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Posted on Sep 24, 2010 in Electronic Games

Sid Meier’s Civilization V PC Game – First Impressions

By Brian King

I’ve been playing Sid Meier’s Civilization franchise since the early clumsy days of pixelated icons crashing against each other in Civilization I.  Back then we were so blown away by the gameplay and immersive atmosphere, we were willing to overlook some of the rather obvious shortcomings of the AI. If you’ve ever seen your battleship get destroyed by spear-wielding natives, you know what I’m talking about.  Still, countless hours were spent in front of the screen with Civ I, a cycle which was repeated over and over as each new version came out.

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As soon as Civ V was ready on Steam I threw down my hard earned cash to see how this new title was going to stack up.  My expectations were admittedly unreasonably high, given that Civilization V literally represents the pinnacle of mainstream empire-building game development in the modern era.  I went in thinking I would be confronted with masterful strategic-thinking enemies who could only be defeated by similarly spectacular and well-thought-out countermoves. Those heady first hours of blow-your-hair-back revelry in a new game were eventually tempered as some critical chinks developed in the Firaxis armor.  It wasn’t quite as masterful as my expectations demanded. My first impressions can be summed up as;

Civ V is a really beautiful game, with dozens of new bells and whistles to explore, which rekindles much of the "one-more-turn" spirit common with its predecessors.  However, the beauty does come with a price in that the AI tends to remain frustratingly inept.  How much these flaws detract from everything else will be the difference between liking and loving this game.

Even with several full nights of game play, I’m just scratching the surface of this game, so my casual observations should be taken as just that.  Armchair General will have a full review in due course. 

The Good:

  • Hex grid layout allows more dynamic movement, combat, and realism
  • New combat system feels more tactical, more visceral
  • Ranged ground units (cannons, artillery, ships, etc. fire over other units)
  • A beautifully rendered world, with vibrant hexes, cities, and rulers (high graphics settings will tax your system)
  • Revision of diplomacy makes it more difficult to abuse/leverage technology with other Civs
  • Addition of City-State non-affiliated mini-nations adds lots of color to the game
  • New embarcation function allows any unit to enter ocean hexes, albeit in defenseless state (protect your convoys!)
  • Cities now have inherent defense, which make them much harder to capture
  • Military units and some buildings require resources such as oil, coal, etc. which means your chances of winning without these critical resources are severely limited.  Forces constant strategic thinking.

 The Not-So-Good:

  • AI has serious problems.  Some quick hits on this;
    • Seems unable to sit still.  Every turn it likes to move units around, including putting them in water for no reason
    • Seems to have trouble understanding strategy in the employment of units. Because this version has fewer units on the map, it becomes more important to use them wisely.  It isn’t like Civ IV where the AI can just throw unit after unit to wear you down.
    • Late game Diplomacy seems wonkish.  AI players would pop on my screen with non-sequiturs with seemingly no purpose
    • During one negotiation when at war with a neighbor, I had his empire on the ropes and near destruction.  When I asked what it would take for him to accept a peace treaty he asked ME for extra gold, luxury goods, and so forth.  It should be the other way around!
    • Workers set to automate are not always reliable. You can’t assign them to a city, which means that you find groups of them in far-flung cities of your empire rather than working on your core cities.
  • Diplomacy is no longer good for gaining intel on other empires, such as which ones are at war with each other, which ones hate/love you, and so forth
  • No timer.  Civ IV had a nice feature where you could set an alarm in-game so you could force yourself to stop playing at midnight
  • No countdown to end of game (50 turns remaining!).  The game just ends without warning.  You can still keep playing after that as always.
  • I miss the World Builder of Civ IV.  I believe they are going to release this later

In conclusion, these non-exhaustive lists are meant as points for discussion more than an endorsement or dismissal of this game.  I’m enjoying playing the game, and I have the bags under my eyes to prove it.  The game has drawn me in and captured me, despite some pretty serious problems.  As patches are released I expect many of the minor bugs to be eradicated, though my interest will primarily be focused on how well Firaxis Games can develop the AI beyond its current level.  It has the potential to be a masterpiece, but isn’t there yet. That’s OK for now, since the game has only been out for three days…

2 Comments

  1. I agree quiet a bit with this list, another thing that I was a little disappointed in was while we get to now see our wonders being built in the real-world map, the terrific construction Annunciations are gone (which in some cases was the sole purpose of be building them so I could see the little mini-movies)
    That can be overlooked however by the beauty of the rest of the game, what I find terrible however- is their excuse for a tactical map. It’s a 2d stylistic cartoonist hex map that looks like it was designed for a 5 year old, and created by one. This replaced the global view where we could zoom out to see the entire world (I’m only 99% sure on this, having only played the demo 5-6 times it may be some feature not allowed in their like DX11 game-play)
    Overall though the new civics tree and tactical combat make Civ 5 pretty awesome- now to wait for a price drop on steam :)

  2. I bought several versions of the Civ 3 game but lost interest in the focus on graphics and not the game itself. Still regularly play Civ 2 – just change some of the rules in the rules file, and see what happens.

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