Millennia Review

Millennia Header

Millennia looks takes a different approach to the passage of time and the evolution of civilisations, nations and empires, building its retelling of history around the concept of Ages. That’s far from the only difference to its peers in the 4X strategy genre, but it’s certainly one of the most distinctive, as you explore ‘what if?’ scenarios across 10,000 years of history.

Each game will go through ten ages (unless you push for an early victory age), going from Stone to Bronze and Iron, from The Renaissance to Revolution, and through to a sci-fi future. As the ages go, you’ll gradually be introduced to new concepts, like the need for sanitation, the notion of a Social Fabric, education, and other elements to cater for as you build your cities. However, there’s also the potential to deviate from the known path of history, well before the modern day.

Ages are a kind of flattened out tech tree, and to advance to the next age you need to have researched a certain number of them to move ahead. The first person to reach that point, though, might have a choice. From the Age of Kings, for example, the natural progression is through to the Age of Renaissance, but if the first nation to reach this point is filled with world explorers seeking out wonders of the world, it could be the Age of Discovery instead. If society has folded in on itself with crisis after crisis, it could be the Age of Intolerance, a crisis age that plunges the world into temporary darkness before reverting to a standard age. Certain points will allow runaway leaders to push for an early win, in this case the Age of Conquest for military powerhouses – having early win conditions like this are great.

Millennia Age of Kings Research

It’s an intriguing concept, and each different age shifts the world dynamics and options available to all nations for new units, types of government, and more. Those lagging behind will benefit from a boost to research, so in theory, multiple nations will be able to define the path ahead in time, but at the same time, you’ll have to deal with those issues and consequences without really being prepared for them. It also feels to me like you really need to push and lean into these alternate paths in a way that feels more prescribed than natural – something not helped if you find the AI is racing ahead of you in research speed.

One area that I really like is the way that your settlements, cities and regions gradually grow and sprawl across the map. Starting from your home city, there’s a growth of local influence that gradually sees your territorial borders expand outward, up until they bump into another city’s border – you can establish Outposts to claim land early, before making them into towns as your city expands. There’s always vassals of places you conquer or for regions you settle and decide to let manage itself.

That gives you more and more hexes of the world map to exploit, whether that’s basic land that you want to use for housing, sanitation, manufacturing and other industry, or hexes with resources that you want to more specifically tap into – wheat for flour, grapes for wine, fish for fishing, and the like. Later ages will reveal more and more of these resources to you, and you’ll unlock more buildings to create production lines for goods.

Millennia hex improvements region

This isn’t a case of throwing money at the problem, but rather investing your constantly growing pool of your nation’s Improvement points on them. That sits alongside the per-region production process which can create buildings for within your city, or be directed to produce military units. Hex improvements are generally about producing specific resources, while city buildings are about boosting the more intangible resources that are represented by the Domains.

Domains are concepts that include Government, Exploration, Warfare, Engineering, Diplomacy and Arts, and these gradually unlock through the ages. As you earn points towards each one, you can then spend those points both on general Domain Powers – trigger a revolution to change government type, spawn an explorer unit, reinforce an army – or to feed into the National Spirits. You have four chances to add a National Spirit to your nation, each inspired by history, and these will shape your playthrough with certain key bonuses, units and even special Domain Powers through a dedicated mini tech tree. Choosing the Warrior or Raiders spirits will boost your armies, while Ancient Seafarers give an early game advantage for exploring the seas. Sitting alongside this is Culture, which has much broader uses for expanding and shoring up your nation. They’re incremental boosts, but help with the role playing element, considering that your nation’s name is little more than a label.

While not necessarily the biggest concern for a 4X game, the visuals of Millennia are a clear step or two behind others in the genre. In many areas it’s a competent counterpart to its rivals, and there’s good ways to expose key information like the rate at which hexes are being captures, but there’s also a lot of rougher edges and elements that feel like dated placeholders. Diplomacy as a system is very lacking and simplified, but that’s further emphasised by the lack pizazz in the very plain windows and chunky buttons that it uses.

Millennia combat

The area that comes off worst is the combat. This shows the two armies facing each other on a field of battle, and the back and forth of units attacking, taking damage and the eventual win, loss or stalemate. It is nicely informative and you can see the blow-by-blow at whatever pace suits you, helping you to learn where to put the emphasis on future army building – Line units vs. Ranged, vs. Cavalry, for example – but it also has all the appearance of a late 90s turn-based RPG and the dawn of polygonal graphics. Something more stylised with 2D artwork could have really helped get past the rough presentation here, but you can easily skip past a lot of combat scenes fairly well.

A further annoyance to managing your armies is the veterancy and upgrade process. As your basic units gain veterancy (or even just spawn with it), they can be promoted to be a Leader, adding a tactical bonus to the whole army. Instead of adding an attribute to the existing unit, this can turn your archers into basic melee units, totally changing their role and ditching their bonus against Line units. It’s baffling and means you have sometimes numerous buttons you never, ever want to click for every army. At least you can easily spend your nation’s military XP to upgrade a unit from one Age to the next, giving a big leap in military might from one era to the next.

Millennia Age of Dystopia

What Millennia does do well is keep military stacks relatively constrained. You can’t create 20 unit doom stacks, but are instead limited in army size. This number grows through the ages and unit power ramps up quickly, but you still need to consider the army make up and what you’re going to be doing. Some types definitely feel a bit overpowered – ranged units are very effective, and if you can get catapult and bombardment ships, they can absolutely batter the coastlines and other ships before they can even respond.

Millennia is a 4X game that's bursting with new ideas and ways to tackle the historical strategy genre. I enjoyed how regions grow and sprawl across the map, the management that this provides, and the alt-history ages provide some fun twists on reality, but Millennia also comes up short in some key areas and a number of concepts aren't fully explored. In particular, the aesthetics of the UI and the combat visualisation are very rough, the diplomacy lacking and there's certainly areas that C Prompt can and will hopefully improve.
  • Ages provide an interesting twist on 4X history
  • National Spirits and Domain Powers let you shape your nation
  • Sprawling regions to manage
  • Combat animations look bad
  • Being stuck behind other factions in the Age tech tree race
  • UI is full of rough edges
  • Diplomacy and trade are only lightly explored
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