Civilization V Review

If I ruled the world, you’d all be marching in time.

Little late with this one, but it’s not like I’m even pretending I’ve got a regular update schedule, so who cares?

To say that I’m a fan of the Civ series is like saying that John Romero is an idiot; it’s fairly obvious. I’ve played the entire direct series and some of the spin-offs, though only the line from the first game until now should ever really count. We can forget that some of the others ever happened. Unlike some franchises which seem to consider a year lost if they don’t churn out another game, the Civilization line gets an update every couple of years with periods of apparent silence in between. This has worked out extremely well, as each new game brings with it additions and subtractions which end up making each game different, and in some cases better, than its predecessor. Civ4 for example eliminated a number of stats and annoying resource problems which was causing the game to get bogged down. So what does Civ5 do? Well, read on.

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Hex grids – The wargamer’s choice (or so they tell me).

First and foremost I want to talk about the tutorial. I’m not new to the Civ games but I’m new to Civ V, so I expected to find a tutorial that would bring me up to speed without telling me how to move units. There’s a mode called “Play as You Learn” which seemed like it’d fit the bill for me. Unlike a hand-holding tutorial, all this mode really does is let you play a full game, albeit on a small map and on an easy difficulty, with advice levels set to max. It’ll tell you about important events, it’ll provide plenty of advice, and it’ll provide links to the in-game help system (which is extensive) if you want more information. In all it’s a fantastic introduction to the game. The old hand-holding tutorials are there if you want them, but I’d skip them and just get to work on the full thing.

The game has changed a fair bit since Civ4, so I’ll just briefly outline the changes and gameplay, otherwise we’ll be here for ages. The first and most fundamental change is the hexagonal grid that units move on. The Civ games have always used a square grid, so this is a pretty big change, and it also removes one of the fundamental movement rules that go with a square board; diagonal gets more distance. It will prompt you to rethink some of the old Civ strategies. In addition to this, combat rules have changed slightly. Although the stats are still simplified as per Civ4, the distinction between ranged and melee units is now far more important. Melee units actually attack with range; they can fire from a few tiles away with various degrees of effectiveness. This means that army positioning is actually important for melee units, because they have a severe penalty when fighting a melee unit. It’s a great change which clearly gives melee units a clearly defined purpose as opposed to just tacking some different stats onto them.

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This asshole knows his time is coming…

The next biggest change is that military units don’t stack on tiles (with the exception of Great Generals, which are retained from Civ4’s expansions). The old strategy of building a mass of units and moving in a diagonal line doesn’t work so well anymore. This also means that you don’t have like 8 archers fortifying a single city; only one unit can fortify a city, and all they really do is add to the city’s defensive stat. Instead cities actually attack units themselves, so even an ungarrisoned city can still defend itself. Cities have a ranged attack which is fairly ineffective on its own, as well as melee combat attacks. Cities have hit points, just like units, and when reduced to 0, you can capture it. Combat itself is actually a bit different from the previous games; unlike in Civ4 where withdrawing was a promotion, all units in Civ5 have a chance to withdraw. This makes battles a bit more interesting as opposed to just someone wins, someone loses. As with Civ4 you get an indicator of how likely you are to succeed in the battle, but it’s expanded a fair bit to be more informative; it gives you a breakdown of all the bonuses each side gets, as well as penalties, and how much health each unit us likely to end up with at the end of the battle.

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For all your fascist needs, consider Autocracy.

Okay let’s stop talking about that for a bit and move on to civics. Cities function much the same as they always have; each city produces food, production, science, gold, and culture. Food increases or maintains the population, and if it goes into deficit, the population starves and drops. Production is used to make stuff. Science production determines how long scientific advancement takes. Culture and gold work slightly differently this time around though, but we’ll get to that. Setting civilians to work is easy and there are plenty of buttons to order the game to maximise returns in any of the resources, as well as a handy check button to avoid growth, great for cities that are getting too large. As with other games your various advisors (military, foreign, dometic and scientific) give you advice on what you build. Pretty standard stuff.

Gold is more important this time around. Your cities have a number of tiles around them which the civilians can work, but this radius expands quite slowly. To speed things along, you can spend gold to buy tiles to quickly get access to important resources or pieces of terrain; resources only count if they’re within your borders and have an improvement on them from a Worker unit. Gold can also be used to purchase units outside of the build queue; previously you had to buy whatever was at the top of the list, but now you can rush production of something while something else is building, which is great if you desperately need a military unit but you’re 5 turns away from building Walls or something. It also has expanded use in diplomacy, as we’ll discuss soon.

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Terrain affects combat bonuses and penalties. Incidentally, these Brutes are about to take a beating, the annoying little bastards.

Culture is also more important this time around. Apart from simply expanding your borders, it fuels the new Social Policies system, which replaces the old Government and Religion systems. Religion is completely absent from Civ5 but there is a social policy tree for a pious nation, if you’re desperate to have a religiously fanatical civilisation. Social policies are purchased using culture points. There are 10 different branches, each with their own tree of policies. Policies work more or less like the old government choices, but are more flexible; they may add to production bonuses, or improve military power, or provide other bonuses. You can take policies from multiple branches, but some branches cannot be used while another is in use. For example, you can’t have a pious nation that also uses the Rationalism tree (which is all about science). Initially policies are fairly cheap, but the price increases with each acquisition. Additionally, the larger your civilisation is, the more expensive the policy changes are. This essentially gives smaller civs the power to remain competitive, and given that unhappiness is now a nation-wide event, larger civs are not always superior to smaller ones. Finally, after fulfilling enough branches, you can unlock a Cultural Victory.

The other major change is the introduction of city states. These are minor, independent nations consisting of a single city. They do not compete with you for victory conditions, but they do provide plenty of room for interactions. Your first option is to simply take over their city. Your second option is to befriend them, giving you access to bonuses (typically resources or culture, but sometimes military units) so long as you maintain the relationship. If they hate you, they might become a pain in the ass, going to war with you. Wipe out enough city states and every city state will be at war with you indefinitely; there’s no peace deal possible. Your other option is to simply ignore them. City states do however get to vote in the United Nations, which is essential for a diplomatic victory.

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Sycophantic advisors make a reappearance, appraising my tactical genius and ignoring actual battle statistics.

Cities of any type can be either destroyed, annexed, or made a puppet. Destroying the city simply burns it off the map. This avoids some unhappiness associated with annexing a city, but it causes severe diplomatic problems. Annexing a city makes it part of your empire, but it causes a major negative hit to unhappiness in your empire. After capturing it, to get it to do anything you’ll need to resolve the unhappiness problem straight away. If you annex too many too quickly, your entire civ can grind to a halt. When you make a city a puppet, you gain the benefit of the rearch it provides as well as its wealth, but you don’t control production or citizen allocation. On the plus side though you take much smaller hit to happiness. If you ever get lost about what you should be doing, the advisors generally provide you with an adequate overview of what’s going on and what you might want to consider doing.

There are other gameplay changes but I can’t possibly describe each one in depth here. If you’re that interested you can play the demo, or check out the game’s manual. I won’t talk about multiplayer mode yet, because I haven’t had the chance to play it.

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Apparently, like Belgarath the Sorcerer, these guys live practically forever as well; they never change their clothes either.

Graphically the game has received an upgrade; it’s not quite as cartoony as Civ4 was. The game supports DX9, 10 and 11, and the game world looks pretty good. Performance was fantastic on my rig in DX11 mode, though I’ve got a high end machine so I wouldn’t take that as a recommendation. Sometimes turns have a long waiting period but it’s not quite as bad as Civ4. Sounds are adequate; Captain Piccard doesn’t voice the research discoveries, but the voice acting is adequate. Leaders speak in what I assume is their native langugae (some of them I wouldn’t know from a bar of soap). Music is adequate; not memorable but not bad either.

The AI is… well, I’d say it’s adequate. It’s by no means fantastic (none of the Civ games have had fantastic AI) but it’s somewhat entertaining. It does make a number of stupid decisions at times though, and the difficulty from it relies more on artificial bonuses than making smart decisions. This is a bit of a problem given that we should be moving away from that kind of gameplay and towards AI that are good because they make good decisions, not because they have an economic bonus that allows them to make up for poor decision making.

Alright, time for the TL;DR summary! And let’s face it, you’re going to skip down here first anyway.

GRAPHICS: Good.

While there’s nothing stunning here, the game does look pretty good. There’s also a simplifed hex-grid thing if you’re into that kind of thing, but personally I like the 3D representations better. Performance was great.

SOUND: Pass.

Nothing particularly special, but nothing downright bad either. Exactly what you’d expect from a game like Civ5.

GAMEPLAY: Excellent.

The changes are numerous; some are big, others are small. In either event though it’s an extremely well-crafted experience which can easily keep you entertained for hours. It’s addictive, it’s well explained, and it can be tailored to your own tastes. The AI needs improvement but otherwise it’s fantastic.

LIFESPAN: Excellent.

You can play for days on a single game, and when you tire of that, you can set up another one and go again. Also if Civ4 is anything to go by, there’s going to be a legion of mods out there for you to enjoy.

OVERALL: Excellent.

The Civilization series is one of the few out there that defies logic. Each iteration manages to appear to improve on the last one, even if features are removed. Frankly it seems like the series can do no wrong. The Civ games are always epic in scope and this one is no exception. It’s just a fantastic game. With fantastic gameplay and a lifespan to outlast religion (well, maybe not, but we can hope), it’ll keep you entertained until Civ 6 arrives.

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