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Review: Civilization V 399

Turn-based strategy is an underrepresented genre of video games. Perhaps it's because they aren't as flashy, or aren't as embedded in the public consciousness as the more popular types of games. Or maybe because it's so damn hard to build them right. The first Civilization game came out 19 years ago. (Feel old? Sorry.) Despite changes in design leadership over the years, Sid Meier and the Firaxis crew realized that they had a solid foundation, and poured their efforts into refining everything that worked, and revamping everything that didn't. Civilization V reflects not just a few years of direct development after the launch of Civ 4, but also nearly two decades of continually evolving game design. Read on for the rest of my thoughts.
  • Title: Civilization V
  • Developer: Firaxis Games
  • Publisher: 2K Games
  • System: Windows
  • Reviewer: Soulskill
  • Score: 8/10

If you're new to the Civ series (or even if you just haven't played one in a while), be prepared for a serious information dump. Civ 5 tries to start you out small and easy, but such things are relative for games this complex. Even setting up a game can seem daunting, though default options and settings go a long way toward making sure your first game is a good one. There's also a tutorial that will walk you through basic situations, AI advisers that explain things and suggest goals, and even a search-able "Civilopedia" with detailed descriptions of abilities, characteristics, and historical significance.

But even with those resources, Civ 5 demands that you spend some time learning about the game before you can really enjoy it. You can get by on the AI recommendations for what you should build, but after a while it feels like you're just facilitating a game of bots vs bots. Once you get past the learning curve, a wealth of options open up before you. Understanding the "how" takes a little time, but lets you start working on "how best," which is a much broader and more difficult question, and the one from which arises the game's extreme depth. Explaining the decision-making process is almost as difficult as the process itself. What Firaxis did really well was make certain that your long-term goals are affected in some way by all of your short-term choices — your task is to solve the equivalent of the Fermi equation for getting the most out of your resources while not neglecting relations with the other empires.

At its heart, Civ 5 is about Cities. Everything else — units, buildings, diplomacy, war, resource gathering and expenditure — arises from that one constant. Once you establish a city, it will produce a variety of resources to be allocated as you direct. It will accumulate citizens, who harvest the land around them for gold, food, production capacity, strategic materials (like horses, so the Cavalry have something to ride), and luxuries (like spices, which tend to make people happier about the prospect of eating rotten onions and old shoes). Cities and citizens also produce culture and science, both of which Firaxis has quantified and made into currencies. As if that weren't enough, cities also slowly generate "Great" people, who have powerful one-time-use abilities, and citizens have a happiness rating, which strongly affects growth.

If that sounds like a lot of different resources, that's because it is — certainly, it gives you more to think about than a traditional gold-and-lumber resource system. But the real complexity comes from the way in which all the resources interact with each other. For example, say you want to get more scientific research out of your city. You can do so by spending a certain number of turns building a Library, which directly increases your research capabilities. However, another option is to build a Workshop, which will make it take less time to build a Library later, as well as other research-enhancing buildings like a Public School or a University, not to mention the dozens of buildings not relating to research. Another option is to strengthen your city's gold production, then use the gold to buy the Library outright. Similar indirect paths exist through virtually every other resource, and there's always the option of hitting your neighbor over the head and making off with his textbooks.

Your nation-building strategy arises out of the interaction between all of these smaller, simpler systems. On that scale, it works, and it's fun. Taken individually, some systems work better than others. Your cities produce Culture, which has two purposes: it makes your territory grow, and it allows you to adopt Social Policies. You can think of the Social Polices like a talent tree for your nation. After accumulating particular amounts of culture points, you spend it to slightly alter how your empire operates. While there are a lot of options to pick from, you actually make choices infrequently, and the policies themselves aren't particularly interesting. They certainly don't have enough of an effect to be discernible by an opponent. Similarly, your scientific research goes into a tech tree, and while there's a certain amount of room to pursue particular technologies before others, the penalty for doing so becomes excessive very quickly. On their own, these systems are not terribly interesting, but being part of a larger system does a lot to minimize their flaws.

Of course, all of these choices depend on having the right information, which in turn requires a UI capable of communicating everything you need to know without getting cluttered. Firaxis did a great job at this. Virtually everything you need is either a mouse-hover or a mouse-click away. Hovering over your resources explains their source and their purpose. Over land, it will show the resources the land offers. By clicking on a city you can see its buildings, choose what it produces, see what it produces and modify how it does so. Manipulating units is dead simple, with mouse-hovers detailing how long it takes them to do something, combat odds relative to an enemy unit, advantages and disadvantages from ranks and terrain, and more. You can zoom in and out on the primary map, and even pull back to a two-dimensional strategic view. A giant glowing button by the minimap is your go-to for making sure units have orders and cities are building something. Every turn, important events pop up as icons on the right side of your screen, and clicking on the icons takes you to wherever you need to look.

Unfortunately, the strength of the UI doesn't carry over to the other aspects of the game that aren't directly related to the gameplay. The menuing system is a bit clunky. Civ 5 is more demanding on hardware than you might expect for a strategy game. Tabbing out is more of a pain than it should be in 2010. And Firaxis, while your introductory cinematic is very pretty, I don't want to see it every time I start the game. Furthermore, I don't want it to take 30 seconds to stop playing after I hit Escape. There are also a few strange setting restrictions. Perhaps there's a good reason not to be able to change video settings in the middle of a game, but I can't think of any. Some of the gameplay settings need to be alterable as well — at least the cosmetic ones. Also, while their implementation of an autosave feature was excellent, manual saving during multiplayer games isn't ideal.

One of most heralded changes from previous Civ games is the switch from square tiles to hexagonal tiles. Having tried it out, I think it's definitely a fun and welcome choice, though its virtues may have been overstated. It gives units a more natural movement, and removes the awkwardness of corners. It also complements another notable change: the inability to stack multiple military units on a single tile. You can no longer pile up enormous armies in the same spot and, when the time is right, flood an enemy nation without a care for placement or attack order. It's definitely a coup for reintroducing tactics to wars between nations. Besieging an enemy city with equivalent forces becomes a delicate puzzle, where each unit needs to be positioned in the right spot to fight the proper opponent or be in range to lob projectiles at them. It also creates situations where troops or terrain can create bottlenecks, which can make a stronger army hesitant to advance on a weaker but well-placed army. Sun-tzu would be pleased. On top of that, cities actually have teeth this time around — they can shoot attackers from a couple tiles away, which adds another element to planning battles.

The other major change is the introduction of City-states. These are essentially miniature empires that never expand. You can have limited diplomatic interactions with them, gaining favor by providing luxury resources or killing somebody for them, or simply by bribing them with gold. Or you can invade their tiny territories and conquer them. I was on the fence about these to start — they take a fair investment of time and resources to befriend or conquer, and they're often in spots to which you would like to expand. But they add another level of complexity to diplomacy, and when you can run an errand for them, they'll supply you with troops and resources, and even interact on other levels, like helping you attack or defend. I think the default settings put too many city-states in the game, but once that number is lowered a bit by modifying settings, they're a lot more fun.

Civ 5's AI is good at some things, and it struggles at others. It does a decent job during battles, maneuvering troops and deciding when to attack in ways that are reasonably close to what a player would do. Diplomacy is hit-and-miss. You'll often have multiple opposing AIs perform the exact same action at the same time. Sometimes it's offers for cooperation or trade agreements. Sometimes it's threats and war. Occasionally it seems like the AI massively overestimates your military capacity, and tries to buy peace from you for much, much more than you would accept. Conversely, proposing a trade is often futile, as they tend to make much higher demands than are reasonable. In a game with several strong opponents, these events can balance out, but other times it will make the game impossible to win or impossible to lose. Oh, and Montezuma's still a jerk.

One of the nice characteristics of the Civilization franchise is that it's easy to see major improvements from one game to the next. Combat tactics, the UI, and diplomatic relations all got a much-needed overhaul, and dozens of little things make for much more streamlined gameplay, allowing you to focus on decision-making without getting bogged down in minutiae. That, combined with their tried-and-true blend of staggered, long-term goals interwoven with short-term objectives makes Civ 5 a great time-waster. I'll bet that most people who play it will fall into the "just one more turn" trap as though the game were hammering away at their dopamine receptors directly.

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Review: Civilization V

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  • Re:Great Game (Score:5, Informative)

    by Thorizdin ( 456032 ) <{thorizdin} {at} {}> on Friday September 24, 2010 @12:01PM (#33688296) Homepage

    I agree, but they also caught a ton of grief over it. I have acquaintances that refused to touch Civ4 specifically because of the inclusion of religion. Interestingly the people I know who felt that way fell into both the very religious (in this case fundamentalist Christians) and in the very non-religious (strident atheist in this case).

  • Re:ehh (Score:2, Informative)

    by odies ( 1869886 ) * on Friday September 24, 2010 @12:20PM (#33688532)

    As far as the "I'll bet that most people who play it will fall into the "just one more turn" trap" comment; nope, I've played 4 games, won the last 2, and when it asked to keep playing, I said no thanks every time.

    That's not what the comment means. It means if you have something else to do, you think you'll play just one more turn and then quit playing. I remember when as a kid our family was leaving for a holiday and when everyone was ready and waiting, my father would yell he plays just one more turn.

    Obviously, after the turn you have to play just one more...

  • Re:Great Game (Score:5, Informative)

    by TheSunborn ( 68004 ) <.tiller. .at.> on Friday September 24, 2010 @12:24PM (#33688582)

    No impact on politics? Leders with the same religion as you would like you much more, and almost newer go to war with you. A good way to start was to get an early religion switch to it and then build a road to a neighbour, open border with hin and hope the religion spred to him so he would switch to it. That way you were almost safe from attack from him. In fact different religions were most often the reason for war in civ iv.

  • by shadowrat ( 1069614 ) on Friday September 24, 2010 @12:29PM (#33688622)
    BOTF was cool, but AI processing time went up exponentially with each successive turn. after a few hours of play, it was agonizing to wait for the chance to do something again. then it crashed. Maybe it worked better on your system.
  • Re:Not buying (Score:3, Informative)

    by Ace170780 ( 1221898 ) on Friday September 24, 2010 @12:33PM (#33688664)
    WTF are you talking about. It uses Steam. You can play online or offline and doesn't hinder you playing in anyway. Get off your high horse.
  • by slyrat ( 1143997 ) on Friday September 24, 2010 @12:38PM (#33688728)

    Can it be played online, in multi-player mode? Please forgive my noob-ness. I've never played civ. Looks great.

    Well in civ 4 they had a fantastic side app called pitboss that made it easy to set up multiplayer games. It was pretty much a server, and you could have it email players when it was their turn. It also made it so you could have everyone jump into and out of the game whenever and not fear that the game would be lost. I've heard that within a month or two this will also be coming to civ V along with hot-seat and play by email. pbem games were essentially emailing the save file around between the players.

    I will also have to state that the multiplayer is the primary way I play civ anymore. So at least for now I'm waiting for pitboss in civ v before I buy it. Oh and for those on the fence about a new civ, grab the demo and try out the game for 100 turns. I found it to be not really better or worse than 4, just different. In particular if you enjoy the military aspect of the civ games then you should stick to 5. I prefer 4 mostly because of the wider range of civs and having both a unique building and unit for each civ.

  • by imthesponge ( 621107 ) on Friday September 24, 2010 @12:49PM (#33688834)

    Just FYI: Wikimedia Commons doesn't accept fair use images. Wikipedia itself does.

  • Re:Great Game (Score:3, Informative)

    by eviloverlordx ( 99809 ) on Friday September 24, 2010 @01:24PM (#33689262)

    Sorry, that's not right. Atheism is about a lack of evidence, not an unsupported belief about no god.

  • by julesh ( 229690 ) on Friday September 24, 2010 @01:41PM (#33689514)

    I think it's been a while since I read so much rubbish modded informative.

    PNG can be lossless, if you choose 0 for compression level - then the image is basically a bitmap when it comes to file-size (except png inherently supports Alpha-channel transparency).

    Err... no. PNG is always lossless. PNG is also always zlib-compressed, so is almost always smaller than the equivalent .BMP file. I've also never seen an implementation of PNG that supports numeric setting of compression level: the choices are normally between different strategies, although most modern implementations simply autodetect the best strategy for each line of the image.

    Similiar to Video - every time you change format you will almost-always introduce artifacts.

    Depends on the format of course; there are few lossless video formats out there, but there are some (HuffYUV being the most common, but there are others)

    Also, JPG image quality can be greatly improved by choosing the option to disable color subsampling.

    This depends heavily on the image. Chroma subsampling is very useful in many situations, but it cannot represent very small areas of colour in a reasonable way. It does reduce the amount of data that needs to be compressed by half (6 values per 2x2 block rather than 12) and results in images that usually are indistinguishable from the source without enlargement, which really means that you can use a higher quality level for the rest of the process, which in many cases results in a better overall image quality. If you're targetting very high quality and don't much care about file size, then disabling it is an obvious win, otherwise you may want to try both ways.

    JPG's tend to be smaller than PNG when you start with a BMP, but not always -- depends on the content of the image.

    Yes, some images compress particularly well with PNG (e.g. line art, uniform fills, smooth gradient fills) but not very well at all with JPG. JPG is suitable only for photographic or similar images.

    BMP->JPG: Smallish File size.
    BMP->PNG: Smallish File size, may be smaller than previous JPG.
    YET...Take that JPG and save as a level 6 compression PNG and it will be bigger than it's parent JPG and bigger than the BMP->PNG.

    Yes, because JPG is lossy and PNG isn't. JPG compression artifacts are very hard for PNG to encode as they appear essentially as random noise to PNG's compressor. Therefore smooth BMP -> noisy JPG -> PNG will result in a larger file than direct BMP->PNG conversion. This is pretty much guaranteed to happen in any case where the resulting PNG is smaller than the JPG. There's probably an information-theoretic way to explain this, but off the top of my head I can't think of it.

  • by T'hain Esh Kelch ( 756041 ) on Friday September 24, 2010 @02:01PM (#33689806)
    A Mac announcement is just around the corner, according to []
  • by HBI ( 604924 ) on Friday September 24, 2010 @02:36PM (#33690336) Journal

    I understand all you kids don't remember this, but let's have a history lesson.

    In the 1980s, most software was copy protected. The methods varied, but popular ones were

    -disks with induced errors that had to be reproducible to run the software
    -install counters on the source disk, protected through some means to prevent user alteration
    -bootable floppies with nonstandard formats

    There were more, but that covers a large percentage of the methods. The software vendors stopped doing this for the obvious reason: it was hurting sales. People were having disks go bad or otherwise being deprived of their paid-for software and were choosing not to buy after being screwed a few times.

    It wasn't until the last 10 years that they started in with this copy protection shit again under the name DRM. The idea was to maximize profit. We're not having "blanket-hate" - what a stupid concept - except maybe for the corporate weasels who thought this was a good idea. We're looking to repeat history.

  • Re:DRM? (Score:4, Informative)

    by wjousts ( 1529427 ) on Friday September 24, 2010 @02:47PM (#33690470)
    I'd also add that Steam's own client is very root kit like. It buries itself deep inside your OS, working around your AV software in the supposed interest of preventing cheating. See here [].
  • by Pulzar ( 81031 ) on Friday September 24, 2010 @03:04PM (#33690708)

    It wasn't until the last 10 years that they started in with this copy protection shit again under the name DRM. The idea was to maximize profit. We're not having "blanket-hate" - what a stupid concept - except maybe for the corporate weasels who thought this was a good idea. We're looking to repeat history.

    You have a hole in your memory if you think that copy protection took a break between 80s and the last 10 years. All kinds of other crap went on, including hardware dongles, reading word N from page X in the manual, spinning wheel, and/or included map, and even having to phone the software company to get your secret serial number.

    Those were arguably much worse, as it was pretty easy to lose the original manual/map, and the hardware dongles sitting on parallel/serial ports were often interfering with your other peripherals.

    Copy-protection was always around, and it was always a pain in the ass. It never stops, it only evolves...

  • Re:Great Game (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 24, 2010 @03:05PM (#33690712)

    Those were both some of the worst explanations of what atheism and agnosticism are (no offense). Atheism is an absence of a belief in God. Agnosticism is the belief that the existence of God is unknowable.

  • by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 ) on Friday September 24, 2010 @03:58PM (#33691294)

    Well you might want to check more carefully. First like I said, see what kind of card you have. If you think it is DX11 but don't know, well then it may well not be (though I believe the DX11 one is also DX10 compatible). Also, you may wish to test your hardware. Maybe it is a game bug, or maybe it is revealing hardware bugs. DX11 can hit your hardware harder, and in different ways, than DX9 since it provides more access to the shaders on the card. Maybe your hardware is faulty.

    At any rate I think your statement is a little misleading that the DX9 version is "better". A more accurate statement is that you are having problems with the DX11 version.

  • Re:Not buying (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 24, 2010 @03:59PM (#33691306)

    A cracked Civ V is now on Torrent. It's a Skidrow release, so I trust it to be fine.

    May the Flying Spaghetti Monster bless these crackers. They are our last defense against the lunacy of DRM, the DRM-crazy media companies and their brainwashed minions such as yourself. Go pray on the altar of Valve.

  • Disappointed! :( (Score:4, Informative)

    by euroq ( 1818100 ) on Friday September 24, 2010 @04:15PM (#33691472)

    As a long time Civ player (yes longtime... I think it's common place for everyone to think Civ 2 was the best, although there are definite welcome improvements in the later games), I'm sadly disappointed.

    The good

    1. You no longer need transports to cross oceans, which is AWESOME. And it was implemented very well. I had a few frigates which hammered down and destroyed most of Catherine of Russia's fleet of pikemen and knights coming to invade my shores, once I destroyed her only assisting caravels. Also late game it was easy to click an infantry man to an island somewhere for some reason. It used to be annoying and detrimental to the fun of the game when you had to move a transport vessel from far away, taking up many turns, just to get to a unimportant part of your empire for one measly unit to transport the infantry man to wherever I needed to go.

    2. Your 21st century cities don't automatically get capped by a Pikeman anymore. Finally. The cities themselves have health points and ranged attacks. Awesome, and it worked great in my game. When trying to invade Egypt and deep into their territory, my invading armies would get hammered by the cities before i even made it to their walls.

    3. The Social progression is a really cool way to let you customize your play style, other than simply choosing a civilization trait. I loved it so much that my next game will be completely focused on culture.

    4. You may not think the "only 1 tile per square" thing is cool, but after you actually play it, it is great and adds a cool strategic value that didn't exist before. Invading through a mountain pass was very hard.

    The bad

    1. The game just feels so slow. I'm not talking about FPS, I'm talking about scrolling, zooming, clicking items, making orders, menus. There's always a half-second to sometimes more than a second delay, even when you've got 30 FPS or more. If you thought that you were about to click on "Unit needs orders" you might be wrong, because the UI might not be updated to "Next turn" and BAM! You just clicked the wrong thing! The Help menu is accessible via a tiny font "help" in the corner of the screen, hard to navigate to. I didn't see any key shortcuts for menu items (i.e. demographics), and I looked. If they exist, they've been changed from previous civs. It really changes the feel and excitement of the game when you feel like you're crawling instead of running through the ages.

    2. Quicksave is F11, Quickload is F12. Please don't make me explain why this is a stupid fucking idea.

    3. The age progression is bad. In the regular game that I played, you simply didn't have enough time to improve your cities and build armies. It was one or the other. Building a knight takes 10 turns, building a Temple takes 10 turns. You either have to choose to build armies or one or two city improvements. If you are next to a hostile civilization, you have no choice but to build armies, and ignore your city improvements. It's hard to explain, but you never felt like you had enough time to get anything done. By the time you could build something, it was obsolete. I mean, you could research your way through an age in 40 turns, but it would take 100 turns just to build 1 item from everything in the age.

    4. Great People aren't that powerful; I ended up always using them for Golden Ages. Maybe I am speaking too soon, as I haven't played enough.

    5. It was SO frustrating that you could not preview how far a ranged unit could fire. The reason it was so frustrating is that some units require you to set them up (i.e. before they fire, you have to use one of their moves). Apparently it is affected by mountains and other terrain. So it's really hard to tell. It doesn't even tell you the range in the tooltip. (BTW, I may be wrong about this).

    6. It crashes on startup when I changed the video settings in the previous game. You have to clear out the .ini files in the app's data folder.

    Other stuff

  • Re:Hebrews (Score:3, Informative)

    by tmosley ( 996283 ) on Friday September 24, 2010 @04:29PM (#33691640)
    The Hebrews never had an Empire. Sorry, that's just the way it is (this is a credit to them, in my opinion--they affected change through ideas rather than brute force, even if I disagree with many of the ideas). Venice had a bigger empire than the Hebrews ever had, as did Crete, but you never see the former, and I don't think I've ever seen the latter outside of scenarios. Today they are a city state (in the game's mechanics) at best.

    If you don't like it, make your own mod, scenario, or your own game.
  • Re:Great Game (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 24, 2010 @05:18PM (#33692322)

    Actually not precisely, Atheism is about the lack of belief in gods or deity, as in, they aren't any. They reject the existence of gods.

    Agnosticism is about having a lack of knowledge and evidence about deity, and thus saying that it is unknowable, you can never prove it. Maybe they exist, maybe not, no one knows.

  • Re:Not buying (Score:3, Informative)

    by wjousts ( 1529427 ) on Saturday September 25, 2010 @12:23PM (#33697202)

    It's different because Steam won't be there to authorize your installation of Civ V. Hardware changes over time aren't DRM and are beside the point.

    Also, you might try e-bay for that 3.5" floppy drive.

"Don't worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you'll have to ram them down people's throats." -- Howard Aiken