World domination, brotha.
Part of me felt confused when I caught wind that Civilization 5 would present a more streamlined experience than in the past. I never thought that the original Civilization games were particularly complex (okay, maybe Civ 3). I mean, what’s so hard to understand? Cavemen need to build the Wheel to pump out chariots in order to conquer Moscow. Seems simple enough. I figure that if you can understand what it takes for mankind to go from clay pots to nuclear warheads, you can understand Civilization. Or maybe in Grade 3, I was some kind of Sociology wunderkind and my D in American History class was a typo. Or the playing of Civilization was the reason for the D. I don’t know.
But hey, it’s Civilization 5. The latest from Sid Meier, the creator of such acclaimed releases as “Civilization” and “Civilization 2”. There isn’t any one major new addition made to this game over Civs past, but instead a few logical tweaks and alterations. The most notable being that the menus have been cleaned up and idiot-proofed. Civ 5 introduces what I would like to allude to as “the big blue button” that will consistently point you towards whatever task needs doing. If a unit needs moving, a new technology needs researching or a city needs to waste tax dollars building a new circus, the magic button will take you there. Above that blue button is every critical alert reminding you that your people want spices for some arbitrary reason. This blue button system is a very convenient means of insuring that no civilian escape a century without some forced labour. Likewise, accompanying window messages introduce concepts to the newcomer, giving all a clue as to what it means to discover Writing.
I did shed a tear when I played through Civ 5 and noticed all of the aspects that have gone missing from the series over the years. The sharp-dressed diplomat unit. The introductory cutscene where the Earth develops from a pool of molten rock and chaos into a sprawling ecosystem of living organisms. (A great way to shatter beliefs of Creationism in Grade 3.) Not to knock the intro cutscene in Civ 5, mind you. That cutscene features a wise old leader telling his progeny about the night he had a dream about all of Civilization 5’s gameplay features. Also gone since Civ 1 is the ability to freely rename your nation and world-leader-that-lives-for-5000-years as opposed to being shoehorned in the role of George Washington. I do miss running roughshod over the world as president Hulk Hogan of the prosperous NWO nation. My most yearned for loss was the religion system from Civ 4. I missed the sense of passive-aggressive might that came with conquering nations through converting rival citizens.
The tweaks made to Civilization 5 feel more logical than they do groundbreaking. The map consists of hexagon tiles as opposed to squares, which makes the layout for your battle map look less like your bathroom floor renovation blueprint. There are now City-States, these small one-city nations that can be interacted with like any full-blown country. I haven’t encountered it yet, but I believe the game has a “Canada” City-State in there, as some kind of inside joke. They add a bit of extra life to the game maps to a playthrough, but my surprise is how militaristically powerful they can be! I had no problems wiping out the mighty Greek and Japanese empires in one fell swoop, but spent many decades chipping down the walls of the one single city of Belfast. What does that say about the Irish? The governments system of Civ games past (where you got assorted stat buffs for, say, being a Democrat or Communist…or something) is replaced by a Policy system. Said Policy system is basically a Diablo-like tech tree of upgrades. Only now the upgrades of “ice missiles” and “blazing inferno” are replaced by “freedom of speech” and “freedom of religion.” Sure, why not?
Now, even though the in-game tutorial does a pretty solid job of introducing the many, many concepts that come with ruling an empire, I felt like that may not have been enough. I had my share of lessons that I learned the hard way. I had to learn to expand early and not bunker in my capital for too long, lest I let the rest of humanity surround me like a group of back-alley muggers (in city form.) I had to learn that archers do not have the balls of steel necessary to conquer a city. (Robin Hood? He’s a sissy.) I had to learn that, even in the Twentieth Century, there are barbarian units. These barbarians can range from gunmen (mercenaries?) to boats (Somali pirates?) to archers (delusional old men?) And I had to learn that my computer is decidedly ancient, and takes its sweet time loading the next turn. This is partially alleviated by setting the game speed to “quick”, which speeds up the progression of turns needed to get me some nukes. But I still found myself playing cell phone Solitaire between turns. Civ 5 joins ModNation Racers on the list of new video games that require another video game to be played simultaneously to endure load times.
But in spite of all of that, I still found myself losing several days of my life due to this game. There is still that “one-more-turn” hook in wanting to push on forward, discovering Chivalry because you know having Knights will let you trounce the enemy. (No matter what Solitaire is required to get there.) There is still great satisfaction in leveling a city’s defenses with a sweep of bomber runs. There is still the unofficial history and civics lesson that comes with learning about historic landmarks or the benefits of trading silk. There is still the perverse sense of satisfaction that comes with building the Great Pyramids in New York City. Everything that was crazy-addictive about Civilization is still pretty crazy and addictive in 2010.
So all that remains is the burning question of whether or not to get Civilization 5. Long time fans of the series shouldn’t feel too much of a rush to reconquer Moscow. There is no major game-changing feature that completely alters the experience, nor is the game stripped down for the less intelligent masses. At the same time, buying Civ 5 will cause you to get hopelessly addicted and spend less time with your loved ones. I’ve been late on one major paper because of Civ 5…so far. And for the rest of the world, you should probably buy this game if the concept of building the freaking Pyramids in New York appeals to you. And it should.