Civilization IV was huge. Warlords contracted it somewhat with it’s emphasis on scenarios that tightened the focus of play. Beyond the Sword, however, again makes Civ4 the biggest turn-based time sink around, with tons of new civs, leaders, units, buildings, techs, and wonders. Even the scenarios tend towards this huge open-ended play style that Civ gamers love. In all, they could have called it Civilization 4.5 and charged full new-game price for this and still had a bargain going. It’s that big.
The news civs include Ethiopia, the Dutch, Holy Rome, and an amalgamous civ called ‘Native Americans,’ designed to represent all of the tribes. The new leaders include the return of Abraham Lincoln to the Americans and Pericles of the Greek. The change that took me the longest to get used to is the swap of the leader art between Kublai Khan and Qi Shi Huang. The art had been backwards since Civ 4, but the switch still caught me off guard.
Only two of the new wonders had any real impact on my play: the Apostolic Palace and Christo Redentor. The Apostolic Palace is basically a medieval United Nations, and Christo Redentor allows you to switch civics without a turn of anarchy even if you don’t have a spiritual leader.
Another big change comes via the space race. You need to build more parts, and you can pick their appearance as you visually build your ship. Once built, you have to wait for it to arrive at it’s destination before you can win. If you cheaped out on parts or sent it up pre-emptively, it may not make it to Alpha Centauri at all. This makes the end game much more strategic.
The scenarios are very solid this time around, as well, with my favorite being Rhyse and Fall of Civilization. In this scenario, you work through a realistic evolution of Earth’s societies. You can pick an early civ like Egypt, and either jump to another civ as they come up (and possibly have to contend with that empire you personally built up), or stick with whoever you started with. Civs appear at they appropirate time in history and tend to shake up the existing game world. I jumped from Egypt to Germany when it arrived, and was right next to an already-developed Rome. Other scenarios include Next War (set in the future) and Final Frontier (set in space).
I really like Beyond the Sword. I’ve put a ton of time into this game and it’s made me a Civ junkie all over again. Even when I need to review other games for this site, all I can say is, ‘One more turn.’ Alphasim out.