I’ve always enjoyed the leisurely pace of turn-based strategy games like the Civilization series. Being an enthusiastic (if not overly competent) chess player for most of my life, I like being able to deliberate and mull over my moves. It’s a great palate cleanser between bouts of twitch shooting, precision platform timing, or survival horror gaming where your awareness and reflexes must constantly be at the ready to win.
That being said, when you add other players into the mix, the time it takes to complete a game of Civilization can be downright agonizing if you are forced to wait for each player to take their turn. Civ III: Play the World introduced the ability for players to take their turns simultaneously, allowing for a big increase in the speed of each turn (and game). Unfortunately, it had so many connectivity issues that it was mostly unplayable.
Thankfully, Firaxis not only salvaged this concept for inclusion in Civ IV but also radically improved the execution; critics and players alike lauded the game’s multiplayer component. So, when I jumped in for a few hours of Civ V multiplayer with a small group of games writers and a 2K representative recently, I was pleased to discover that this iteration looks to continue the upward trend for the series’ multiplayer.
Players will have the option to choose between solo style turn-based and simultaneous turn-based play for multiplayer, with timer settings just like in Civ IV. Also returning from the last game is the ability to set whether you want the game to freeze when a player drops or to hand control over to the AI until the player reconnects. When this happened to an opponent once during the match I played in, the game popped a notification and immediately transitioned to an AI player. Other than the notification, there was no interruption in my gameplay at all.
Once you begin to encounter other players during exploration, the free-for-all aspects of the simultaneous turn-based model really start to come into play. Getting your scout or unit to move first in a given round can make a real difference, allowing you to gain the one-time benefits of discovering a natural wonder or claiming an ancient ruin before your opponents. The game gives priority to commands in the order it receives them from all players.
Unfortunately, the two hours we had allotted for play didn’t allow us to experience the full impact of this set-up when it came to combat; the only time another player took a military unit near one of my cities I quickly and politely dissuaded him by positioning an archer and my baller-ass catapult nearby. He beat a hasty retreat and went to pick on a smaller city-state while I went back to cranking out wonders.
The implications for combat, however, are many. Acting faster and smarter than your opponents should allow you to grab advantageous terrain or choke points more often. Giving priority to moving units that are stronger on offense than defense will probably become standard strategy to maximize combat effectiveness. There may even be occasions where you will want to intentionally act slowly as a lure to draw units within striking distance of your cities or ranged units.
Two hours is far too brief a time to make a definitive statement on the final outcome of Civ V’s multiplayer component, but it was more than enough of a taste to get me all juiced up for a full go at the game with some living imperialistic war-mongers for me to culture bomb. Civilization V releases on Sept. 21st in NA, so keep your eyes peeled here for the full review soon.