Civilization V: Hands On


By: Conrad Reyners    On: PC
Published: Friday 6 Aug 2010 4:00 AM
 
 
 
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Hi everyone, my name is Conrad, and I’m a Civilization addict.

My road to self-realisation has been hard. I’ve tried everything to keep my addiction a secret. I launched myself into the Total War Series; I waited with bated breath for Command and Conquer; hell, I even tried World of Warcraft to make my cravings subside. But nothing’s worked. The power of the Civilization series and its epic mix of politics, intrigue, turn-based strategy and megalomania have always had me coming back for more. And more... and more.

There’s a certain type of gamer who fits the Civilization addict mold. They usually hide secret plans of world domination, would backstab you as soon as look at you, hold an un-natural preoccupation with city development, and are always looking for a practical use for their political science degrees. For many, the series has grown up beside them; older Civ addicts will remember hungrily devouring its first iteration all the way back in 1991. Younger fans are probably still booting up 2005’s Civilization IV (one of the most acclaimed games of its year – and easily one of the best turn-based strategy experiences ever made) in order to get their fill of empire building, ruling or ruining.

So, there is a heap load of expectation for Civilization V and what it is going to bring to the table. It doesn’t just have giant shoes to fill; it also needs to sate the desires and addictive tendencies for a generation of hardcore strategy gamers.

It’s been five years since Firaxis and 2K Games last had a chance to present us with a new take on the franchise. They updated the look, feel and gameplay of the Civ universe, bringing the series into line with recent developments in computer hardware. But in the exponential world of computer game development, five years is a long, long time. And the first thing that is instantly apparent in Civilization V is the work that’s been done in dragging the title into the modern world of advanced and powerful graphics. Real attention has been given to ensuring that Civilization V makes full use of dynamic lighting, the latest in Direct X technology and the latent potential of next-gen video cards.

Simply put, the title is looking gorgeous. For a game like Civ, which invites you to make the world your b*tch, the world itself is an important character. In earlier versions the world-map was fairly static. You had your obvious geo-political elements, like mountain ranges, rivers and seas – but the maps resembled, well... maps. Even Civilization IV couldn’t get away from the gameboard-esque feel with its level design. This is no longer the case. The worlds are now artfully rendered, and those of you who are lucky enough to have rigs that can pump out the highest level textures are really in for an immersive treat. Coastlines, rivers, forests and plains not only look the part, but they feel the part as well. For example, sail your workboat out to catch fish and if you’re lucky you will see seabirds circling around it as it makes its way back to port. Now, you might be thinking seabirds and fish? It that it? And fair enough; but remember that this is a game that is played on the global scale. You can zoom out to the planetary level if you want to. With that in mind, rendering birds over boats is pretty remarkable. Not even google maps can do that (yet). But if you don’t have time for subtlety, maybe the inclusion of new natural wonders – such as Mount Everest, or the Barringer Crater – will whet your appetite for cool graphical features.

In addition to the impressive attention to graphical detail the game’s menus and windows have undergone an art-deco makeover. Icons, sliders, advisors and info screens are all presented with Frank Lloyd Wright flair. At first look, the new design does seem a bit cartoony, and Civ fans that are more used to the traditional grand design of earlier titles will need to take a little time to adjust. But there is a method to the madness. The 1930’s art deco style was developed during a time of artistic optimism and hope for the future. It’s a clever choice for an instalment that attempts to modernise the series. Well I’ll be damned, intertextuality in a video game. How do you like 'dem apples, Ebert?

But the visuals aren’t the only things to get a makeover. There have also been a number of critical changes to Civilization’s gameplay. The first and most important is the way your empires are now managed has slightly changed. In older versions cities were important – in Civilization V they are your paramount concern. Worker improvements are more closely linked to cities, and your workers will automatically focus on developing them rather than your empire as a whole. The result of this is cities that develop quickly and become more important as hubs of technology, war and culture. They look nice as well; as they grow they sprawl out over the map – giving a more accurate representation of their strength. Some hardcore players will notice that the city management menu has been simplified. However, this doesn’t really reduce from the complexity of good city management. Figuring out how best to develop your regional economies is still intricate, and the strategic significance of cities that are designed to produce different things is retained. What has been introduced is the role of finance within city management. Now, you can expand your cities borders not just by increasing its population, but also by buying tiles around it. They are expensive little things – but when control of a uranium outcrop is just one too many turns away, the ability to buff your borders with cash quickly becomes a game changer. In addition, the ability to use your treasury’s riches to hurry production, or even buy buildings (and wonders) outright, has been made easier.

The list of buildings and units that your cities can construct has been expanded, as has the amount of wonders. As a result, the frequency of great people that your cities can produce has also increased. In an interesting change from Civ IV, it only takes one great person to start a golden age, which means that players who are obsessed with constructing wonders can expect to get quite a few economic boosts from time to time.

At the global level, cities are also important politically. Of course, the classic role of settlers remains unchanged – they remain the cornerstone of empire expansion. In fact if you love getting cities up and running early, you can now assign military units to “escort” settlers to keep them safe from harm. If your more warlike you can now assault and conquer city-states; reasonably large cities with their own sovereign identity that pepper the map. City-states are not autonomous Civilizations and so aren’t going to go to war with you – but you can ally with them, convince them to attack other Civilizations or city states, complete tasks for them, or bring them to their knees under the might of your imperial forces. Once conquered, they can either be kept on as vassal’s (meaning you have no control of their production) or assimilated in their entirety into your empire. If you choose the latter, be prepared to put down some annoying rebellions. No one likes a smug invader.

At the meta-level, the inter-civilization AI is pretty on to it. When you’re puppy stomping your weakest neighbour they will band up against you. When your power is relatively even they are much more likely to get all up in your sh*t. But once it becomes known that you’ve got nuclear warheads building in all your border cities, the AI is pretty quick to offer you some sweet trade deals in order to solidify your long standing and loyal relationship of mutual trust and peace. Thankfully, the slightly frustrating squabbles over religion that we saw in Civ IV have gone. Instead, be prepared to play Civs off each other via city-state politics and trade deals.

Behind all your diplomatic manoeuvring is some solid coding. The AI operates on four levels, the tactical unit level, the war level, the empire level and finally the grand long-term strategic level. So if Montezuma is pulling out his troops, backing down, and offering to swap horses for iron, keep a close eye on him. It’s probably just the first stage in his dastardly one thousand year effort to put your head on a stick.

To prevent destruction you’re going to need some forces of your own, and the only way you’re going to achieve that is with a productive, happy civilization. Unhappiness, the bane of my Civilization experience is back with avengeance. This is probably because I’m a bit of a warmongering totalitarian (which somehow never seems to go down too well) so it’s pleasing to see real attention paid to how you can combat the grumbles of your ever expanding citizenry. For example, happiness buildings like coliseums or theatres now affect your entire empire. Civics have also been gotten rid of, and in their place are social policies which give special governmental benefits. Each policy is within its own related groups and if you collect the set your civilization is given an added bonus. The emphasis on culture from Civilization IV is intrinsically linked to this new system. Now you can start collecting culture right from the get go, and it is used as the currency by which you purchase your chosen social policies. It’s an interesting new approach, and is sure to lead to some complicated and intricate management strategies.

But the final and most interesting new element of Civilization V has to be its combat. This has been a game play area that has really plagued earlier iterations of the Civilization series. That’s not to say that it hasn’t been generally good, but it always was a bit odd to have a fortified spearman taking out a Panzer tank. In Civ V, Firaxis have really grabbed the bull by the horns and boldly attempted to redesign the fighting mechanic. Firstly, you can no longer stack units. Gone are the days of sticking sixty riflemen in one border tile. Be prepared to have a lot of time on your hands, because you will be spending a considerable amount of your turn moving troops behind each other like one big game of backgammon. While this is a little annoying, it does mean that army sizes are kept to a reasonable level and are more in line with map size; the bigger map the more space there is for large engagements to take place. It also means that terrain is more important as troops get funnelled into choke points or around mountains. Units can now also ‘embark’ by crossing water tiles without needing transport. While they do so they are unprotected, but it does mean that your troops are freer to plot more efficient routes. In addition, units are now far better balanced; the rogue spearman of yesteryear isn’t going to be able to cut it for very long. As a result, arms races are back with gusto. Players who choose to tech up quickly are going to have a much easier time on the battlefield.

Slightly annoyingly you can only stack one unit in a city at any time. However, irrespective of who’s within their walls, cities can attack units within their borders – both at land and at sea. Relying on hit points for city defence rather than units alone does mean that early on your troops are freer to hunt down pesky barbarians (who now spawn from defended encampments). And when your troops do find someone to pummel, the battles look great. Your units are now presented as a group rather than as an individual and each unit has a unique set of battle animations that are displayed during combat.

This preview is itself getting a little long in the tooth. Yet it has only scratched the surface of what Civilization V has to offer. But that’s in the nature of the turn based strategy epics that this series has become famous for. While some aspects of Civilization V are going to take a little bit of getting used to, it is obvious that the core gameplay that has made this series so well loved is there and it's rearing to go. I first sat down to preview this game on a Friday night, and I didn’t emerge from my megalomaniacal world until 7AM the next day. The style, the format, the irreverence and the majesty of the Civilization franchise is clearly still here. But as well as that, Firaxis have taken the title, spruced it up and gotten it ready to venture out into today’s world of visual videogaming.

So, if you’re a self-confessed Civilization addict and you’re not already counting the days... you should be.


At a Glance

Pros: Visceral graphics and cool combat

Cons: Not having enough time to ever truly devote to it

"Everything we know and love, now with gorgeous graphics"


 

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Comments (9)

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SpawnSeekSlay NZGamer.com VIP VIP Bronze
On Friday 6 Aug 2010 11:05 AM Posted by SpawnSeekSlay
Wow first time ive seen screenshots, looks amazing! would have to be one of the best IPs ever!
 
 
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Valsira NZGamer.com VIP VIP Bronze
On Friday 6 Aug 2010 2:48 PM Posted by Valsira
"...always looking for a practical use for their political science degrees."
Ha! I have been thinking way too much recently about how the issues in my IR theory course are represented in Civ IV. I wonder how my lecturer would react if I did that as my essay ;)

Seven weeks to go!
 
 
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Conrad
On Friday 6 Aug 2010 4:07 PM Posted by Conrad
6 August 2010, 02:48 PM Reply to Valsira
"...always looking for a practical use for their political science degrees."
Ha! I have been thinking way too much recently about how the issues in my IR theory course are represented in Civ IV. I wonder how my lecturer would react if I did that as my essay ;)

Seven weeks to go!
I tutor IR at an NZ University, I'm not even kidding.
 
 
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Valsira NZGamer.com VIP VIP Bronze
On Friday 6 Aug 2010 6:15 PM Posted by Valsira
6 August 2010, 04:07 PM Reply to Conrad
I tutor IR at an NZ University, I'm not even kidding.
Haha, sweet. 'Tis the natural path for Civ addicts :)
 
 
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Conrad
On Friday 6 Aug 2010 6:22 PM Posted by Conrad
6 August 2010, 06:15 PM Reply to Valsira
Haha, sweet. 'Tis the natural path for Civ addicts :)
If a student of mine wrote an essay arguing which IR theory to best apply as a Civ strategy. I would seriously consider busting out an A+.
 
 
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Crypto139
On Friday 6 Aug 2010 7:55 PM Posted by Crypto139
After playing Civ III, would it be such a big leap to go straight into Civ V? I was never really bothered to pick up IV.
 
 
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RealmEnder NZGamer.com VIP VIP
On Friday 6 Aug 2010 10:22 PM Posted by RealmEnder
Day one for me. Just hope it runs ok on my rig, the recommended specs look pretty high.
 
 
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PotatoLegs NZGamer.com VIP VIP Bronze
On Monday 9 Aug 2010 12:46 PM Posted by PotatoLegs
so keen to get this, rocking mechanised infantry all up in the face of musketteers take that punks bang
 
 
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CrazedFan
On Friday 13 Aug 2010 5:32 PM Posted by CrazedFan
Civ V is really looking amazing. I wasnt born when the series started but I did start at Civ II and then played Civ III and I never got a chance to pick up Civ IV but I cant wait to play this. They have really gone all out!!!
 
 
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