Wot I Think: Civilization V

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.


  1. TCM says:

    Trying to figure out where people get the picture that V is worth skipping based on this Wot I Think.

    Because it actually states the exact opposite, directly, in the text

    • Vinraith says:

      Because not everyone shares Alec’s taste, and the particular advantages and drawbacks of this version (as outlined directly in the text) are going to strike some people as comprising a game not worth bothering with? I know for my part the change in focus from Civ IV isn’t particularly appealing, plus I just don’t feel any real need for another Civ game when there are so many more interesting and diverse grand strategy games floating around at the moment. Nothing in this review makes this game sound compelling, it’s a simple as that.

    • DrGonzo says:

      If nothing in the review made it sound compelling we must not have read the same article as I did.

    • DrGonzo says:

      Also, as I have said, his criticism of Civ 3 shows he has a shite taste in Civs. It all went downhill from there in my opinion.

    • Vinraith says:

      If nothing in the review made it sound compelling we must not have read the same article as I did.

      No, it just evidences that I’m a different person than you looking for different things in a Civ game than you are. This is extremely clear from the fact taht you like 3 and couldn’t get into 4, whereas I like 4 and couldn’t get into 3 (to the point that it lead me to the Europa Universalis series, which is actually the only good thing I have to say about 3).

    • DrGonzo says:

      I’m guessing you also like the awful Alpha Centuri too?

    • Vinraith says:


      Absolutely. Yeah, we seem to want completely opposite things in a Civ game, no wonder you think this one sounds promising. Hope it works out for you, if you didn’t like Civ 4 you’ve had quite a long wait.

    • TCM says:

      Let me state every single reason to get Civ V over IV:

      -The combat
      -City States are fun to deal with
      -The combat
      -No unhealth — admit it to yourself, you only ever found it an annoyance, not a strategic thing to deal with.
      -The combat.

      I cannot possibly stress how the removal of deathstacks has made war better in every way enough. Wars now require actual thought for the fighting bits, not just the bits leading up to that.

    • Gassalasca says:

      Alpha Cenatauri was easily the best of Civ games, if you ask me.
      I loved IV, barely got into III, for the record.
      Can’t wait to give V a try.

    • Nick says:

      City States are little more than money sinks or speed bumps. You have barely any interaction of merit with them.

      The combat is glorious, aside from that there isn’t much to reccomend it over Civ IV right now.

    • alseT says:

      I think liking Civ 3 and not SMAC or Civ 4 should be some kind of punishable offense. I can’t take anyhing you say seriously now.

    • Rinox says:

      I too subscribe to the “not liking SMAC should be punishable by (RPS) law” sentiment. ;-)

      I still plays better than the vast majority of TBS games out today. I have a friend who framed the entire tech tree (it came with the game) and put it on his wall. I want to steal it.

    • seras says:

      @Nick: “City States are little more than money sinks or speed bumps. You have barely any interaction of merit with them.”

      you’ve attained that all-encompassing certainty in 5-6 hours of gameplay, have you?

      pretty hilarious how a lot of ppl’s tone in this thread imply expert knowledge of the game’s systems when it’s been playable for barely a few hours.

    • Bowlby says:

      “I’m guessing you also like the awful Alpha Centuri too?”

      I just… I just don’t even know what to say to that.

    • Tetragrammaton says:

      But none of this matters as the twin black holes of vicky 2 and minecraft yawn beneath. God help me.

    • Thants says:

      That is actually the first time I’ve ever heard someone say something negative about Alpha Centauri.

    • TCM says:

      I have nothing negative to say about Alpha Centauri, except that it wasn’t to my personal taste — the setting is wonderful, and imaginative, but I could never get into the game proper.

      (can’t figure out how anyone can out and out hate it, though)

    • Nimic says:

      Alpha Centauri is one of my favourite games ever, and certainly my favourite “Civ” game.

      Bonus points for mentioning Europa Universalis, which is a brilliant series.

      As for Civ V… well, I’ve already bought it. Bought it, pre-loaded it and seen threads for other people playing it right now, but for some arbitrary reason I’m not allowed to play it until Friday. I’m not expecting it to be quite as good as Civ IV, but I’m staying optimistic. I have to try to not go into the game thinking about all the small niggles that may or may not exist.

    • Nick says:

      “pretty hilarious how a lot of ppl’s tone in this thread imply expert knowledge of the game’s systems when it’s been playable for barely a few hours.”

      I was responding to him saying city states were fun to deal with and that was one of his recommendations to buying the game, in fact I seem to recall saying ‘thus far’ at the end of my post. But, you know, thanks for adding your insightful comment.

    • CMaster says:

      Really? Nothing negative to say about SMAC? I love the game, think while Civ IV was an improvement in many ways (and Civ III was to me almost completely unplayable, had about 3 games ever) think it was the most advanced, most interesting Civ game out there. It still had a whole world of problems, however.

      Where shall we start?
      How about the ridiculously unbalanced factions? The University and The Hive had really, really substantial advantages, especially if the University could get Virtual World and the Hunter-Seeker algorithm, or the horribly weak Morganites.
      The terrain system, while fantastic in its true-3d nature and dynamic rainfall, rather fell short of creating any noticeable geography, with all squares producing very similar resources, spamming forests everywhere being surprisingly viable and relied on “landmarks” to produce much of any note in the world.
      The unit design system, being more of a chore and thing to do battle with than allowing you to create anything genuinely interesting, especially as every new unit tech breakthrough required you to go through and tweak to see where it could be applied cheaply enough, before trying to convince the game that yes, that unit really was a good garrison unit or no, that special ability is a key part of making that unit work.

      As said, I think the game was awesome in many, many ways. But it certainly had a big pile of flaws too – if it didn’t, I’d probably never have bothered with Civ IV

  2. Manyang says:

    I’m going for a wait and see approach on this one. I’ve played almost every game in the series but the modding comunity has played a large part in that. I’ve read about 2K planning to release civs as DLC which would be rather useless if they allowed the modcomunity to add those for free. Also, the fact that I’ll be needing to buy 2 copies just to play a LAN-game means the game has effectively doubled in price, so I’ll be waiting for the price to come down to acceptable levels anyway.

  3. DrGonzo says:

    Well the comment about Civ 3 leaves me a little worred. Civ 2 and 3 are the two games that I played way too much of, I’ve still not really been able to get into Civ 4 as it didn’t seem as good as the 3rd one. So I would quite like to know what you thought was wrong with it.

  4. Freud says:

    I didn’t really play Civ IV so I suspect I am less jaded towards Civ V than those that played every version. It is the same way with Football Manager games. It is healthy to miss one of them to create motivation to play.

  5. Chris D says:

    I suspect it’s going to take a while. Poor AI has been a criticism of almost every strategy game I can think of. Mostly I think it’s down to the fact that AI is really, really difficult.

    We’ve got used to advances in graphics and processing power so it’s easy to assume that AI should be improving at the same rate but I don’t think it’s a problem you can solve just by throwing more resources at it. For the moment humans are just better at this type of reasoning.

    Much as I’d like to see AI capable of matching a human player I don’t think we’ll be seeing it anytime soon. I’d like to be proven wrong though.

    • Chris D says:

      That was supposed to be a reply to Richard Beer on the subject of when we’ll see a decent AI in strategy games.

      The reply function is of self aware and extremely malicious

  6. capital L says:

    This gets me all pumped up to play some Alpha Centauri actually.

    • LionsPhil says:

      Probably because Alpha Centauri is still the most advanced Civ game in many ways. Terrain being an obvious one.

      Not many games let you hurt an opponent by terraforming your own land so as to make use of the prevailing winds to capture their rainfall.

    • Humz says:

      Hello, it had brain eating maggot worm armies of the radical ecogreens! (My personal interpretation of the mind worms)

      How is any Civ ever going to come remotely close to that awesomeness? That’s right, it won’t.

      Alpha Centauri had a wonderful Sci-Fi-ish setting, and I’m a sucker for that over the same old footman-tank-plane WW II reminiscence in, oh, about 95% of all games in existance :P

      And that pseudo-plot finally for once gave it something to have some sort of personal relation to as opposed to “Here’s you and the usual 7 other AI dumbos you’ll be able to wipe as usual. Now go and do it, coz, no real reason.”

      It was actually a single player game for once with a kind of campaign feel and not just a skirmish mode.

    • Gassalasca says:

      That’s it. If I don’t like Civ V, I’m installing SMAC again.
      That or MoO 2. :D

  7. xaphoo says:

    Is it true that cities don’t have individual happiness/discontent any more, that it all is subsumed into a “national” happiness quotient? If so that seems like a game-breaker. It was part of the attraction of running a civilization to have a chronically restive “backwater” with its riots and strikes, versus a developed, happy heartland. Local variations in a single civilization. Is this dynamic now gone, to be replaced by a kind of national mass-consciousness?

    I can’t see how this design choice can be defended. One thing is to streamline – another is to take out one of the important elements with which Civs 1-4 grasp the imagination…

  8. Tom says:

    I haven’t enjoyed it as much as I have IV, and I blame that entirely on Solium Infernum. I’m coming off playing a game where I can easily leverage an advantage of military strength into material wealth, because the other guy doesn’t want to die and be humiliated in front of everyone. You try to do that here, and the other jerk’s response is, “Yeah? Well, you might wipe me off the face of the earth, but I’ll fight you to the death! My people will die by the millions to use up your precious army!”

    I don’t get it. If an indie game that was made on a shoestring budget can afford to make a good, intelligent AI that gives you the feeling of playing against someone with *self interest*, why can’t super-budget Civ V?

  9. DargleBargle says:

    Yo Vinraith, what are these interesting grand strategy games you mention?

    • jaheira says:

      Yeah that’s what I was wondering. Wot you playing Vinraith?

    • Nimic says:

      I’ll bet Europa Universalis 3 is one of them.

      Note: If you do get it, make sure to get the expansions. There are a lot of them, which seems unnecessary, but they really make a good game a great game.

    • Vinraith says:

      Well, what I’m playing is AI War and Minecraft (despite my unbelievable games backlog). The grand strategy games I’m talking about (aside from AI War, which sort-of qualifies) are Sword of the Stars Complete, Birth of America 2, AGEOD’s American Civil War, Rise of Prussia, Napoleon’s Campaigns, World War One Gold, Distant Worlds, EU3 with its full battery of expansions, EU Rome, Victoria 2, Arsenal of Democracy, For the Glory, Armageddon Empires, and Elemental. Well, those are the ones I’m aware of or own at the moment that look interesting, anyway, there are certainly many more I’m sure I’ve missed. I also haven’t had time to give Fall from Heaven 2 and a number of other interesting-looking Civ IV mods a shot.

  10. LionsPhil says:

    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.

    Great. So it’s gone from the brilliant diplomatic relationships of Civ IV where I could actually handle international tensions as a part of strategy and keep troublesome neighbours placated until I was ready to trounce them if they tried anything, to the arbitrary THIS IS A VIDEOGAME SO THE AI HATES THE HUMAN PLAYER of Civ III, the one Civ game I put down in disgust and hardly played (especially relative to its far superior brethren).

  11. Dav says:

    My favorite change from Civ III to Civ IV was that I could find out WHY people hated my guts. Even when it didn’t really change anything gameplay-wise (no, I’m not going to cancel all my trade deals and switch to your religion) it was just so much less frustrating than the (seemingly) totally random declarations of war in previous Civs. So…yeah, not exactly thrilled that we’ve gone back to the opaque hatred. I mean, I’m still going to buy and play it when I have the time, but that’s really a significant disappointment.

  12. hahnchen says:

    Compare Alec’s well reasoned and insightful piece to the list of bullet points sold to you as a review at Kotaku.

    link to kotaku.com

    How the fuck did they get so big churning out lazy shit like this?

    • perilisk says:

      Compare their comments section to the comments at RPS. There’s your answer.

  13. rocketman71 says:

    Never thought I’d complain about this, but.. does AA work in XP?. Because my eyes hurt, those units are a bunch of pixels the moment you zoom out a bit.

    I like the game, but it needs work, like Civ4 in release day. Not buying yet anyway. Not until they implement PBEM.

    • Persona Jet Rev says:

      It seems that anti-aliasing is only supported by the game when run in DirectX 10 and 11 version of the game under Windows 7 / Vista. But you can always enable it via your drivers with a tool (for example nHancer for nVidia cards)

      About the DirectX 10/11 version of the game. When starting the demo under Windows 7 you get the choice if you want to start in DX9 or 10/11 mode. The latter was ‘Recommended’ in my case, but then the game was running below 1 frame a second.

      In Windows 7, I’ve got DirectX 11 as a software version but not a video card with DX10/11 features, which I guess it needs since it didn’t run well at all. So why recommend it? Strange!

  14. RobHale says:

    That is absolutely not the case. The case is that Alec sucks at maintaining diplomatic relations in Civ 5. It is entirely possibly given the tools available to never go to war so long as you co-operate and honour your agreements. In Civ 4 you could happily get by screwing over everybody else and so long as you were the same religion as them then you would never go to war.

    In this one if you strike a secret pact with Rome to undermine Germany and then Germany offers you a trade deal – You reject it or you risk pissing off Rome.

    If you set-up a pact of cooperation with Rome and they ask for a few hundred gold then if you want to stay friends you honour your pact and you give them the gold. Do this and then when you go to them asking for iron you’ll likely get it. Turn down their request for gold after signing such a pact and you will piss them off.

    It is still the case that if you start next to Napoleon then you should immediately start preparing for war because he is a warmonger. That’s not changed at all since Civ 4.

    There is less transparency into why the AI has made its decisions than Civ 4 but at the same time it’s less about ticking boxes on a checklist and much more about co-operation and building trust.

    • RobHale says:

      Bah reply fail. That was to LionsPhil

    • LionsPhil says:

      Starting your comment by slagging off the reviewer’s skill at the game files your squarely under “rabid fanboy fervently defending his precious at all costs”. Sorry.

      And transparency is a good thing. Especially unless we’re to believe that Civ V happens in a parallel universe where national leaders really don’t communicate with anything beyond bullets/lack-of-bullets/trade ships.

    • Schizoslayer says:

      Sigh I would have hoped people could pick up on a little ribbing when Alec basically admits in the review that he sucks at maintaining diplomatic relations since he always ends up a war. After all if he was good at it then he wouldn’t be at war all the time.

      That the AI isn’t transparent and that the feedback is lacking and the deals you strike confusing and nebulous is a completely fair criticism of the game (Which is what Alec is complaining about). My point is that just because you don’t know how it’s working doesn’t mean it is impossible to achieve just that unfortunately it will take a few hundred hours of playing to figure out how to do it.

      Nobody reviewing the game will have played for hundreds of hours and therefore this largely undocumented and sadly opaque part of the game will be rightfully criticised for being undocumented and opaque.

      I actually recognise Alecs playstyle as being my own and in both Civ 4 and Civ 5 I suck at maintaining Diplomacy and stopping people going to war with me – I fortunately know that I suck and why I suck I’m just terrible at following through on that knowledge.

      As I have said elsewhere in the comments: Going back 40 turns to a previous save isn’t going to help you change the decision to go to war that the AI likely made 200 turns ago. It is the same in Civ 4 and it will forever be the case. Fortunately in this version of Civ it is much easier to raise a defensive army and hold back an attack on short notice than in any previous version.

    • balooba says:

      Thank you Rob Hale. Your explanation of diplomacy has done more than anything I’ve read anywhere else to reveal the opacity of these non-binding pacts (no explanation in manual or civilopedia!). It also reduces my worries about the diplomacy in general – having played the demo I was massively disappointed by the lack of feedback available to the player which I had grown so accustomed to in Civ IV.

  15. RobHale says:

    I also don’t miss religion at all it was one of my least liked parts of Civ 4 (Espionage was THE least liked). The policy system is much better in every way than Religion and Civics.

    • LionsPhil says:

      Religion was great because it helped form power blocks and international tensions over something slightly less arbitrary, and much more under player influence, than “I don’t like your face”.

    • Tei says:


      Civ V is made for people like you, that don’t like the “fluf” things in Civ IV that are more flavour than meat, and don’t work well in multiplayer.

      Is new to me that there was two camps in Civi. But now is clear, since a new civi has ben made deleting all the stuff that one camp enjoy to please the other camp.

  16. Bowlby says:

    Having played the demo through twice, one prominent thought sticks out in my head: where is the information? I have no idea about a civilization’s real strength, apart from a vague statement from my advisor (the advisors’ panel is just poor, imo), and I have absolutely no real, tangible sense of what my reputation is or how other civs regards me. There are things I enjoy about it, otherwise I wouldn’t have even bothered playing through again, and it is interesting in how it encourages you to play a different way from previous Civs. Still, I doubt I’ll buy it before it goes down in price.

    Also, “Powered by GameSpy”? What is this, 2001?

    • turk the great says:

      don’t mess with me sunshine, or i’ll kick your bloody head. understood, ponce?

    • Celkiasian says:

      Click the more options button in the top right and there is a detailed screen about the other Civ’s. I don’t know why they hid it when it’s so important.

  17. earsauce says:

    CIV is an awesome series; I’ll totally pick this up when I have some money.

  18. DargleBargle says:

    Oh, all that stuff is old (relatively speaking) except for elemental which sucks. I was hoping there was some glorious bounty that I was unaware of floating around. (I do have to get that infernum game one of these days though..)

    • Vinraith says:

      You must have a remarkable bounty of time on your hands, or very narrow genre interests. I’ve not found time to play the vast bulk of that list, yet. Sorry I couldn’t be more help.

    • DargleBargle says:

      @Vinraith Yeah most of those are a few years old and/or had a pretty limited scope. It’s cool you’re behind the times and all but if you actually keep up with the genre then it’s been pretty dry for some time now.

    • mrmud says:

      Victoria 2, Rise of Prussia and Elemental are all pretty recent.

  19. Tim James says:

    You’re still riding the same bike, but now it’s got some cool new spokey-dokeys and bell that plays Little Spanish Flea.

    What the fuck?

  20. sebmojo says:

    This is a fantastic piece, Alec – congratulations. Great writing. I particularly like ‘nipples on a jar of peanut butter’, though I read ‘on’ as ‘in’ which gives it a much more Hannibal Lectery vibe.

  21. chris says:

    I think you mean Allah damn it.

  22. c-Row says:

    Glad Minecraft didn’t appeal to me – more free time for Civ V :)

  23. Humz says:

    Reading all of these comments just makes me want to go back to Masters Of Orion 1+2.

  24. veerus says:

    It’s pretty obvious that this game will separate Civ players into 2 camps. Those who love Civ4 but don’t really see what’s so special about Civ5 and those who like Civ4 and for whom Civ5 is an improvement over Civ4 in nearly every category that matters.

    If you hated stacks of doom and wished combat had some substance, Civ5 offers an unparalleled combat system that creates sprawling battles over multiple hexes which are every bit as exciting as they sound. Every city siege is a chess game that forces you to solve the same tactical puzzles about troop positioning that Alexander The Great and Hannibal had to solve.

    Did you hate micromanaging health and happiness? And how your city would devolve into a worthless pile of stinky poo because of it? Well, no more! Civ5 got rid of disease and happiness is now managed on a global scale and is less crippling and, thus, less annoying.

    Did it ever annoy you when the research screen would pop-up at the beginning of the turn and wouldn’t go away until you selected a tech to research? Just any tech, as long as the screen went away? Same with town production? Not in Civ5! The game does a good job of reminding you what needs to be done before the turn is over but it doesn’t pester you and lets you do everything at your own pace.

    Diplomacy, in this discussion, is a wash. 4 is gamey and 5 is unpredictable, but both are illogical and flawed. As is the AI. Multiplayer is where it’s at.

    In the end, Civ4 probably appeals more to players who like to micromanage and eek out culture and space race victories. Civ5 will probably appeal more to the wargamer for whom the new combat system is a long-awaited change and an absolutely necessary evolution of the Civilization series.

  25. Torgen says:

    OK, been playing the demo and rushing to try and take a city before the 100 turn limit is up, and…

    I can’t for the life of me figure out how to make multiple units attack at the same time. I just ended up having the units attack piecemeal and get chewed up.

    I also can’t figure out how the AI is making public proclamations of “City state X is under our protection”, or how to trade with the city states.

  26. sharky towers says:

    WIthout the “soon to be former United States” this website would be in German. And the games would likely be a lot less fun.

  27. sexyresults says:

    My ally got angry and called me a warmonger after he asked me to join him in his military campaign. UHHHHHHH WHAT

  28. Mike Anders says:

    Diplomacy is hard to model because a lot deals with perceptions of what people think about other people particularly with respect to threats and alarms. Also, there are assumptions about “rational actor” theories that need to be worked out that sometimes do not bear much resemblance to reality. Which raises the question, is CIV V really a game, or a simulation? I’d says if is a damn fine game.