The Ultimate Civilization 4 mod?… After the break…


I haven’t played Civilization 5 yet because of the Steam copy protection. Odds are, I never will.

So, I play the next best thing: Civilization 4 (and, for a lot of Civilization fans, it is ‘the best thing’ although a healthy slice of that demographic also feels that Civilization 3 is ‘the best thing’ and, truth be told, ‘Alpha Centauri’ has it’s dedicated followers as well…).

Civilization 4 (“Civ4” as it’s popularly referred to) is insanely moddable. Is your favorite leader not in there? You can add that person. Want to add a new technology (“tech” as it’s referred to)? Just add it in. Increase the world size? Yup, you can do that. Make new buildings, improvements, religions, corporations… Yes, yes, yes & yes.

To be fair, the civilization 4 modding community is not as robust as it once was (after all, there is a Civ5 now) but it is still very vibrant. I have played quite a few “total conversion” (“TCs”) mods for Civ4 in the past. One was themed after the computer game “Fallout” franchise. Another patterned itself after the “Alpha Centauri” computer game (And feel free to insert your very own, “Hey, isn’t ‘Beyond Earth’ a total conversion mod for Civ5?” joke here).

However, I am now playing the largest Civ4 mod of them all: Caveman2Cosmos.

And it’s big. Very big.

At 2.1 Gigs (yes, gigs), this is, by far, the largest mod I’ve downloaded and installed for any game in quite a while. As an older gamer, I became conditioned early in life to view anything that was measured in gigs as repugnantly titanic in size. Nowadays, though, even slot machine games are beginning to weigh in at that size so I suppose I have to learn to adjust my views accordingly.

Caveman2Cosmos is just that – A mod that starts your civilization, not at the stone age (as a normal Civ4 game would do), but at the dawn of f**king time itself. Yes, your civilization will be digging for roots and gathering sticks long before they accidentally start fires. The invention of the wheel? That’s science-freaking fiction, for crying out loud. You have to play the mod a few hours, at least, before you get that far!

I’m beginning to think that a lot of mod authors take one look at the game that they are modding and then sneer to themselves, “Pussies! Let me show you what a real hardcore game is like!” There’s nothing wrong with a little “Let me show you what I’ve got!” attitude but, to slightly paraphrase an old quote, ‘Don’t tear down a fence until you’ve learned the reason why it was put up in the first place.’

Caveman2Cosmos is a full-bore Civ4 TC; You hardly know that you’re playing Civ4. A few of the mechanics are kept but a lot of them have been changed. Cities are a lot more important now. Workers (in the TC, called “Gatherers”) are “consumed” by their tasks (Why? I have no idea) as opposed to in vanilla Civ4 where they are a reusable unit. Want to build a road? Don’t hold your breath because it takes a freakin’ eternity to do so! The world is also a fairly dangerous place – In this world, a pigeon can kill your gatherers (no joke – It happened to me twice… A pigeon!) and the rest of the animals are far deadlier.

To be fair, you can “turn” a certain percentage of those animals so that they become ad hoc warriors for you. I’ve got domesticated bears, foxes and ostriches roaming around the countryside, keeping the native wildlife in, at least, a little bit of check. Whenever you kill wildlife, some production and food goes back to the nearest city. A form of emergent gameplay that occurs is that you become attached to some of these creatures; A bear that I had domesticated early on is an absolute tank and I’m just waiting for it to gain enough ranks for it to be called “Mega-Bear” or something because it has single-handedly slaughtered enough barbaric wildlife to fill every zoo east of the Mississippi.

The wildlife, though, is so dangerous that being gifted a gatherer by a found tribe is a bitter amusement because, odds are, that gatherer won’t get a few tiles away before they are attacked and killed by some wildlife. Yes, the gatherers are sort of like the drummer from “Spinal Tap”: Always dying when you least want them to. Tile improvements appear to be devalued; You can still perform them but they don’t seem to have the same amount of reward as they once did.

Despite having to start your tribe at the very dawn of time, though, the game goes out of it’s way to keep the gold currency gameplay mechanic in place. Yes, your tribe is still digging for roots but bug gatherers don’t work for free! We haven’t learned how to count on our figures but we’re already playing with the research/gold ratio to keep the cuneiform spreadsheets balanced on every turn.

There’s a lot to nitpick concerning the TC: The voiced quotes when a new tech is researched come across as monotone and, sometimes, recorded poorly (or even not at all). The game has crashed-to-desktop (CTD) at least once on me and loading the mod at all is a testament in patience. Case in point: In the time that it took for the game to go from the desktop to the first turn of a new game with the TC, I was able to make my bed and transition from one set of clothes to the other. No, I don’t have the world’s fastest computer and I’m certainly not blazingly fast with my chores but regular Civ4 games can accomplish all of that long before my hands would have reached for the pillows, never mind the sock drawer.

I suppose that the nicest thing to say about Caveman2Cosmos is that it offers Civ4 players a truly unique gameplay experience within the framework of Civ4. A lot of the graphics are, at the very least, competent and compatible with the style of regular Civ4 graphics. I eventually turned the in-game music off and, here’s a valid point devoid of any snark: If you want your TC to be viewed as the large, end-all-be-all mod-to-end-all-mods that it actually is… Don’t have as your lead song a parody of the Civ4 title song, “Baba Yetu.” Yes, the parody song is cutesy and I’m sure that hardcore, grizzly, manly Civ4 players will smirk more than a few times while listening to the lyrics but your TC is a massive, serious undertaking. For pete’s sake, you start out at 50,000 BC; Have a song that reflects the mature, expansive nature of the mod. Starting off this large, massive Civ4 TC by channeling your inner Weird Al Yankovic is like playing the theme to “2001: A Space Odyssey” with a kazoo. Yes, you can do it but it won’t work. If you don’t take yourself seriously, why should I?

Caveman2Cosmos is a mostly competent and highly involved Civ4 TC mod. Everyone involved with this TC ought to be proud of their effort because it is both massive in scale and depth. I dare say that gamers will likely not see a TC mod of this size and scope ever again from the Civ4 modding community. However, it also falls into the fairly obvious trappings that too much of a good thing is not just great but grotesquely fantastic. Yes, there’s an audience for Caveman2Cosmos out there but, as the old saying goes, “Even drunks eventually leave a bar.”

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