Review by mwallyn

"To Stand the Test of Time..."

I have to admit, I've never been as hyped about a game's release since Super Smash Brothers Brawl came out on Wii. Everything I had read about Civilization V screamed amazing. The big hype was all on the sweeping changes developers were making to the game. Hexes, no stacking, city-states; it got me all excited for a long overdue sequel to the Civilization franchise. For those unfamiliar, Civilization places you as the leader of one of several playable nations and starts you out in 4000 BC with nothing more than a settler to build your first city with and a single warrior unit. From there, you must work to build a civilization "that stands the test of time", winning by means of conquest, science, culture, or diplomacy. Previous incarnations of Civilization have won great accolade in the gaming community, so does Civilization V earn the right to more praise and admiration from gamers?

Gameplay:

Despite the enormous changes to the game, Civilization V is still fundamentally the same general formula. Build a city, manage the city, expand your empire, develop into a world superpower, and finally, win the game. However, much of making that formula work has been altered. Hexes were one of the biggest changes to the normally "square" series. Using hexes has a twofold effect on the game. Movement is far more streamlined with hexes. The main problem with using squares was moving on the corners of squares; you could move further than normal at no real extra cost. With hexes, you move the same distance, no matter what direction you move in. The second effect will be covered later.

Stacks of Doom have been inherent to Civilization for as long as squares have been with the series. An infinite number of soldiers could be grouped on a single tile and then thrown at another stack for chaotic results. For each unit, the game would choose the best unit for defense and then the two would fight to the death. No real significant strategy here. Though there were promotions to enhance a unit, they weren't all that useful because of stacks. Civ V does away with SoD and limits units to one per tile (there are two exceptions: a combat and civilian unit can share the same tile and air units have no stacking limits altogether). This adds great depth to combat. Ranged units have been reintroduced to Civ and can rain death from afar, but God help you should they be left in the open. Sure cavalry can make mincemeat out of any simple footsoldier, but beware of any pikemen lurking about. Cities can now defend themselves and have their own health, making sieges far more tactical. Marching in with a single melee unit will quickly get them killed, so you'll have to come in with archers and catapults as well to soften the city before the main forces can come capture it. All in all, combat has been seriously ramped up in Civilization and is thus much more entertaining. You'll get the feeling when you see a massive wall of infantry marching across your borders (or across your enemy's).

City-states are yet another very unique addition to Civilization. CS's start out like any other player, they have a city to build and develop, but they don't expand beyond their initial city. An easy conquest? Maybe, but there are plenty of rewards to befriending a CS. All CS's are grouped into one of three categories, maritime, cultured, or militaristic, and have a wide array of personalities, as well. Early on, they offer a paltry reward to those who discover them. However, befriending and/or allying with a city state confers a bonus to the friending civilization. For example, cultured city states give a culture boost to their favored nation. Your favor with these states slowly declines, though, so you need to stay in their good graces. Paying them off is the easiest, but not always the cheapest, bet. Typically, they will make requests to you, such as get a certain resource, connecting to their capital, or take out another city state. This can seriously complicate diplomacy, as other nations may want favor with your city state, or your target could be under the influence of another powerful nation. Do you want to incur war to keep favor with your chosen CS, or keep the peace and spend a fair sum of gold to keep favor? Up to you, but no matter what, CS's add a very distinct flavor to diplomacy and gameplay in Civ V.

For those who played Civ IV or Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri, you're familiar with the Civics system. Civ V completely revamped it and made it what they call Social Policies. Fundamentally, Social Policies still grant certain bonuses to you just like civics did. However, this is where the comparison stops. When a new civic came along in a branch of policies, you had to decide which one you wanted, forgoing one bonus or the other. In Civ V, policies stack. There are ten separate branches, each with 6 cumulative policies to adopt. Most of these branches work in sync with each other, but some obviously do not, such as piety and rationalism, or liberty and autocracy. Rather than being forced to decide between one or the other, it's a matter of “how can I build on this”. Some do not like this new change, though I feel like it makes a lot more sense in a real world setting, so I prefer this, actually.

A host of other changes and features have been included in this iteration of Civilization. City health is gone and happiness has been condensed into an overall national happiness rating. If your people are unhappy, then city growth grinds to a halt. When conquering a city, you have the option of creating a puppet state. The city is still yours and contributes gold and science like normal, but you don't take as significant of a happiness penalty and you have no say in the city's production. As mentioned before, ranged units have been put back into the game. Cannons and the like are powerful, but require time to set up, while archers are weaker but can fire quickly. Strategic resources now only provide a limited amount of material before they are tapped out. If you run out, you have to wait for some of it to be freed up (i.e. a unit that uses iron is killed) or find more of it. Again, this is another significant dimension to diplomacy if you find yourself without any of the all-important oil or aluminum. Land near your borders can be purchased with gold, as well as acquired normally though culture. Each civilization has a distinct special ability, rather than drawing from a pool of “personalities” that gave them certain abilities. Instead of England being, say, Seafaring and Expansionist, they get a movement bonus to all ships, a power which no other nation has. Battles don't always end in death, anymore. Both may walk away wounded, but it may take another battle or two to decide a victor.

Graphics/Audio:

The second aforementioned change that hexes make to the game is the appearance of terrain. No matter how large the map, squares made terrain look rather, well, blocky. The use of hexes makes terrain appear much more fluid and realistic. The terrain itself has a more natural appearance to it. While Civ IV's graphics looked good, they seemed rather stylized and bright. Some people prefer IV's graphics, others like this more realistic tone. I prefer Civ V's, though I can't say I hate IV's style, though it's more of a matter of taste than anything. Landmasses are also grouped by continent, such as American or Asian. Not only does this affect the resources that appear on that land, but it also affects the appearance of the land itself. My one visual complaint is the rivers. As great as the terrain looks, the rivers look equally as bad. Even on the highest graphical settings, rivers look painfully out of place against the rest of the land.

Cities look like real cities, rather than just a mishmash of buildings. A nice touch is the culturally diverse cities, too. Japanese cities look vastly different from English cities, as they should. Though it's slightly disappointing not to see many city improvements pop up in the view of your city, it does reduce some of the clutter, making it seem more realistic. Wonders of the World do appear in your cities, and though there are no more wonder movies, it is still rather satisfying to see the wonders under construction in your cities and the paintings that depict them once built are a nice touch.

Combat is quite satisfying when you witness it. Musket-men line up to fire as enemy longswords-men charge them. Artillery shoot volleys into burning cities. Although the soldiers have been scaled down in size, they appear in squads from 2 to 10 units. As they get wounded, the number of soldiers that appear dwindle. It's the small touches that really make the game. Again, it is a matter of taste if you prefer the larger and more visible units from older Civs, though.

Sound has a tendency to make or break a game. Zoom in and you can hear all sorts of ambient sounds, like seagulls over the waves, or cows mooing on the plains. Combat sounds are equally deep, with sword clashes and gunshots all around. When you attack and bombard cities, you can hear the city burning and the screaming of the terrified citizens. Talking with leaders is even cooler, as all leaders speak in their native language, and you can tell when they like you or they really hate you. Musically, the game is so-so, especially when it's stacked against its predecessor, Civ IV. Although there are some decent themes, it's simply not as memorable as Civ IV's music and it feels more like background music than a truly epic musical score.

AI:

Civ V has been in an ongoing quest to improve the AI. And with so many game changes, developers certainly have their work cut out for them. The game AI is somewhat of a mixed bag. At its core, each leader has a certain "flavor", skewing them towards certain playing tendencies. Now, these tendencies can be altered slightly, but you can be assured that Gandhi will generally try to win by peaceful means and that Genghis Khan will try to pillage the world into oblivion. They will also actively respond to in-game situations. If there is a great deal of fertile land in their vicinity, the AI will build settlers to take advantage of this land, for example. They don't especially like it when you settle and buy up land right next to them or when you stack your soldiers on their border. Rest assured they will call you out on it and will be preparing for the worst if needed.

On paper, this sounds like the making of a great AI. However, it's not without its flaws. For example, the AI will randomly start hating you for no apparent reason. It won't be long before they start hurling cruel (and usually groundless) insults at you as if they're begging you to attack them, and trust me, I've obliged quite a few of them. In combat, the AI will sometimes lead with their weak ranged units as their tough defenders sit on the rear lines. This happens in all difficulties of the game. The AI judgment just makes no sense at times. The difficulty has some issues as well. At lower difficulties, the AI will be incredibly timid, while higher up, it will be ludicrously aggressive.

Multiplayer:

At some point, you're going to want to challenge your friends to see who can build a better Civ. Thankfully, multiplayer is free through Steam. However, multiplayer isn't perfect. I haven't been able to get a local match going with more than three players and there are some stability issues with internet play. However, this may be due to problems on my end, so be sure to check for yourself. However, what isn't a computer issue is some of the graphics. Unit animations are frozen, and there are simply no leader animations with talking with your friends. Also, since turns can take place simultaneously, combat can be rather confusing when people are moving their units around at the same time as you. However, these are small details. When I did get the multiplayer functional, it was still Civilization and was still fun. Give it a go.

Overall:
Civilization V has its flaws. Most games do. However, the flaws here are minor and, at times, a matter of preference. These flaws don't do nearly enough to take away from the whole of the game. For hardcore fans, it's still the same Civilization you know and love but with some nice, fresh twists thrown in. For newcomers, this is a top notch game and definitely well worth the price. With Civilizations various features, no two games will ever play alike. Replayability is enormous with Civilization and you will quickly find yourself saying “One…more…turn!” into the wee hours of the morning.


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 11/12/10, Updated 11/15/10

Game Release: Sid Meier's Civilization V (US, 09/21/10)


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