Skip to main content

Millennia has me hooked already with its Steam Next Fest demo

I have “one more turn” syndrome, but there’s a strict turn limit
  • Author:
  • Publish date:

One of my favorite games from gamescom 2023, Millennia, is a classic 4X turn-based strategy title that is currently taking part in Steam Next Fest with a playable demo.

On a mechanical level, there is a lot that differentiates it from the genre-defining Civilization, such as the introduction of production chains or of several points-based powers that can shape the fate of your people based on your playstyle. There are also Variant Ages that can occur due to certain conditions being fulfilled – if you’re really bloodthirsty in the early game, the Age of Iron may instead become the Age of Blood, while many discoveries of landmarks may lead to an Age of Heroes. Each of these has different consequences for the world, mixing up the rules of the game. For example, in the Age of Heroes everyone gets a special hero unit that can fulfill quests on the map, potentially unlocking the powerful Parthenon building, while in the Age of Blood war between all nations is automatically declared – Khorne likes this one, I’m sure.

Millennia screenshot showing a town.

Meet Sun Wukong, the famous German hero.

This leads to a lot more variety, but makes for interesting decisions as well. See, the nation entering the next highest age first decides that next age for everyone – so if you’ve fulfilled the conditions for a specific epoch and want to impose that on everyone, you’ll have to beeline towards it before someone else manages to reach a different age and derails your strategy. This means leaving some potentially important technologies on the sideline for the moment in favor of concentrating your research on advancing to the next age as fast as possible. It adds some thrill to that technology race and actually gives an incentive to deviate from a standard path set by the almighty meta.

Based on your actions and buildings, you also gain points in several categories, such as military, exploration, and government, which you can use for several purposes. Government points are needed to level up your current government (duh!), unlocking additional benefits and abilities, but they’re also required to spawn new settlers and expand your realm. Military points can be used to promote units, but also to instantly spawn armies at vulnerable towns in times of need. As you advance through the ages, you can add National Spirits based on these categories, which allow you to invest the generated points in even more bonuses and abilities. Again, this massively changes the way you play based on the current circumstances, leading to more variety. It’s essentially C Prompt Games’ take on Humankind’s culture change, but executed a lot better. That said, I'd love to see the nations being more different from each other. For example, I haven't seen a single unique unit or building yet.

Millennia screenshot showing the Olympic Games.

The Olympian National Spirit enables you to hold athletic competitions.

Production chains are another game changer. While you still improve your territory with woodcutters, quarries, farms, and so on, these form the backbone of a healthy economy. Building a sawmill on a city’s territory allows it to transform logs into planks, which are much more efficient at generating production for the city. Likewise, wheat from farms can be ground into flour by a mill, providing much more food than the raw resource. There are even ways to send resources and products from city to city, allowing you to build a complex economy inside your realm. This is a really cool element that no other game of the genre (aside from the also upcoming Ara: History Untold) delivers. It’s such a strong concept, I’m surprised we haven’t seen a prominent genre representative including it in the past.

Millennia screenshot showing a town's production.

This very practical screen shows which tiles are being worked and which resource are being produced.

That said, the limit of 60 turns present in the demo cuts the game short just when most of these differentiating mechanics really start coming into play, giving us just a taste of how different this game is going to be. It takes just enough from Civilization and Amplitude’s genre representatives to feel familiar and then adds lots of its own ideas in there, that much is apparent. It’s promising.

What stuck out on the negative side to me were the UI and overall visuals. Important information like the amount of improvement points you have is hidden away as a tiny number in the bottom left corner of the screen. Instead, useless information like which year it currently is flashes over the screen in chonky letters every turn. Tooltips could also be more informative and I really need them to be nested.

Millennia demo screenshot of the combat screen.

This screen isn't very pretty and feels a bit clunky.

Though the display of battles in their own little screen showing the units going up against each other is useful mechanically, as this enables you to learn how the order of battle works in this game, it’s not exactly eye candy – like much else in the game. I’m a “mechanics over looks” kind of guy, so it doesn’t bother me too much personally, but most of the criticism I’ve seen leveled against Millennia so far has been regarding the graphics – to be more broadly appealing, it obviously needs to look good on top of feeling great to play.

And boy, the latter is definitely the case for me – I can’t stop starting new games and trying different things. Let them cook!