lar's Sid Meier's Civilization V (PC) review

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Civ V from a Civ IV fan

Civilization V feels like Firaxis took a giant step back and decided to start designing Civilization from scratch.  What they produced is a game that’s a lot more accessible to new and casual players, but can sometimes be frustrating to Civilization IV veterans.  Our first stop, one unit per tile.

Hey, that's my tile 
Hey, that's my tile 
Allowing only one combat unit per tile has literally completely changed how combat works and feels in Civ 5.  In Civ 4, because the game would automatically defend with the best unit to use against an attacking unit, you frequently had to plan for every possibility.  This lead to combat almost always being in the defending civ’s favor.  It also lead to huge stacks of units roaming around the map because you inevitably needed a few sacrificial lambs.  Now that you’re only allowed one combat unit on any given tile it makes combat a lot easier to manage, and in many ways a bit easier.  In Civ 5 if you have units that are vulnerable, you have only yourself to blame if they’re killed by not being protected well enough by supporting units.  Gone are the days where you feel as if you’ve been cheated because no matter what unit you attacked with, the defender had just what they needed to annihilate you.  However, one unit per tile can and does cause problems.  An especially memorable moment comes to mind where I couldn’t complete a mission to connect a city-state to my capital because, despite being allies, they had a unit on the one tile choke-point to their city.  Causing my worker to not be able to walk on the same space and complete his road.

Technology is another area that’s been improved over Civ 4.  While there's an expectation of technology reshuffling, the lack of semi-hidden requirements makes planning out your strategy much easier.  Research also has a sense of going faster.  If you play your cards right you can easily reach the Renaissance Era within the first 50 turns.  With Research Agreements (you and another civ spend 250 gold and after 30 turns you both get a “free” tech) speeding things up even more, it flies by pretty quick.  But don’t think that means you’ll have a large portfolio of potential techs to trade.  That’s because there is no technology trading in Civ 5.  While some may not like this at first glance, it forces you to be much more self sufficient.  Since we’re talking about things you can’t trade, you also can’t share your explored map with another civilization.  Again, forcing players to be more self sufficient.  This also means it’s up to you to be vigilant about exploring the world.

 Go-go gadget-boat.
 Go-go gadget-boat.
Given that world, not just local, exploration is so much more important in Civ 5, Firaxis has added another concept that may seem a bit foreign to Civ 4 players.  It’s called Embarkation and it allows you to move literally any unit across water tiles.  Don’t get me wrong, these don’t replace naval units.  Land units can’t attack or defend on water tiles.  But they do allow you to explore all those islands and continents that use to be just out of reach without forcing players to go out of their way to create naval transport units.  Again, speeding up the game.

For the interface, however, while it has been given a very nice polish, it will probably be the part that Civ 4 players find most frustrating.  In some cases the game simply doesn’t give you enough information about why things are happening.  In later stages of the game you can have your income fluctuate from +10 gold/turn to -5 gold/turn in one or two turns with little understanding of why the changes are occurring.  For me, the most notable bit of information missing is a way to tell how much individual units or improvements are costing.  You can display a lump sum saying units are costing XX and improvements are cost YY, but if I have to look online or grab a calculator to figure out the per unit cost then the game’s not doing it’s job.  Another area that seems to have taken a step backwards is diplomacy.  Sure city-states add more complexity to diplomacy, but Civ 4 had some nice screens that gave an at-a-glance overview of each civilization and their relationship with one another.  Something that would definitely help in Civ 5.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, most of my issues with Civ 5 come from various technical problem.  Xbox Live Steam is not.  Having had Steam installed for years, Civ 5 has been my first big taste into what they have to offer, outside of some time with Torchlight.  I have to admit to being more than a little disappointed in its offerings.  Steam cloud inconsistently works with the game, sometimes displaying different saves to different computers.  Voice chat doesn’t seem to work between two people on the same LAN and I’ve even had to delete some file from Steam because Civ 5 seemingly randomly started displaying an error message saying it was unable to launch the game.  Delete the file and everything works again.

The game itself also suffers from some technical issues.  Despite having fully supported hardware and the latest drivers, the DirectX 11 version of game runs dreadfully slow on my computer.  Load up the DirectX 9 version and everything’s candy and flowers.  There are also entirely too many “options” that can’t be configured through the interface.  Add on top of that a lack of most unit animations in multiplayer and the absolutely horrible idea of making a load screen of the intro video and there’s a bit of a sense that Firaxis had their B-team working on this game.

But at the end of the day Civilization V is a very good game.  It’s not so much of an iteration over Civilization IV as a “re-imagining” of Civilization as a whole.  Much like the new Mortal Kombat, it gives a refreshing clean sweep to good number of those features and concepts that have been building up over the last few games.  This not only makes the game much more accessible to new players, but also allows for new and different ideas to be added going forward.    

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