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Old World Is The Best New 4X Game In Years

Back in April 2020 I took a look at a game called Old World, which at the time was both exclusive to the Epic Games Store and also in Early Access. Back then it was a promising if still obviously under-cooked game. Now, two years later, it’s so much more.

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The game actually made it out of Early Access in July 2021, but with it only just now coming out on Steam, I figured this was the perfect time to revisit and see what’s up. Here’s how I introduced the game a couple of years ago:

The “Civ x Crusader Kings” comparisons remain unavoidable, because when you first start playing that’s all you can see. It’s a traditional 4X experience, with all the construction and combat and expansion and exploration that entails, but instead of just managing your empire’s roads and cities you also need to keep an eye on its leaders.

In Old World you don’t play a faction, you play a person with a name and a family, and just like Crusader Kings you go from there, having kids, making friends, forming relationships and guiding the fates of everyone around you. When you die, you start playing as your heir, and so on and so on until the game ends.

It’s nowhere near as complex as Crusader King’s inter-personal system, which forms the foundations of that entire game, but it’s not supposed to be. The 4X stuff is what we’re here for with Old World, and the character-building present here is just some very well-implemented icing on the cake, as there’s just enough of it to make it feel like you’re running an imperial household (the way it impacts diplomacy is great), but not so much that it ever feels like it’s keeping you from the main action of moving units or building cities.

In Civilization games, your relationships with undying faction leaders can feel arbitrary. Crusader Kings, meanwhile, has incredibly complex statistics governing every relationship and conversation in the game, but rarely does it feel like genuine, tangible results come of your interactions with people, because so many of that game’s diplomatic actions are locked behind slower, sometimes immovable systems.

In Old World, diplomacy and imperial management is driven by people, and when you talk to them you get to see direct results. Wars, friendships, alliances, marriage proposals, trade deals, secret missions, there are much more immediate consequences from your conversations in Old World than we’d get from a Paradox game, making it feel so much more like you’re shaping an entire empire not just through buildings, but through relationships.

Stepping away from the character-driven stuff, Old World’s meat-and-potatoes 4X experience is pretty solid. It’ll look familiar, of course, with its settlers, workers, cities, map exploration and building of improvements on tiles surrounding your settlements. If you’ve played Civilization or Endless Legend in the last five years you’ll already know the drill. It’s fine, it ticks all the boxes, though there is one interesting twist in that the way you order your units around treats commands more like a resource.

Here’s me in 2020 (it hasn’t really changed):

There are some other little innovations in the 4X space that I’m digging too. The way cities must be built on designated tiles, but can be claimed before actually being built is interesting, and units like scouts being able to harvest resources directly from tiles helps the early-game hours feel busier and more interactive.

I’m not quite so sold on the combat though, which thanks to the hex-based map and one-unit-per-tile design means battles fall into the same trap they have in the last two Civ games, where depending on the terrain things can quickly get cramped and awkward and become more of a meatgrinder than an exercise in tactics.

I said simply calling this “Civilization x Crusader Kings” was unfair not because it’s technically wrong—five minutes with this game will show you that’s the case—but because it sells the final product short. Old World is so much more than just bolting one game’s popular system into another genre and hoping for the best.

Old World actually feels pretty closer to those older, near-perfect Civ spin-offs like Colonization and Alpha Centauri. Games that took the basic 4X formula and repackaged it into a shorter, more focused setting which swapped out the passing of ages for some more interesting mechanics. In Colonization that meant turning tobacco into cigars and sending them back to Europe. In Old World it’s managing an ancient empire through not just roads and farms, but family ties as well.

A lot of what I’ve written about here in 2022 was also there in the Early Access build I played in 2020, hence me simply repeating myself a couple of times, but in the two years since I played it last Old World has refined and polished pretty much everything it could. It looks better, its splash art is gorgeous, the quests have better writing, there are more military units and the interface is slicker.

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