I am a long-time (as in since the early nineties) Civilization fan. I believe I’ve played every official version, every spinoff, several knockoffs and made great use of user created mods for over fifteen years. I love the Civilization franchise like Lucy loves Ethel and like the Golden Girls love cheesecake. This is why it pains me so much, dear readers, to say Civilization V is both the prettiest and the lamest version of the entire franchise. While some of the many changes to gameplay and user experience are positive and probably necessary changes, most do little more than make the gameplay more clunky while dumbing down the entire concept of the original game.
Let’s start by looking at what is familiar from other Civ games. Single and multiplayer set-up options are similar to older versions. I’ve never lasted longer than five minutes in a multi-player online game, so we’ll be looking primarily at the single player options in this review. In single player mode, the user can choose a world leader, map type, map size, difficulty level and game speed in the basic menu, with more choices when choosing advanced set-up. World leaders, as in previous versions, are each given unique benefits, units and buildings.
The game is buggy, and I was unable to play at all until I disabled the intro video and applied various tricks and hacks I found on the web from other users who couldn’t play. When I found the right combination of fixes, the game finally loaded correctly and I didn’t experience crashes, even after hours of play. Score one for internet geeks.
The game itself is beautiful, with gorgeous graphics made to take advantage of high end gaming systems and top-of-the-line video cards. This can be a plus for people who have high-end machines, but eliminates a lot of potential players and fans of previous versions of the game. The standard square grid (which allowed units to move only up, down, left and right in older versions of Civ) has been replaced with a hexagonal grid, allowing players to move in four diagonal directions as well as left and right. The game interface has been scaled back, offering icons and drop down menus to keep as much of the game area visible as possible.
The option to stack units is gone, with only one unit allowed in a square or city at a time, unless one is passing through. Protecting a worker or a settler with an armed unit was a preferred trick of mine in other versions, as well as creating a Stack of Annihilation for invading enemy territory. Combat techniques need to be re-thought in Civ V, and I was humbled by my own efforts to create a powerful offensive force or protect my cities and assets.
The tech tree works pretty much the same in Civ V as in other versions, with some minor additions and eliminations. Culture points are now used to buy social policies, which are divided into ten different areas of specialization. In Civ IV, a cultural victory was achieved by attaining legendary culture in three cities, in Civ V a cultural victory happens when a player trades culture points for five complete social policies, each with five sub policies. Diplomatic victory is still achieved by building the United Nations and winning the votes of the majority of the other players. Building the Apollo program and being the first to launch a rocket and colonize space is still the method for winning a space race victory. Domination victory is achieved when any player destroys all other competitors, and a time victory is declared to the player with the most overall points if no other type of victory is achieved by 2050 AD.
Great people are not as useful as in Civ IV, but can still give players a boost in a variety of ways. Great people can create buildings in unoccupied squares, hurry production in cities or other specialized tasks.
Units and buildings are essentially the same as in Civ IV, but like the tech tree there are a few minor changes. There are more luxury resources available, but there are fewer strategic resources. As in previous versions, the player can choose between several levels of game automation and micro-management, from automating workers and explorers to creating production queues in cities or allowing advisers to handle almost all day-to-day tedious activities.
Overall, I’ve had fun with this incarnation, but I’ll probably return to Civ IV once the novelty of the sweet graphics wears off. I don’t enjoy the game play in the new version nearly as much as I did in Civ IV.