Curse you, Firaxis! After hundreds of hours, I thought I had finally uncovered the secrets of Civ IV, but now the new Warlords expansion pack has introduced some new aspects to the already addictive gameplay. The additions aren’t spectacular, but they definitely strengthen some of the weaker aspects of the original. More importantly, it makes warfare a viable option for players who want to pursue a military strategy.

It’s impossible to talk about the Warlords expansion without a quick recap of Civilization IV. The fourth installment in the series is perhaps the finest of the bunch, as it manages to fix many of the shortcomings of the third game while retaining the addictive “just one more turn” property of the original. The modern production values are also a big draw, as the graphics and music are on par with most current games. The classic Civilization formula has also been tweaked to reduce the burden on the player in areas like corruption and civil unrest, freeing up the player to spend more time making interesting decisions instead of housekeeping. While Civ IV still has some shortcomings (e.g. slow endgame), it’s still among the top games in the genre. The Warlords expansion builds upon this framework and adds new units, buildings, leaders, leader traits, and civs. The expansion also fixes some of the unbalanced aspects of the original, essentially providing a sort of mega-patch to the game. There are even scenarios which provide new gameplay experiences, although for the most part the gameplay is left intact.

Warlords does manage to subtly improve upon the Civ IV experience in a number of ways. The expansion pack adds a handful of new units such as the trireme and the trebuchet. In addition, Warlords adds some new combat animations to spice things up a bit. Warlords also introduces unique buildings for each faction, which look nice and give the cities a tiny bit more unique flavor. It isn’t much, but it’s something. Fortunately, the original game’s graphics are just fine, and the expansion pack content maintains those standards.

In other areas, the expansion pack doesn’t offer much improvement. The sound and music is pretty much the same as in the original, and the expansion pack doesn’t add anything particularly noteworthy in the audio department. Instead, the expansion pack largely relies on the original game’s audio to carry it through.

Nor does the expansion pack add much to the already-excellent game interface. In some cases, the new aspects (such as the empire-wide experience counter) feel tacked on or crammed into existing displays. However, the expansion does add a few nice features, like an improved settler-radius display showing existing city coverage. Admittedly, it would be unusual to see drastic changes to the interface or controls, so this isn’t actually a shortcoming. Players who found the original interface overwhelming shouldn’t expect any drastic improvements, but experienced players should be able to jump right in and utilize the new content.

Although the visual, audio, and interface additions are minimal, the real value of the expansion pack comes from the new features and scenarios. As the title suggests, the biggest changes to the game are the new “great general” warlord units and the new vassalage game concept. The warlord unit is great addition for players interested in the conquest aspect of the game. By adding a warlord to a unit, you can create a “super-unit” which is finally capable of breaking through the nigh-invulnerable city defenses of the original game. Alternately, adding a warlord to a city can provide a production or experience-point bonus, making long-term warfare more economically feasible. The outcome is that aggressive civilizations now have some ways to keep pace with their economically adept neighbors.

The other big new addition, vassalage, also helps to make conquest a viable strategy. A conquered opponent now contributes land and population points towards the victory conditions, so players can reap the benefits of conquest without having to wipe opponents off of the board completely. In addition, vassalage will undoubtedly be popular with the multiplayer crowd, since outclassed players can now swear fealty instead of being forced to resign.

For players looking to mix things up a bit, Warlords also offers a number of well-constructed scenarios. For example, one scenario offers the chance to play as the barbarians and pillage your way to victory. Other scenarios challenge the player to collect victory points through continual conquest or by bringing back treasure. These high-quality mods highlight the different things that can be done with the Civ IV engine and give players a chance to try new strategies.

This will depend a lot on how much you play Civ IV and what aspects you find interesting. The addition of new units, buildings, wonders, civs, and leaders is pretty basic, and the new “great general” and “vassalage” concepts help to make the conquest and domination victories easier to obtain. However, the expansion pack doesn’t do as much to enhance the single player “epic game” as much as might be expected from a pricey expansion pack, and the lack of modern-era scenarios is disappointing. Players can also access several other custom scenarios for free from various fan sites like Apolyton and Civfanatics, making the scenarios seem like less of a value.