Civilization V Review: The Good And The Bad

Ever since I got my hands on Civilization V (about 10 days ago), I’ve been playing it non-stop. In fact I’d say 70 hours have been clocked on the game between the last two Sundays – that’s 40% of available time during a week! During this immersion process I’ve gathered a lot of insight into Civilization V, and here’s everything you need to know about it.

CIV V – The Good

There are many places to start but one stands out – the overall refinement of the game from an empire simulation to a strategy simulation. The differences are in some places game-changing (hexes, no stacks, diplomacy) and in some places subtle (growth of cities, social policies) but all of them point to a leaner, meaner, more fun game to play.

Going into detail, here’s what’s most impressive:

City States: There is so much fun to be had with City States – from playing the protector (and getting yourself into a war where you’re attcked by 3 civilizations at once) to going on a killing spree (which would lead the states to band together against you) to using them as allies in your quest for world domination (where they can stall, cripple and otherwise hinder enemies), there is plenty to do. Friendly / allied city states also give you bonuses depending on what type they are (military, cultural, maritime), and this will make them important / unimportant depending on which path you pursue during the game (total warfare, growth, cultural win).

No Stacks: Moving away from stacked units has permanently changed Civ V warfare for the better. There’s more strategy involved, there’s more manual control involved, and with cities being able to defend themselves, it’s a lot more realistic as well.

Embark: Units can now set sail on waters (after the right technologies have been discovered) without need for transport ships. It’s a good addition to the game and again, more realistic as it allows you to move units around independently.

Land Expansion: In Civ IV you could ‘turn’ a rival city by surrounding it with culturally strong cities and takeover enemy land (some of it) by building cities with strong culture near it. That’s all out of the window, and now land expansion is more realistic, working towards valuable land tiles / resources first, and allowing the owner to buy tiles to take over land.

Plus you can’t ‘take’ enemy lands without taking over their cities (or using a culture bomb through a Great Artist, but that has appropriate limits / penalties). It forces you to play a more financially prudent game and also gives you one more reason to go to war.

Another related change is that setting cities up far away from your capital doesn’t give you a disadvantage, and that allows you to build cities far away to take advantage of resources (which are scarcer in Civ V). To balance that out, other civilizations will be far more aggressive if you build cities near them.

Diplomacy: Rival civilizations now take your ‘land expansion’ near their borders a lot more seriously, agitating against and then going to war with you as a result.

Your reputation counts for a lot, so if you start / take part in wars, other civilizations will be less likely to deal nicely with you. The same applies to city states, but only if you continuously attack city states.

Overall this means that if you’re an expansionist, you’re likely to have to fight your way through the game. And once you start fighting, you can’t stop. War, they say, never changes. Civ V just made it more fun.

Graphics: Visually the game is a whole lot more appealing, and coupled with the tiles to hexes change it’s more realistic too. You need a high-end system to play the game but it’s worth it.

CIV V – The Bad

Even a very good game doesn’t get everything right.

Slow development / rate of progress: The game’s progress is unbalanced – you grow very slowly at the start before experiencing a growth spurt in the middle that sees you skip many intermediary units. Early worker units take forever to create – unrealistic as you expect to have workers in near the start of a civilization’s time, not 15-20 turns later. It becomes more balanced as time passes by, but there’s a way to fix this issue, similar to how we can fix the next issue.

Slow movement across sea for units: Once units can embark on sea, their movement across sea tiles remains the same regardless of progress. This is unrealistic – as technology progresses, it should be a lot easier for units to move across the sea.

An ideal fix for this and the previous issue would be to adjust growth / movement speeds at the start of each new era, making it easier / harder to do certain things.

Average AI: This is a long-standing CIV issue – the artificial intelligence is limited and with the game-changing impact of no-stacks, it seems that they had little time to improve the game on this front. It’s easy to beat the game at Normal difficulty (or maybe that’s because I’ve been playing this game since 1996) and increasing the difficulty level doesn’t improve the AI, it just creates negative modifiers which isn’t as much fun.

Diplomacy: Fewer options, which isn’t as much fun as before. Yes, reactions to your expansion are more realistic but you should be able to do more tangible tasks than just form ‘pacts of cooperation and secrecy’. Plus it’s difficult to form alliances (maybe that’s because I have too many wars going on) but relationships with other civilizations need to be more transparent and more elaborate.

The good parts outweigh the bad by a long shot here. If you’ve never played any Civilization title, do yourself a favor and get a copy of Civ V right away. If you’re a Civ veteran, have a go and share your thoughts on the game below!

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