Civilization and its sequels are time-honoured classics with some of the most compelling and instantly recognisable gameplay in the turn-based strategy genre. With each iteration in the franchise, Civilization has grown and improved in a variety of ways.
The changes in Civilization V are the most significant the series has ever seen, and they almost all work for the best, though they might appear strange at first.
I'll get the obvious out of the way first: Civ V is an incredibly pretty strategy title. The virtual landscape is lush and beautiful, and the game supports DirectX 11 effects. The unit combat animations have been vastly improved, and the number of soldiers that drop after a battle now corresponds to the health points lost. The various world rulers have also been improved, and now actually speak their language rather than Simlish (like the gibberish in The Sims). It is a nice touch.
But, while the graphics are great, the real core of any Civilization title is the gameplay. So, how does it stack up compared to earlier titles?
The most significant change would probably be the way that combat is handled. As the outlines in some of the screenshots suggest, Civ V now uses hexes (hexagon-shaped tiles) rather than squares. In addition, unit stacking (multiple units in one tile) is out.
This, along with a reworked combat system that results in fairer battles (and no more spearmen defeating tanks), has lead to a greater feeling of depth and playability than any Firaxis title since Alpha Centauri. With only one unit per hex, flanking, and more long-range units, the way the player moves and positions their army actually has a significant impact.
Cities have also been improved when it comes to combat. Cities now get a basic ranged attack and defensive value that leads to more involved invasions, and scales down nicely towards the later game as units become more powerful.
All units can also cross the water without needing to screw around with separate transport units. It might be a small feature, but it is a nice and very welcome touch.
Overall, the combat overhaul has greatly added to the depth and replayability of Civ V, now that the game demands a strategy more involved than massing a stack of units and overrunning the world.
The way ‘culture’ works has also been completely overhauled. In earlier titles, culture worked by expanding your borders and triggering a win condition when a civilisation meets an arbitrary value. Now, a cultural victory is a goal to be worked towards, with social policies (empire-wide bonuses) that unlock as you accumulate points towards it.
This replaces the government type (ie: democracy, monarchy, etc) setting of earlier games, and is a far more interesting replacement for the social policy system seen in Civilization IV.
The other notable new feature in Civ V is the introduction of city states. These are effectively single-city civilisations that can be traded with (or conquered) for a few extra resources and bonuses. While the odd extra Great Person, military unit or point of culture is welcome, it feels odd that city-states demand the equivalent of several hundred years’ income just to maintain an alliance. They can also get in the way on smaller maps, so your mileage may vary as to whether it’s a good feature.
Civ V also takes a leaf from the book of Civilization: Revolution by adding special abilities and units to each, well, civilisation. While it is quite nice to have some differentiation between civs, quite a few of the abilities are either useless or game-breaking. I'm looking at you, Japan.
The streamlining of the game design isn't all positive, either. Research doesn't feel as interesting this time around; there are fewer unit types than in previous games; religions and corporations (two main features of Civ IV) are out, and so on.
In addition, the AI seems to be far weaker than previous entries in the series. However, given that it can be hard to tell with strategy games, take this one with a pinch of salt.
While the multiplayer is fairly user-friendly and painless to get up and running, it too has been simplified a little too far. There is no ability to join by direct IP, there is absolutely no ability to change from simultaneous turns to concurrent, and any attempt to play with more than eight players (the single player game supports 16) is met with a massive warning that the number is 'unsupported'.
Overall, Civilization V is a great step forward for the series. The new combat system is excellent, culture is far more interesting, there is far more replay value, and, of course, it is a really pretty game.
Like many great steps forward, however, there have been a few missteps along the way. Time will tell whether the design decisions in the game will lose the favour of more hardcore strategy fans, and what new features we will see in coming expansions.
Still, Civilization V is a thoroughly enjoyable title with a lot of room for growth and mod potential. Any fan of the Civilization series should definitely take a look at it, and if you're not, there is no better time than the present to check out the latest incarnation of this legendary series.