In the face of numerous deadlines and sleep deprived bodies of its fans, Sid Meier and company have managed to keep copious followers glued to their PC monitors for nearly two decades and not become outlawed for its dangerousness to the survival of humanity.
And now it’s back, and even more beautiful than ever.
For those who are uninitiated and have yet to say “just one more turn” at 3am, Civilization is a turn-based strategy game where you lead a small tribe over thousands of years in the hopes of becoming a superpower on the world stage, fighting, trading, deceiving and expanding your way to victory by any means you see fit. For those that previously played Civ IV there are some changes to overcome before heading into the fray of world domination, but they are welcome changes. The first thing you will notice is the simplicity of the UI with Firaxis streamlining the experience for the user. Everything is neatly laid out for you and clearly labelled or explained, be it the setting up of a game, the organising of a city, or engaging in diplomacy. When picking which of the 24 different civilizations you will lead to glory you are presented with each of the Civ’s special bonus units and abilities in a helpful manner which ensures you know which will be best for your playing style, not to mention that playing as one Civ can be a different experience compared to playing as another.
It is this lack of clutter that ensures this is possible, translating to being able to see more of the action as you play. Statistics for battles are no longer confined to a small box containing the unit information at the bottom of the screen but are clearly shown with details pertaining to strength and bonuses. There is even optional and varying levels of tutorial help boxes to guide your way through your games of Civ V. Everything you need to see at any given time is available to you without imposing on the experience, and it makes it a better game for it.
The UI isn’t the only thing that has been streamlined; the gameplay has been revamped as well. The most important change is the jump from the map being made up of square boxes to hexagons. This gives the feeling of a greater degree of movement, as well as allowing for more tactical positioning, which conveniently leads me onto my next point; the infamous “stacks of death” are gone. Only one military unit can be on a tile at any given time (with the exception of Great Generals) which not only means you have to plan out your attacks more carefully but makes the area of battle seem greater, illustrating the scale of your conflicts in a much better way than previous instalments of the series. This is made possible with the addition of ranged attacks. Yes, that’s right; no longer must an archer be standing right next to the person he wishes to unleash some fury on. An archer can stand behind a melee unit and rain down some thunder on an opponent before letting them mop up the mess, allowing for some wonderful tactical play to be deployed.
Gone are the tribal villages that gave you a little extra help in previous games and are replaced by scattered ruins which can provide you gold, maps, tech or upgrades to your existing units, meaning no more gifts of extra units this time round. If you want that you’ll have to turn to the addition of City-states. Put simply, they are single city Civs that don’t try to win and instead acts like the spoilt step-child of the game. Give them enough attention (ie. gold) and they’ll be your friend and eventual ally, but leave them to their own devices and they’ll turn their back on you. Being in their good graces allows a chance to be awarded bonuses such as military units but whether the effort is worth the hassle is down to you. They can effectively be game changers if used correctly, as I found out when Bismarck went to war with me and then two of the City-states right on my border also declared war because he had been romancing them with promises of gold and good times with his suave looking moustache.
Another important change is the Social Policies system which replaces the Civics system from Civ IV. The system allows you to choose how you wish to govern your civ and gives you three policies to begin with, each with their own special bonues and acting much like talent trees in RPG’s. You always begin a game with Tradition (focusing on city growth), Liberty (focusing on expansion) and honor (focusing on combat) to choose from, however the game doesn’t force you to stick with just one policy. This effectively lets you to mix and match the different bonuses of varying types, with you gaining points to spend as you build up culture and unlocking different trees as you progress through each of the different ages with your Civ.
These are just some of the changes in Civ V and me writing about all of them in great detail, while informative and something I could quite happily type about, would take an age to do; things like territory expansion being one tile at time and/or purchasable, how roads have a maintenance cost but are no longer needed to link up resources, how cities are now able to defend themselves, at range, without a garrisoned unit (although having one does help matters), how the fog of war is no longer endless black but soothing white clouds. The good thing is that all of these changes, large or small, are presented to you in such a way that it becomes second nature to you within a matter of moments and is a testament to the game design.
And while I’m on the subject of design, I’m going to take the opportunity to speak about the artistic design of the game. There’s a reason I used the word “beautiful” at the start of the review; the collective ambiance while playing is a triumph. It’s the little details that manage to pull you in as you’re playing such as seeing the Great Wall being built as you build it, to the animations of units and resources such as fish, and the smug look on Alexander the Great’s face every time you speak to him (I swear he talks to his horse while you’re negotiating with him, he’s that smug.) To top it all off is a soundtrack I can only describe as breath-taking with Geoff Knorr and Michael Curran composing not only wonderfully fitting music for each empire but orchestrating pieces of music that are captivating in their own right that thoroughly energised the musician in me as I played. If exploring the different abilities of each civ isn’t incentive to play as each of them then the music most definitely is.
This rose of a game does come with some thorns however. I had a few issues giving orders to the wrong unit a number of times which at one point turned what should have been a decisive attack into a scramble. One of my biggest pet peeves is how the game will forcibly move the camera to a unit you might not want to move, which can be highly irritating when you’re in the middle of planning a specific attack and are being forced to look somewhere else first. However, the most disappointing part of the game unfortunately has to be the multiplayer, although mainly for cosmetic reasons. There are no animations whilst playing online, including the diplomacy screens, which makes units look like they are capable of faster-than-light travel. While this doesn’t break the game at all it does make it seem a less grand experience in comparison to the single player. That said, I wouldn’t put it past the modding community to find a work around for it pretty quickly; they managed to disable the no-stacking rule in less than a day.
But that shouldn’t stop you from getting this game, and shouldn’t stop you from playing it online. This truly is a masterpiece in not only strategy games but in computer game design. It’s simplified gameplay without dumbing it down. It’s still the addictive and wonderful game we know and love and, as I have said many times before, is a beautiful game.
- Streamlined menus , UI and Gameplay for a simplified experience
- Plenty of varying civilizations fit your play style
- Beautiful ambiance as you play
- Camera can warp you around the map by force
- No multiplayer animations detracts from the experience online
- Can occasionally have issues moving the intended unit
The Short Version: Be prepared to put “just one more turn” back into your vocabulary as the King of strategy games returns to its throne. Beautifully crafted and additively fun to play, its few minor flaws are overshadowed by the playability of its new simplified UI and gameplay in a sequel well worth the wait.