Old World is the first game I purchased from the Epic Game store. All others that I have on that platform were free games they’re giving us. But this is another topic. Old World is currently in Early Access and I chose to buy it because – of course – it appealed to me! At the time, it was also on sale and everything I’d read about it was positive. It feels like a Civilization game while being something on its own. It’s not a clone, so to say. But it is from the lead designer of Civ IV (and some other people, of course). So, what can go wrong, eh? Apparently, their publisher went bankrupt and Epic offered them to publish the game but it has to be excluse. Again, another topic. Let’s just say: I think competition is needed, but making games exclusive is the exact opposite of that. However, a game that needed a publisher got a publisher. And it’s a game that happens to look like something I’d love to play. And it was on sale. Enough reasons for me to buy it. Your mileage may vary, though. So again: It’s a game in Early Access and features may change or promised ones may never get finished.
If you are interested in the game and want to hear about my impressions, though, please read on!
It is a turn-based strategy game just like Civ and when you start a game, you also get to choose a civilization with its leader. However, every turn represents a year and your leader is very much mortal. They marry, they have children – they even get to have annoying in-laws and backstabbing cousins! All of this is coupled with events that show up at the beginning of each turn asking you to make decisions which do influence your game. Another big difference from the Civ games is that each round, you have a certain amount of orders. You can spend them on moving units, ordering a worker to build something etc. This gives you a bit more freedom as your soldiers can move further away if you just spend more orders on them. However, it can also result in not having orders left to do anything else. I found a really good guide on things that are different from Civ. If you’ve been playing Civ, this will easily be enough to get you started in Old World.
I’ve been playing for almost 30 hours now and I gave three games a try. Well, the very first one I was just too clueless, so I abandoned it for the second one. Then I started a third one with the Roman civilization, but I returned to the second game a little later. But let’s start at the beginning. I decided to go with Babylon and Nebuchadnezzar for my first try. I usually prefer playing as a female leader, simply because there haven’t been that many in the history and well, I just prefer it. However, since you’re playing through the game with your dynasty, it doesn’t matter at all. Nebuchednezzar’s flavour text says that he had equal rights for men and women. I only found the slider in the game setup later: You can choose how the next heir is chosen. Fully equally, or eldest male/eldest female unless there is no male/female or only male/female heirs.
Shortly after starting my first game, Nebuchadnezzar got married fast, probably too fast. At first, everything was fine: I received the message that my daughter was born. Oh the joy! But what’s that? She can’t be my heir? I was outraged! One year later, my son was born. Okay, I thought, that was quick. Two in two… But at least, he gets to be heir. It is the Old World, after all. Women did not have equal rights… except that this is what the flavour text said about this ruler (and remember: I only found the slider to choose how the heritage works later! The default is equal rights, by the way). I checked the text for my daughter again: Illegitimate child. Whoops. I decided to legitimize her then which made my wife really angry with me! Especially since that meant her son did not get to be ruler one day, as the daughter was a year older. But hey, it seems that I just knew what would come next: my foolish son decided to go swimming in a river where he drowned. I then got to decide whether to address my people or comfort my wife. My wife was already angry with me anyway, so I chose to address my people. They had a right to be informed, after all. Twenty years later, the game told me that my wife returned home. I… didn’t even notice she was gone? Whoops again?
So luckily, I still had my daughter who I chose to educate in philosophy to make her a wise and forward-looking ruler one day… until she came to me to tell me she’s pregnant. Yeah, great. I told her that she had to get married which she grudgingly did. But I don’t think we’re on speaking terms at the moment. Oh well, at least, I got a grandson. So, the future rulers are set. If only I knew who the biological father was… Then again, I don’t even know who the mother of my daughter is, so who am I to talk?
At age 70, I was told that my end was near and that I should get my affairs in order (is that meant literally…). I didn’t receive a pop-up notification about my wife dying, though. Or maybe I had just missed it. But I could see it when I hovered over the tooltip on the bottom. It was about this time that I decided to start a new game. I had read the guide I mentioned above in the meantime and had understood some of the game’s features much better. For example, how to get wood and that it’s important to have it as a resource because it sells well (you can buy and sell certain resources in this game!). So, I chose to start a new game where I kind of knew what I was doing – up to a point, at least. I chose the same settings again. The new map was also better for me and I was able to expand much faster while at least not being completely lost.
A funny thing happened after a while: I had chosen my legitimate daughter as my heir, even though there was an older illegitimate son. I taught her all the things she had to know to become ruler. At some point, I had my son legitimised, but she stayed heir. Several events happened that showed she wasn’t happy with me and the way I ruled. So it got me thinking at some point: Should I keep her as heir or shouldn’t I rather switch to my son? I sat here wondering if she could rule the way I want to rule once she gets on the throne – until it dawned on me: Once she gets to rule, I will control that character! For a moment, I completely forgot that I’m not handing over the game to anybody. She will stop being an NPC and will be… me. If this isn’t immersion, then what is? When Nebuchadnezzar finally died, his daughter – the one I had carefully prepared for the job for all her life – got to rule… for all of 3 or 4 years, then she got stabbed to death in the night by her aunt and her cousin. They really were sour that they hadn’t been chosen to be heirs decades ago! It didn’t do them any good, though, as my daughter took over and they still weren’t heirs. They would have to get rid of her as well. And once she’s dead, there’s her sister. And once she’s dead, there’s their uncle. And once he’s dead, there are his three children. Seriously, what was the point? Unfortunately, I couldn’t… get rid of them. I’d need a spymaster for that and I hadn’t researched it yet. But it was so annoying because that woman had been raised to be heir and her daughter had to step in just 3 years later while still being an uneducated child!
Third game: Let’s give Rome a try! I chose to switch the setting to “male heirs first”. Unfortunately, the stabbing continued in this game and my only son was stabbed to death. My wife pleaded to me to show mercy. No way! Whoever even came close to maybe being a part of this would suffer! This was my only son. I kind of liked him. This calls for revenge! I never caught the murderers, though… oh well. But I focused on my empire instead and did do what ancient Rome did: I spread all over the map with new cities. Unfortunately, one other civ who happened to have a much bigger army didn’t like it and declared war. Even though charming me managed to make all other civs declare war on them, they still kicked my sweet Roman behind. Let me tell you, the AI knows what they’re doing! Also, since you can spend up to three orders per unit to move them, they are fast! You think they’re all far away, but they’re not. And after spending these three orders, you can choose to “rush” an army and spend even more orders on extra moves. And after a unit made all their moves, they still get to attack if there’s an enemy unit close enough!
So, I returned to my second game. I chose to imprison my great-aunt who killed my mother which led to me being queen at the age of… I think it was 1? There was a 33 % chance for her to be imprisoned and for everybody to see it was just. Thankfully, that’s also the outcome that happened. I had made my older brother my heir, just in case any other crazy relative wants to kill me off. At that time, I was married and had a beautiful little son, but since he was still so small, I decided to keep my older uncle as the heir. I am fully aware that this means that his kids are next in line after him. But at least, it all stays in our line of the family – in my grandfather’s line.
The game features a lot of events, but I had one show up a second time… I didn’t remember the outcome per se, but I thought it wasn’t bad. I let it play out as I did the first time (I’m keeping it deliberately open here as not to spoiler it to you!), but I forgot that the end result was either to have all ruling families in my empire be pissed off with me – or, in this case, ask my own grandfather to commit suicide. Popularity is overrated, right? I already lost my mummy, after all!
Now, about the gameplay itself: It does play very similar to Civ. If you’ve played that one before, you will settle in quickly here. A few rather big changes I noted: You can’t just settle anywhere you want! There are city sites and only these tiles are allowed. In my case, it meant that I got to a city site too late and some other country settled there instead. During my first game, since I hadn’t known about it, the best spots around my city were taken by other rulers fast. But there are also smaller countries – something like city-states, only that they, too, have several little cities on the map. You can declare war and destroy these places at which point you can move your own settler there and start a new city.
Research confused me at first. In Civ I always look at the tech tree and decide from there. I tried to do the same in Old World, but it only put a neat little green flag to what I wanted to research, but didn’t start the actual research. This is because when you are shown three or four options of what to research next, you have to choose one of these! You can look at the tech tree and flag some as “want to research”, but unless it shows up in the cards presented when you can choose your next research project, you cannot actually start it. Other than that, the usual unlocks are needed as well. You first have to research X before research for Y gets unlocked. I find this system with the research cards weird. I mean, it adds unpredictability and you need to stay flexible this way. I guess this is a good thing – but it still feels weird.
I haven’t experienced any crashes and I don’t think I encountered any bugs. If I did, I didn’t notice they were bugs, at least. I did have some issue with a save game where it should have been from one evening, but when I loaded the game, it was from the day before. Thankfully, the game has auto-saves, so I was able to continue playing where I had stopped. It hasn’t happened again afterwards. Still, auto-saves will not be turned off here. I haven’t seen a roadmap, but what is planned to come is mod support as well as a multiplayer feature (asynchronous and synchronous).
Something that’s quite neat about the interface is that you can shift+click or middle-click on a tooltip to have it stay open. Then you can hover over it with the mouse and read other tooltips – sounds confusing, but it’s very useful! The other tooltip can again be middle-clicked to stay open which means you can read through several tooltips.
One thing that confused me was the font choice at some point: King Chad (You!) is now III! – You regularly get new titles throughout the game and I was wondering why he got to be “the third”. Bookahnerk pointed out to me: ill, not III! This made much more sense. I thought I had gotten a promotion… If you look closely, you can see that there’s a difference between the first letter and the next two, but only then. And it just made sense that at the age of 65+, I would get a promotion and get wiser. Instead, I died – but not due to this illness. This one had passed and it was the one after that, more than 10 years later.
And another thing that I don’t like too much: Little children get to rule. In my case, a girl aged 2. I would wish for any adult to help them out until they’re old enough, like a remaining parent or an aunt. It’s a bit weird this way and it would add another nice layer when there’s a temporary leader.
So basically, you have now read on what happened to my empire’s ruling family. The rest of the game – feels very much like Civ. And I mean it in a good way. It doesn’t have as many features as, for example, Civ VI has now. You have cities where you can train soldiers or gain bonuses that will stay. So you can specialize your cities. Workers will stay with you through the centuries. So, once you have a worker, they will basically work forever! Tiles can be improved with farms, pastures, mines and so on. Diplomacy seems a but superficial and you can’t do much, but I’ve always felt like this with the Civ games as well. Here, I really wish I could ask a civilization if they have a suitable bachelor for a family member. Or, maybe, if they want my annoying sister-in-law for one of their eligible bachelors…
Speaking of family: When you start a new city, you are asked which of four families get to rule over this city. However, you are only allowed to have three out of the four families for your empire. And don’t you dare give two cities to one family and none to the others. They will get angry with you! Each family also gives you bonuses, so in some cases, it makes sense to favour one family over another if a certain city works better with a certain family’s bonuses. You want to keep the families of your empire happy, though. Otherwise, some unpleasant events can turn up.
There is also a way to win the game, but to be honest, I’ve not been paying much attention to it. Your empire’s rulers have ambitions, that is, goals. If you fulfill a goal (e. g., found 5 cities), you get some victory points. I currently have 11/31, so I assume I’ll win the game if I reach 31 before the others do. I’m just wondering… if I kill off my rulers once they have an ambition, can I then work on all of them simultaneously (they do stay even if the heir is ruling) and win this way? You can’t abdicate unless an event offers you this choice. But to be honest, I also have no idea how to deliberately kill a ruler.
I can’t say anything about the soundtrack as the music is turned off as usual. The graphics are nice to look at and mostly clean. What’s confusing is that each family has a different colours, so the soldiers also have different colours depending on the city they were built in. During a war, I had to watch for my three colours plus other nations’ colours to differentiate friend from enemy.
Short conclusion: This is similar to Civilization, though not as in-depth with its game features – but it takes everything to a personal level! I am so much more invested and rooting for my civilization. This has never happened in Civ. I have also felt this urge to start the game and continue playing it in the evenings. The urge has calmed down by now, after several evenings playing the game. But it doesn’t happen that often that a game draws me on like this one. I actually had just bought Project Hospital and I dropped it immediately when Old World came around (although by now, I am ready to continue playing Project Hospital as well!). In other words: Even if Old World never got finished, I think I already got my money’s worth of entertainment from it.
The usual disclaimer: This is an Early Impressions Review and does not claim to be a fully grown objective game review. It does, however, reflect my personal and subjective experiences with the game. I bought this game with my own money and did not receive anything from the developers.