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Millennia review – almost a 4X strategy game for the ages

Make your own world history in C Prompt Games and Paradox's Millennia, an intriguingly refreshing but ultimately flawed 4X strategy game.

Millennia review: a skull wearing a crown sitting in the middle of a desert.

Our Verdict

Millennia is a fresh take on the 4X genre that offers a reactive approach to building your nation throughout history, but a few key issues keep it from greatness.

I never meant to have my peaceful nation of Brazilian builders turn into a fanatical theocracy, intent on uniting the world in worship of their god by whatever means necessary. I never intended to go from everyone’s favorite neighbor to a frothing band of proselytizing zealots, shouting down from floating balloons to convert entire populations to our religion. I didn’t plan for any of that to happen, but in Millennia your plans can and will go awry – often with glorious, and terrible, consequences for you and the world.

Millennia from developer C Prompt Games and publisher Paradox Interactive has a few intriguing takes on the historical 4X genre, but its core idea of breaking away from real-world history in surprising ways is its most appealing. Similar to 4X games like Humankind, your chosen nation will develop and change over time. You aren’t locked into a singular choice made several hundred hours ago; instead, your nation will evolve as the world does, reacting to how you play and the decisions you make.

Millennia review: top-down view of Cardiff during the start of a match.

It does this through its Ages system, which you and the world itself will progress through. These start off fairly linear, but after a few turns you’ll get hints of the complexity lurking beneath Millennia’s Civ-like skin. Each Age has its own criteria to tick off before it can be researched, from having a set amount of discoveries under your wing, building certain units, or simply engaging in enough war. Once an Age has been successfully researched, it’s then locked in for every nation in the game, meaning those first to the gates will heavily influence the shape of the world to come.

For my plucky nation of Brazil, everything changed for me when I created my own religion. This, along with some half-baked planning on my side to deal with the consequences of supping from the religious cup, meant that the world entered the Age of Intolerance. This Crisis Age can be bad, but it was also an age of opportunity for my loyal followers and encouraged crusades to take over the cities of the unbelievers and put heretics to the sword. My Inquisitors soon became known across the land and slowly the world shifted towards the flag of glorious Brazil.

Millennia review: a pop-up message flagging a barbarian attack.

Millennia’s standard Ages reflect the real history of the world, but you can also research a series of ‘what if?’ Ages. What if we discovered a new power source called Aether and took to the skies in Steampunk airships? What if aliens landed and they weren’t exactly friendly? What if we transcended our mortal forms and sublimed into a post-human reality? Successfully navigating some of these Ages will see the world move on, others may see the game end with your nation ascendant. Every Age has its own positives and drawbacks, and with the number of Ages tossed into Millennia, it means no two games will be identical.

That said, the Age system isn’t perfect, and it does mean the start of the game can be a little repetitive after several runs. In other 4X games, the first few turns are the most impactful and set up the shape of the entire game ahead of you, while in Millennia these can become routine with the really meaty choices awaiting you in the mid and late game. One early example would be that it isn’t possible to choose the location of your capital, which can lead to your civilization struggling through no fault of your own. Even selecting your nation can feel quite lightweight, with little to distinguish them from each other in the early game.

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The other area Millennia excels is its economy. Your territory around each city can be exploited for its natural resources, which can in turn be processed and turned into tools, weapons, and even computers. No city stands alone in your civilization, and it becomes essential to trade resources and goods from city to city or even abroad, forming a spider-web of trade goods that are the symbol of a healthy and thriving nation. There are few things as satisfying as getting your civilization working like a well-oiled machine; the flax from one city being fed to another to be turned into paper before being used by your scribes, your economy visibly moving around your nation.

Like everything in a good 4X game, this economy system comes with its opportunities and risks. For example, if barbarians or an enemy nation invades a city that generates much of your essential goods, they can swiftly inflict an economic stranglehold on everything you own by razing the relevant generating tiles. It’s simple to repair these to working condition but only if the enemy moves off the tile in question, meaning you may have to leave the safety of your city walls to engage in open warfare. Sieges suddenly become perilous things, threatening not only one city but your entire nation.

Millennia review: screenshot of the mid-game experience featuring a busy map filled with icons.

Away from the economy and the Ages system, much of Millennia will feel familiar to anyone who’s played a historical 4X before, albeit with a few changes that help it stand apart. One of the ideas I adored was the ability to set reminders on things I had yet to unlock, telling me once I had met the criteria of a power or upgrade I wanted to get my hands on. Millennia also comes complete with an undo button, an absolute essential that saw more use from me than I would comfortably admit to.

Unfortunately, there are a couple of rough edges waiting to take away a little bit of your joy. Combat in particular needs more work. While it’s functional, it comes with Battle Isle-esque animations that play out and show the results of each encounter. These can be useful in highlighting exactly why your spearmen struggled with a palisade, but they are extremely dated in appearance and will surely turn some away.

Millennia review: a pop-up notification detailing the Age of Enlightenment.

Diplomacy, too, feels underbaked. Much of your interaction with other nations comes through a single screen emblazoned with their flag, with very few options to choose from. While special units like Envoys and Merchants can grease wheels with opponents, it’s lightweight compared to other 4X offerings on the market. The game’s AI, however, is competent and never acts illogically, though with a limited ability to treat with them, it’s difficult to divine what they’re thinking.

I also encountered a few bugs and technical issues that marred my experience with Millennia. Worst of all is the game’s performance slowly creaking to a halt on larger maps after a few hundred turns, only returning to a more fluid frame rate once zoomed in. This made it hard to keep an eye on all parts of the world in the late game and took away from some of the more impactful decisions you can make.

Millennia review: screenshot of a city and its various plantations, mills, and farms.

Technical issues and a few thin systems aside, Millennia is a solid entry into the historical 4X pantheon that offers something new away from the Civilization formula. By letting you define your nation through your interactions and putting your choices at the heart of the game, there’s a lot to love about it. If you’ve ever felt that history itself is too restrictive,  or you miss the economic gameplay of classics like Civilization: Call to Power, Millennia might just earn itself a permanent place on your hard drive. With future updates promising full simultaneous multiplayer as opposed to the hotseat options available at launch, I’m cautiously optimistic about where Millennia may be going.