Civilization V Review

So I’m seriously considering pummeling into submission this city-state that neighbors my empire.

Yes, technically, we’re allies. But we’re only allies because that city-state wanted me to give the cement shoe treatment to another neighboring city-state, which I’m now occupying. And really, who’s dumb enough to be best friends with their hitman? And isn’t the goal of Civilization V to conquer the world?


Sid Meier’s Civilization V (PC [Reviewed], Cell)
Developer: Firaxis
Publisher: 2K Games
Release Date: September 21, 2010
MSRP: $49.99

No, seriously. I’m asking you. Isn’t that the goal? I’ve never played this series before – I usually play console games. I didn’t even try the playable demo.

Blasphemy, I know. And as a total newb, I was surprised to get the impression that I was doing it wrong, after both Ramses II and Alexander the Great take sarcastic jabs at my “I drink your city-state” tactics during diplomatic meetings. These two guys think I have the tyrannical disposition.

In fact, it was that moment  - when I realized that all the other empires on the continent were looking at me sideways, and when I was seriously considering cannibalizing friendly nations in order to build a war machine capable of leaving them cowering at my feet – that I realized how quickly and easily Civ V had turned me.

Oh, it was also at this point that I glanced over at a clock and realized I’d been playing for about six straight hours.

Civilization V is like that. It’s slow and methodical and exceedingly complex and bizarrely engrossing. Surprisingly, I never ran up against that dreaded wall labeled “wait, what the hell do I do know?”

For the laymen, as I stand among you, a quick explanation. There are four ways to win at Civ V – by crushing the throats of your enemies in your iron fist; by spreading your culture throughout their empires, thereby taking them over without bloodshed; by dominating the economic landscape like a giant Alan Greenspan; or by advancing so far in science that you build humanity’s first interstellar space craft and beat everyone else to find space aliens, thereby representing all of humanity and becoming the de facto king of the world.

To accomplish this, and to keep your empire as functional as possible, you’ve got to do all kinds of stuff. You have to use workers to develop your lands, and various military forces to defend it, and diplomacy to keep neighbors from eventually getting uppity and murdering you. A game can go on for hours, and there is so much land to explore, strategies to consider and units to build and research, it never becomes boring – despite Civ V’s slow pace.

And it can be slow. If you’re into games like StarCraft and the board games Risk and Chess, then yeah – you’ll probably enjoy the planning and strategy that pushes Civ forward. If you don’t – if you get annoyed with a 15-minute game of Candy Land – Civ V could quite possibly put you in a boredom coma. Not only does the whole game revolve around taking turns to do anything, but being so crazy complex, it’s easy to get lost – even with the game doing a spectacular job at holding your hand and teaching you how to manage everything.

There’s a lot of waiting, a lot of taking the long view, making plans, hoping to build the right armies to execute your strategy or sitting for 15 turns before you can take to the seas. That happens. The trick is to have a lot going on at once. Things pick up considerably when you start engaging in combat, and while Civ V’s AI isn’t exactly genius-level – it seems to get hung up occasionally dealing with the various terrain types, all of which factor into your tactics and affect your units – it doesn’t lie down and die (for the most part) either.

One situation that comes to mind was during a massive war in which three civilizations banded against the Germans (totally didn’t see that coming). For my part, I took Berlin and Hamburg, and not 10 turns later, Russia came steaming in, capturing my cities and putting serious hurt on me. Civ V is capable of that sort of interaction, but it’s by no means a brilliant tactician. Or diplomat.

The obvious solution to a single-player AI that reaches a ceiling of challenge would be to take the game online and play with other humans. Civ V has this capability, and when it works, it’s pretty great. Again, the nature of the game is slow, but options that add a timer to turns and speed up the rate of things happening are welcome and very helpful.

Online play, unfortunately, is hamstrung by lots of terrible problems. For one, there’s barely anybody in there. For being five days old, Civ V’s servers are almost barren. There are more tumble weeds in there than there are players.

With something like three or four players – everything works great. Even better if you turn up the play speed. But try to play a bigger game and it becomes a mess. For one, even getting out of the lobby is a ludicrous task, akin to getting all your friends to agree on where to go have dinner. Next, the game is hamstrung by lag and slow players. And it’s important to remember that this game is meant to take hours. At no point does a big game get fun.

Still, put four players into a fast game and it’s quite enjoyable, if not hilarious since you have the opportunity to chat amicably with the guys who are mangling you. And for my part, with no experience and not even really being a fan of the RTS genre, I found Civilization V fully engrossing. I don’t know how it stacks up against the other games in the series (I’ve heard it’s worse), but then again, if you played the other games in the series, you’re probably going to play this one.

But if you’re on the fence – if you enjoy strategy, diplomacy, Machiavelli, Bonaparte and domination by peaceful and non-peaceful means – then you can do a lot worse than Civ V. For all its flaws, you’ll still find yourself thinking about the game after you’re done playing.

Just remember to clear your schedule before you pick it up.

Pros:
Crazily captivating game play – if you’re into that sort of thing
Games that’ll go on forever
Lots of elements to consider and strategies to formulate
Online matches that take all the great elements and put them in the capable hands of human enemies

Cons:
AI can be a little stupid, gunshy, and plain bad of waging war
Mostly deserted online servers
Games get laggy and irritating with greater numbers of players
Slow, methodical gameplay means time spent waiting to be ready

Overall Score: 80/100

Make sure you can handle Civilization V by checking out the system requirements.

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3 Comments on Civilization V Review

UtopiaV1

On September 26, 2010 at 10:59 am

Nice review, shame a seasoned vet couldn’t have written it though, then they could have told the old-school players what’s new, what’s unchanged, and what is better/worse than the previous title, but this is also a refreshing view on the latest in a proud series.

Glad you’re a Civ convert my friend! I have to say, I’ve only really played Civ4 (but, also to be fair, played it A LOT!!!), but I do love the Civ5 demo and plan to buy the full game soon. Overall it’s a more polished, if more linear, experience than previous titles. Good review man, keep it up.

pathetic game

On October 1, 2010 at 11:15 am

go play age of empires 3 noob this game blows the units are bigger then the ****ing cities, Msg me if u think that what i say is wrong cuz its a fact units are supposed to be smaller then Buildings Civ 5 Is A Pure Joke to strategy games.

Robert

On December 27, 2011 at 1:20 pm

Stop hating this game is awesome!