Civilization 5 Review (Civ 5 Review)
To guide a fledging nation from humble obscurity to wondrous glory, from superstitious darkness to the shining light of technological advancement, from clubs and spears to bombs capable of destroying the planet, from huts to cities and beyond into the stars. That’s right my friends the latest release in perhaps the most far reaching and ambitious turn-based strategy game series ever created is here. Kiss your wife and kids goodbye, call work and explain you have a debilitating illness, stock up with supplies within easy reach of your PC, turn off your mobile and lock the door – it’s time for Civilization V.
Sid Meier’s Civilization series has always been ridiculously addictive and Civ 5 is no exception. For anyone unfamiliar the basic premise involves taking a civilization from its foundation all the way through to world domination. Victory can be achieved in a variety of ways and the depth of strategy on offer in this turn-based game is simply astounding.
It was Civ 2 that really got me hooked on the series, that’s why it appears in my Top Ten PC Games of All Time. The last outing I played was Civilization 3 and I had to check myself into rehab to kick the habit. There have been plenty of changes since then but by 4am, 9 hours into my first game of Civ 5 it became pretty obvious that it still has the power to get under your skin and that “one more turn” will soon become the mantra of anyone who plays it.
Streamlined and simplified?
Upon loading up Civ 5 for the first time you are greeted by an impressive cinematic opening which sets the tone. The initial menu has a tidy art deco style and lets you launch straight into the action with the minimum of fuss. You can choose from a wide variety of leaders including George Washington, Montezuma, Ramesses II, Napoleon, Gandhi, Caesar, Alexander and a few others. Each civilization has its own special advantages, for example the Egyptians under Ramesses can build Burial Chambers and War Chariots. They are also suited to various victory conditions which range from military conquest to cultural dominance. Pick your civilization carefully.
All the usual options are there if you want to dig deeper to create a huge map, select continents, opponents and tweak various other parameters. Once you have set up your preferred type of game that will remain as the default so you can launch a new game with your chosen parameters quickly and easily.
The initial impression in the game is that everything has been simplified but much like with the main menu, if you dig a little deeper you’ll find that most of the old options are still there. They merely have a shiny new veneer. Any fears that the gameplay has been dumbed down will soon evaporate.
There is no danger of forgetting to build something new in a city, choose research or move a unit because the end turn button changes to let you know about any unfinished business before the game advances.
Perhaps the most obvious change that comes along with the new game engine is a shift to a hexagonal board of tiles. The transition is smooth and it works perfectly well. You’ll find that city expansion is now different too. You can purchase extra tiles and dictate, to some extent, how the city expands. This enables you to tie up important resources and fit your cities together more efficiently.
In addition to your opponent nations there are also city states. These individual cities can be allies or enemies. They can prove extremely useful as friends, providing you with luxuries or even military units. If you decide to conquer them you’ll need to proceed with caution or risk sparking a city state pact against your civilization.
Instead of trading scientific knowledge you can now set up trade pacts which cost both nations a sum of money and reward them with a random advance after a set period of turns, as long as they remain friendly for the duration.
The old culture system has been overhauled and you’ll now find yourself with a choice of social policies. As you build up culture points you’ll get opportunities to spend them on specific bonuses. This system offers a nice way to guide your government policy and decide on the personality of your rule.
War! What is it good for?
Military conquest has always been the primary victory condition in civilization, or maybe I’m just violent. You no longer need to capture the entire globe to win a military victory, capturing all the capital cities will now swing it. However, the combat system is completely different. Cities now have the ability to defend themselves even if they don’t have a military unit garrisoned. More importantly you can’t have more than one military unit on a single tile. The days of mega stacks and crazy arms races are over.
Ranged units can attack from distance but they’ll be slaughtered by melee units if they get caught. To take cities you really need to surround them and attack with multiple units. It is now possible to travel across small bodies of water without a separate naval unit and units can earn various upgrades which increase their offensive or defensive powers.
The new combat system works surprisingly well and it definitely allows for a greater focus on other victory conditions. Anyone frustrated by the necessity to fight fire with fire in the older Civilization games should find this really refreshing. You will still have to cater for aggressive AI civilizations on your borders but it is easier to maintain a border focus for the fight. You’ll also find that aggressive enemies are quicker to sue for peace and you can force some favourable terms. If you sit back it can become a slog but if you stamp on them quick the war can be ended. The best defense is offense.
Civ 5 is easily the most attractive release in the series to date. The artwork is excellent, the animations are spot on and the brief cinematics have high production values. The introductions when you meet other rulers are fantastic, whether it’s Montezuma booming away with the flame light flickering from beneath or Caesar turning his nose up in a disinterested fashion. The fact that each ruler greets you in their own language is a very nice touch. The icons and menus are also beautifully concise and all in all this is a good looking game.
No game is perfect and there are a few problems in Civ 5. The main one is the AI. Sadly your opponents are every bit as stupid and irritating as they’ve always been. They build cities squeezed into unappealing gaps in your heartland, they sign research pacts and then go to war with you the following turn, and they start wars they can’t possibly win and then offer bizarre terms to secure peace. You’ll quickly learn that certain civilizations are bad neighbours to have and no amount of conciliation on your part is going to halt their violent march. For intelligent enemies you are going to need to engage in multiplayer but it has its own set of problems.
You’ll also find that you can still play a game of Civ 5 for several hours only to discover that it is not winnable. That restart syndrome which causes you to keep loading a new game in search of the elusive perfect start is still present. These aren’t really new problems they are just things that Civ 5 doesn’t fix.
Verdict (5 out of 5)
The open nature of Civ 5 and the fact you create a new story every time you play gives it unparalleled replay value. Most of the changes are clearly positive and this release comes closest to bridging the gap between hardcore strategists and new players. Perhaps most importantly of all it is every bit as addictive as it always was, even now I’m thinking about playing it. You have been warned.
Check out my Civilization 5 Victory Guide for tips on how to achieve each of the different victory conditions.
This post is part of the series: Civilization V Reviews
A look at what is new in Civilization V.