Review: Civilization V

Civilization V Review - Chichen Itza

The truest form of quality measurement for any Civilization game is astonishingly simple: how many hours of the day disappear during each game you play? It's a scale of addiction, and Civilization V is extremely addictive. Civilization players can be recognized by the bags under their eyes, but that's only if they've managed to leave the refuge of their computer in the first place.

As with any addiction though, there's an amount of remorse associated with the time you've lost. Considering that, Civilization as a franchise loses some of its glamor. There are aspects of the games that aren't worth spending so much time on, or could have been more enjoyably appropriated.

Civilization V however, includes multiple dramatic changes that have been made to the Civilization formula. Don't let that fool you though; this game is absolutely Civilization. Build a budding empire with flourishing cities, a dominant military and thriving culture turn by turn. Each small decision can have a widespread effect on your economy or in diplomacy. Civilization V is elaborately complex, but also wonderfully intuitive. Will Civilization V leave you remorseful for the time you've spent, though? Read on for my full review of Civilization V to find out.

Civilization V Review - War

Initially, the most noticeable upgrade to Civilization V is the graphical improvements. Civilization IV players may load up the game and see a large number of similarities and shared assets, but most players will be astonished at how much of a change has been made. It's bewildering considering that Civilization has grown from small square tiles that represent each city and unit, into this gorgeously animated and lush world.

Particularly well done are the wilderness, resource and resource upgrade tiles. Prior games in the series tended to allow their tiles to fade into the background, preferring to keep each tile unobtrusive and ordinary. Civilization V let's these tiles stand out, as if each tile were designed individually. It's quite engrossing, if you don't consider units taller than a skyscraper to be disconcerting.

What has likely caused much of the impressive new graphical detail is Civilization's change into hexagonal, six-sided tiles. The lack of right angles allows so much more freedom in design, creating a astoundingly organic visual style. Gone are simple lines that go straight, backwards or to the right or left. They're replaced by wavering borders, farm-lines that stretch over a wide area like woven fabric, and cities that spill out into adjacent tiles when the confines of their hex is not enough. It really does look and feel perfect.

Civilization V Review - Economy

The true beauty of Civilization V lies deeper than the hex though. Some creative changes have been made to the systems that are innate to Civilization. No longer are there religions or government systems; Espionage is nowhere to be found either. While these sacrifices are saddening, their removal has made way for a more streamlined experience. Their presence was always in the background of prior Civilizations, and Civilization V wants all of their systems to be apparent, active and almost certainly in use.

Instead of religion or government we have the new and improved culture system. As you gain culture levels, you can invest points into different social policies. Each conforms to different playstyles such as rapid expansion, naval warfare or diplomacy. Much like the other improved systems in Civilization V, the culture system feels better integrated into gameplay. Culture is a measurable currency and you can see the rate in which you earn it climb and drop with every decision you make. So while it's still just a method of adding statistical advantages into certain areas of your gameplay, it feels deeply ingrained in the growth of your civilization as well.

Another new addition to the game is the City-State. A City-State is much like an opposing player, only they're limited to a single city and have much kinder diplomatic options. Where opposing factions can cancel a treaty and declare war on you within two turns, a City-State has a quantifiable friendship meter. You can increase this via gold or donating military units to them, but it will naturally degrade over time. Having a purchasable ally at times can be helpful, but the opposite is also true. Enemies who persuade nearby City-States to their side are quite troublesome.

What's so amazing is how, despite the sweeping changes in Civilization V, Firaxis has manages to integrate them into the game in a very accessible and intuitive manner. Managing the development of your cities while simultaneously fighting wars on multiple fronts, or micromanaging food production without forgetting about maintaining your culture and technology upgrades has never been so simple. Don't let that throw you off though, Civilization V is both deviously complex  and amazingly friendly. After some tutorials, any player can jump in and have a great time, but expert players can spend hours tuning their Civilizations appropriately.

Continue to part two of our Civilization 5 Review!

Civilization V Review - Growth

There are a few other aspects of Civilization V worth mentioning. The UI for Civilization V has been streamlined for ease of use. Buttons for almost every menu can be found easily within reach. While the idea here is very sound, it does take a while to figuring out just what each button is for. Getting lost in a series of diplomacy menus when you're just looking for your Culture one is an often occurring situation.

AI lag and animation lag is also in abundance in Civilization V. Whether the game is waiting for an army of workers to finish their jobs or for each opposing player to make a series of decisions, the time between turns can stall occasionally. As the game progresses, this becomes more apparent. Also, every single game I've played through has suddenly crashed near the year 2000. It could be a memory leak of some kind, though I don't want to make any assumptions. Let's just say there are some technical gremlins still in the gears. A restart of the game will fix the errors for at least a few hours.

It's also no understatement to say Civilization V is massive. Eighteen different civilizations; 74 technologies to research; over 30 national and world wonders that each have their own graphic that appears on the map; and then add in culture, resources, buildings, military units, an extensive modification system and the random map generator. Civilization V is huge and every detail is glorious.

Still, the game isn't perfect. There are certain balance problems pertaining to specific buildings that hamper production. There are specialized military units that are considerably more powerful than other units for their era, to the extent of unfairness. The technical issues I mentioned earlier are unacceptable, considering they've occurred in every single game I've played. Essentially, there are an assortment of small issues that can pop up at any given moment and burden your experience.

Luckily, with the inclusion of SteamWorks, Firaxis can patch the game as they please -- and has done so! The modification system also allows players to "balance" any aspect of the game they disapprove of. Even considering the great game that Civilization V is, it's only getting better.

Civilization V Review - Exploration

Some longtime Civilization fans complain that there have been too many changes, but you can't please all diehard franchise fans because the games they love have had their time and passed. Civilization V is not Civilization IV or any of the other iterations in the franchise. What Civilization V is though, is the best 4X/turn based strategy game in years. The graphical improvements, the upgrade to a hexagonal tile base, and additions like the culture system have shown that even in its fifth incarnation, Civilization is fun, modern and brilliant.

Every single turn you play in Civilization V will prompt you to play another, and as we know, the truest form of quality measurement in a Civilization game is the time you lose in each playthrough. When completed, you'll find yourself smiling, pleased with the experience, and ready for more. Just one more turn.

Treat yourself and pick up Civilization V for your PC right now, if you haven't already.

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Our Rating:

4.5 star out of 5 (Must-See)
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