Review: Civilization 5
Civilization 5 is the newest installment to arguably one of the best turn-based strategy franchise's for PC gamers. Civ 4 is one of those games that usually ended up getting installed on every PC I own, so naturally Civ 5 has some pretty big shoes to fill as one of the flagship games of it's genre. What I want to do here today is give my take on Civ 5 in terms of how it stacks up against its predecessor. I use the term review loosely here because to cover all of what a Civ game offers would take far more words and time than I could ever write or you would want to read.
One of the first differences you will notice in this installment is a substantial increase to the games graphics. Civ 5 is a visually stunning game and as such you can expect that the system requirements to run it are substantially higher than Civ 4. If your gaming PC is a toaster, you may find yourself having to compromise in certain areas as the recommended system is around 4 Gigs of Ram, a quad-core processor, and a Nvidia 9800 or equivalent video card. Aside from the new and improved graphics, you'll find a nicely composed and appropriate ambient soundtrack as you try to take your empire through the ages.
The interface also has undergone some changes and now has a more much simplified look and feel to it. You won't find yourself forced to look at information every turn that is not needed that turn. The long list going down the side of the screen listing all the civs and their score has been tucked away into an easy to access menu, and overall a lot of the clutter seems to have been removed allowing you to see more of the field. Make no mistake though, despite the simplified look the game still has all of the depth and intricacies that you would expect from a Sid Meier game.
The biggest change Civ 5 brings (aside from the complete removal of religion) is the shift from tiles being squares into a hex tile layout. In itself this might not seem like a big deal, but combined with the fact that Civ 5 allows only 1 combat unit to be on a hex at a time, the way combat is fought is drastically different from the previous games. Gone are the massive "death stacks" of dozens of units on a single tile that steamroll around the map, and with the new limitation combat has become massively more tactical in nature and overall more enjoyable.
Along with this change, many of Civ 5's military units and cities themselves are capable of firing ranged attacks from 2 or more tiles away from enemy targets. This makes combat unit placement on the field critical in order to make sure your range units can launch volley's over front line ground troops. Cities no longer need to have a combat unit garrisoned inside in order to defend from attackers. In addition to the standard ranged defenses, cities now come with a life bar that needs to be depleted in order to capture them. This is particularly useful in the early game where barbarians seem to be very menacing.
That's right, the barbarians are back in full swing, and this time they seem to be a problem much sooner than they would in the previous game. It is not unusual for barbarians to set up base camps and launch attacks on your fledgling empire very early in the game. The new city defense mechanism does make this more manageable since you can attack incoming barbarians with your city defenses even if all of your units are destroyed or somewhere else. One final interesting change is that in previous games, a barbarian getting their hands on one of your workers or settlers in the early game would often times be catastrophic, but in Civ 5 the workers are taken hostage and slowly escorted back to the closest barbarian base camp. Players then are able to rescue their workers by tracking down and killing the barbarians or their settlements, but rest assure that more settlements can and will pop up at any time well past the stone age eras. As the game progresses into later eras, don't be surprised to see barbarians using some more advanced weapons like gunpowder.
Speaking of outside influences, one of Civ 5's big new features is the addition of City States which are basically NPC controlled single city empires that interact with the player in a variety of ways separately from the other civs. City states each have their own personality types, and like the big civs, they are capable of forming alliances and declaring war against other city states and players. By interacting with them in a variety of ways, players are able to build up reputation or lose it by doing various acts. Depending on your reputation level, you may find a city state becoming a valuable contributor of resource and military units, or an enemy whose units will attack you. Wiping out city states can give you a bad reputation among the other states and you may soon find them all galvanized against you.
Diplomacy seems to have undergone some changes as well. The new diplomacy view is now a full-screen view with an animated world leader who speaks his native language (with subtitles). All of the usual diplomatic options are there with a few changes. Leaders are able to enter into secret agreements to conspire against other leaders, but on the flip-side they seemed to have removed technology trading. The technology trading mechanic being removed is probably for the best in my opinion because it was often abused in multiplayer games where people would feed raw techs to another player to slingshot them way ahead of where they should be. One gripe I do have in the diplomacy department is the absence of the window showing you how all of the Civ's feel towards each other. It can become very confusing trying to understand not only how the various other players feel towards each other, but which civs are allied with which city states.
Culture and the role it plays has undergone a revamp. In Civ 4 the primary use for culture was to use it as a mechanism to expand the borders of your empire. Cities used to level up after earning enough culture points and expand out in every direction by 1 square. Civ 5 does not use culture as the only mechanism to define and expand your borders, instead extra tiles can be purchased with gold. This gives more freedom to the player to decide how and when their borders will expand, and it also makes it a lot easier to secure a specific resource that might be a square or so outside your initial border. Instead of waiting for the border to expand or being forced to build a new city, you can simply purchase the plot of land. This also gives a lot of flexibility to the player for picking the exact tile of placing your settler, something that was absolutely critical to success in Civ 4.
The second major role that culture plays is for purchasing policies. Policies are basically a new system that replaces the old "Civics" in the previous games that helped to define your government type. Your civilization as a whole has sort of an experience point bar for overall culture. When you level up in this area, you are awarded a skill point of sorts that is yours to spend to unlock and spend in a variety of policy trees that target a wide variety of areas of the game. Each of the different policy areas focuses on giving bonuses to such thing as military growth, civ expansion, culture, happiness, research, production, etc. These in turn unlock a variety of bonuses to enhance these aspects. Once these points are spent you can not get them back and some of the various policy areas can only be unlocked if various conditions are met, such as being in a certain era or not being invested into certain other policy trees.
The Civ 5 multiplayer experience runs off the Steam service which some people may or may not like, but personally I see this as a step forward from the Gamespy system used by Civ 4. Overall the multiplayer game is everything you would expect it to be, but there are a few areas of the current version of it that I have to take issue with. The most glaringly obvious issue is the lack of a SAVE button for multiplayer. You can save your game via the game's autosaving feature which can be configured to save at the interval of your choosing, however I see no reason why you shouldn't be able to do a standard save especially when this was present in Civ 4. Another gripe is the fact that in multiplayer games there are no animations for combat. While I can understand a possible argument that maybe there are performance issues, it would be nice to allow players to decide for themselves. My final beef is that when creating a multiplayer game, there seems to be far less flexibility in customizing the specifics of the game than found in singleplayer. As an example, the number of players allowed is based on the map size, but if you prefer to have a lot of civs jammed into a smaller map the game does not allow more civs unless you select a larger world. Hopefully there will be patches that will address these issues, and while they don't ruin the multiplayer, I just find it annoying that the previous game had these features.
Overall Civilization 5 is a flagship turn-based strategy game that I'd recommend to any PC gamer. It offers all of the same addictive gameplay that fans have come to know and love over the years and advances the series for the better with a lot of the changes to the formula. Like previous installments, Civ 5 has absolutely tremendous replay value and staying power that make it an excellent purchase. Be prepared to lose a lot of sleep playing this game as hours feel like minutes as you keep hammering that button to see what happens next...
Co-Leader of Inquisition