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Civilization V Review

geoff_hunt By:
GENRE Strategy 
DEVELOPER Firaxis Games 
E10 What do these ratings mean?

“The world shall be yours and everything in it,” spoke the Lord.

I am sorely tempted to give this a flat 'A'. I thought this was a threshold I was not going to cross. Maybe I should rethink this whole ‘jaded gamer’ thing. Time to go hone some old talents or something – learn to weave baskets underwater, maybe. Maybe I should finally go get that degree in physics I always tell my friends I want to get, or get a MBA, or… I dunno… get really drunk? Yeah, I like that last one, especially since having two Sundays in a week has a certain biblical appeal to it.

click to enlargeIf you’ve paid any attention to games for the past 20 years, you’ve likely heard of Civilization before. As it is a venerable series and a foundational game in the turn-based strategy genre, it’s a rare PC gamer who hasn’t played at least a few turns of Civ at some point. It’s a known quantity; a well-understood game, the iterations of which have slowly expanded the playstyles and options available without really changing the fundamental mechanics much.

This is somewhat true of Civilization V – you will most assuredly recognize the core Civ gameplay in it. You still manage cities for the primary gameplay, scout out local territory to find good places to settle in the early game, and wield a mixture of diplomacy and warfare in the later game to further your peoples’ goals. You still research your way through a large tech tree, picking the technologies that will best help your current and long-term strategic goals.

So, what’s different? A lot, actually. To start with, the world map is now managed in hexagonal tiles rather than square ones. On its own, this will not sound like much. But add in the fact that only a single military unit can occupy a given tile, and suddenly a large swath of the Civ gameplay formula shifts. Unlike previous Civ games, where you could stack ridiculous numbers of units on single tiles – defending a single city with a stack of 50 infantry, 10 tanks, 2 artillery guns, 4 AT guns, and a few fighter jets just for good measure was always fun – Civilization V requires that you use the whole terrain in your military endeavors, defensive and offensive.

click to enlargeThe restriction makes this installment very different from its predecessors; as you pursue wars, terrain advantages and maintaining field pushes are finally valuable. This stands in stark contrast to the classic super-stacks of Civ gameplay, and also makes interesting strategic situations rise up out of the play.

Other changes abound – managing your empire’s happiness, finances, and research have all been subtly changed, with an emphasis on streamlining throughout. There’s less finicky city-by-city management to do in V than in previous iterations of the series, making it quicker to manage individual turns. This does, however, give you somewhat less granular control on occasion; I never found myself missing that capability. I found I didn’t lose any practical tools in this change.

Another feature worth mentioning is the city-states; lone cities are scattered regularly about the map this time around, and these lone cities don’t quite operate like a normal civilization. They don’t try to expand, and don’t partake in diplomacy in the same way. You can give them gifts of military units or gold to get them on your good side; eventually, you can use this to make them puppet states, essentially. It’s a cute side mechanic that creates a more lively and dynamic world, so it’s a fun addition to the series.

click to enlargeAlong with the gameplay changes have come a variety of UI and graphical improvements. Civilization V acquits itself well under DirectX 11. Far more than the visual flair – which is there and good, but nothing truly outstanding – is the flexibility and ease with which you can switch contexts in Windows from Civ V to a web browser or whatever and back. It's robust and tough, running happily in the background while you answer an e-mail or browse a web page. The diplomacy screens are likewise snazzy. A slick UI, good animations, and appealing color choices keep the graphics looking great.

Music and sound is likewise high quality, with samples matching the nation you choose to play. Varying instrumentation and themes differentiate the choice of civilization musically, while unique voice-acting fit the languages and modes of speech play for the units whenever you order them about. I was especially pleased with the musical samplings for the Americans, Germans, Russians, and Japanese.

Multiplayer in Civ 5 feels a lot more manageable than prior versions; the reduced overhead for imperial management keeps turns rolling by a bit quicker, so the game feels more playable. Although it can still warrant some marathon sessions, the more immediate feel staves those off pretty well.

On the whole, Civilization V is superb. Smooth, slick, nice UI, good graphics, strong new gameplay with some clean-up in the right old areas does not lose that fundamental ‘Civilization’ feel. Civ V is everything a great sequel should be. If you like Civ or turn-based strategy games, this one’s a must.
A- Revolution report card
  • Fun rework of Civ gameplay
  • Slick UI
  • Great music and sound
  • Solid as a rock
  • +/- Streamlined but less control

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More information about Civilization V
Also known as: Civilization 5, Civ 5, Civ V

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