Review: Old World by Mohawk Games

Recently leaving early access and available on the Epic Store, Old World is Mohawk Games’ (headed up by Soren Johnson, Civ IV designer) vision to combine 4X civilization management similar to Sid Meier’s Civilization with the dynasty management of Paradox Interactive’s Crusader Kings. The result is a unique entry into the 4X genre.

Starting out

It’s not hard for someone familiar with Sid Meier’s Civilization to feel comfortable starting out in Old World. The game begins with a familiar first turn decision: “where do I put my first city?”. However unlike other 4X games, Old World restricts city building sites to a few designated sites scattered across the map. Around a city site are a few urban areas and any of these can be used by your settler as the settlement site. Choosing which urban area to create your city is basically a process of determining which tiles you want included in your city bounds initially.

It’s after plopping down your first city that the differences between Old World and other 4X games begins. Of course you are going to be creating workers and scouts just like in Civilization. Workers, as you would expect, transform your city tiles and these worked tiles serve to deliver resources globally across your civilization and in some cases local benefits to the city where the tile is worked. You will use scouts to scour the map mainly for the purpose of locating additional city sites and to occasionally discover ancient ruins that lead to special events. The meta game for exploration mostly seems to be to discover available city sites so that you can park a unit on them to prevent any other civilization from using them.


Speaking of moving your units, Old World introduces a unique mechanic for taking actions each turn. Instead of each of your units having a designated number of moves you can take each turn, you instead have an overall number of orders you can spend for movement and actions each turn. Orders can be used to move a scout a certain number of tiles or to harvest a resource on the map, or to ask your worker to build an improvement, etc. The more orders you have, the more actions you will be able to do on every turn, so obtaining orders becomes key. Gaining orders primarily comes from your leader’s legitimacy score and from certain improvements you can build or event choices. However there are still limits to how many actions a unit can take in a turn despite the overall number of orders, but once you are out of orders your turn is effectively done as you can’t perform any more actions except for choosing city production or performing diplomacy.


Very early on Old World will present you with your first event prompt. These event prompts, which are reminiscent of Stellaris or FTL, present you, as the leader, with a series of choices that can impact your civilization. Many of these events involve decisions regarding your family dynasty, such as choosing a tutor for your offspring, or choosing between suitors for your heir. Typically the result of your choice will increase a character trait for you or a member of your family, or the opinion of another character towards your leader.

These events are really the bread and butter of Old World, and if you are not the kind of person who enjoys reading the event descriptions and possibly engaging in a little role play about your decisions, you will probably find Old World to be just another generic 4X. While the choices you are presented with can sometimes appear to be dramatic, in practice the outcome for many of them is just a simple stat increase for one of your characters and since the game’s tutorial doesn’t do a great job of teaching you the importance of these stats, choosing between them can often be confusing at first.


Speaking of resources and statistics, there’s a dizzying amount of them which I guess the game just decides you’ll figure out as you play. While there *is* a tutorial, it’s more focused on things like how to found a city, or military unit bonuses or laws of succession. It never really delves into details into how your cities grow, or why you would want want to build a forum to grow culture in your city, or why you should build a barracks to increase your training rate.

But do all these resources and stats matter? At least on the easier difficulty levels it doesn’t seem to make that much of a difference. Keep your resources in the ‘green’ and your will continue to build and grow. Even if a resource drops too low to build, you can simply just ‘buy’ more of it provided you have enough gold (although it’s not totally clear who you are buying from…). On the easier difficulty levels there’s a risk that you can just end up on autopilot without really learning how these things impact your game. Even building important improvements such as wonders can seem trivial when you can just buy the resources needed and start building.


The family dynasty adds an interesting element to Old World. Unlike Civilization, your leader is mortal and will age and die along with every other important character in your civilization. Therefore part of your challenge is constantly increasing your legitimacy of your leader for orders and ensuring a strong heir will inherit your legacy.

Custom artwork for each family member adds personality to the characters in the game, and multiple portraits exist for various stages of their life. It’s not as deep as in Crusader Kings as scheming options are limited to increasing or decreasing someone’s opinion, changing heirs and succession laws or perhaps imprisoning a family member. However again, the family dynasty mechanic is only as engaging as you make it. Members of your dynasty basically serve as ‘stat sticks’ for the purpose of governing a city, being a councilor or being a general of one of your armies. It can be a bit overwhelming at times with a large dynasty and you are frequently getting messages or events that can eventually blend together unless you are really into managing your dynasty.


Diplomacy in Old World is handed differently than you might be used to. Sure you can definitely take the age old tactic of declaring war against everyone in sight, but the game seems to lean you more in the direction of balancing a tightrope of diplomacy where you try to maintain relations by means of marriage, gifts and favors. Fans of Civilization might be put off that you can’t simply just click on a leader and talk to them, instead you will interact with foreign leaders via event pop ups and by sending your ambassador on missions. It’s an interesting take that sort of works but ironically I miss the unique character of the animated leaders in Civilization, despite the increased character focus of Old World.

As usual, when diplomacy fails it’s time for the soldiers to answer the call. Surprisingly in my games of Old World thus far war has not been a frequent occurrence. There are various tribes in the game which are similar to Civilization city-states but with more cities and an actual family. These apparently serve as a mechanic to sharpen your military skills against without waging all out war against another leader. They also put a curb on expansion as unclaimed city sites are limited and you’ll probably find it necessary at a certain point to go to war with a tribe to continue expanding. I like what Mohawk has done here to breathe life into tribes versus Civilization city-states. You can even receive marriage proposals from barbarian tribes for your family dynasty!


Combat itself is a strictly rock/paper/scissors exercise which seems to be a very intentional design choice. Given the limited scope of technology in the game, you aren’t going to be able to come at a civilization with vastly superior military tech as you can in other 4X games. Even a simple warrior which has been fully promoted and is lead by a general can still be formidable throughout the game (although it can and should be upgraded to a higher tech tier).

Further limiting the scope of military actions is how you can actually travel to other territories. If you are playing on a map with any kind of water, you’ll quickly find out you can’t just load up a ship full of units or embark your units directly and cross the sea to the weakest city of your opponent. Naval technology is limited to a few types of ships which can’t actually carry units, instead they function as a ‘bridge’ between continents by anchoring and allowing your units to travel between land masses. This anchoring mechanic means more of a focus on exploration and sending units across certain defined choke points (and defending your own choke points). However it can lead to a situation where you can find yourself isolated and simply cannot easily reach an enemy, especially in the early game.

The slower pace of combat means less focus on swarming another player with units and more of a focus on building up a team of fully promoted, diverse units being lead by member of your dynasty as generals. Generals can be assigned to any military unit in the game and confer benefits based on the personality traits and experience of the character you assign. Slowing down the combat and focusing more on strategic deployment of units is a great design choice for Old World.


Winning a game of Old World involves accumulating enough victory points needed to win. You gain victory points by developing your cities, building wonders, and completing other objectives. However quite frankly Old World is the kind of game where the journey is the destination. Winning seems a bit anti-climactic, but that’s fine because winning really isn’t the goal.


Graphically Old World is an absolute treat. The world is brilliantly drawn, unit animations are on point and zooming in to look at your ever growing cities is a treat for the eyes. As your cities continue to grow and you built improvements they sprawl across the landscape (just suspend your disbelief of what this scale would actually be like in real life). The artwork for the character portraits and events is stylized but very well done and the sheer mass of artwork means you aren’t going to see character portrait duplicates that often. Additionally each civilization has its own flavor and custom portraits further adding uniqueness. Kudos to Mohawk’s art team for the engaging artwork that I’ve yet to get tired of after several play throughs.


The beautiful graphics are not without cost, however. Old World is a CPU and GPU hungry game, and the further you progress in each game the hungrier it seems to get. It was not uncommon for my GPU fans to kick on full speed while playing and one time my CPU caused a thermal shutdown of my system (after which I gave my fan filters screens a thorough cleaning). Old World will rank right up there with some of the most aggressive AAA requirements if you enable the highest graphics settings. Additionally, Old World seems to have not completely baked in early access as it’s not uncommon to experience a crash to desktop in a play session and one of my games had to be restarted as it simply couldn’t progress further without a crash despite loading older saves.


Similar to the graphic design, the sound design in Old World is fantastic. You will often (although perhaps sometimes jarringly) be treated to haunting melodies as you play and the music seems appropriate to the setting. The unit sounds and combat sounds appropriate to what you’d expect.

Final Ranking

Old World manages to change enough of the tropes firmly entrenched by Sid Meier’s Civilization that it carves a unique niche in the 4X genre. Blending 4X gameplay with dynasty management has a lot of potential, if somewhat unrealized in its current form.

Overall I’d rank Old World 4/5

Disclaimer: Old World was purchased with my own damn money!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.