Hands-on: Sid Meier's Civilization V


I have fond memories of playing Civilization II on my old HP Pavilion. Part of the charm about Civilization II was that it was an incredibly deep and enjoyable game hidden beneath a relatively simple exterior. I must have spent hundreds of hours playing that game, which means a lot for someone who does not view his personal computer as much of a game machine.

I'm not the only one who spent his formative years in front of a computer screen clicking away at Sid Meier's masterpiece series. While I lost track of that series as it expanded with new sequels and expansions, it has always been on my periphery. As The Sims, impressive first-person shooters, lengthy MMOs, and real-time strategy games reaffirm their place in PC-game canon, it's nice to see that the Civilization franchise is not just an established and capable player, but one of the most engrossing experiences on the PC.

I mean, look at me. I spent nearly four hours on the upcoming Sid Meier's Civilization V at a recent preview event, and I'm still aching to click away for much, much more. Hit the jump to find out why.


Sid Meier's Civilization V (PC)
Developer: Firaxis Games
Publisher: 2K Games
To be released: September 21, 2010

Coming into Civilization V after nearly ten years of non-play, I was surprised to find that the core mechanics have not changed that much. I started off with a random match set on easy, and the game set me up with Germany. Quickly I had established a city or two, and was well on my way with researching new technology and traveling up the now-familiar chain to ultimately reach Alpha Centauri. Civilization V is the same story told with better graphics, more civilizations, and better design. It looks like those hoping for a radically different experience will be disappointed; most of the core Civilization norms are in place, from the different political structures to the tactical battles. Other than a slick update to graphics, it's the Civilization you know and love.

What's cool about each of the 18 different civilizations is that they tend to have different attitudes and approaches to how they interact with other societies. For example, France, the first society for me to find, is as condescending and arrogant as the stereotypes imply. From the get-go, I was concerned that they would be an imperial threat, as Napoleon was allying with nearby nations left and right. This is typical for the French AI, a Firaxis representative told me. Except, they didn't grow. After four hours of play, France had one of the smallest empires around, practically cannon fodder for my rapidly expanding colony.

Apparently, I had stumbled upon the “artistic side” of France. Instead of being the empire-driven nation of Napoleon, France's AI has a small chance of becoing obsessed with art and artistic stuff. Each nationality will have these sorts of variables to influence their AI interactions, so it's somewhat cool to see how they will respond to different player actions. For example, China is upstanding yet brutal; Caesar and Ramses like to bulldoze their way across continents; America acts like it's better than everyone else; and Russia does their own thing while simultaneously being really huge. Adding to the charm is the accurate voice acting Firaxis has chosen to use, as each nation speaks in their respective languages. Like other Civilization games, it's a charm to see how these other nations act in the alternate universe on your screen. 

Interestingly, I found that Civilization V was much friendlier to my play style. I enjoy taking the diplomatic route in this kind of games; it requires a fine balance in pleasing everyone. Between managing resources, the right number of cities, size, international relations, population contentment, defense, and a hell of a lot more, I find it more of a challenge than the simpler “build troops, crush stuff” tactic that Civilization V also rewards. Thankfully, a more neutral, passive approach to intercultural relations actually works. Technology and resources can be shared between countries, and even research of new tech can be worked between nations. The addition of City-States, or smaller cultural groups like Venice, Scotland, and Hungary, means these smaller entities tend to stay closer to home. How you interact with them influences how the larger cultural groups respond, and introduces different cultures that might normally be ignored. It looks like Firaxis has done a great job balancing the game for many different styles.

Many of the features I've mentioned are not exactly new. Any hardcore player of Civilization games knows all of these things, and have torn previous games up. What is new, however, is certainly a big deal for returning fans. Gone for good is the traditional checkerboard grid of the past Civilization titles. From here on out, it's all about the hex pattern. Does it make a big difference? It's hard to tell, as from my time with it, I noticed no problems and had a great time with the game. High-level competitive players might find the new grid to be difficult, or it could breathe new life into Civilization. As far as I could tell, it ruined nothing about the game; instead, it ultimately made the game much more flexible.

Another big change is how you can no longer stack military units of the same type on the same grid piece. However, military units can now be placed into cities to act as defensive units, and should enemy troops get too close, cities can launch a defensive attack. There is still a hierarchy of units that must be unlocked, and each culture retains their exclusive units. Battles are much more flexible with the hex grid, and the tactical options are much more fluid.

There are also more ways to complete a game. While previous titles focused on the race to Alpha Centauri, in Civilization V players have the option of winning by the Utopia Project. These utopian ideals involve social goals that the player can complete, and with a certain number done, they can then win in a less aggressive manner than the Alpha Centauri space race. I unfortunately did not spend enough time with the game to complete these objectives, but I've been told that they offer a change of pace.

The user interface has also been refined. The game screen is much less cluttered, with the goal of bringing new players into the more expansive screen real estate. All of the necessary windows are much more contextual, so they won't be popping up when they aren't needed, and everything has been pushed off to the side. The developers want to keep things as simple as possible, and the game is incredibly easy to play with only a mouse. New players will probably enjoy the option to set units on automatic control, meaning any unit can head out and do its own thing. It's not anything someone would want to do on a harder difficulty, but it's a great choice for people hoping to focus on other elements of the game.

Like every other Civilization game, it looks like Civilization V will great. There are plenty of new small features that should change how the game plays for returning players, and plenty of new modifications allow newer players to step up and give it a try. It's at once simpler and more complex, and a very compelling new entry in the Civilization franchise.

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Ben Perlee
Ben Perlee   gamer profile

So, yeah. Sup. How you be? I be good. I like the videogames. They are pretty cool. You played the Rock Band? I like the Rock Band. I sing "Don't Look Back in Anger" by Oasis on expert. It's prett... more + disclosures



Filed under... #2K Games #Civilization #PC #Previews #Strategy games



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