I wanted to expand upon something that I was discussing in the comments earlier today. I believe that one of the reasons that Civilization V has been received somewhat poorly by the community has to do with its presentation. Not its graphics, mind you, but the overall package. To illustrate, I'll compare Civ V with its immediate, and deservedly beloved, predecessor, Civ IV. Please note that it's been a while since I've played Civ IV, so if details are a bit off, please correct me.
Let's start with the introduction and beginning of a new game. In Civ IV (pre-expansions), the opening movie is a sweeping camera flight over an ancient (visually Greek) coast, across a battlefield, in on a king before a cheering crowd in a city, before finally zooming out to sweep over the entire planet. When a game begins, the player is presented with a slow, semi-animated piece in which the Narrator (Leonard Nemoy) describes the beginning of the planet, the rise of life, and ends with the player assuming control over a fledgling civilization.
In Civ V, the opening movie is of an old man sitting in a tent; he is culturally ambiguous, but the decorations indicate a very ancient time period. A younger man enters, and the old man addresses him as his son. The old man describes a vision he has seen of their people across the ages, braving raging seas and doing battle in different time periods. However, he says that it is not his future, but his son's, and states that the responsibility for leading their people falls on the younger man's shoulders. The son departs, with a (perhaps worried) look back, and then gazes out over a small, seemingly Neolithic settlement in a largely untamed valley below. When the game proper begins, the Narrator is the same old man from the introduction, and he gives background on the civilization the player has selected, some highlights on the selected leader, and finally implores/challenges the player to lead his/her people to glory and "withstand the test of time."
Right out of the gate the player is bombarded with two very different messages. Civ IV offers a distanced but grand view of history. The player is but one more bit of life in the grand story of the planet, and will oversee the fate of a civilization, the good and bad, from on high, in control but detached. Civ V offers the burden of leadership. The player's people cry out for a leader, hardship looms ahead, and the player walks a lonely path, with the wisdom of an elder--but not the direct assistance--the only tool provided.
Next, let's look at the main menus of each game. Civ IV (pre-expansion) shows an ever-spinning globe. The dark side reveals lights, while all the while a sweeping, vaguely African song with a major vocal component plays. In this way, the grand sweep of human history, out of Africa and into the modern era, across the entirety of the planet, is neatly conveyed, with the motion of the planet neatly evoking the passage of time. Civ V depicts a static illustration of an art deco statue of Atlas, grim and resolute beneath the weight of the world, while modern skyscrapers tower around him, crowding the sky, while a rather low, entirely instrumental piece rumbles in the background.
The thematic differences between Civ IV and V are again obvious. Civ IV offers a grand view of the entire planet; the player can see it all before him or her, both physically and temporally. In Civ V, the perspective looms down upon the player, who is himself/herself embodied by Atlas, straining to bear the weight of the world upon his shoulders.
Selecting a Civilization is no different. In Civ IV, the split between civ bonuses and leader bonuses, combined with the sheer number of leaders (who all draw from the same pool) means that there are any number of similar civilizations to choose from. The player can play virtually any civ in the same way and have largely the same experience, simply because the differences between them are so muddied. In Civ V, civ selection can be almost paralyzing. Each civ has unique advantages, but each also has only one leader, who has an entirely unique power that can greatly impact the game. Not all of these powers are entirely positive, so players must be aware of their civ's strengths and weaknesses and must try to exploit any benefits to succeed.
The games' approaches to governments/culture reflect their differences. In Civ IV, all government policies can be changed at will, with a short period of Anarchy to pay for the change. These policies are unlocked by advancing along the tech tree. The player can rush forward and pick his or her preferred policies without tremendous effort, and can change them should the need or desire arise. In Civ V, social policies are permanent and are selectable but rarely. Each choice is agonizing, as the point system means that the time until the next choice will be longer than for the previous. However, each selection will last for the rest of the game. Since these policies both affect and are affected by the player's approach to the game, but are irreversible, making appropriate choices is absolutely critical.
My theory is that many people find Civ V to present a decidedly unwelcome picture of an entertainment product. It is a game that is, above all else, about responsibility: the responsibility of the player to succeed. The player's people beg for his or her help at the beginning of a game. The Narrator is the player's father figure, offering wisdom but able only to watch from afar. Poor decisions tend to be irreversible. Responsibility is a burden, and the idea of an entertainment product that so champions it can be difficult to swallow. Civ IV, on the other hand, is about observing the grand sweep of history. It doesn't matter much whether the player wins or loses because humans are hardly the first, last, or only life on the planet, and the player can easily pick another civilization to play, in which case he or she will find surprising similarities.
it is my firm belief that this difference accounts for some, but certainly not all, of the poor reception to Civilization V. Specifically, I believe that this accounts for many people who cannot put their finger on what they dislike about the game; those who don't feel bothered by the mechanics, but still feel the title is inferior to its predecessor. Do you agree?
I would also like say that the soundtracks for each game continue this trend, but I am not knowledgeable enough about music to articulate the idea. I certainly think that Civ IV has the "grander" music, whereas V is rather muted. Finally, for full disclosure, I prefer the mechanics of Civ V to Civ IV, although I love Civ IV and it was my gateway game to the franchise. Anyone is free to agree or disagree with me, but I feel like I've hit on something here that I haven't seen discussed elsewhere.