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DLC Review: Polynesia Civilization and Scenario Pack for Civilization V
by Greg Mengel

We also reviewed Civilization V as a standalone game.

E komo mai, travelers. E noho mai, e 'ai a e, wala'au.

Lay down a towel, mix up a fruity drink in a coconut shell, and take in the crashing waves, orange and blue sunset, and warm ocean breeze with all your senses, friend. Now that your soul is a rainbow of peace, let's talk about the new Polynesia DLC for Civilization V, from Firaxis Games.

Ancient Hawaii may have been paradise. Bananas, pork, coconuts, sweet potatoes, white beaches, crystal seas, clear weather, tropical rainforests, exotic animals, and living room aplenty. Colonised by Polynesian settlers as early as 300 AD, it eventually became one of the largest, most unified bastions of Polynesian culture in the Pacific.

In their latest DLC pack for Civilization V, Firaxis give players the chance to step into the shoes of Hawaii's most famous leader, King Kamehameha the Great, as they cultivate a Polynesian empire that ends not with colonisation by larger powers (as actually occurred), but with a cultural, diplomatic, military, or scientific victory that heralds Polynesia as the greatest and most dominant culture ever to populate the known world.

But has Firaxis done Polynesian culture justice? Let's examine.

King Kamehameha the Great. You could crush a coconut on those abs.

To create a playable civilisation from what was historically a vast, scattered collection of Polynesian tribes dotting the Pacific, Firaxis had to get a little creative. Whilst its leader (Kamehameha the Great) and capital city (Honolulu) represent the Kingdom of Hawaii, the new Polynesian civilisation's unique unit (Maori Warrior, from New Zealand), and unique building (Moai, from Easter Island), originate in locations thousands of miles away from Hawaii. These guys got everywhere; I would only be half-surprised if we found Moai statues on Mars.

The glue that binds the playable Polynesian civilisation together is its unique ability, Wayfinding, an amazing and mysterious form of navigation by which Polynesian explorers supposedly used not compass, but epic song, to chart their progress during long journeys at sea.

As a playable civilisation, Polynesia offers some substantial perks in Civilization V, the most valuable being that Wayfinding allows their land units to embark over water from the start of a game. In an archipelago map set at a marathon pace, a player using Kamehameha can obtain a huge advantage over his or her rivals by using Maori Warriors (which are also available at the beginning of a game) to clear out barbarians and colonise a gigantic ancient seafaring empire. While opponents are stuck on their lonely islands of origin until they discover sailing, Kamehameha can carve out an impressive foothold, beating opponents to key strategic and luxury resources that can turn the tide of a game.

Another helpful trait Polynesia boasts is its ability to order workers to build Moai, which boost the cultural output of what might otherwise be a useless desert square. For players aiming at a cultural victory, a "great wall of Moai" can prove extremely invaluable. The Polynesians are excellent cultural explorers, and may be the game's best option for players hoping to follow the Liberty or Commerce social policy tracks.

Those who download Civilization V's Polynesia map pack will receive not only the playable Polynesia civilisation, but also a scenario, Paradise Found, in which you play as one of four Polynesian leaders as they strive to become the dominate culture of early Polynesia. If you play the scenario on a map of the South Pacific (it is also available on random archipelago map types), you can gain achievements for discovering and colonising famous locations like New Zealand, Australia, Hawaii, and Easter Island.

I found two problems with Paradise Found. The first is that the scenario is far too easy; all a player has to do is focus completely on culture in order to win. Build temples and Moai, churn out scouts and settlers, stir for a few hundred turns, rinse and repeat. My second issue ties into a general problem I have with scenarios made after Civilization II. Paradise Found is nowhere near as exciting or interactive as it could have been with more events, bonuses for exploration, or historical quirks made available by creative scripting. Offering achievements for discovering recognisable geographic locations is a good start... but I want more.

Instead of a lonely text bubble noting that Captain Cook has suddenly shown up and left your territory, changing the fundamental way your culture lives, eats and thinks without so much as a wave hello, for example, I'd like to actually see his ship, and be able to attack it for more treasure and technology [1]. By the same token, I'd love to start the game earlier in history and have some interaction with the supposed Chinese junk fleet discussed in Gavin Menzies' 1421.

New Zealand. Where Maori Polynesians first met their hated, ancient enemy: the sheep.

When I invade New Zealand, I'd like some scripting telling me how the Maori culture of its inhabitants mingling themselves into my empire gives my civilisation (or at least the cities I found in Kiwi territory) a culture or trade bonus. The same goes for Hawaii, Easter Island, and Australia. Perhaps the first culture to discover these areas could receive a scripted message that their exploits have led to the writing of a great epic song that is worked into the empire's Wayfinding tradition, giving a bonus to water travel for all naval units for the remainder of the game.

Once your Polynesian tribe enters the nineteenth century, add a side-quest to find and wipe out Bully Hayes, the famous South Pacific pirate, in exchange for technology, or maybe a powerful exploratory naval unit in the form of the Leonora, his legendary ship. Or just add some basic civilisation contact with the French, the Americans, the Japanese, the Germans, and the Dutch, all of whom were extremely active in the area by the early-to-mid 1800s, in part due to their growing needs for one of its most valuable natural resources: oil. Without even some basic scripting along these lines, Paradise Found ends up feeling bland and uninspired.

For its addition of the Polynesian civilisation in regular games, I give Firaxis all the positive attention it deserves. For the mediocre nature of the Paradise Found scenario, I have little praise to offer.

If you ever read this, Firaxis, I offer one final word of advice. The next time you make a scenario, go to a used game shop, find Civilization II: Multiplayer Gold Edition, load up the scenarios, and immerse yourselves in the scripting of Midgard, X-COM, Atlantis, and The World of Jules Verne. If you can combine the unique flavour of those scenarios with the terrific graphics and gameplay of Civilization V, then you'll have the makings of amazing, must-buy DLC.

Kipi hou mai, travellers. Mahalo.

6/10 [?]

[1] The man was killed in Polynesian Hawaii, for gods' sake. And we know that the Polynesians had lots of strange, spiritual perceptions of Cook that could be tapped into with some creative, theatrical scripting or voice. [^]

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- Greg Mengel

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