It’s been five years since the last episode in Sid Meier’s famous turn-based strategy games but now it’s finally here: Civilization V has arrived and I was more than anxious to check it out. After having spent over a year playing Civ IV and its expansion, Warlords, I was really wondering what Sid had cooked up this time and how the game could be improved even more. Let’s find out!
Let’s start with the beginning so that those who have never played a Civilization game (are there any out there?) have an idea of what this is about: you pick a nation with a leader, and start building a civilization with only a couple of men around 4000BC. Set up your first city, start exploring, meet other civilizations, expand in all possible ways and end up being the best of the best. Sounds simple, but it isn’t.
Civilization is like a game of chess, only where chess is three-dimensional (at least, your pieces on the board are), Civ has hundreds of dimensions. You can grow your civilization in just about any way you want, and you can win the game in an almost equal amount of ways. You’re a warmonger? Conquer all opponent’s capitols and you’ll win by domination. You’re peaceful? Just make sure everyone votes for you at the United Nations and you’ve got that diplomatic victory in your pocket. You like researching? Build a spaceship and launch it for a science victory. You’re all about exploring culture? Complete five social policy branches and build the Utopia project for victory! And all this is done step by step.
While Real-Time has been the buzzword for strategy games the last 20 years or so, a game like Civilization needs to be turn-based as there’s so much going on at the same time that it would be impossible to keep a hold of things if everything were to happen in real-time. And although turn-based may sound “boring”, Civilization is so deep and huge that you’ll have trouble stepping away from your computer and not cliking the “next turn” button.
One could almost write a book about all the things you can do in Civilization but I suggest you check out my review of Civilization IV for more background on the general principles of the game so we can continue here with what’s new and changed in the fifth part of the series.
The interface has been reworked quite a bit to streamline the entire game and although it needs some getting used to for Civilization fans, you’ll find it works pretty well. The amount of information has been increased but at the same time you never get the feeling you’re being overwhelmed. You get what you need and if you want to know more, everything is just a click away.
The visual presentation has also improved with nice animations and more focus to detail. One of the biggest changes is the fact that Civ now has a hex-based map instead of squares. This doesn’t really change much to the strategy of the game (although you ARE limited to six instead of eight directions), but it does allow for a more organic feel and look of the map.
One of the things that does change that is the removal of religion and the old government system in exchange for a cultural tree that gives bonuses to certain areas depending on what social policies you implement. A very interesting change that limits the turns of anarchy within your empire and allows for combinations of policies that fit best to your way of playing.
For warmongers the biggest change will no doubt be the addition of ranged units and no longer being able to stack units on the same tile. In previous games it was just a matter of stacking enough units around a city and then perform a full-blown attack to make victory certain but now you’ll have to go at it more tactically. Get ranged units in place a bit further away to lower a city’s defenses after which strong combat units can take over a city with minimal damage. Meanwhile you have to look out for counter-attacks on your offensive forces as cities also have the possibility to do a ranged attack themselves.
Another dimension has been added with the inclusion of city states. They’re a bit like other empires but don’t expand and can be of great help for you. Perform missions for them (destroy barbarian outpost nearby, give resources, …) and they’ll become friends or even allies, giving you whatever they specialise in. Keep them as allies and whenever a hostile empire decides to launch an attack at you, they’ll be ready to fight side by side with you. A nice addition that you can effectively use… or ignore if you want to. Your choice. Their impact is relatively small, but them being there is a nice addition nonetheless and they can help with getting a diplomacy victory as they too have a vote in the United Nations.
For the rest there’s a multitude of small changes that have been made which improve the overall experience. You don’t need specific buildings to make a certain Wonder (no Lighthouse necessary to build the Great Lighthouse for instance), no more need for transport ships as any unit can head into water once you’ve acquired to necessary technology, units have hit points so they don’t necessarily get killed immediately after one attack, the overall AI of cities expansion as well as workers has improved quite a bit, and so on.
Not everything is perfect with Civilization V though. First of all: the system specs. Civilization looks a lot better, yes, but take those minimum specs seriously and I found that they’re a bit over the top for a game like this. Even with my Core2Duo E8400 and GeForce 8800GT, which are quite above the minimum, I could still see tiles being created on my screen. And that’s only at 1280*1024! Why is Civilization suddenly so power-hungry? It’s not like the graphics are thàt awesome!
The AI of the other empires hasn’t really improved. They’re eradic and can attack you at full force, while asking a peace treaty only a few turns later. Also it’s impossible to see how they feel towards you, something that wasn’t a problem with previous versions. You may think this isn’t important, but it is if you’re going for a diplomatic victory. And if it wasn’t: why do the city states show whether they’re friendly, or hostiles towards you?
Other small changes bother me as well: all civilizations seem to start with the same technologies, making your initial choice making only a (small) difference later on. You can now set up research agreements that supposedly have an impact on how fast your research is going (although I didn’t really notice that) but you can’t exchange tech anymore, something that I found to be quite a bummer.
Getting anything other than a time victory seems to have become a lot harder as well. I’ve played the game multiple times already, but focusing on your goal with only a limited number of cities seems to be a sure way to lose. I can be wrong here, but it seems that unless you expand your empire really big (meaning conquest or keeping your borders closed until you’ve occupied all land behind your initial cities) you chances of getting into space or getting a culture victory for instance seems very small.
As we got our review copy in quite late, we’ve had the pleasure to test the game with the first patch already released and I can honestly say I haven’t had the game crash on me once. The only bugs I’ve ran into so far are sound starting to act up after a (long) while and once that I couldn’t bring any space ship parts to my capitol. Other than that I’ve noticed no apparent bugs that hurt the gameplay.
So what is our final verdict on Civilization V? Well, it’s got quite a lot of improvements over version IV, a buttload of small tweaks that make the gameplay experience better and some additions like the city states that add some additional flair. Still we don’t want to give Civilization V a near perfect score as it’s near from perfect. Most of the bugs have disappeared with the first patch, but the system specs are overly high, the AI of other empires is still quite bad, and not all the changes made are for the better.
Still, all in all Civilization V will keep you pressing the “next turn” button until it’s way past midnight and you wonder why it suddenly has become so dark. Addictive like hell, just as always!