with the map with buildings does not integrate well, with mines and barracks etc sitting awkwardly on the tiles or missing altogether. You do kind of expect these things, but there were some aspects of the game that I know will be fixed going forward that I did still find frustrating. The first is the User Interface, it took me several games to wrap my head around the UI and how it worked, this is really apparent in with the workers and other civilian units. Also, you can be overloaded with messages at the start of the turn and the game does not always do a good job of prioritising what is important like you are at war. Finally, and I know this is a small part of the game, but Wonders are a big deal, being the foremost example of your nations industrial might. So it was almost demoralising that when I finally built my first one it was depicted by an unfinished model shell on the map. Yes, I know it will be fixed at some point, but that is one aspect of the art I would have prioritised before launch.
In the end, do we recommend Old World? Well, this is going to be very situational. There are a lot of people that won’t buy early access out of principle and I do respect that, also I do think it would be wise to see a more complete version before diving in if you are concerned. However, I always use a barometer with games like this “do I look up from the game to see the time and realise that I have been playing it until the very early hours of the morning” and on this front the game succeeds.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
Have you played Old World ?, let us know what you thought in the comments below, feel free to share this review on any of the social medias and you can follow us Here. Check out all our past reviews and articles Here, and have a happy day.
Credits – All images were created by the staff of Old World
Game Direction – Soren Johnson
Game Design/Writing – Leyla Johnson
Tech Director – Mustafa Thamer
Programing – Alex Mantzaris, Tom Whittaker & Derrick Man
Design – Michael Califf & Bob Thomas
Art – Alex Winkler, Jason Pastrana & Mark Shahan
Developer – Mohawk Games
Publisher – Mohawk Games