What Went Wrong With Civ V?

Civilization V was highly anticipated, but upon release it was met with very mixed reviews. Phil Hornshaw’s review was on the low side of positive, but for my part, by the end of 2010 I’d soured on it considerably, to the point I couldn’t bother playing it anymore.

That’s been bugging me like crazy. My first decade of this century could easily be described as having been framed by the series. ’99 and 2000, I was completely addicted to Call to Power (I know, I know.) 2001 to 2005 is basically a haze of punctuated, constant Civ III. And I still play the hell out of Civ IV. So why the hell can’t I get into what should have been my favorite thing about 2010*? When examining that question in December, I settled on ‘they changed a bunch of stuff they didn’t have to and kept the worst the same”, but that’s a rather shallow critique considering how big the game is.

Luckily, Sulla over Garath.net has devoted considerable time and effort tearing this question apart. Having delved deep deep deep into the recent release of V. 1.0.1.167 for PC, he’s turned in the world’s longest explanation for the many (tragically unneccessary) flaws of this once great franchise. A taste:

* Horsemen and archers/crossbows were both nerfed in the patch to reduce their combat values against cities. Simultaneously, cities were buffed to be much stronger and heal damage much faster. In order to capture cities now, you need strong melee units or siege units. There’s just one problem: strong melee units means swords/longswords, and siege units means catapults/trebuchets. All of those units require iron. What happens if you don’t have iron? Currently, the answer appears to be “you are screwed”, and enemy cities can only be taken with very heavy losses using non-iron units. This is not an example of good design.

* The default length for a trading agreement is 30 turns. That’s a really long time, and there’s no way to change it. (On Marathon speed, the default length is 90 turns!) It’s also impossible to cancel Open Borders once they’ve been signed, so sorry, sucks to be you if conditions change 25 turns later and you want to remove those Open Borders. The whole system is practically begging players to declare war and invalidate these agreements, pulling lump sum gold out of the AI civs for free. By the way, you can also trade a resource for lump sum gold, pillage your own resource, and then immediately re-sell the same good again once it’s re-connected, all without any kind of reputation hit or penalty. I think this all could have been handled much better.

* Even after several patches, the various civilizations remain totally unbalanced. Winners like Greece, France, or Babylon absolutely destroy losing civs like America or Ottomans. Other civ abilities are wildly random, like Germany and the new downloadable Spain. Perhaps you’ll get a ton of warriors for free, or pull hundreds of gold out of the air for finding natural wonders. Perhaps you’ll get absolutely nothing. This is textbook bad design: civs with abilities that are either crazy overpowered or completely useless, with random chance determining the outcome.

There’s much much more, and it’s really worth your time if you love this series and, like me, wonder why they hell it didn’t measure up to past editions. On the other hand, if you think this is completely insane, feel free to weigh in in comments and explain what you love about it.

Me? I’ll think this is the Windows Vista of the Civilization series, best left to be forgotten and replaced as soon as possible.

*Mass Effect 2 aside, of course.

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