Old World is Shaking Up The Genre & Much Deeper Than I Imagined

Old World Preview

Ah, Civilization. The game I have played more than any other. Across the many iterations of the venerable strategy game, I have clocked thousands of hours. Play those games enough, and you start to see them for what they really are. You can fill your game with fancy graphics but underneath you’ve got a fancy board game filled with tables and spreadsheets. It ain’t glamorous. It’s 4X. So what do you get when you strip away all the artifice and are just left with some good ideas? You get a game like Old World.

Made By Civilization Veterans

The new strategy game from Mohawk Games feels like it appeared overnight, but it’s actually been in the works for a while. Development is headed up by Soren Johnson, the lead designer on Civilization IV and Offworld Trading Company. And this game is a dead ringer for Civilization V. The way the borders creep across the hexes. The clouds that are slowly banished by your scouts. If I didn’t know any better, I would have guessed this was some sort of fan hack for Civ.

Part of that is how very early this build of Old World is. The game is debuting in Early Access soon, but at the moment it is filled with placeholder text and missing assets. Animations aren’t what they are going to be. Big moments are welcomed with the word “stub.” This game has a long way to go. I mention this not in derision, but to emphasize how this isn’t yet a game of spectacle, it’s a game of ideas.

So what are these great ideas? At the highest concept level, Old World is a 4X strategy game that takes cues not just from Civ but from Crusader Kings. You are not one immortal leader, you play as a dynasty. Start as King Phillip of Macedon and you will eventually take control of Alexander, and after that maybe you will change history and have the Conqueror father some heirs. In order to support this dynastic style, the game isn’t trying to cover the scope of human history but rather, the era it refers to in the title. The Old World. Currently, that means leaders and civilizations from the Mediterranean region towards the start of the first millennium of the Common Era. Greece, an early version of Rome, Egypt, Assyria, Persia, Babylon. These are the nations you can lead.

But the other innovations are even more granular. When you research a new technology, you draw a hand of options of where to go next — you can’t choose to research anything. If you want more control, you can learn abilities (or hire advisors) that let you redraw your hand. Unclaimed resources can be claimed by your scouts, giving you a quick early bonus to growth. Since these sorts of games always start with ordering scouts around the map, this mechanic gives you some much appreciated direction.

Expanding the Genre

Of all of the fresh ideas though, the most significant is the order system. In most 4X strategy games, units have a number of actions per turn. Maybe they can move two spaces and construct a building, or move and attack, or whatever. In Old World, you have a universal pool of orders to spend from. It’s probably a lot more than you need, so you can use your orders to get builders started on projects, to reposition your military, or to send one scout really far. If you tell one unit to do too many things, it will eventually start taking damage, but this system allows you to go broad or deep. I was thrilled every time I remembered I could send my settler into a forced march to claim a city before a rival could get a key spot.

So those are the facts of the matter. But is it any good? Is Old World enough to hold the attention of a 4X addict like me? The answer is yes, but I want more. I want more everything. In just a few games, I repeated the same events often, but I also kept running into things I had never seen before. The art style is wonderful, but textures still need a lot of work. Buildings are huge and blocky, and don’t quite look right in the cities yet. I am greedy for this game to be what I know it can be.

That greed doesn’t come from a place where this looks like the most expensive 4X game ever made. No, the value is something greater. This is a genre dominated by a behemoth franchise. But there is room for change and growth. 4X stands for eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate. Old World reminds me that there is lots of room for those things to happen within the genre. This is a game exploring new mechanics, and expanding what a turn-based strategy game can be. It’s exploiting a complacency in the genre. I don’t think it’s enough to exterminate the competition, but sometimes the rising tide lifts all ships. And speaking of, I just learned how to build biremes, so I’ve got to get back to finding new lands to conquer.

Old World will be released for Early Access on the Epic Games Store on May 5, 2020.

***Preview code provided by the publisher.***