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 IrishCoffee

Fuck you Bombsquad!! I bought Civ V this morning and 7am, had it installed by 8am and looked up at my clock after starting a game at 9pm...WHAT THE HELL!??! 
 
This game is so dam addicting!!!

Posted by Claude

Ryan's 5 star review avatar after a week of playing Civ V.
 

Posted by BelligerentEngine

PC GOTY is going to get pretty damn heated BradVsRyan wize as I think Jeff/Vinny will be pretty much neutral on this one.

Posted by Overwatch

I bought it on Steam yesterday and played it today for something like 5 hours and it is absolutely awesome. Probably the best Civ yet.

Posted by EOT
@mrmud:  Though those three games you listed are real time...that makes quite a big difference. Also i find Paradox titles are more difficult down to poor game design and crippling bugs more than anything else (Note i own the three games you listed)
Posted by Kohe321

Like I wasn't hyped enough for this already. Fantastic review, Ryan, I'll pick this up for sure..

Posted by MaddProdigy
@illmatic19: Are you joking or trolling? Just wondering, please do respond.
Posted by MaddProdigy
@FritzDude:  Duder you're a total genius, that picture legitly made me laugh out loud! :P
Posted by RVonE

Wow, apart from the content of your review, this one is written particularly well. Great job, Ryan! I really enjoyed reading this.
Edited by EpicReflex

Downloading this now, enjoyed Civ 4, this from the demo doesn't play a whole lot different, besides the aesthetic upgrade it'll be interesting to see just how much has actually changed. 
 
I imagine this a hard game to review given the depth and the length of time it takes to experience it all, but again, just like Starcraft 2, it seems that certain games are given a pass when making what are minor tweaks to the game-play whilst others, most recently Reach are criticized heavily for it.

Posted by fedorajay

A well deserved score for an excellent game. Too bad my comp has a hard enough time running Minecraft at max settings. :(

Posted by Eurobum

Having 100 units or a giant tech tree at your disposal isn't strategic depth, it's breadth. These games are not for strategists but for explorers, they have no lasting value once you have grasped all of the options.
 
 Like previous Civ games (Civ IV: Colonisation in particular) the game probably ships unfinished, and a half descent AI will be patched in a year down the road, like it happened in Civ. 4 Col. 

Posted by illmatic19
Posted by Willy105

I want this game!

Posted by Th3irdEye

I've never played a Civ game before except for a few minutes of Civ IV at a friends house. It was just so overwhelming to me. However I just read this review and it has piqued my interest so i watched the QuickLook too. In the beginning of the video I was getting the same feeling of being swallowed up by the games complexity but when the video was over it wasn't so bad anymore and I think the game is a lot more approachable now that I've seen someone play the opening bit of a match. Thanks a lot Ryan. You might have just caused me to fail history class in favor of creating my own version.

Posted by crazyleaves

That last line is priceless Ryan. I'm not gonna pick this up till my B-day in Nov. I figure I can get alot of stuff done till then...

Posted by AvD

Very excited to play. 
 
Anybody hear if / when this is coming to Mac?

Posted by crunchmode

Great review, thanks! I was a bit sceptical after Civ IV but after reading this.. the Civ nerve starts to tingle.. 
Ryan, if Civ V is a drug, you are my pusher!

Posted by Zeemod

Being a fan of FPS's, Action RPGs and StarCraft, this has nothing to do with 'biasedness' or 'fanboyism'... it's really that good!

Posted by Animasta
@mrmud said:
" 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. "
yeah and those games are super buggy and totally easy to win too, if you know what to do.
 
and hearts of iron 3 just got unbroken, as far as I've heard (due to the expansion)
Posted by NorseDudeTR

My pc can't run this, thankfully. Sometimes I catch a break.

Posted by kratier

i've heard nothing but good about it
 
but looking at it from afar, as not a civ fan i can say this game has seriously been dumbed down,
 
to top it off, they removed a lot of things that made the original civs great, technology trading for a big example.
It looks like it has been dumbed down, casualized, and the casuals are loving it.

Posted by Monkeymantjg

No battle animation in Multiplayer , what a turn off. tobad the developers couldnt put in a toggle on or off . The same toggle Idea for forcing my Camera all over the place.  Ok city attack that pirate ship now Archer attack that ..... camera is wisked away to the other side of the map to a Worker.... im like no  move mouse to edge of map and to my archer  attack pirate ship ...then wisked back to that Worker.  Gee give me the option to Control what I am doing when I want to do it Ill get to that worker in due time calm down.
Posted by Eggroll822

Nice rounded review, played the demo and  purchased right when the buy now screen came on. Best purchase in a while!

Posted by cherring

I don't think I have played a Civ game since Civ II, but given all the hype this is getting .... might have to check this one out!

Posted by doe3879

I Want to like it...
but I fell at sleep before hitting the 100 turn on the demo

Posted by pplus0440

lol i love how ryans cartoon isnt fat
Posted by Mezmero

I saw the official Strategy guide for this game the other day.  Is that not the most ridiculous thing?

Posted by DaneeVee

Can't wait to run this on my new pc. Yesss BOI

Posted by Naughtydogmania

Damn... I never played this game or any of the previous... I got curious now. Thanks a lot Giant Bomb for making me waste more money and time. GOD! I'm on college I can't do this! :P

Posted by lordoftorrents

5/5 ? oh my.... i guess it starts all over again... just another turn... just another age... and then realise that you are sitting on that chair for 14 hours... i hate you sid meier! you owe me my lost 3 or 4 thousand hours...

Posted by captroy

I'm scared of buying this, since I know it will be such a time sink. So many good games, so little time!

Posted by P_Buddy

Being able to purchase items like units, land, and buildings seems like a very interesting breakthrough for the Civilizations franchise.  I do not know what to think of it; I am too afraid at this moment to purchase the game and see if I like it or not.  I currently happy sleeping on a usual schedule.  

Posted by Capum15

...As soon as I get a better Laptop, I'm so getting SC2 and Civ V (and a crap-ton of other games but I digress).

I watched the Quick Look on Civilization V and it got me interested in IV. I've had IV for a long time, but never got around to playing it, and after about 20 minutes into my first actual game (spending 30-ish on the Tutorial), I completely understood what Ryan was talking about. It's like cocaine in virtual game form. I've played at least 20 or so hours in the past three days. Can't wait to save enough cash for a new laptop so I can grab Civ V.

Posted by Juanmower

I've been away from Civilization for a looooong time. This may just be the one to bring me back in.

Posted by Example1013

Might be something to get for winter break. Needs more Sun Tzu, though. I mean, how could you not include the guy who wrote the book on war?

Posted by Three0neFive
@Monkeymantjg said:
" No battle animation in Multiplayer , what a turn off. tobad the developers couldnt put in a toggle on or off . The same toggle Idea for forcing my Camera all over the place.  Ok city attack that pirate ship now Archer attack that ..... camera is wisked away to the other side of the map to a Worker.... im like no  move mouse to edge of map and to my archer  attack pirate ship ...then wisked back to that Worker.  Gee give me the option to Control what I am doing when I want to do it Ill get to that worker in due time calm down. "
Agreed on the animations... It makes battles feel so dry.
 
Apparently they're patching it back in soon, though.
Posted by KingMiraz

Nice Review, great game!

Posted by JackG100

I do not get how you can give this 5* when it got so many drawbacks. I enjoy it, sure, but it ain't fivestar perfect, not even close. 3.5* maybe.

Posted by MonkeyKing1969

Civ One was a great time sink when I was a older teen.  But I got the bug from Seven Cities of Gold, I used to play SCoG all night long.

Posted by Dialyctic

I bought the game at release and was kind of dissappointed. So many flaws and technical problems... I put it away after 20 hours of playing and recently checked it out again. After a bunch of patches including many balances, fixes and UI changes it definitely deserves this score!

Posted by Buster_Muffins

Thanks for the detailed review. IGN.com's Greg Miller recommended this site on his Beyond podcast and I can see why. You are a very good writer and I can tell that not only do you appreciate the Civilization series, but you enjoyed writing this review as well. I have always wanted to try the civ series, but somehow missed all of them. I have played just about every other overhead RTS game though lol. Anyways, I just bought Civ V and I must say the game is a bit daunting and every bit as amazing as you have said. I haven't even scratched the surface, but I want to know more and more. Hours have become minutes in my mind. This truly is a dangerous game if you have obligations... like work. I would only recommend this game to unemployed students on summer vacation with no friends at all.