Civilization as a series truly is the grandfather of PC strategy games. Since 1991, we have been transfixed by our computer screens, choosing a civilization and guiding it throughout human history, from the invention of basic agriculture to the technologies of the future. We have built great cities, created cultures and religions, and changed the face of the Earth every time we played. For history buffs like me, there is no purer form of poetry: creating a new human timeline just as you want it, every time. Sid Meier’s series reaches a previously unmatched balance: balance between in-depth simulation and fun.
However, there was always a degree of separation between Firaxis Games’ past Civilization releases and the player themselves. Yes, you are controlling everything your empire does, but due to graphical and system limitations, you never really felt a part of your own decisions. Everything was flat, as if you were looking at the world on a map and just reacting to changes, not causing change. If Civilization wanted to keep its venerated status at the top of the strategy gaming world, something needed to change – in fact, a lot of things needed to change. In order for Civilization to stay relevant, designer Jon Shafer needed to re-invent it. And so, in 2010, it did.
Comparing Civilization IV to Civilization V feels a bit like comparing a record player to an iPod touch. It feels as though in the only 5-year difference between the two games, the actual presentation and gameplay has jumped forward a generation. The improvements in the base game alone (disregarding the two massive expansions “Gods and Kings” and “Brave New World” which we’ll get into later) are almost too numerous to count as compared to the previous iteration. Not only is the presentation now beautiful between the graphics, aesthetic, music and attention to detail, but gameplay has also been significantly improved from IV to V.
The basic premise of V will feel quite familiar to seasoned Civilization players: You chose one of 18 civilizations you want to play as, and you start off at the beginning of society with only a settler, warrior and a knowledge of farming to your name. Once you settle your first city, you can start producing everything vital to your progression in the game, such as science (to gain knowledge of new technologies), culture (to add special bonuses to your government), faith (in the hopes of gaining a great prophet and founding a religion), and units and buildings. Every building you create throughout the game exists in your cities, making them the foundation in your empire. Your military units keep you safe from barbarians, and defend you lands in the event of a war with another civilization. Your civilian units can be everything from builders to trade units, making sure your empire continues to grow and runs smoothly. Over the course of the game, your empire will grow and get more complex with multiple cities and lots of science and culture, and diplomacy will grow more complex as the worlds gets more and more thoroughly explored. By the Renaissance/Industrial era, you should begin to consider which victory you are gearing towards, either Science, Diplomatic, Cultural, Domination, or Time.
First off of the notable new features, now there are “city states” which act as one-city minor civilizations that depending on their orientation (cultural, militaristic, or maritime) can offer you unique bonuses if allies with you, or a reliable friend if going to war against a common foe. Also new is the imposition of the one unit per tile rule, removing the “stacks of death” that annoyed and angered players from earlier games and adding a new aspect of challenge to your military management. Now that the board is organized into hexagons instead of squares, you must find ways to maneuver fewer units around the enemy and make sure that every military formation is well thought out, so as to make the most of the units that you have. This results in combat that is more satisfying than ever before, feeling more like a game of chess than simply a matter of my-numbers-are-bigger-than-yours. In addition, there is now an online Multi-Player option, which means for the first time you can enjoy empire-building with you friends or just random people from around the world whenever you want.
In addition, Civilization V brings back compatibility with the Steam Workshop, allowing for an extremely robust collection of community built mods that can add everything from new scenarios, civilizations, maps and even gameplay features to your game. However, it is important to mention that Civilization V had over the course of 3 years since launch added two fantastic expansions called “Gods and Kings” and “Brave New World” which taken together introduced the religion system, espionage, improved AI, updated diplomacy features, tourism, trade, ideology and 18 entirely new civilizations to the base game. Together, the expansions are the difference between making Civilization V a good game or a great game. So, before you go crazy on the Steam Workshop, I would heartily recommend getting the expansions first.
All told, I could write an entire article just on why I love this game and the level of simulation it achieves, but now I just want to give you, the reader, a taste of what the game is like. Honestly, Civilization V, on account of its sheer scope and range of replay-ability – is a very difficult game to review, and just this short piece is not enough to do it justice. And even now, I’ve only had an opportunity to scratch the surface of all the improvements that V has made over its predecessor. However, do not despair! There is a second part to this review, dedicated solely to where the series goes from here, and some old and new features we want to see in Civilization VI (coming out October 21, 2016). Until then, enjoy building a civilization to stand the test of time!
(To be continued …)