Civilization V (or 5 for non-Roman types)

When I have a chance in the middle of this amazingly busy semester, I’ve been playing Civilization V. I managed to finish one playthrough and I am now prepared to judge the game entire.

I can’t think of a better way to organize this than by pros and cons, and to note up front that I really liked IV, and I have played all of them since I.

The Good:

  • The combat is the best in the series. It now feels tactical, and each unit functions as one piece in a puzzle that rewards the use of combined arms. Cities are tougher and don’t have to be garrisoned, leaving more time for actual play.
  • The interface is more efficient, again, than any previous game. One of the major weaknesses of the series has been the deluge of micromanagement that happens after a certain point. I didn’t feel that here (though my game ended at 1900 – perhaps it eventually kicks in), even with all my workers on manual. One still needs to pay attention to fortified units, but that’s a given.
  • The new tree system for civics isn’t bad and even welcome, though the one in IV wasn’t broken.
  • The graphics are excellent.

The Bad:

  • Religion has been dropped. Not sure why.
  • I can’t take over a city with culture anymore. Again, not sure why.
  • What happened to the spies? Useful in a pinch.
  • Even more puzzling is the new global status of happiness. In the previous four games, happiness was handled on an individual city basis. Now it’s global – either all cities are happy, or none are. This strikes me as a very crude way of making the game easier to play. It also makes conquest almost a break-even affair; I take a huge hit to happiness even if I make a city a puppet state, and a near-crippling one if I take more than one cit in the same war. Alexander the Great never had to deal with this.
  • Speaking of conquest, I also cannot steal technologies, even from a civilization far more advanced than mine. This removes one of the major reasons to go to war in the first place.
  • The complex byplay between science, gold, and culture is gone. Now science only drops if you run out of gold. Like the happiness change, this seems another crude simplification.
  • The rules for global domination are too easy – instead of wiping out all civilizations, I only have to take and hold their capitols.
  • Diplomacy is near to useless. The AI often offers nothing no matter how hard they are losing a war. Also, technologies cannot be traded, there seems little benefit to alliances. The ‘research agreement’ seems little more than a pre-war trick to drain the treasury.
  • The city-states are a noble if failed experiment. They do fill in the map and keep the world from being too empty, but they’re too expensive to ally with for the ROI, annoying to take down, and between them and other civilizations, you never have much call to build more than one or two settlers in a game. The map is called for pretty quickly unless you start on an island by yourself or well out of the way.
  • The game shipped with severe bugs – one crashing the loading screen, and another crashing save games of a certain size. Neither has been fixed yet.

I have to wonder if many of these changes were made in the spirit of making sure that V was not a souped-up IV. Personally, I would have bought and enjoyed just that – a souped-up IV. Then again, perhaps I am simply being cranky. III felt like this when it came out – it was a big step away from the seeming perfection of II, with the introduction of cultural victories. Perhaps on my second game (I conquered the world by 1900 as the Romans on Prince difficulty) I will feel more comfortable with the entire package.

I don’t think the market for this game has changed all that much. The presentation betrays not a hint of any such change – same goofy national leaders, same pacing, same timeline structure  governed by a tech tree.  IV with updated graphics – or even II with updated graphics – would sell. It’s time to look at the mods.

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