Giant Bomb Review

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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
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Posted by Osiris
@FritzDude said:
"

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


 

"
Hahaha awesome :D 
 
Great review Ryan, I am kinda scared of Civ, because of the previous games but I will definitely give this a try after reading this!
Posted by crusader8463
 Cruel temptress.
If it wasn't for the Borderlands level of launching with a broken online component this would probably have been my game of the year. I have been trying to get a game of this going with a handful of friends since it launched and it's impossible. One gets error messages the moment he clicks the multiplayer button, while the rest of us keep hanging when we try to connect to the game. We got a game going with two of us ONCE, and a handful of turns in the game glitches and I can't click the next button anymore because of a stupid city state thing that won't go away.
 
Also, how has no review I have read of them mentioned that you can't save an online game to play later? Yes you can load the auto save, but when you have more then one game going with different people the saves over write each other and since you can;t name them it;s hard to tell what game what save belongs to.
 
I think it's a testament to how good the game is for me to not utterly despise it for shit like that. I just hope they have a patch read to get pushed out the door to fix the online problems. If you want to play it alone go ahead and buy it, but if you are like me and had planned to jump right into playing it online with buddies I would keep an eye on the patch notes for updates.
Posted by CloudLogic

This confirms my decision to buy the game! Cannot wait to play this weekend.

Posted by darkjester74

Great review Ryan.  I am so glad I got this game, truly one of the year's best!

Posted by ZeroCast

Remember Civ IV and how much people/critics liked it? 
 
Yeah, it's exactly since then that I have been "planning" to buy a Civ game and never actually did so. 
 
Now, the next iteration comes out and I still don't know if its my kind of game. I think I am going to buy it regardless.

Posted by kollay

FUCKING BUILD CIVILIZATIONS, MOTHER FUCKERS.

Posted by CitizenKane

Damn it, now I am going to miss not having Civ V even more!  :(

Posted by sahest

Awesome. Too bad my wallet is empty :(

Posted by Pepto

Literally chemists?

Posted by rjayb89

Five out of five?  Fuck off, Giant Bomb.  IT SHOULD BE SIX OUT OF FIVE.

Posted by mm665

7 stars.Wut?

Posted by AndrewPerkins

Awe man. I've been planning on spending $60 on Civ V for a while now. 
 
Then Whiskey Media comes along, entertains me for eight hours and DEMANDS that I fork over sixty bones to support some of my favourite sites. Now I have to try to convince my wife to let me drop another sixty on Civ V while we are splashing our cash to get ready for our impending baby. 
 
That's going to be a tough thing to do, but there is always the alternative.... *reinstalls Civ IV*

Posted by Cramsy

Gonna buy the shit out of this. Thanks Ryan!

Posted by cap123

I downloaded the demo, it's fun but my laptop makes it look shitty and run slow :(

Posted by TorgoGrooves89

 
Brilliant review. Very well written and informative. I can't wait for this to unlock on Steam so i can play my first ever game of Civ 5. Or any Civ for that matter.

Posted by AlwaysBeClothing

I won't lie; seeing Ryan, Brad, Norm, and someone else I know pick up the game broke my will to not pick it up.  I've only played 2 complete games so far.    

Posted by Sorrowsan

awesome review ryan :D sold
Posted by 2HeadedNinja
@ZeroCast said:
" Remember Civ IV and how much people/critics liked it? 
 
Yeah, it's exactly since then that I have been "planning" to buy a Civ game and never actually did so.   Now, the next iteration comes out and I still don't know if its my kind of game. I think I am going to buy it regardless. "
There is a demo on steam ... check that out and you will pretty much know if it's your kind of game.
Posted by Gramiero

I have never played a Civ game before. I had no plans of starting with Civ V.
 
MY MIND HAS BEEN CHANGED.

Posted by DXmagma

whew! for a minute i thought it said it was a "designer BUG" not drug.

Posted by Jimbo

It's fascinating to me that Ryan got so into this game.

Posted by Cornman89

So much enthusiasm in this review. I love it.

Posted by JoelTGM

I tried the demo and found it very confusing.  The tutorial option is grayed out for some reason.  I started a game up, then had to quit because you can't change video settings while in-game... so now with everything on low, it looks like crap and the frame rate is still low even though there's like nothing on screen.  Anyway, I founded a city, ordered the construction of a monument, but after that I didn't know what to do.  I don't see the appeal.  I'd rather drive a race car really fast or shoot dudes online, why would I want to sit infront of a world map all day clicking on upgrades and things.  This is totally not for me.

Posted by wrathofconn
@Jumanji: It's always hilarious when someone acts like 5/5 is the exact same thing as 100/100. Horrible troll.
Posted by quirkwood

The release of this makes me wonder if it's time for another MOO. I want my space ships and invasion forces!

Posted by Pokalapoketl

As always a well written review, Ryan. Along with the "Quick" Look you've sold me the game.
 
The quest for the Collector's Edition shall start tomorrow!

Posted by illmatic19
@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.
Yes.
Posted by HalfDane1975

Nice writup Ryan. My game is already preordered on steam :) .

Posted by Wiggy

War Ryan Davis using a semicolon in the tagline for the review!
Posted by RsistncE

I don't know how I'm going to resist buying this damn game off of steam much longer.

Edited by zymase

Ryan's recent obsession with this game on Twitter and this review motivated my purchase (and, if it could magically not tarnish his journalistic integrity, he should get a percentage on commission).  Can't wait...  this should keep me busy until the end of the calendar year at least!

Posted by subyman

I want to play so badly, but I know my grades would suffer.

Posted by TheYear20XX
@Jumanji said:

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. " 

If I might quote from Giant Bomb's own site FAQ regarding 5-star scores: "While we don't believe any game is perfect, we recommend this game without reservation." Ryan acknowledged there are problems with the game, but apparently he feels they do not weigh down the experience enough to dock a star. Of course, your opinion may vary. Just wanted to clear that up.
Posted by aksmth

I am almost glad that I have been too busy to actually get into a game of Civ V so far.  This way I can work my way into it without it just glomming onto my life and suddenly I come to the realization that the only thing left in the house is me, the laptop, and a can of Mountain Dew. 
 
AGAIN.

Posted by Laughlin_12

This is probably the best review I've read on the site. Good stuff.

Posted by Einherjan

True story.

Posted by jbuchan76

Can't wait! 

Posted by SuperSambo
@MisuseOfLasers said:
" @Jumanji said:

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. " 

If I might quote from Giant Bomb's own site FAQ regarding 5-star scores: "While we don't believe any game is perfect, we recommend this game without reservation." Ryan acknowledged there are problems with the game, but apparently he feels they do not weigh down the experience enough to dock a star. Of course, your opinion may vary. Just wanted to clear that up. "
Reasoning with people who talk about 5 stars = perfect and 4 star game = 4 star game never seems to work.
Posted by ZeroCast
@2HeadedNinja said:
" @ZeroCast said:
" Remember Civ IV and how much people/critics liked it? 
 
Yeah, it's exactly since then that I have been "planning" to buy a Civ game and never actually did so.   Now, the next iteration comes out and I still don't know if its my kind of game. I think I am going to buy it regardless. "
There is a demo on steam ... check that out and you will pretty much know if it's your kind of game. "
Oh yeah I totally know that. In fact, I am in the process of downloading it now. The thing is though, after reading Ryan's review it seems that the game might appeal to a dude who hasn't really got into turn-based strategy games as Ryan puts it so adequately in the last paragraph :).
Posted by Devildoll

darn , this seemse to be a great game, seems like a buy .

Posted by pelvic_thrust

Someone and something is getting neglected this weekend in order to spend some proper time with this game.  

Posted by smellylettuce

Anyone else finding the wait between turns a little lengthy on huge maps? I actually fell asleep a couple times last night while waiting for my turn.

Posted by Dork_Metamorphosis
@smellylettuce said:
" Anyone else finding the wait between turns a little lengthy on huge maps? I actually fell asleep a couple times last night while waiting for my turn. "
Eh, I find it no worse than it's ever been in civ games.   
Posted by MichaelBach

The awesome quick look and this review have me convinced.

Posted by idioismist
@smellylettuce said:
" Anyone else finding the wait between turns a little lengthy on huge maps? I actually fell asleep a couple times last night while waiting for my turn. "
At release, both Civs 3 and 4 were much worse in this respect. After many patches they got better.  I think Civ 5 fairs a lot better with the late-game turn-churn as there are some very practical limits to military size.
Posted by Lingxor

Loving it so far... it's like the Total War games without the broken RTS stuff.

Posted by Someguy0504

I think I'm going to have to check this out, never been a civ fan but it might be time to convert!

Posted by FuzzYLemoN

Such a masterpiece deserves six stars.

Posted by BigChief

I'm not getting this right now, since I don't have a lot of money and I have a lot of things to do. However, in a few weeks both will change, and then...

Posted by DrPockets000

WANT

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