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Civilization IV: Warlords (PC) artwork

Civilization IV: Warlords (PC) review

"When you get a warlord, you then get to decide which available unit you’d like to associate him with. So, let’s say you have a few groups of chariot-riding fiends. He can join them and their power will be boosted accordingly. But they’re hardly invincible, or else the game would be too imbalanced. No, they’re just the slightest bit stronger."

When I played Civilization IV just after its release, I was impressed by its depth yet surprised by how accessible it was at the same time. Though I hadn’t played too many simulation titles, I was able to quickly build an empire from a few grass huts. Soon I was exploring and creating new cities, trading cultures and religion with my neighbors, and even battling to defend my borders when the need arose.

As I played deeper in, that constant need to watch out for aggressors is what made the game feel less like a Sim City clone and more like RISK, the classic board game where you throw dice and armies at one another until one player dominates the world map. I liked that in some ways, but I still preferred a more peaceful approach. Why settle with chariots and tanks what you can instead resolve with some reasonable trades and alliances?

Unfortunately for peaceful slackers like me, the real world isn’t a place where everyone can truly get along. Civilization IV reflects that quite nicely. Maybe you are friendly to everyone. Then someone gripes because you’re allying yourself with his nation’s enemies. Or maybe you won’t trade technology because you don’t want to give the other guy a leg up on you. After all, he might use something innocent to more quickly find a way to build the chariots he’ll later use to trample your foot soldiers into the ground. Eventually, whether by playing too cautiously or just the opposite, you will anger someone and battle will ensue.

Civilization IV: Warlords is the expansion pack that addresses those particular instances. While it’s true that your $30 also gets you an expanded roster of historical figures and some cool new buildings (not to mention vassal states that you can bully into paying you tribute), those elements aren’t the focus. Rather, the main draw here is the warlord.

Within the context of the game, a warlord is some charismatic individual that might pop up in one of your cities when you’ve been playing well. You can do a few things with him, such as assign him to improve your city’s growth or sacrifice him for much-need boosts to your attributes. Or—and this is obviously the use the developer had in mind when creating the class—you can rally troops to his flag and let his charisma carry your soldiers to glorious victory!

I’ve played through Civilization IV numerous times and I’ve never felt the need to pick fights with other nations. This probably explains why I’m always informed that my leadership style is most like that of Dan Quayle. So when I found out about the warlord class, I wasn’t particularly thrilled. When I played through again for the purpose of this review, though, I won. For the first time ever, I truly won the day and the other nations had to recognize my superiority (thank goodness the match didn’t last another 20 rounds or so; I was losing ground quickly). I was still Dan Quayle, but I won.

The warlord class had nothing to do with that, by the way. When you get a warlord, you then get to decide which available unit you’d like to associate him with. So, let’s say you have a few groups of chariot-riding fiends. He can join them and their power will be boosted accordingly. But they’re hardly invincible, or else the game would be too imbalanced. No, they’re just the slightest bit stronger. They can still die if you try to ride against a tank—you stupid fool—and they still will fare best against those they so obviously outclass. Likewise, a unit you’ve freshly created isn’t going to have near the strength of one who has been simmering on the sidelines with performance boosts built up from a few turns of training, even with a warlord to lead it.

Thus it is that the Warlords expansion is only truly useful if your play style is aggressive and intelligent. If you’re just anxious to bowl everyone over with military might, you’ll die because you haven’t discovered the technology necessary to build good armor and weapons. Then also, you’re not going to notice much difference at all if your idea of powerful rule revolves around smoking the peace pipe with your rivals around the campfire.

Because Warlords is so specialized, some people might wonder if they should purchase it at all. The answer of course depends on how often you play Civilization IV. This isn’t an expansion pack that will make you rethink how you play, yet that’s not a bad thing. I liked the original and I still do. If you’re the same way, then $30 is about right for the excuse to play through this a few more times—or a few dozen. Reinventing the wheel would have been stupid. Civilization IV was good before and now with the Warlords expansion pack, it’s better. End of story.

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Staff review by Jason Venter (August 16, 2006)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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