Civilization V

Ever since I received my preview copy of Civilization V I have been preoccupied. It’s been a bit frustrating. I just haven’t gotten anything else done. Even when I wasn’t playing the game I was thinking about it. It was just sitting there, patiently, at home on my computer, ready for the next turn.

I’m going to make a confession right away. I am quite the fan of Firaxis and the Civilization series. Sid Meier is something of a gaming icon for many, myself included. Civilization II was one of the first games I ever seriously played. I devoted hours to Civ III and until the fifth instalment arrived, I was still regularly playing Civ IV both online and against the clock. But my love of this franchise can only be beneficial. My expectations are rather high.

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There is a lot to these games. They are complicated, and they are very, very addictive. A hint is in the name – this is a turn based strategy title that allows you to create, destroy and develop entire worlds. Worlds full of cities, wonders, allies and enemies. This is not a game you can skim through. If you are serious about computer games, you’re going to need to put aside days – if not weeks – to really get in to this title. This is a game with so much replayability that you are only really limited by the size of your world-map and your own creativity. So, here is your warning – this review is not going to be short and sweet.

The Civilization series is a turn based strategy franchise that places you in the shoes of a benevolent (or malevolent) leader of a great civilization. You are tasked with developing your civilization from one tiny settlement into an empire that can rule the seas, skies or even outer space. Along the way you must compete with other civilizations, manage your economy, keep your citizens happy, research new technologies, build new buildings, develop your cities and most importantly, deal with the encroachments of other world leaders. All of whom are hungry for a slice of your civilization pie. Some will play nice to get it. But some will be very bad indeed.

Civilization V continues in this vein but it is not a carbon copy of what came before. It develops the gameplay in new and unfamiliar directions. In doing that it adds a nice dash of polish to the graphical elements and animations that Civilization IV introduced to the series. This ensures that the title is now fully compatible with the graphical intensity we have come to expect from next-gen video cards and improvements to DirectX coding.

With a title this large it’s difficult to know where to start. So why not start at the beginning. Civilization V’s interface has been significantly altered from its previous instalments. The skeleton is still here, your gold, tech and culture quotients are displayed in the top left – your menus parallel to them. Your mini-map is prominently displayed for ease-of-strategic-reference. But the clutter of earlier installments has been streamlined. In many respects this is a welcomed. Civilization V is clearly trying to divert your attention to the world map, instead of presenting players with screeds of menu screens and information panels. Helpful hints, messages, and notifications pop up on the right hand side in sequential order – anyone who has spent time with Anno 1404 will find this style instantly recognisable. In addition, the city screens – the switchboards for the engine rooms of your civilization – are toned down in the quest for simplicity. No longer do they take up the whole screen, enabling you to select new production options while still maintaining an eye on the world map. For players who have grown accustomed to the bookish technocracy of earlier installments, do not be too alarmed. The simplification of the interface has not removed any of the complexity of city management and economic reporting. But it has made things slightly alien; it may take a little time to familiarise yourself.

But the simplification of the interface does have its downsides. For certain bits of information you are going to need to go digging. It is slightly frustrating that while your civilization advisors can now suggest improvements in the city screen (their suggested production options are highlighted by their respective symbols) when you enter the advisory screen itself, the advice they give is not time stamped. For a lone wolf like me who (perhaps unwisely) doesn’t care too much for his advisor’s opinions, it can be a little peculiar to find snippets of helpful unread information that might be woefully out of date. Relying on these can be a little disastrous. Sure, Alexander the Great might have been ripe for the plundering one hundred turns ago, but now he has gunpowder. All out war would not be a very good idea. In order to keep on top of the computer’s advice, you’re going to have to remember to check in with your cabinet at every turn.

Aesthetically, the in-game menus (and the game’s look itself) are heavily influenced by the art-deco style of the 1920’s and 30’s. At first blush this does give the title a slightly cartoony feel. Early reports of the title criticised it for this, but it does have a reason. Art-deco is all about voluptuous images and angular curves. At its core, it was about making modernism sexy again. For a game that revels in creative destruction and god-like freedom, this design choice – while slightly garish – does serve a useful purpose. And to be frank, it’s just really clever. And I like clever.

The world map itself has been radically redesigned. At the strategic level, Firaxis have shifted from square game tiles to hexagonal ones. This is a very interesting change, and one that is surely going to lead to a greater combination of movement paths and unit positions. Additionally, this allows for a much greater level of combat depth, particularly when it comes to city sieges and combat movement.

The world itself is a contender for the best looking game-map ever presented in a turn based strategy game. The developers have done a masterful job of making the globe come alive. The terrain is artfully rendered, and the randomised worlds are now more carefully put together. Unlike Civilization IV that had mountain chains seemingly springing out of nowhere, Civilization V has managed to provide more fluidity to its world creation. And that’s important. Players who start building in the middle of mountain ranges will have an instant defensive bonus against those on the flatland. But those on the flatland will have an easier time filling the bellies of their ever growing, and increasingly hungry citizens. But while Civilization V isn’t going to max out your computer’s hardware (provided you’re recently up to date) it does have a few graphical glitches. Sometimes when loading a save game, the “fog of war” (artfully represented as moving clouds) would fail to render properly, instead reverting to a blocky grey mass. At other times, combat animations briefly stuttered. But these incidences were minor, and I’m fairly confident they will be easily remedied post release.

There are essentially two things that you need to do in any Civilization title if you want to be successful. The first is in how you manage your cities (and by extension your economy) and the second is in how you deal with your military. Both have been altered in this franchise’s fifth instalment.

In Civilization V, Firaxis have tinkered with city management. Cities now expand beyond single tiles, and they no longer need to be garrisoned with units in order to be protected. Instead, each city is given hit-points which increase as your city grows. If threatened by an enemy unit coming into its borders, it can bombard it. Like in previous titles, your city's boundaries expand incrementally, depending on its growth rate. For expansionists like me, this is crucial to claiming new territory. But I got the sense that in Civilization V the growth of your city borders is not quite as quick. It takes a lot longer for city boundaries to develop.

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Comments Comments (6)

Posted by PotatoLegs
On Wednesday 22 Sep 2010 3:43 PM
holy crap, great review Conrad. will definitely be getting this, once i have hours to lose
Posted by RealmEnder
On Wednesday 22 Sep 2010 5:09 PM
Awesome. I really need to stop wasting all that time I spend away from Civilization.
Posted by Imperator
On Wednesday 22 Sep 2010 5:57 PM
Excellent review, sounds like I should pick it up some time ;)
Posted by evil_angel74
On Wednesday 22 Sep 2010 7:11 PM
Have this game pre-ordered. And even though it only comes out in a few days, I am so envious that you got it early. I need this game.
Posted by Th1nxFr33
On Thursday 23 Sep 2010 1:20 PM
Time to upgrade my laptop I suppose!
Posted by SpawnSeekSlay
On Thursday 23 Sep 2010 6:26 PM
Read a few reviews, sounds amazing and no wonder its selling out on orders all over the place.