Preview: Civilization V

June 27, 2010

Managing Editor Graham Russell got an in-depth look at Firaxis’ upcoming strategy game at E3. Here are his impressions.

As we walked out of the Civilization V demo at 2K’s E3 booth, we were each handed a small button with “CivAnon” written on it.  For the uninitiated, CivAnon is the name of the fictional support group in advertisements for the game, where addicted gamers bemoan the loss of their lives to the strategic juggernaut that is Civ. 

You know, after seeing the innovations and enhancements the new Civ will bring, I think I may need some help myself.

When most discover the game’s switch to a hex grid, they think it’s an arbitrary change that appeals to those who associate hexagons with strategic depth. (I’ll be honest, I’ve made that connection on occasion.) Actually, though, it makes a big difference in Civ V, and mainly due to another change: the one-unit-per-tile rule. Veteran Civ players know well the “stack of doom,” where players piled their whole army into one space and moved it across the map like an unstoppable juggernaut. The new game requires the use of interesting formations, support units in adjacent tiles and paying more attention to terrain. A country can put up a decent defense against larger forces with forethought and a tight line.

All this means that it’s harder to win through military might. It’s always been the dominant path to victory, and now it’s more on a level playing field. Which is nice, since Firaxis has made the other ways to win much more fun and interesting.

The previously-impossible diplomatic victory (which required other countries to let you win, for the most part) is more doable now through the addition of city-states. They’re much like barbarians from earlier games, in that they’re cities under no player’s control. However, they aren’t always hostile. They can be befriended, forming protective alliances and raising your reputation in the world. City-states get a vote, too, and they’ll vote for you if you’re their protector. Not only that, though; they give you bonuses to various activities. A similar function comes from puppet rulers. Instead of taking on a city, making everyone unhappy and having to deal with their needs, you can put someone in charge to do your bidding. You don’t get control over what they do, but you gain the benefits the city produces.

The space race is more intriguing too, since now players must transport pieces of the ship and protect them using this new battle system. It’s no longer such a stealth activity, and fits in with the rest of the game’s mechanics. The cultural victory is completely different now, with players winning by advancing enough things like democracy, free speech and religion.

Diplomacy with the game’s A.I. has been revamped as well, to give each leader a special personality. Napoleon’s going to try to amass a land army to do his bidding. The Greeks will put their focus on peaceful diplomacy and cultural advancement. Montezuma’s going to have some sort of battle plan, as his warrior spirit compels him. In all likelihood, there will be a Spanish Armada at some point. They’re not stuck, though; beat Napoleon’s army back enough and he’ll change tactics. (That may not be so realistic in Napoleon’s case.) Firaxis is also making the negotiation process more dynamic and detailed, in more ways than one. Not only are the leaders fully represented (and not just in headshots), but different styles of negotiation will lead to different options. 

All this leads to a Civilization game that’s more…civilized. And I’m liking it.

Civilization V, developed by Firaxis and published by 2K Games, will be out later this year. September 21, to be exact. Yes, we’re counting the days.