james debate
james debate

Tuesday 26 October 2010

Developed by Firaxis Games
Published by 2K Games
Genre Turn-based Strategy, 4X
Platform PC

As the newest entry to the famous Civilization series, Civilization V surprises many with drastic changes to core gameplay mechanics. But has it paid off?

civilization v

Civilization, of course, is the series that defined the genre of turn-based 4X (explore, expand, exploit, exterminate) gameplay, way back in 1991. The basic idea remains the same today, you control a civilization and guide them through the trials of history from cave men to the space age, seizing world dominance by whatever means you deem necessary. To do this, one trains units, builds city improvements, and researches technology.

For the first time in a long while, this entry to the series makes big changes. Civilization has now switched to a hexagon-based map as opposed to square tiles as before. This is actually a much bigger change than it sounds, as it completely changes how units move and explore the map, as well as engage in combat.

The other major change is that only one unit at a time can be in a single map tile, which means that the old tactic of piling units on top of each other in order to overwhelm the enemy no longer works. This forces the player to be much more tactical when thinking about unit placement and movement, as well as when choosing a unit with which to protect a city.

Other less fundamental improvements include the addition of 'city states', which are essentially single-city civilizations with special attributes that the player can either befriend in order to receive resources and military support, or oppose and risk a confrontation with their allies. These add an interesting new strategic element to the game, but one that frankly seems designed to compensate for weak diplomatic elements elsewhere in the game.

In addition, Civilization V has improved support for modification, supposedly even able to plug certain user mods into an existing save-game, hypothetically extending the lifespan of a game indefinitely should you desire. Unfortunately as of yet this feature has not really been used, so I am unable to include it in my review.

These big changes are welcome ones and a definite improvement to the old Civilization formula, but unfortunately beyond that there is not much in the way of progress from Civilization IV, and in fact in many ways this game seems to be a step backwards.

Not many people remember that there was in fact a Civilization game between Civilization IV and this one, it was called Civilization Revolutions and it was released on consoles. The idea behind this game was to 'streamline' Civilization, which Firaxis took to mean 'dumb down' by removing most of the strategic and micromanagement elements. The game was a critical and commercial flop and I think I can safely say that most fans of the series had hoped that Firaxis had gotten this urge out of their system so that they could return to what they do best: rich, deep civilization titles. Sadly they have not.

Religion and corporations have been taken out of the game completely, an element that, while slightly superficial, is undeniably an extra dimension to the politics of the game.

The ability to alter tax rates and funding for scientific and cultural development is also completely gone, the importance of which can not be overstated. This was previously the pivotal choice for players in deciding how to develop your civilization, and removing it takes out most of the non-combat strategy which existed in the series, as well as destroying any semblance of an economy which may have been present before.

Each civilization only has one leader to choose from, where the previous game had several each with different attributes, and the game hasn't shipped with any of the scenarios that have been so popular in the past. Several important elements of diplomacy are gone as well, including the ability to trade technology.

The result is that while the combat has certainly been improved, there's very little else to do in this game. Beyond choosing which improvement to build there is very little strategy involved in running a civilzation as with previous games, diplomacy is still very shallow and largely irrelevant with poor AI for other nations' leaders. It's nowhere near as addicting or rewarding as before. Unfortunately Civilization V is a game with little of the magic that has so epitomised past games by Firaxis. Why Alpha Centauri, a game that's more than ten years old, still contains deeper and more advanced features than this game is simply hard to understand.

Ultimately Civilization V is a game that has been severely dumbed down into what I suppose Firaxis would describe as a 'streamlined' experience, but the rest of us will likely describe as disappointing.

Updated graphics
Combat has greater strategic depth

Many features removed
Little in the way of real improvement
Very little to do in this game beyond combat

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