Civilization V Review

Is the sun up already? And what day is it…

This review is based on having played 800 or so turns over roughly 12-15 hours. In other words, a lifetime++ in EuroGamer years. In that time I’ve finished one game to 2050AD and taken a few others into various stages. The 2050AD game was with Japan (randomed), but I’ve also played as the Romans and the Greeks.

Civilization V is the best version of Civ yet. That alone should make it an instant buy for basically anyone who has every enjoyed or believe they might enjoy a turn based game, but as that would make for a short review, I’ll keep going.

The move to hexes is one of those things that initially feels a little odd, but after about an hour or so it becomes tough to imagine what the game is like without them. Same goes for only being able to have one combat unit on a hex; at first I was making countless mistakes in positioning and movement, but again after about an hour it not only feels ‘right’, it adds an amazing level of depth and strategy.

Speaking of depth, on the surface Civ V seems like a simplified version of IV, with many of the more complex systems (pollution, city-based unrest, religion, fewer techs overall) gone. Yet again you soon realize that it’s not about the number of systems, but how they are implemented and what decisions they force you to make. Take resources for example: in IV once you had iron, you could pump out as many iron-based units as you wanted. In V, one source of iron will only allow you to make a limited number of iron-based units or buildings. That’s huge in a number of ways. For starters, it means even if you DO have the resources, your military is still likely to include a variety of units due to resource limits. Secondly, it means that even if you have access to an iron resource, you can still trade for more, or provide someone else with yours even if they also already have some. Finally, cutting off an enemies resource means they not only lose the ability to make those units, their current units get a huge combat penalty until they regain it. And that’s just one example of the changes, but as you can see, it’s a little change that has a huge impact, while also feeling ‘natural’ in many ways. It was completely unrealistic before that one single iron mine could supple an entire nation, and Civ V ‘fixes’ that issue.

Graphically the game is stunning. Not in a Crysis “zomg look at the fog!1!” kind of way, but more in the “hey it all just looks right” style. Everything fits, looks very polished, and small details abound that not only look good, but provide information as well. For the first time, a unit of spearmen is finally a unit of 10 soldiers, and as they ‘take damage’, some of them die and the unit gets smaller. You still have a health bar, but a quick glance at the actual graphic will show you what you are looking for. This change also means combat looks a lot better, as a 10 vs 10 battle between spearmen and swordsman is a lot cooler looking than a single spearmen icon moving over a single swordsman icon (or the simplified combat animations in Civ IV). By far the coolest combat animation? The most powerful unit, the giant death robot, with its swarm of missile and laser fire. It just has that “yea, you can’t stop me” thing going for it (and actually looks a lot cooler in-game than in that picture).

Combat itself is a lot more entertaining in Civ V as well, and not only from the hex and single-unit-per-spot changes. If two units are somewhat evenly matched, the result will most likely leave both damaged but not defeated, which is a huge change from the one-and-done style of previous games. Ranged combat is also a new addition that adds an important layer of strategy, as finally you actually have to protect weaker units and use the terrain for more than just a single defense bonus, and units like archers are valuable not because they are outright stronger than warriors (they lose to them in melee), but thanks to the ranged fire they provide. Other changes I’m really enjoying include naval combat being a much slower exchange of fire rather than one-and-done ‘melee’ style, and that ships and planes can actually kill units rather than just weaken them like in IV. This makes having a strong navy and things like aircraft carriers not just a nice-to-have, but critical when attempting to make landfall on an enemy island or continent.

I’ll wrap things up here for now, but expect some more Civ V related posts in the near future, most likely breaking down certain systems and the game design theory behind them. As I said at the start though, if you are even a remote fan of strategy games, Civ V is about as good as it gets.

12 Responses to Civilization V Review

  1. Sean Boocock says:

    Haven’t had a chance to read your review in full, but I was wondering if you had read/had any thoughts on Tom Chick’s review: http://www.1up.com/do/reviewPage?pager.offset=1&cId=3181540&p=. He is certainly the outlier among the major reviewers but his experience commands enough respect from me to not dismiss his opinion out of hand. Is his review contrarian to be contrarian or is he highlighting issues that you also experienced and found frustrating?

    • SynCaine says:

      About the AI: It’s not perfect in terms of combat, no, but at King difficulty the game is still far from easy. The AI is good in other areas though, like working with the city states and in diplomacy.

      The rest is just preference stuff really. I never found religion that interesting in Civ IV, and the old civic system, while interesting, was somewhat limited in impact. The new one, while permanent, does give bonuses significant enough to really ‘matter’, at least from my experience.

  2. PeterD says:

    @Sean, I’d dismiss Tom Chick’s opinion out of hand. His reviews are generally useless, as he’ll dismiss a game as “bad” based on one nitpicky issue no matter how good the rest of the game is, or praise a game to high heaven despite listing problem after problem. He makes numerous factual errors in his posts and doesn’t go back and fix them even when those errors are pointed out (such as mistakenly calling Front Mission’s Wanzers “Wankers” and then making an entire post giggling at the potty humor). In short, he’s a professional blogger, not a professional reviewer, and his opinion should carry no more weight than that of any other opinionated blogger.

    Truth be told, as often as I disagree with Syncaine (and lord knows I disagree most of the time), when it comes to non-MMO stuff I’d trust Syncaine’s opinion more than Tom’s.

  3. Werit says:

    I have yet to make it very far past 0AD. The Marathon setting is pretty fun so far, as you really get some mileage out of the tech.

    I’m finding terrain to be an essential part of combat, at least in the early game.

  4. HokieinJax says:

    I have made it to about the same time frame Werit … I like being able to decide how much I want to get down into the weeds of production within my empire. I was playing with the auto setting on workers just to see what they ‘thought’ was a good idea to build next. This let me utilize those few extra brain cells on how to get the most out of my neighboring city-states….

  5. bjp2592 says:

    Where’s my Chuck???

  6. Jezebeau says:

    I was really wishing they’d bring back the city view from Civ 2, but otherwise Civ 5 exceeded my expectations. My one major complaint is the cost of maintaining conquered cities. It’s unreal that I have to keep pumping money into a city at 500 AD whose people I conquered in 1000 BC.

  7. xXJayeDuBXx says:

    No Chuck of the day?!?! What is this blog coming too!!!

    I am loving Civ V so far.

  8. Dril says:

    Stupid question: can you “cap” the tech everyone can get? I played Civ 4 and it wasn’t really my cup of tea at the time (I still got a good few days out of it though), but I don’t remember being able to simply play everything out in Ancient/Roman/Dark Age/Medieval settings.

    I really hate post-Napoleonic Wars warfare in my strategy games, and if I always have to advance past that it’ll kind of kill it for me.

    • SynCaine says:

      I’m not sure. I know you can cap the number of turns, and the starting age, but not sure if you can set a hard limit on tech.

  9. [...] I’ve begun reading other bloggers  ( including but not limited to the “dueling” Syncaine and Tobold, as well as The Ancient Gaming Noob), and they’ve had good enough things to say [...]

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