I’m not going to explain what kind of game Civilization is. If you don’t know it, all I can say is : ‘Welcome to the planet Earth’. I’m also not going to praise all the wonderful new features that Firaxis put in the game. You can read about those on the Civilization Website or on the countless reviews that worship Civ 3. I’m going to look at the flaws, the backside of the medal.
First of all, the graphics. After Sid Meiers Alpha Centauri (SMAC), which had a 3D landscape, I was expecting a similar 3D world in Civ 3. But no, it’s just a restoration of the Civ 2 graphics, cleaning it up, other layout, new colors.
Next is the new borders system based on culture in Civ 3. This is something we also saw in SMAC, but there the range was full grown from the first second a city was build. Here in Civ 3, the borders have to grow. In the beginning, there is one square radius. As time goes by, your city collects culture point (as a result of building a temple, library, cathedral, etc) and will enlarge the borders. I can understand that in the early days of history, culture was the dominant factor in determining borders, but after inventing writing, mapmaking and some sort of government, those borders were the result of the military power of a nation. Building a new city would instantly give a territory that reflects the power of the entire nation! It is stupid in Civ 3 that when you build a new city, or conquer an enemy city, that the borders will fall back to a one square radius around that city!
I also feel that once a square is claimed by a nation, that square remains to the territory of that nation. First come, first get. So if an other nation builds a new city right next to your borders, then it shouldn’t push the borders back. Only war or a diplomatic agreement can change the owner of a square. But not in Civ 3. But this is of course the legacy of Civ 1 and 2.
Closely related to the territory, is the new feature of resources. I admit that this is one of the few good improvements of Civ 3, but… First problem is the number of available resources. Most problematic is the number of coal. In our real world, coal is widely present, on every continent. In Civ 3, there is 10 times more gold in the world than there is coal. On a huge world, it happens that there are only 3 places where you can find coal! The same goes for iron but not that dramatic. The explanation behind this, according to Firaxis, is to force players to trade. But it reality, it will force players to go to war. Why? Because of the ‘fantastic’ diplomacy.
I don’t know how they programmed the reasoning of the AI, but it’s totally rubbish. First of all, all the AI players overcalculate their military power. I think that the total number of units decides how strong your army is. So 10 prehistoric warriors with an axe are stronger than 1 infantry unit with machine guns! The result of this is that in diplomatic negotiations, the demands from the AI players are always ridicules. If I have a small (compared to the AI player) army, but very up to date, very modern, and I propose to trade silk for wine, the AI player will reject, because he thinks that his larger (but prehistoric) army is stronger. Therefore he demands some sort of invention, or a large amount of gold extra, to trade wine for silk.
Even better. When I’m at war with an AI player, I’m winning, conquering one city after the other, destroying his outdated army, and I’m proposing a peace treaty, the chance exists that the AI player demands some extra gesture (gold, invention,…) before he will accept the peace offer!
And this unlogic behavior of the AI is everywhere. They still continue to build old units, even if they master the technology to build modern units. Probably because they are cheaper to build, and in the calculations to determining the military power, it’s quantity that counts, not quality. The AI also rejects to upgrade older units. So it’s possible that in modern times, and I have tanks, battleships and submarines, the AI is still fighting with warriors, spearmen, swordsmen and knights. Why? Because the AI doesn’t upgrade!
An other problem that is retained from Civ 2, is they way the AI is building cities. First the AI is still building cities with overlapping city radius (3 squares between cities). Next, the AI will continue building city on every square of land he can find. He doesn’t ask himself if that location is interesting or not. No just build, build, build…! This behavior will result in war, because the AI players will look for every square within my territory that isn’t claimed by the culture border system. If you would project those actions on our real world, it would mean that China e.g. would see the vast desert in Australia as land for its new cities. Australia isn’t building cities there, China has a large population and can use some more land, so lets build Chinese cities there. This is of course unrealistic, but it happens in Civ 3.
Next problem are the battles between units. I wonder if they actually changed something compared to Civ 2. O yes, they changed the bombardments by bombers, canons and catapults, but I’m talking about the real basics that determine the outcome of a fight. In Civ 3, it’s still possible that an ancient unit seriously damages, or destroys a modern unit. A spearman that wins the battle from a tank? A catapult that throws rock at a battleship is able to inflict damage? A nuclear submarine that suffers 50% damage when attacking a roman galley? How did the bowmen on that galley damage that nuclear sub? They must have very special arrows that can go 100 m deep in the water and there with their super strong arrowpoint penetrate the titanium hull of the sub! Lets face it, this battle system needs a new engine very urgently.
When the first news arrived that Sid meier was working on Civilization 3, I had high hopes that this would mean an other step forward from SMAC : 3D landscape, customizable units, AI players with each a specific strategy and behavior, improved territory system and so on. But what a disappointment is has become! For me, Civ 3 is just a re-release of Civ 2 with some minor updates. Hell, it should be sold as an add-on and not as a full new game! The only hope I have is the story of Papyrus with Nascar 3 and 4. Nascar 3 was promised to have the GPL engine, very realistic, revolutionary, but turned out to be a polished Nascar 2. But Nascar 4 fulfilled all the promises. I hope that Sid Meier is working on Civilization 4 and that this will be the real sequel, the real successor for Civilization 2, with real improvements and new features