Millennia (Steam Next Fest Demo) Review | Simply Not the Best, Not Yet
Millennia is Paradox Interactive’s newest 4X game and it's free to play for Steam Next Fest. Read on to learn everything we know, our review of its Steam Next Fest demo, and more.
Everything We Know About Millennia
Millennia Story Plot
As a 4X game, Millennia isn’t driven by a specific narrative that the game wants to tell the player. Instead, the player moves the history of their people forward by deciding what they build next, what battles they fight, what technologies they discover, and what negotiations they make with other nations. As with every 4X game, the goal is to be the nation to outlast all the others, although it’s currently unclear from the demo if there are different victory types like in Civilization 6, as not all ages are currently accessible.
As with almost all 4X games, Millennia’s gameplay is defined by the 4 Xs that make up the genre’s name. That is to say that Millennia pretty much follows the "Explore, Expand, Exploit, Exterminate" formula to T. Although it does have its own innovations — we’ll cover those later in the review — the game’s adherence to the genre’s staples makes it easy to pick up and understand, especially for fans of Sid Meier’s Civilization series.
Progression in Millennia is represented by Turns, an indefinite period of time where you can dictate the course of your nation’s history by making decisions. You decide almost every facet of your nation, including the movement of its troops, which battles are fought and where, which research ventures are pursued, which cultural cornerstones are cemented, which cities produce what structures, and so on.
Unlike other 4X games, Millennia has a particular focus on "player authorship", forgoing preset nation passive bonuses for a definite and selectable starting bonus. Millennia also focuses on subdividing an entire playthrough into chunks of turns called Ages, which define how you play as long as it is active. Your playstyle could also be influenced by the game’s "l; Nation Spirit" mechanic, which you can choose halfway through the first age when your strengths and weaknesses have already been established. Combined, these concepts let the player tell the story they want to tell without being swayed to act like or represent a certain country or people.
The demo is limited to 60 in-game turns, which equates to roughly three Ages and one Nation Spirit advancement, although the game does promise way more ages to come with its full release. Victory conditions are disabled for the game’s demo, but the game has promised that a Victory Age to be set by the dominant nation will be available in the final release.
Millennia 1.0 Release Date
Millennia 1.0 will be released sometime in 2024, with no specific date currently announced.
Millennia (Steam Next Fest Demo) Review
Simply Not the Best, Not Yet
You’re going to have to forgive the obvious comparison, but it’s undeniable that Millennia, at least on a surface level, looks like a discounted version of Sid Meier’s Civilization VI. I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all; Civilization VI is an amazing game and, as far as I’m concerned, I’m just playing Civilization 6.5.
I want you to take note of my wording there, however. I said "on a surface level" deliberately because diving deeper into this game — the demo’s 60-turn limit be darned — it has mechanics, features, and pillars to its design philosophy that set it apart not just from Civilization, but from all other 4X games as well. I see the makings of a genre staple coming along, but it’s not quite done yet. Let’s get this golden age started and talk about what makes Millennia a potential game for the ages.
Let’s start with its gameplay, which I’ve covered briefly in the section above. As I said earlier, Millennia has the 4X staples: Explore, Expand, Exploit, and Exterminate. These are represented by the game’s hex-based navigation, city-based territorial management, production chains and tile improvements, and army battle system, respectively. We’ll go over each of these in turn, compare it to what we’ve already seen in the genre, and then discuss how Millennia made it different because, oh boy, did it try to make itself different. Let’s start with the first X, Explore.
Like Civilization VI (Civ 6), Millennia partitions the topography of its map with hexagons in a tessellated grid pattern. It’s not just for looks, though, as almost all of Millennia’s features work off of the basic idea that the world is in a hexagonal grid. The simplest feature to work off of this grid is navigation. Unit movement per turn is measured in hexes. Certain hexes cost more movement than others, as dictated by their terrain and features.
We’ve seen this in many games like Civ 6, HUMANKIND, Age of Wonders, and Galactic Civilizations. Millennia doesn’t innovate here much simply because there’s not much to innovate. It’s the foundation of many mechanics that could innovate further, but the grid itself is a "don’t fix what isn’t broken" situation. I will say that Millennia did make itself different from Civ 6 in one regard: discovering natural wonders. Here, only scouts can do it, and the wonders themselves don’t do unique things, they just give you a lot of Exploration EXP — more on what that is later.
For the next X, Expand, Millennia functions much in the same way as other games as well. You expand by making more cities and spreading your influence over more hex tiles, allowing you to work off of their resources. You can do this by spawning Settlers (which you don’t have to make yourself, by the way) or by integrating vassalized territories and outposts into your nation using diplomats and Government EXP. Vassalized territories are lesser nations that you’ve convinced through diplomacy or war to join your nation as a lesser, unofficial territory. They usually integrate by themselves given time, but diplomacy speeds it along for Colonialists among you.
Cities give way to the concepts of Regions and Towns, which are both too complex to get into now—unless you want to read a full, 3-page essay—but the gist of it is that the game has layers of administrative levels to fiddle with, and that’s what makes it unique.
For the third X, Exploit, we have the meat of the game’s micromanagement and where the game truly opens up. Like in Civ 6, resources are split into hexes depending on their terrain and type. You can exploit these by building tile improvements, which aren’t built by Builder units like in Civ 6. Instead, you gather a strategic resource called "Improvement Points", from your cities and use those instead. As long as you have them, you can improve the tiles, there’s no limit to it per turn. Improving tiles makes them more efficient, allowing more of your citizens to work them and gain more food, production, housing, wealth, and produce. All cool, nothing new. But wait, here’s where Millennia tries to flip the script and make things unique.
Production is almost always simplified at this scale, with resources turning into products and…that’s it. Rarely will you see an actual production chain happening, but that’s exactly what Millennia has and hopes to elaborate on for its final release. Hill tiles with Clay Pit improvements produce Clay, which can be processed into Bricks in a Kiln improvement, and so on. It’s a layer of complexity that Millennia’s devs deliberately added to deliver on their promise of a "deep and interesting economy." It’s not complete at the moment, limited to, at best, a production chain of 3 or so products, but if Paradox does end up making these chains longer, we’re looking at a micromanagement fiesta.
The last X, Exterminate, is the least explored and possibly the most work the devs have to put in to make this game worthy of a full release. It’s painfully simple right now, with a rock-paper-scissors kind of power system going on. Certain units do better against certain units, and the cycle goes in a circle. Scouts move faster, Warbands hit harder; it’s all exactly what you’d expect. Upgrading these units gives them more stats, but that’s about it. I do not doubt that more units will come out on release, but in terms of complexity and thrill in battle, Millennia is coming up extremely short.
That’s not to say that it did nothing to innovate, however, as it did try…something. Battles have live animations, though, as with the rest of the game, it doesn’t look the best right now and is comparable to something from the 1990’s. Ranged units can’t shoot at other hexes and must be part of a fielded army to fight, but they can shoot units behind walls without having to destroy them first, which is nice. Worst of all, though, are the Barbarians, who pose a much larger threat to you than any other nation with their sheer numbers. They have a long way to go here, that is certain.
And that’s all the X’s of Millennia covered, though we still haven’t talked about their biggest innovations: The EXP System (not its actual name) and Nation Spirits. The former is an overhaul of the Civics or Culture tree from other 4X games. This system allows you to accumulate and expend EXP points for specific aspects of your nation to enact powerful abilities that can do anything from replenishing army health to completely reforming your government. These points aren’t so easy to gather, but they can turn the tide of any engagement and act as "cheats" that the AI does not have access to. And like Improvement Points, you can use these EXP abilities as many times as you can afford.
The latter is a proper civic tech tree that incentivizes a play style, though this one doesn’t come up until you’ve established your resources, cities, and capabilities already. This lets you play to your strengths instead of being forced into a playstyle from the get-go. I’ll let you experience what all they are when you try the demo for yourself, but some examples include Mound-Builders for high-population cities and Raiders for an offensive playstyle.
Visually, Millennia doesn’t look the best, though I can reasonably chalk that down to it being a demo. The devs haven’t really talked about its early '90s RTS aesthetics at length, so I’m led to believe that the game’s visuals as they are now are placeholders at worst. I do like the art accompanying each era, however. There’s just something about oil paintings that seems indelibly human and strangely appropriate for a game where you rewrite human history.
Audio-wise, the game is nothing to write home about. As with the visuals, I’ll chalk it up to the game’s current status as a demo. I have high hopes, though. Paradox Interactive is no slouch when it comes to 4X games, if Stellaris is any indication, although they have had a few foul balls (Cities: Skylines 2 comes to mind). They’ve never struck out with music and I don’t think they’ll start here.
That’s about it for Millennia. There are a lot of moving parts here—far more than I can cover—but the biggest ones are all remixed versions of genre staples. This game has the potential to be a great addition to the 4X genre upon release, but far more work has to be done before it's ready. More bells and whistles need to be added, but the proof of concept is there. I just wish I had an End Turn Button so I could speed up the rest of the game’s development. I guess I’ll have to wait for the natural progression of time, like everybody else.