For the longest time, received wisdom has held that 2005's Civilization IV remained the superior of 2010's Civilization V. A slow trickle of updates, little and large, to the more recent turn-based, history-spanning strategy sequel has seen that gradually change, and with major expansion Brave New World Civ V's blossomed into something especially elaborate and nuanced.
The expansion's no good if you don't own the parent game, though you can skip previous add-on Gods and Kings if you must - in fact, Brave New World contains most of that expansion's features, though not the new playable factions and leaders. While much of this review might be somewhat incomprehensible to Civ newbies, as Brave New World is aimed square at improving and expanding particular aspects of Civ V, it is worth saying early on that, if you're thinking of picking up Civ V, you're best off grabbing this at the same time.
Brave New World is filled with small changes, as well as the inevitable raft of new playable Civs (including Brazil, Poland and the Zulus) , but it has three major areas of focus. The first of these is a new Cultural Victory, significantly expanding the range of ways to play and win the game, as well as improving the range of options if you prefer to be the leader of a pacifist nation. (Indeed, players who prefer to win the game through warfare won't find too many new ways to indulge their bloodlust here). The idea is that, through the generation of Great People, who in turn perform Great Works, you grow the tourism appeal of your Civilization, striving essentially to become the most admired faction, rather than the most feared or the most hi-tech.
It's a difficult way to play, as you need to devote almost everything your collection of cities and citizens does to generating culture and building World Wonders if you're to have a hope of making enough Great People to out-tourist rival factions. This makes it hard to leave anything spare to build armies and defences, so while you might have the world's finest collection of paintings and symphonies, it might be ripe for a warlike neighbour to stride and destroy it all. It's also an exceedingly complex way to play, by Civ V's already labyrinthine standards, but both these factors are likely to make it a fan-favourite play style. It offers up a significantly different way to play than the norm, with different risks and different rewards.
It must be said that the presentation of tourism and cultural artifacts perhaps isn't what it could be, feeling rather like the new information and statistics have been shoved into any available screen space rather than made front and centre, but then a raft of initially overwhelming numbers has long been the Civilization way.
Also tackled is the long-standing (across this series' entire lineage) problem of the late game tending to be a baggy war of attrition, where the strongest Civs slowly chip at away at each for an eternity, potentially trapped until stalemate until the game's last minutes. A new World Congress system enables Civs to propose, endorse and seek to block measures with wide-ranging effects - for instance, agreeing to impose sanctions on aggressive Civs, enacting world-wide boosts to culture or cheekily seeking to boost generation of a resource you're short on. If other Civs consider your motions to be their own benefit, they'll vote for them and be extra-chummy to you. So if you play your cards right, you'll have your enemies handicapped and other rivals busy making nice with you. Like the Cultural Victory, it's highly elaborate stuff, tying into the espionage and diplomacy system established in the last expansion, Gods and Kings, and once again significantly refreshing the game for anyone who feels they've seen all Civ has to offer. For that reason, it perhaps will feel like overload if you're brand new to Civ V, especially because Brave New World isn't great at introducing and explaining its more complex new systems.
More immediately comprehensible is a new trading system, which enables the establishment of temporary trade routes either with neighbouring Civs or your own remote cities very early in the game. Build a few caravans, set them running back and forth with a target, and you'll experience either a steady stream of gold and science (if you're trading with another Civ) or having one of your own more populous cities funnelling food to a struggling offshoot.
However, the recipient of a trade route will benefit too, so you run the risk of later consequences for shovelling small amounts of gold and science into your erstwhile rivals, as well as seeing a potentially disastrous exchange of religion between two linked cities. While trading is ostensibly a friendly act, it's also a means of applying silent pressure to an enemy.
Three major new systems, then, and all of them highly risky as well as transformative. All told they're enough to make Civ V feel almost like a brand new game. In this age of piecemeal or superficial DLC, it's great to see such an old-fashioned, ambitious and substantial full-scale expansion. Brave New World does risk making Civ V feel far too over-complicated, but for existent fans it almost negates any need for a Civilization VI.