Wot I Think: Civilization V

By Alec Meer on September 21st, 2010 at 5:01 pm.

It’s out in the US now, but in Europe we’ve got another two days on the clock. We have a different internet here, you know. It tastes of tea, bad teeth and snootiness. Perfectly understandable that they wouldn’t want to see its like in America. Anyway, it’s Tuesday, it’s five o’clock UK time, and that means I’m going to tell you what I think of the latest slice of history-spanning turn-based strategy. I haven’t made any Ghandi gags, though. Sorry about that. I know you were expecting them.

Perhaps the biggest perk of this job: getting to spend double-digit hours with a new Civilization game every few years, and not being made to feel guilty about it. If I sound too snarkily celebratory, that’s because this in stark contrast to the original Civ, a title which caused my parents to criticise how long I spent playing games when I should instead be having my very soul drummed out of me by endless homework. Little did they know, those fools, those sensible fools, that I’d somehow go on to making a living (or something approximating it) from games, while incomprehensible graphs and a few basic Latin phrases have since been as useful to me as nipples on a jar of peanut butter. And also that I surely know far more about military and socio-political history as a result of playing Civ than that weird teacher with the dirty pockets and the hair like a badger could ever have taught me.

So here I am again, for what’s roughly the eighth spin on the wheel of time, if you count Call to Power, Alpha Centauri and/or Civilization Revolution (a lot of people wouldn’t). Civ V manages the perplexing trick of simultaneously spinning that wheel further than ever before, but also backwards. It switches around some pretty fundamental wiring, but at the same time feels less progressive and less game-changing than the justly revered Civilization IV.

I’m not going to re-document all the new stuff, as I’ve already done that here and here and it’s really not fair to subject you to a four thousand word tour here. It adds up to a mix that works, that is inarguably Civ but encourages different thinking alongside more established tactics. You’re still riding the same bike, but now it’s got some cool new spokey-dokeys and bell that plays Little Spanish Flea.

The City States remain a particularly fascinating addition, offering the choice of running your tongue along a whole new strategy leg or giving you something to practice stomping to death while you gear up for a full-on global conquest. Not everyone’s trying to rule the world, and the city states are Civ’s first real reflection of that. At the same time, I totally welcome the option to turn the off, lending more of a land-grab feel to proceedings.

I’ve warmed hugely to the revised, semi-hex-based combat too. While in early sessions I was a mite frustrated by just how costly it became to assault a city, thanks to its built-in defence, I’m now a big fat fan of the more tactical approach. Civ battles are no longer about clumping units and rushing; they’re about picking the best spots on the map, balancing close combat with ranged and using upgrades that boost other units’ usefulness rather than simply to buff a single soldier. I’ve got a catapult safely back there lobbing rocks at that city, and in front of it is a line of longswordsmen who physically prevent an enemy just wandering over and trashing it. On that hillside, I’ve got an archer with a rough terrain bonus, in that field there’s another with an open terrain bonus, and somewhere in the middle of this cluster of death I’ve arranged is a dude with a medic upgrade, churning out just enough health bonus per turn to stop enemy archers from quite killing off any of my units. I’ve read the terrain, I’ve mapped out the hexes surrounding my target, and I’ve turned it all into a weapon.

Oh, you’re so going down, York. It’s brutal chess deluxe, and as a result it feels that much more like an orchestrated war. By turn, when it goes wrong it tends to be in uexpected ways, a result of your military planning being a bit dicky rather than simply a question of might makes right.

Combat’s probably the most developed system in the game, and that extends all the way out to even the graphics. For instance, probably the most charming thing I’ve seen in Civ V is the animation on the helicopter gunship. It’s a dramatic-but-tiny barrage of machine gun fire and high-powered rockets, a 3-second loop that looks like a profoundly destructive act, whether or not it’s happens to be achieving much. I didn’t notice it for ages, having become accustomed to playing in maxi-zoom mode. An errant flick of the mousewheel eventually framed its delicately-rendered death-strike front and centre-screen, and I had a moment of awe about how much time, effort and gun-lust had gone into incidental visual touches. Someone made that helicopter machinegun firing animation and went home proud. Probably grinning like this, probably convinced it was the greatest helicopter machinegun-firing animation ever created. He’s probably right. And he did all that for something that 90% of players will probably never notice, let alone think about.

That’s Civ V’s thing- lavishness. It’s dangerous to kick off any game write-up harking on about how pretty the graphics are, but in Civ V’s case it’s genuinely integral to the game’s appeal. It’s not that it’s hyper-graphics. It’s that it’s meticulously detailed, a crafted world rather than merely a glossy one. The units are on the fuzzy side, for instance, but as a whole it’s this wide world of tiny, moving parts. Boardgame roots it might have, but this is Civ moving into being a living thing.

On the surface, at least. Underneath, this is as mechanical and inorganic as the series has ever been, thanks to a combination of streamlined systems, the vaguest vagaries excised, and AI so robotic that I swear I could hear the cogs ticking.

Case in point: It’s not easy being peaceful. Civilization V does not entirely live up to its name, in that the last thing it wants to let you do is be civilised.

Even on the lower difficulty settings (sue me, I like to break myself in easy), other Civs will declare war on you, regardless of how aggressive you’ve been. They will do this without warning, they will do it without explanation and they will do it whether or not they’re actually equipped to win it. Sometimes it’s just a little pathetic, this angry little puppy snapping at the doors of your towering fortress. Sneer at it, then boot it into the sun. Sometimes, though, it’s two armed-to-the-teeth megaCivs declaring war on the same turn when you’re far from prepared for even one war, forcing you to turn your entire economy to muscle and totally disrupting any long-running plans for peace, space and politics.

Clearly, in any Civ you need to be adept enough at the game to have a fighting force ready to go at any time in the event of an argy-bargy, because pursuing a purely scientific or cultural path without diverting any gold, production and research into military resources makes you a big white bottom just begging to kicked. If a Civ scents weakness, it’s going to take advantage. Totally fair. You would too, right?

Here though, the sheer scale of the aggression and moreover its opaque, unexplained randomness can on occasion force reloading an autosave from several turns back and preparing a bigger army. This is because the AI is so fixed/broken/cheaty/sadistic that the game appears to decide WAR! will happen on a certain turn. No matter how much you reload, savagery will be unleashed on that turn. No matter how many gifts you ply your rivals-to-be with, no matter how many open borders or trading agreements you set up, war will happen on that turn. Strategy doesn’t matter. They can’t be bargained with. They can’t be reasoned with. They don’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And they absolutely will not stop, ever, until you’ve nobbled enough of their troops that they panic and offer you all their Incense and horses.

It’s a serious crimp on pursuing the other victory conditions, because you always need to be funnelling a ton of resource into a what-if army. A what-if army that summarily eats up massive maintenance costs. The cultural, scientific and political victories can, of course, be met – but only once you’ve crushed the most persistently bitey Civs under your heel, not because you’ve charmed them. This, coupled with a bug that caused another game to crash on a given turn, meant I’ve had to give up on a couple of games and start afresh.

Random spikes and machine-like behaviour are no strangers to Civ, and like spearmen being able to kill tanks, it’s one of those classic wobbly bits that the series has always had – and always failed to fix. I think it’s worse this time around – or at least more blatant. The blame for this I lie partially at the feet of the AI and partially at the feet of the watery Diplomacy system. While billed as Extreme Diplomacy, in fact it’s a dramatic reduction of international politics – only the most feeling engagement with your rivals/allies/slightly surly neighbours. Trade yes/no, fancy a fight with that other guy yes/no, WAR. That’s pretty much it, with the important exception of the Research Agreements – wherein you both throw some cash at a mutual scientific discovery project to be awarded in ten turns time, rather than directly trade tech tree branches.

I don’t know what these guys are thinking about anything most especially about me. Gone is any useful designation of their current attitude towards you, outside of reading cheery or angry implications from their vague, bland greetings. No stats to say you’ve camped too close or you’ve spent too long nibbling France’s earlobes. Just neutral trading, occasionally switching to sudden, unexpected murderousness. It’s this aspect of the game that most requires improvement, for it gives no sense that the other Civs are Civs and, to be honest, it’s so dry and streamlined that it’s not particulary appealing an endeavour. I found myself far more prone to doing my own thing and keeping a bare minimum level of contact up with my sometime neighbours. Maybe that’s why they kept declaring futile wars on me. But I doubt it.

There are several expansion pack-shaped holes in Civ V, and diplomacy’s the largest of them. The next is religion, and then there’s a smattering of smaller ones for social policies. With these, Civ veers ever so slightly towards RPG – defining your Civ as a build that much more, rather than pushing onwards to a silent target of your own . The effects of picking a policy are huge, and instant- a third more gold, or happiness, or a dramatic slowdown in the cooling of allied city state’s ardour, or a huge boost to the effectiveness of soldiers on home turf.

The right policy or two can change the game, and while there aren’t all that many ideal combinations (with some policies even blocking access to others) there’s a whole lot of scope to make your nation a character, a favoured load-out that you err towards.

Or you could ignore them entirely; if you pick the military route you’ll probably have to, because you won’t be chucking out enough Culture to access new social policies. There’s a lot more of that in this fifth Civ – features both small and large that are almost locked out if you don’t pursue the relevant path. It makes it a bigger game in its way, more friendly to repeat play and exploration.

With arguably over-fussy complications removed, such as having to build separate boats to ferry units across seas (some folk love their ship-building, but I’m so much happier knowing that I don’t have to wait another 14 turns just so I can tell my soldiers to go over there), it’s also a more focused game than Civ IV became after two expansions. Despite the changes, there’s a more classic Civiniess to this one, but not wholly in its favour. There is a vaguely sterile air to it, a greater sense that it’s defined by maths. Which leads me to repeat my former feeling that this is thought of as a companion to the still-fresh Civ IV, not a replacement. It’s trying out different directions rather than continuing along Civ IV’s path. Directions very much worth exploring, and which push this firmly into “of course you’re bloody going to buy it” territory, but I’m left wanting something a little more… meaty. Surprising. Organic.

I suspect that’s going to happen anyway, thanks to the built-in mod browser/downloader. It’s been next to useless in this review code, as there’s no community out there pushing new content at the game, but give it a few weeks, months, years and there’ll be a constant churn of new, wild stuff: new Civs, new maps, new rules, new units. All downloaded and installed into the game, from within the game. I suspect it’ll quickly require better filtering systems, as the handful of categories and the most popular tab are going to damn a lot of good stuff to never see daylight, but if it goes to plan I can have a different Civ V experience every time I load the thing up.

Once players are around, the multiplayer will clearly fix my major reservations with the AI too. At least if someone’s random, it’s because they’re a random psychopath or don’t know the game – not because an invisible die has decided it’s time to die.

Civ V’s reliably done what every Civ game has ever done (with the possible exception of III): eat my time as unashamedly as a dog in a pork pie factory. I laugh a little when I look back at my complaints a few paragraphs up. I say those things because they must be noted, but it’s not like they ever put me off playing. It’s not like they stop me from being profoundly glad and satisfied that there’s another Civilization icon winking cheekily at me from the desktop. I want it to be better, I want it to be bolder, I want it to address and improve the very foundations of Civilization, but it’s sure as hell going to sit on my hard drive for months anyway. Yeah, this’ll ultimately be remembered as one of the filler tracks on Civ’s best-of LP, one of the ones you never quite felt had real heart, real soul – but it’s a tune I’m more than happy to hum.

Think I’ll play a bit more RUSE for now, though.

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203 Comments »

  1. Muddy Water says:

    Just one thing: It’s GANDHI, God damn it!

  2. Brandonk says:

    Well, looks like I will buy this next time its on sale. I loved civ 4 though.
    Good article!

  3. Shrewsbury says:

    Napoleon’s expression is priceless.

    • Navagon says:

      Napoleon looks like he’s going to respond “oh yes” to the question “can you get me a cheaper deal on my car insurance?”.

  4. Wilson says:

    Gah, I guess someday someone will make the strategy game focused on diplomacy that I’m looking for. I think this is something to pick up in a sale, since it doesn’t seem quite different enough to Civ 4 to make it a must buy.

    • Wilson says:

      Just to clarify, I wasn’t expecting Civ 5 to be focused on diplomacy, but I thought they might have made some meaningful innovation in that area, which they clearly haven’t.

    • Andy_Panthro says:

      I’ve always wanted the diplomacy option to be strengthened too.

      I guess I’ll stick to playing Civ4:BTS, because that’s what’s got it closest so far. Perhaps in a year or two when all the expansions/patches are out Civ5 might be worth me going for it.

      Too much combat focus always disappoints me, as I quite like to play as a smaller civ, and build up technologically. Preferably on a small-ish island that I can defend with a reasonable naval force.

    • Jerricho says:

      Have you tried Galactic Civilisations II? I thought the Diplomacy was handled pretty well in that.

    • battles_atlas says:

      Anyone get a sense of Empires TW from reading this review? The universal praise elsewhere, the long standing weaknesses still not addressed, the fact that these weaknesses will really piss you off but you’ll still rack up 100hrs on the game regardless….

      Still, fingers crossed its less ballzed up than that was.

  5. Richard Beer says:

    Civ is a classic game that constantly pulls me back in every few years, but I’m constantly disappointed by the lack of complexity in AI diplomacy. Obviously they’re going back to the drawing board every single time, because every single time we’re promised more complex, deeper diplomacy options and every single time they’re just as fallible as before.

    This goes for almost every game, incidentally. I imagine it’s going to happen to Shogun 2 as well.

    Why is this? Isn’t time developers devoted an entire team to creating a complex, multi-layered AI? Or just bought some customisable AI code from companies working in relevant industries like robotics? Why does it always seem to be one guy sat somewhere coding a few IFs and THENs? When are we going to witness a real AI revolution in gaming?

    • D says:

      Why do you say robotics? What about a team who’ve worked extensively with Chess or Go algorithms. I completely agree with you, it is baffling that they learn so little from the criticisms, every time around.

    • TNO says:

      With all due respect, I don’t think you understand the problem.

      The problem isn’t AI, it’s diplomacy. And there is a big difference between the two. AI is about the computer optimizing it’s options, having a complex system that can analyse, plan and execute said plan. that is an interesting and difficult problem, but it is being solved. The core problem isn’t much different between Chess, Command and Conquer or Civilization. It’s easy to make a game about war, because war is easy to model and simulate on some level.

      Diplomacy is the problem. How do you make a game about diplomacy? From a game mechanics point of view.

      Think, for a minute, that you are trying to create a game based on Star Trek, where you play Picard (the dream of many geeks). What magic would be easy to capture, and what wouldn’t? Well I’m sure you can think of 101 ways that ship combat could be played. Or personnel could be managed/promoted.

      But what about when Picard is trying to broker peace between two rivals? What about when Picard is trying to talk down a paranoid lunatic with an itchy trigger finger. How does that play? What sort of feedback mechanisms are involved? How do you “win” a conversation? I’m dead serious here, I’ve been thinking about this specific scenario for a very long time and I haven’t had a great idea yet (lots of ok ideas though).

      There is a very good reason why games haven’t really gotten past dialogue trees. We simply haven’t invented good mechanics for “playing” a conversation yet. Someone will have a brilliant idea someday, but that day hasn’t happened yet.

    • Rob Lang says:

      Diplomacy can be solved using intelligent agents running neural networks. Each pre-learnt neural network would take in the actions and state of another Civ to calculate a response. The smooth function of the neural network means that a Civ would slowly change their stance toward another civ given their actions. Each Civ would be an intelligent agent, operating its own network and you would train the networks through play test.

      Sound far fetched? Not at all, behavioural neural networks have been in academia since the early 90s and have been solving much more complex problems such as communicating with austistic children using robots.

      Make a mod? I might, I’ll have to see how flexible the system is.

    • Boris says:

      Diplomacy? They nailed it in SMAC imo. Shame they didn’t stick with it.

  6. Berm says:

    Guess this game will truly shine with a couple of expansion packs later. Right now I think I’m happy enough with my complete edition of Civ IV.

  7. Kali says:

    Possibly the first negative-sounding review I’ve read about Civ, which I’m quite glad about because I don’t like it when there are no faults mentioned in reviews – it smells like bribery.

    I found most of your points also apply to Civ4, to be honest. Especially with certain civs declaring war seemingly at random. But, like you say at the end, this is a game that is going to be sitting, well played, on my hard drive for many months, nay, years.

    CivIV still has a place on my drive even now.

  8. LukeE says:

    There is already at least one map-pack available from some guy on the civ forums who says he was a tester or some-such. So I suspect the wait for mods won’t be too long.

    http://forums.2kgames.com/forums/showthread.php?t=87475

  9. Emphursis says:

    Very interesting. I have it pre-ordered, so it should arrive on Friday. The same day that F1 2010 unlocks on Steam. Sh*t.
    Speaking of which, where is the four thousand word ‘Wot I think: F1 2010′? Pretty please?

    • Rii says:

      Seems like I dodged a bullet by opting for F1 2010 over Civ 5. Couldn’t afford both. xD

    • Emphursis says:

      I probably shouldn’t have pre-ordered both either, but I just couldn’t help myself!

      Stupid captcha! I AM HUMAN!!

  10. Feet says:

    *cough City States, not Nation States cough*

    The demo is out on Steam today so we can all have an oppotunity to try before we buy. Which is nice I guess, not that I haven’t already got the game pre-loaded anyway. But still.

    Interesting to hear about the diplomacy AI being rather lacking, but that was similar in Civ 4 as well so whadayagonnado.

    • Gap Gen says:

      Ooh, NationStates is a game that I always thought would be a good basis for a Civ-style game (it was basically a web game where you answered 2 questions on policy & events every day, and that shaped your state into socialist democracies, capitalist autocracies, paternalistic theocracies, etc). I guess that’s essentially what Democracy 2 tries to do…

  11. Paul B says:

    Alec’s piece seems to mirror Quintin’s Civ V AI reservations (review now up on Eurogamer):
    http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2010-09-21-sid-meiers-civilization-v-review

    It’s always surprised how much war-lust other Civs show in Civilization. It’s a shame this aspect hasn’t been improved in Civ V. I can’t be the only one who just loves to build his empire without declaring war on other Civs (a big map and only a few other Civs, help in this respect).

    • StingingVelvet says:

      Well in this one the combat inclinations make sense, as this is sort of Combat Civ in a lot of ways. It is clear to me after 3 hours and half a game that combat was the focus for this outing.

    • sonofsanta says:

      CivRev was the worst for this. You were literally constantly at war. “2 turns of peace? Pathetic human! Feel the wrath of my phalanx!”

      If anything, that’s what killed CivRev for me (although I did very much enjoy it) – you had to play militaristically and so there was no variety left. That, and the penultimate difficulty level became too predictably winnable, but the final level was oh-my-god-so-cheaty.

  12. RobH says:

    Good to know that my decision to pick it up today was a good one. Definitely looking forward to many lost hours in Civ V

  13. Tei says:

    I think the problem with diplomacy is that game designers don’t want diplomacy to be the game. Want the map and the cities to be the game. Maybe if you makes diplomacy to usefull and fun, people will forget the map.

    The first world war was a world war, because all countries where linked in protections, so a single country declaring the war, triggered a multicountry war worldwide. Can you have that in Civ ? No?, then Civ is simplistic.
    MMO’s have this mechanic, “linked mobs”. You attack a small Ent, and the whole forest turn angry at you. Is not like is imposible to model it on a computer. So if games like civ don’t work like that, is because the designers don’t want to.

    And the game that these designers want to make, Is not the game I want to play.
    Sadly enough, I am forced to play Civ V. My friends are *HUGE* fans of the serie, and are already using fisical force to get me buy it. Hehehehe..

    • Koozer says:

      Psst: Defensive Pacts cause every signing Civilisation to declare war if any of the members are attacked by someone else. You can’t get “Aggressive Pacts” though for some reason…

    • imirk says:

      erm don’t defensive pacts on both sides chain react and get all members on all sides involved? i.e. your defensive pact fellows declare war on the other guys because their defensive pact declared war on you?

    • Koozer says:

      If you declare war on someone then any defensive pacts you’ve signed are void as I understand it.

  14. Jeremy says:

    Is that a Mech standing between that army of tanks and infantry?

    • Bascule42 says:

      Or are you just happy to see me?

    • perilisk says:

      I was wondering the same thing. Do we get some near-future stuff?

    • Vinraith says:

      There was discussion of a giant robot in some of the pre-release interviews and such.

    • Jeremy says:

      At what point is a Mechanized Death Machine the “near-future”… what country are you from and what technology do you have access to?!

    • Schmitzkater says:

      There’s also mention of Giant Robots in the manual.

    • Gap Gen says:

      I’ve generally classed giant mechs alongside manned space fighters in the “really stupid ideas for a weapons platform” part of my sci-fi brain. I mean, they’re fun, but given how much effort weapons manufacturers put into making the profile of tanks as low as possible, putting a huge skyscraper-sized target up strikes me as well, brain-damaged. I’d imagine the future is based on smaller, more automated vehicles and how good your detection is (much like how submarine warfare is all about hiding).

      Then again, Civ IV gave up on the pretence of telling a serious story and had cartoon Caesars, so giant stompy robots kinda fit into that. Ironic that SMAC kinda had a more believable story than Civ, but then it had the advantage of inventing its own fiction rather than having to hammer itself into people’s preconceptions of what history is.

  15. Rob Hale says:

    The reality for “poor” diplomacy AI is that you won’t ever see the effects of your actions on the AI until many turns after you do them.

    Build a city too close to another Civ? That could easily spark off a full blown war but you might not realise this until 60 turns later . Often by the time the results of your actions make themselves known you’ve forgotten what it was you did to cause them resulting in you looking at the AI and thinking they are behaving randomly. Reloading a save game from 30 turns ago isn’t going to undo something that has been building up for 300 turns.

    To make Diplomacy AI appear more intelligent you need more frequent feedback regarding your activities. If you build a city and before you build it your neighbour pops up and says “If you build there I will not be best pleased” then you will know that doing this could strain tensions to the point of war later on. If you Get a note from your advisor saying “Our military isn’t keeping pace with our technology. This could invite aggression from our neighbours” when you have lots of un-upgraded units then you will recognise that if you don’t at least keep up an appearance of a military some bugger is going to take a chance and try and pillage your civilization for wealth and glory.

    The system behind the diplomacy is often perfectly good. The part that often fails is teaching the player how it actually works.

    • boldoran says:

      You are probably right. Even in Civ IV once the AI picked a target they would start to build an army and declare almost no matter what you did. The trick was to have good standings with them when they decided on their next target. Just going back 40 turns would not help.

    • pakoito says:

      Hehe cookies.

    • Schizoslayer says:

      OK having played the demo all of the advice you need to avoid going to war is actually provided to you by your advisor’s so long as you periodically check with them. I found that they were offering incredibly useful advice and if I acted on it then I was able to maintain a good status quo.

      Granted this is only over the course of 100 turns but normally in 100 turns of Civ 4 I’d be at war with somebody.

      So far diplomacy has been pretty easy. If I want to undermine somebodies power I form pacts of secrecy – this should cause all of my secret allies to cease trading and dealing with that nation so long as I also cease trading with them. This is a nice gateway into pacts of cooperation which means “If I ask for something you give it to me. If you ask I’ll give it to you.” which will eventually lead into research pacts (Very Useful, I got a 26 turn tech while researching a half dozen smaller techs from one of these, the other guy got a 5 turn tech) and defensive pacts.

      The key thing is that if you play the game in a way that is just looking out for yourself then you are going to end up at war. I think since so many people don’t understand what the different pacts actually mean (IE that you have to reciprocate) that they end up just pissing the AI off when they agree to a pact of secrecy and then trade with the person they are supposed to be undermining.

      Captcha is PHEW :)

  16. Langman says:

    I’ll probably still buy it, even if it is just ‘Civ IV done differently’ and not the full on Civ V it perhaps could have been.

    It’ll still be addictive as hell.

  17. Steve says:

    Couldn’t agree more about AI, Richard. Graphics are what sells. At least that’s what publishers believe (and they may be right). I’m hopeful for Shogun 2, but not counting on anything. Too bad it takes so long to find a 1v1 TW game online.

    This review seems to niggle what seems like an excellent game. I’ll be downloading soon.

  18. Pidesco says:

    Don’t you mean City States, not Nation States?

  19. Noel H. says:

    You fail to realize that the AI is trying to win the game as much as you are. They will not comply with your diplomatic schemes just because you gift them a unit now and then. They know better. You have to beat them to submission just like in real life.

    • Zenicetus says:

      I don’t have a problem with the AI having the same goals I do. Where AI diplomacy often fails, is in not being able to guess the player’s future plans, or even track the player’s potential to ramp up for warfare.

      For example, GalCiv2′s overall diplomacy engine was better than most games out there. But one major flaw was that factions would declare war on you, based on your current military (ships produced), vs. your potential military production. Sorta like Japan attacking the “sleeping giant” America in WWII. That seems to be a consistent blind spot in turn-based strategy games.

      Another thing, is that I think most game designers dislike turtling as a strategy, because there isn’t enough “action” and they’re afraid people will become bored. They’ll do whatever they can to prevent a player from doing it.

  20. themadhatter says:

    Decent review, mate, thanks for saving me a purchase.
    Still, it was less what you wrote that caught my attention than what went unsaid. To whit:

    “…nipples on a jar of peanut butter.”
    “…hair like a badger…”
    “…running your tongue along a [...] leg…”
    “…gun-lust…”
    “…a big white bottom…”
    “…going to take advantage. Totally fair. You would too, right?”
    “…will not stop, ever, until you’ve nobbled enough…”
    “…spent too long nibbling [...] earlobes.”
    “…I’m left wanting something a little more… meaty.”

    Something on your mind? Just saying, mate, a decent psychologist would have a field-day with that. Cheers! :)

    • bleeters says:

      Mind in the gutter, I say, Or possibly located inside the storage tanks of a sewage recycling plant, deep in the bowels of the earth.

    • Nick says:

      Must be a coincidence, Alec is a well known prude after all.

    • SheffieldSteel says:

      I don’t think nobbling means what I think you think it means.

    • jarvoll says:

      A decent psychologist stays as far away from non-falsifiable, opium-fuelled Freudian mumbo-jumbo as possible, and sticks with science. Believe it or not, women do not have babies just because they wish they had a penis like their daddy.

    • Hurr says:

      Certainly Alec is the one person that would never have an oversexualized mind (and then blame it on everyone but himself http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2010/09/13/the-witcher-2-covers-up/ ), so you are most definitely reading something into this that isn’t there.

  21. jimbobb says:

    Quinns’ review is up on Eurogamer. 8/10. Ouch! Thats gonna hurt on metacritic!

    http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2010-09-21-sid-meiers-civilization-v-review

    Still, I’m glad to read measured and critical reviews from people I trust. Im a huge Civ fan, but its easy to get carried away with all the praise elsewhere. Let’s face it, Civ IV didnt truly become a great game until BTS. I expect no less from Civ 5.

    • Hmm-Hmm. says:

      Hurt? Surely that’s a perfectly decent score?

      Oh, right. It isn’t in the land of game reviewers.

  22. Morte says:

    Hmm this is roughly what I expected, I’ve struggled to see why I need this over IV at this early stage. Definitely one for the sales, for me.

  23. myros says:

    Whats interesting to me is comparing both Sid’s recent long speech/video about game design, the comments made by devs during the long walkthrough video and the reality of the game’s AI.

    It was stated the AI would know when not to declare war, be able to evaluate when it was in a position of weakness etc … apparently not.

    Im sure I’ll play the hell out of the game and enjoy it but am dissapointed they haven’t put the same degree of inovation into diplomacy as it appears they put into other areas.

    • Rii says:

      Maybe Alec Meer’s mention of “expansion-sized holes” was more accurate than he realised, i.e. perhaps the work has been done … and removed.

  24. Diabolico says:

    I knew this game, had it’s flaws, however nobody seemed to want to mention them.

    During the advertising campaign they seemed to be very pleased with their AI.

    I hope they improve them in the next expansion.

    Thanks for your honest review! I can’t wait to play civ 5 for the first time.

  25. Στέλιος says:

    I have not played any Civilisation other than the original, first on my miggy and now, occassionally, a Windows-compatible version of the DOS one. So, the question is, would this be a good point for me to enter the current century of Civ games? I admit I have not even looked at any past the original.

  26. SheffieldSteel says:

    I’ve never bought a Civ game and I don’t think it’s time to start. It sounds like there are still some fundamental problems, mainly with the AI’s decision making and/or the presentation of information about AI attitudes towards the player.

    Yes, I could play multiplayer. I’m not particularly interested in playing against other people. I have a professional interest in good AI and I am always disappointed by games that shift the burden of creating an interesting challenge onto other humans.

    • SheffieldSteel says:

      Oh, and don’t get me started about spearmen vs tanks. The possibility of warfare between forces who are mismatched almost to the point of anachronism was always the thing I found most offputting about this type of game.

      We already know what happens when cowboys meet indians, when cavalry meets tanks, or when Zulus meet Gatling guns, and it is almost never any fun.

    • Raum says:

      Wow, never played CivII?

      That’s… so sad.

    • SheffieldSteel says:

      I get the impression that these problems are by no means exclusive to this version of the game, so perhaps you can see why I wouldn’t have bought the others.

    • Schizoslayer says:

      Apparently spearmen can never defeat tanks in this version. Unless Alec has actually experienced it (and he only alludes to it as an example of things in the past that sucked not as something specific in this version). But according to the designer it is mathematically impossible for a unit from one age to randomly defeat a unit from a much more advanced age.

    • Jeremy says:

      @Schizo

      That is good news, I was sick of randomly losing marines to tribal warfare.

    • jaheira says:

      “when cowboys meet Indians” – Battle of the Little Bighorn
      “when Zulus meet Gatling Guns” – Battle of Isandlwana

    • Archonsod says:

      And the Finns were taking out Russian tanks with molotovs during the Winter War

  27. disperse says:

    Needs ‘Staring Eyes’ tag.

  28. Zoolooman says:

    For me, Civ IV BTS was the “filler track,” the Civ that lacked heart and soul precisely because it was filled with gobs of meaningless nonsense, filler features that did nothing to affect actual gameplay.

    Espionage, corporations, the easily abused diplomacy.

    The former was a waste of your resources.
    The middle feature came far too late and merely locked down your inevitable victory.
    The latter was utterly broken. Share a religion, and your game transformed into a bland empire builder with no combat but what you chose to throw at your foes.

    You think of the Civ V AI as broken, but it is honestly behaving exactly as I wanted, behaving in a way I could only have in Civ IV with AI mods. The AI is out to win the game and will fight to win it. Maybe the trouble here is one of transparency–you can’t see the AI thinking, so it appears random to you.

    Alas, having played Civ V, I must fundamentally disagree with the point you’ve implied. I see Civ V as an improvement, not a companion. For me, the combat, the weakest element in Civ IV, has been emphasized and fundamentally rewritten. In my perspective, Civ V is a vast improvement over previous titles in the series.

    • Corbeau says:

      I agree with everything that Zoolooman wrote above.

      The Civ 4 AI was, to me, an easily exploited system in which the AI wasn’t even participating in the same contest. The Civ 5 AI really does seem to try to win, and has been remarkably strategically logical in my experience (even if the AI is still understandably subpar at actually fighting the wars that it undertakes compared to a skilled human). No human opponent with the slightest clue would ever let a player pour all their resources into non-military infrastructure, which you could get away with far too easily in previous Civ games against the AI. Now the AI keeps you honest about the fundamental cornerstone of all competitive strategy games – balancing immediate investment (military) with future investment (infrastructure). Admittedly, I do wish there were a few more benefits to friendly relations (foreign trade routes for cash, basically), but that’s about it.

      Nor do I miss most of the bells and whistles that have been trimmed away since Civ 4. Religion and espionage had lots of moving parts yet were relatively shallow in terms of impact, plus they didn’t mesh that well with the AI. I wouldn’t mind seeing a bit more information warfare in Civ 5, but I don’t actively miss another system would make it that much easier to exploit the AI.

  29. Zoolooman says:

    All that ranting aside, I’m glad your review is so honest. :)

  30. Batolemaeus says:

    Well, not every game can be a GalCiv2 I guess.

    • karry says:

      Yes. Praised be the Lord for that. No need for another game that bland and boring.

    • Urael says:

      Uh oh, I sense a difference of opinion!

      I adore GalCiv 2. It just needs a decent Star Trek mod and my Real Life will end in favour of my new digital one.

  31. Vinraith says:

    This sounds pretty skippable, which is probably just as well. There are too many interesting grand strategy games on my plate at the moment as it is.

    • Zoolooman says:

      Religion, espionage, and the original policy system were the WORST PARTS of Civ IV. :O

      The first made diplomacy a binary joke, the second was entirely flavor with nearly zero calories, and the third was either static and thus ignored or constantly swapped for tedious micromanagement.

      Am I the only person glad that they’re gone?

    • rhizo says:

      Sadly it does look skippable. Having completely lost interest in Civ IV (don’t get me wrong, enjoyed it a lot once upon a time) I was hoping to fill that void with the latest edition in the series. I wouldn’t have minded the simplifications and shedding of troublesome features but erratic AI behaviour is enough to break the game. Already pre-ordered this so will have to try it out. If nothing else it’ll probably tide me over to the 1.2 patch of a certain other strategy title.

  32. Cooper says:

    I am hoping the no-stacking system and more strategic battles will lure me into a war approach.IN most Civs, I’m a science and culture player, with minimal army – largely becuase I could never be bothered to learn enough about stackings and the odd Civ combat mechincs. This change seems perfect.

  33. Severian says:

    It seems to me that any Civilization should always have a standing military, and if you don’t, you deserve to get spanked.

    I’m not a warmonger by the way, definitely more pacifist in my personal beliefs, but I’m just talking history and in the game.

    So, I sort of want the AI’s to force me to watch my back, even if I’m focusing on non-military victory.

    The AI’s not being to war *effectively* is a bigger concern, but to be honest, I have little faith that any AI will ever approximate human intelligence when so many variables are involved.

    • D says:

      Oh yes, no evidence against standing armies. Military industrial complex. Massive expenses. Rome. The Soviet Union. Soon to be the former United States.

    • 12kill4 says:

      As a professional in the field of international relations and security I would like to
      call you a jabbering idiot. You’re claim is so simplistic and misconstrued as to be insulting to the intelligence of my species. Please stop spewing Metal Gear Solid brand nonsense as if it’s actually a legitimate interpretation of international security paradigms.

    • nil says:

      Defeat hurts, doesn’t it?

    • D says:

      “Soon to be the former United States.” …
      Awww did I scare you a little?

    • A-Scale says:

      No, you’re just an idiot.

      12kill4 would you by chance be willing to help a RPS brother out who is looking to get into the international relations field? Shoot me an email if you would be so kind khanyoubloodsucker at gmail.

  34. Daave says:

    Steel, you really should play a civ game before having an opinion about it.

    The AI in most games has been overhyped and disappointing, from what I gather the AI is less likely to make poor decisions on higher difficulty and it IS trying to win too, but maybe it’s just that we don’t like it when our own computers declare war on us.

  35. Nick says:

    I really, really don’t like the graphics at all. It all looks lifeless and lacking in any character at all, Civ 4 is much better looking in every way, in my mind.

    To be honest I want Civ 4 with Civ 5s combat, cause so far thats the only thing it has done better.

    • Kaiji says:

      Interesting because I found Civ IV to be hideously ugly and I look at Civ V as having some of the best designed and pleasing graphics I’ve seen in years.

      Just goes to show that old saying is true… “Because it takes, Diff’rent Strokes to move the world. Yes it does. It takes, Diff’rent Strokes to move the wooooooorld.”

    • Nick says:

      Really, even the rivers?

  36. Paul B says:

    I wonder, do I buy Civ V now and lose a month of my life, or do I wait for the inevitable Steam sale, and then lose a month of my life? Decisions, decisions.

    • Vinraith says:

      It’ll almost certainly see a major discount in the Christmas sale, which conveniently coincides with a nice long break…

    • Clovis says:

      Buy Minecraft and lose days from your life whenever Notch does a Friday update.

    • Paul B says:

      @Vinraith – Sold! Looking forward to Christmas now.

  37. perilisk says:

    They should probably have some sort of “chatter” feature that generates random little events (or, in the modern era, news stories). Chatter could give you a feel for relations between various civs, but in a sort of vague way — report of terrorist activity might push two nations closer to war, or border skirmishes, conflict over prisoners taken, etc.

    Also, it would just be a cool feature — would also make sense that, in the primitive era, you would have very little idea what was going on in your civ, much less the world, whereas by the time you get to the era of the Internet and 24-hour news, you’ve got more stories than you know what to do with.

  38. seras says:

    on the topic of civ AI….there’s a long history of ppl using “this AI is behaving like an idiot, must be shitty coding” when really it’s a case of “i dont know the game as well as the AI does, what seems like an idiot move to me is the proper one to make all things considered.”

    also there’s AI personalities to factor in…I was disappointed that the review didn’t mention which leaders were displaying that behaviour. any civ player worth is salt knows some of the AIs are just dicks(montezuma, im looking at you).

    AIs are never perfect, but in games with a deep level of complexion….newbies are rarely qualified to judge what was a good ‘move’ by the AI or not.

    • drewski says:

      The fucking Mongols. God, I hate the fucking Mongols.

    • Boris says:

      I hear you there. :)

      In IV I regularly play Japan or China on the earth maps. First order of business is always pushing out a couple of units to see to the mongol threat before it begins.

  39. Clovis says:

    I’m a little sad about the AI / diplomacy. Even if those in the “The AI is good because it is trying to win” camp are correct, I’m still not happy. As much time as a put into understanding the strategy of a Civ game, I don’t think that’s my favorite part. My favorite part is creating history. In the past I’ve enjoyed a few good wars, but I start to suffer war-weariness as a player. It messes up the narrative. After a series of wars has stretched several hundred years, it stops feeling like a real history and more like a game.

    Who knows, maybe I’ll enjoy Civ V more as a game. But it seems like there should be a game that really captures the feel of recreating your own version of history a bit better.

    • Zenicetus says:

      If you want to create alternate versions of history, I think the Total War series is the one to play, even if the quality in recent titles has varied. Empire is pretty deeply flawed, but Rome and Medieval 2 are good platforms for “what if’” alternate histories, and there are some good mods for them. I’ve done things like try to get the Ottomans to reach and colonize the New World ahead of the western European powers, or trying to hold onto and colonize the Holy Lands as a Catholic faction. Or trying to take over the British Isles and then the rest of continental Europe playing as Scotland (Arrhh! Fear my bagpipes!). Just ignore the stock victory conditions and re-write history as your favorite faction.

      Civ is more of a cartoon approach to history. That doesn’t bother me because they’re so blatant about it… like George Washington building pyramids, and then a starship. World history is just a rough framework to supply units and tech trees. The alternate maps also mess with any real historical re-write. Geography constrains strategy much more heavily in the Total War games… i.e. there’s a reason why Spain got to the New World earlier than the Ottomans. So any historical re-writes feel more like a real accomplishment.

    • Severian says:

      But isn’t history just a succession of wars? Or were my 7th grade teachers lying to me…

    • jarvoll says:

      I’ve always wished the civ series would just drop the pseudo-history and instead use (or at least allow the use of) randomly-generated civs instead. When Russia and Brazil are two one-city civs sharing a tiny island, in what sense are they Russia and Brazil? The correct answer is that they’re not Russia and Brazil at all – only the names are the same. It’s 100% superficial, and I’ve never understood how people can get any thrill at all from the kind of thing you hear quoted in reference to Civ games all the time: “I just invaded Mongolia as the Australian Aborigines!!! lol!!! how crazy!!!!” No, actually, it’s not at all crazy, because that’s not what you did. In other words, if it walks like a cow, quacks like a pelican, looks like an octopus, yet has the word ‘DUCK’ printed on it, is it a duck?

      The Total War series and the Paradox games are great balms for this irritation, as they feature entities that match as closely as possible (particularly in certain mods) to real historical, political entities, so when I come in as a player and change something, it becomes meaningful for me to say “I just defended an Iberian coastal town from Carthaginian colonialist forces!”

    • Archonsod says:

      “Who knows, maybe I’ll enjoy Civ V more as a game. But it seems like there should be a game that really captures the feel of recreating your own version of history a bit better.”

      There is. Europa Universalis.

    • mrmud says:

      ““Who knows, maybe I’ll enjoy Civ V more as a game. But it seems like there should be a game that really captures the feel of recreating your own version of history a bit better.”

      There is. Europa Universalis.”

      This, a million times this.
      EU3 with expansions is amazing at creating a believable historical context in a way that civ never even begins to attempt.

  40. Choca says:

    I’ve been playing the game for about a week and I disagree with some of your (and Quinns’ review on Eurogamer) points.

    The A.I. is agressive, yes. Sometimes its agressiveness doesn’t make much sense, yes.

    But I’ve never ever had to reload an old save because some huge militaristic empire was crushing my peaceful culture seaking civilizations.

    The new military system makes it easy enough for the player to block enemy units into choke points and to break their progression towards your cities even if you only have three or four units, and the fact that you don’t need to develop or research anything to unlock the “buy production” option now (as opposed to Civ IV) makes it easy to recruit some more units in an emergency situation.

    I was attacked by overwhelming Egyptian forces in my last game and had only one swordman to defend. I managed to block Rameses II by placing my lone swordman in a narrow pass where I had built an advanced fort with a Great Person (does 3 damage each turn to every unit in adjacent hexes) and managed to hold the line until I had some ranged units (which I bought with gold I made by signing temporary economic deals left and right with my neighbours, waiting for production would be stupid unless your empire is a producing machine) to place behind my heroic swordman.

    In the end, Egypt stopped sending troops by land and tried to go around by sea, which I had anticipated, so I sent them a few boats to massacre their transports.

    War averted with maybe five units total. It’s not so hard.

    • Choca says:

      I still agree that it is somewhat inferior to Civ IV though, the lack or religion, spies and the good old policy system are felt strongly throughout the game.

    • Tei says:

      Easy is a horrible word, and sould be removed from the dictionary.

      A puzzle of 10 parts is easy for me, but I have friends that would play with a puzzle of 10 millions parts and say is easy. Again the same word. Is a useless word.

  41. Mike says:

    Does Napoleon have the same horse on standby for 5,000 years? He just hops onto it as soon as any diplomat gets past the front gates?

  42. dray says:

    I really don’t think I’ll take the plunge, I’ve loved Civ since I first played it but Europa Universalis has more for me than CIv now but to be fair EU is more rigid I just enjoy it more, I know sooner or later I’ll end up buying it when it’s cheaper but for now I think it wont offer me more enjoyment than EU and its expansions.

  43. Bowlby says:

    The comments about the AI are really disappointing. I wanted more transparency, not less. :(

  44. Elias says:

    Keep in mind civ games are typically not meant to be that intensive and there is a limit to what they will be willing to set as far as system requirements. Id love truly in depth AI in games but I’m also not willing to buy a supercomputer to get it.

    • Dozer says:

      Eh? The AI should not be a heavy demand on any recent PC’s hardware – the complexity is in the design, not in the use!

    • SheffieldSteel says:

      I think this is a pretty common misconception about AI in modern games. People read about neural nets, goal-based reasoning, and chess-playing computers searching through solution space for the ideal strategy, and they assume that all video games use these tecchniques to provide a challenge.

      What you find in practice is pretty shoddy in comparison. It tends to be very ad-hoc, often based on simple heuristics and pretty rudimentary rules. Most game AI can be summarised, as someone said above, as a series of IF… THEN… statements.

      (I know, a fair few games use goal-based reasoning…. but most don’t.)

    • D says:

      The AI in FEAR 1 was so awesome.

  45. laikapants says:

    That’s (the new battle system) a large part of what has me looking forward to going home in 2 hours and playing Civ V over the last week spent with Civ IV. While I love the Science and Culture race, the combat in IV was so damned fiddly to the point that I never did anything beyond keep up the essential garrisons. I might even skip over my first Civ choice (Siam, just because) and skip to the more war happy Aztecs as a result, just to properly give it a go.

    • Choca says:

      The Aztec are awesome :D

      Every time they kill someone, they get culture points because, you know, killing is their culture :D

    • laikapants says:

      @Choca: That’s the exact reason I’m going with them actually. That and their cities look fairly amazing (though I suppose they all do in their own way).

  46. Zoolooman says:

    Err, I messed up my last post and attached it as a reply to someone.

    I find religion, espionage, and policies to be some of the worst parts of Civ IV.

    Religion drains diplomacy of challenge and leaves a binary choice. Espionage is entirely flavor with no calories, and many of the policies are ignored in favor of a static setup; or they’re constantly micromanaged and tedious to use.

    Am I the only person glad that Civ V has removed or revamped these features?

    • Bowlby says:

      Nope. After playing BtS, it became clear that espionage was one feature too many. Even religion became way more hassle than it was worth.

    • laikapants says:

      @Zoolooman: Not at all, other than my grumbles about the combat, those are favourite changes with Civ V. If they wish to properly implement various Religions and assign them unique properties, I could maybe go for that, but in the Civ IV state I’d rather do without them.

    • Bowlby says:

      I think religion in a Civ game would be cool, but it was very fiddly in the fourth iteration. They could give it its own civic-like section, where you choose some kind of pre-set religion, a real-world religion or no religion, and then you choose certain bonuses as the religion evolves – e.g., will go down the Catholic or Protestant route?

  47. Peter says:

    I haven’t played any Civ game before, which one should I pick up? Should I go for 5 or 4? I have played some Medieval 2: Total War (man, the combat was awesome), and I am looking for a similiar game.

    • Vinraith says:

      Civ has no tactical combat, so if that’s what you’re after you may want to look elsewhere.

    • Zoolooman says:

      This one does, Vinraith.

    • Vinraith says:

      No, this one has tactically meaningfully positioning on the strategic map, it doesn’t have anything that bears the faintest resemblance to the combat in Medieval 2.

    • Carra says:

      If you liked Medieval Wars Turn based strategy part then you’ll like this game. Me, I just did that and skipped most battles.

  48. Dozer says:

    My Civ experience has two key points:

    a) if I’m playing Civ, I’ll be playing Civ until 6 in the morning, and spend the rest of the day asleep instead of meeting attractive women
    b) in Civ I’m always steamrollering everyone or being steamrollered; the game doesn’t seem to find a balancing point that easily.

    I’ll still get Civ5 though, but I’ll have to replace my PC first. Dual core? Really?

  49. Anthony says:

    To be fair, the AI in Civ IV was also happy to declare war the exact same turn, no matter how many reloads you did. I’m fairly certain it calculates these sorts of things on a long view – the AI has decided to declare war on your well back before your last autosave, and so it appears automated and thus frustrating.

    I’m sure a programmer from Firaxis can give me a very reasonable and well-thought-out explaination for why this has to be so, but it’s obviously still enough of an issue that you had to mention it.

    As to the rest of the review, some great writings.

  50. Skinlo says:

    I really enjoyed Civ 4 as much as most people did, and from the looks of it, I won’t enjoy this that much.