Giant Bomb Review

142 Comments

Sid Meier's Civilization V Review

5
  • PC

Firaxis offers a hardcore turn-based strategy experience that nearly anyone can approach, without sacrificing any of its wildly addictive appeal.


 Say hello to Civ V, and goodbye to all of your spare time.

According to Steam, I've played Sid Meier's Civilization V for 24 hours. One Earth day! For most games today, 24 hours represents the entirety of the single-player experience, all the post-release DLC, and maybe a few hours checking out multiplayer. And that's on a good Earth day. For Civ V, 24 hours is barely scratching the surface of what this intelligently designed turn-based strategy game has to offer. In 24 hours time I've seen enough of Civ V that I'm familiar with its rhythms and generally understand the interlocking push-and-pull of its military, diplomatic, commerce, science, and cultural systems, but I suspect it would require hundreds of hours of play to master, if such a feat is even possible. Not that it'll stop me from trying.

This frightening depth, and hypnotic pacing have both long been hallmarks of the Civilization series. There are a few significant new features in Civ V, such as the introduction of autonomous city-states, but the fundamentals of how this game plays out should be completely familiar to existing Civ fans. The level of familiarity might even be disappointing to some, if the particular brand of empire-building that Civilization is known for weren't still so thoroughly engaging. What really sets Civ V apart from its predecessors, and what makes it borderline irresponsible on the part of developer Firaxis, is how key tweaks to the interface and the underlying systems have all but obliterated the game's learning curve, making it approachable by just about anyone, regardless of past experience with strategy games of any stripe. I say this is irresponsible because established Civ players already know what what sort of diabolical time-suck they're getting into here. But new players perhaps cannot fathom how effortlessly this game will steal away huge tracts of time, regardless of the time of day or your previous obligations, be they eating, sleeping, or going to work or school. The folks at Firaxis aren't just game designers. They're chemists.

The Civilization series has maintained its position as one of the pillars of the PC strategy world pretty consistently since it first debuted way, way back in 1991, but there's still a good chance that this could be your first exposure to Civ, so here's the short version: Civ V is a turn-based empire-building strategy game that cherry-picks historical leaders and their associated civilizations, as well as significant city namesakes, landmarks, and so on, and then throws them all into a wildly anachronistic mix together. Time marches forward one turn at a time, slowly but surely taking you from a simple post-tribal society into the gleaming near-future, and you'll have opportunities to build cities, amass armies, research new technologies, start and end wars, establish trade agreements, adopt social policies, and exploit the natural resources of your land in a bid to make your civilization the dominant one. 

 A landmass like this is just untapped potential.
There's no structured campaign to speak of, but a single game of Civ V can very easily take a dozen hours to play through, and there's a randomness to the geography and the behavior of the competing, AI-controlled civilizations, as well as a number of different ways you can win, that makes each game a unique little snowflake of world domination. I'll spare you the specific mechanical details of how this all works, because if you've played a Civ game before, you already know what's up, and if you haven't, it'll just make the whole enterprise seem like a really unappealing combination of dull and intimidating, which I assure you, it is neither. 

Civ V is peppered with salient quotes from famous historical figures, though none seem as applicable to the game itself as this little chestnut from Henry Ford: “Nothing is particularly hard if you divide it into small jobs.” He, of course, was talking about the power of the assembly line, but this is just as true of the turn-based nature of Civ. There is an incredible number of moving parts to consider as you expand your empire, and if you tried to think about all of them at once, the probability of a loved one finding you in a dark room rocking in the fetal position would be high. Taken one turn at a time, though, Civ V is incredibly engrossing, with each turn presenting some small decision that will, eventually, cumulatively, end up deciding the fate of your whole empire. That each turn feels meaningful, but not overwhelming, is part of what makes Civ V great. When combined with the slow-burning perpetual carrot-on-a-stick structure, it's what makes the game hard to quit, even when it's three in the morning and you have to get up at six.

But all that's applicable to any Civ game, really. Firaxis mastered this formula years ago, but what's special about Civ V specifically is that it makes slipping into those dangerous rhythms that much easier for new players. This is in part due to a completely redesigned interface, which is clean and intuitive, a big change from the jumbled kitchen-sink approach of Civ IV, and something that was clearly inspired by Firaxis' time on Civilization Revolution for consoles. Impressively, these changes don't hobble the depth of Civ V, and if you want to go nuts micromanaging workers and tweaking the resource output of your individual cities, it's just a few simple clicks away. 

This “less is more” approach to the interface allows the playfully abstracted visuals to shine through a bit better, too. The leaders don't have quite the same caricatured look they sported in Civ IV and Civ Rev, but everything just looks cleaner and smoother. The change to hexes from squares, in addition to purportedly impacting the underlying strategy in ways I'm unable to divine, helps mask the underlying grid and makes the world feel more natural. If you've got a high-end PC, it'll take advantage of the latest DirectX 11 bells and whistles in some subtle ways, though it scales down to older machines pretty well too. There are some nice, low-key, civilization-specific musical themes that play throughout, eschewing the hokey world-music motif past Civ games have clung to, and these soothing tones help the time fly by.


 Never get involved in a land war in Asia.
If you're a new player, there are some tutorials you can run through before getting into your first game of Civ V, but most players should be able to jump feet first into a game and intuit their way through the early turns, thanks to some well-integrated tips and a team of generally unintrusive AI advisors. The advisors can help provide some direction, something I found particularly useful when I was staring down a long list of detailed research or production options, trying to decide what the next priority for my civilization should be. Civ V strikes a nice balance with the advisors, as they'll help point you in the right direction, but they won't play the game for you.

For as rich and satisfying as the single-player experience in Civ V is, it's a little bit of a letdown how spartan the multiplayer options are. You can play online or over a LAN, and you can tweak things like win conditions, map size, turn limit, and so on, but there are no integrated play-by-email or single-machine hot-seat options, and though you can shift-tab to invite your Steam friends to play, it seems poorly integrated. I also experienced a fair amount of lag playing online, which seems particularly odd for a turn-based game.  

Between StarCraft II and Civilization V, it's been an interesting and exciting year for PC strategy games. Not to take away from either, but Civ V is, essentially, the anti-StarCraft, or at least as far as it can get while still occupying the same realm of strategy games. Either way, I cannot recommend Civ V enough to fans both old and new, or even people who hadn't considered playing a turn-based strategy game before. Which, I suppose, makes me the irresponsible one.   

142 Comments
  • 142 results
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
Posted by Rayeth

Schedule 1 narcotic.  Gimme more of this to mainline please.

Posted by louiedog

Ryan is such a PC fanboy.

Posted by MethodMan008

5/5 you say?

Posted by JesseCherry

I'm happy that unlike Starcraft, I don't need to jump on this right away. Not enough time to play everything

Posted by Blueman

I can not wait to get this game.

Posted by illmatic19

5 stars? Reach gets 4? So bias.

Posted by MauveForest

I wasn't going to buy this till around christmas, but I saw the quick look yesterday and couldn't resist. I don't really want to go back to studying for me history class when I can be making my own!

Edited by Sil3n7

This is an amazing game!
 
I just bought this yesterday and having not played much of the Civ series before I can say I am thoroughly hooked.

Posted by Bamsen

Fuck yes

Posted by MisterMouse

I is surprised

Posted by GilbertMordinAndSullivan

I just bought this game. I had a job interview today, and when they offered me the job, I turned them down.  
 
I really, really, really hope I didn't do that so I could play more Civ 5... but I might have.

Edited by FourWude

I've never played a Civ game, shame on me (why I never bought Alpha Centauri to this day is beyond me). 
 
But can someone explain the multiplayer in a little deeper depth. How does it work? Is it semi real-time or completely turn based. How long is the average game? Can a game online be played over the course of weeks like a long game of chess?

Posted by PanzerPev

Awesome review Ryan.  I got this game on day one and agree with everything you said.  I'll be kissing my loved ones and work obligations goodbye for the next fortnight! 

Posted by FritzDude

What's going on here? Ryan was arrested by FBI 2 days ago. Did they just let him out?
 

 


 

Posted by NakAttack

so getting this tomorrow.

Posted by FlamingHobo
@FritzDude: Nice 'shop. 
 
And I'm glad the game got five stars, it deserves it.
Posted by Sharpless

Many props for the "land war" caption. Many props.

Posted by PanzerPev
@FritzDude: hahahahahahah man is that an awesome pic!
Posted by Dedodido
@illmatic19 said:
" 5 stars? Reach gets 4? So bias. "
I honestly can't tell if you're joking or not. I hope you are.
Posted by Nytrik

My lust and need for Civ 5 is reaching an all time high. Great review. 

Posted by Metal_Mills

I was kinda "eh" on Civ5 but after the Quick Look and this review...I must buy it. Damn you, Ryan. If I get addicted it'll be all your fault! :)

Posted by billygoat117

I played this last night, my first game of Civ EVER. Yeah, I didn't go to bed until about 2:30. This game is really damn engrossing.

Posted by DoctorWelch

I wish I had something other than this laptop that isnt super powerful, cause then I would definitely get this game.

Posted by Fontan

You are indeed irresponsible, Ryan. Might just have ruined my life. 
 
I'll be sure to drag a few of my friends along.

Posted by welly

hmmmmmm ill choose the whiskey membership over this for now...

Posted by TehBuLL

Tried out the demo last night....after it was all like "your demo time is up" after apprx 90mins, I was going to punch meh monitor.  Then I bought it and played til 5:30 in the morning.  Good times, just as engrossing as Civ4, although I did like the diplomacy screen for Civ4 more.

Posted by kaiyouske

Can't believe that someone gave this game a C review.  

Posted by BionicMonster
@illmatic19 said:
" 5 stars? Reach gets 4? So bias. "
you're the one with the green user name.
Posted by TorMasturba

I just got fibre optics internet today and downloaded Civ V in 9 mins flat. 
 
The day before it took my crappy internet of old unmentioned company 4 hours to download Civ IV. 
 
To put this into focus, Civ V is 4.5GB, Civ IV is 1.5GB. 
 
Techno boner. 
 
Regardless of my current personal situation, I can't wait for Steam to open the gates to Civ V! 

Posted by mrmud

I love Civ as much as anyone but lets not pretend here.
Civ5 (and any of the civ series for that matter) is the shallow end of the pool when it comes to PC strategy.
Titles like Europa Universalis 3, Hearts of Iron 3 and Victoria 2 (to mention a few Paradox games) would make even even Dave Snider cry for mommy.

Posted by MachoFantastico

Can't wait, have my copy on the way.

Time to lose the track of time.

Posted by ThatFrood
@FritzDude said:
"

What's going on here? Ryan was arrested by FBI 2 days ago. Did they just let him out?
 


 

"
Fan. Tastic.
 
Also, WOOOOOO! CIVILIZATION V!!!
I wish they'd get a patch out for these graphical issues, though...
Edited by Brenderous

I stopped playing Civ V for a few mins to read this. 
 
Time to put the needle directly back into my EYES.

Posted by Tordah

Not surprising to see this get 5 stars from Ryan. He's been nothing but positive about it on the Bombcast and in the quick look.
 
I never got into any Civ games, but I'd be willing to give it another go.

Posted by jozzy
@billygoat117 said:
" I played this last night, my first game of Civ EVER. Yeah, I didn't go to bed until about 2:30. This game is really damn engrossing. "
Man, I still remember the first time someone at school told me about civilization, the first one. It blew my mind just hearing about the game at that time, and when I got to play it...
 
I hope they'll do another Colonization port like they did with Civ4, I love that game even more.
Posted by Jumanji

LOL CHINA WHITE; CHASE THE DRAGON; "SMACK" MY BITCH UP; uhhh DOES THOMAS de QUINCEY LIVE HERE etc. etc. 
 
What an awful review. Civ 5's AI doesn't even know how to play the game. AI is the #1 factor in replayability of the base game. By neglecting AI failings, you do your readers a disservice. Please clean the spooge off your screen and take a closer, -critical- look.

Posted by issun187

Great review! To be honest, I've never played a Civ game before. However, I might actually give this one a try.  All thanks to Ryan's brainwashing. ;)

Posted by WEGGLES

  this intelligently designed turn-based strategy game    

I'm sick of all this Christian brainwashing on Giant Bomb. 
 
Jokes aside, great review for a great game. 
 
After the quicklook/bombcast hype for Civ V I tried the demo... I was instantly hooked. Bought the game today (shockingly hard to find, considering I live in the town Sid is from), got home to find the steam servers down and I can't install it... Nooooooooo. I feel like I'm going through withdrawals.
Posted by Zelnox

I wonder how Brad and Norm are doing in their Civ V campaign.

Posted by lacke

Damn you american.. 3 more hours before it's unlocked in Europe.

Posted by MRutter

Just two and a half hours until steam unlocks for Europe and I can finally play some (next 200 hours) Civ V

Posted by Conformunist

The wife, upon hearing about it's impending release, forbade me from getting this game.  One too many 4:30 am Civ 4 marathons I guess...
 
I think this is grounds for divorce.

Posted by KillyDarko

I'll admit that I'm not much of a strategy games' fan, but I believe I'm gonna give this one a shot. That quick look of yours totally sold the game to me! Will definitely buy it when I have money for it :)

Posted by mrmud
@Jumanji said:
" LOL CHINA WHITE; CHASE THE DRAGON; "SMACK" MY BITCH UP; uhhh DOES THOMAS de QUINCEY LIVE HERE etc. etc.   What an awful review. Civ 5's AI doesn't even know how to play the game. AI is the #1 factor in replayability of the base game. By neglecting AI failings, you do your readers a disservice. Please clean the spooge off your screen and take a closer, -critical- look. "
Yea this has me a bit worried.
I have read from several sources that the AI is a bit messed up and a messed up AI is the last thing you want in a strategy game (see Total War series).
Posted by floodiastus
@kaiyouske said:
" Can't believe that someone gave this game a C review.   "
Akali avatar YAY! 
 
yeah cant believe it either, that review on 1up was total garbage though, typical fanboy behaviour.
Posted by ManlyBeast
@FritzDude said:
"

What's going on here? Ryan was arrested by FBI 2 days ago. Did they just let him out?
 


 

"
lmao
 
great review for a great game.
Online
Posted by GeneralGrey

I don't really understand all this moaning about the AI.  To me, AI in a Civ game is like AI in chess; if it lives up to its full potential, it will (most likely) kill you in ten moves - not fun.  The only way to give the average human player a chance is to program in stupid mistakes.  These mistakes, intended to make the game playable, are then mistaken for sub-par programming.  The vast majority of players do not want to go out and purchase a game that it is virtually impossible to beat, particularly when a single level (for lack of a better word) can take upwards of 12 hours to complete.  Besides, I think the higher difficulty levels are tough enough to satisfy even the most masochistic gamer.

Posted by Gregomasta

Bravo, that's a ravishing review.

Edited by Gellrock

Installing now, can't wait! Gandhi here I come!

Edited by Jumanji
@GeneralGrey said:

" I don't really understand all this moaning about the AI.  To me, AI in a Civ game is like AI in chess; if it lives up to its full potential, it will (most likely) kill you in ten moves - not fun.  The only way to give the average human player a chance is to program in stupid mistakes.  These mistakes, intended to make the game playable, are then mistaken for sub-par programming.  The vast majority of players do not want to go out and purchase a game that it is virtually impossible to beat, particularly when a single level (for lack of a better word) can take upwards of 12 hours to complete.  Besides, I think the higher difficulty levels are tough enough to satisfy even the most masochistic gamer. "

 
The AI in civ5 is so stupid that it limits the range of meaningful choices presented to the player. Why worry about your flanks/army composition/terrain if the AI always leads with piecemeal archers and artillery? Why care about diplomacy if the AI declares unwinnable wars and then offers you half of its empire as a peace settlement? Why care about optimizing your economy if the AI breaks its own economy through shitty city layout? etc. This isn't about wanting a hardcore challenge. The AI's shittiness makes many of the game's systems irrelevant to winning, which IMO deserves to be addressed, especially in a purportedly perfect review.
  • 142 results
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3