Games have long simulated certain activities or facets of human life, but the Civilization series has been the only one to successfully simulate the entirety of human existence. In the first four entries in the series, the same core ideas were refined and expanded to various degrees, but the original’s balance was painstakingly preserved. Civilization V was not so conservative with its changes, and surprisingly there’s very little that went wrong with the adjustments.
For those who haven’t played a Civilization game, it follows a path from settling your first ancient city to the modern era, with expansion, scientific advancements and military conflict. Players can win one of five ways: besides simply having the most points when time runs out, victory is claimed by eliminating the other players, by advancing culturally, by gaining majority support of the United Nations or by building a space shuttle. Getting there, though, is an epic task that takes thousands of years in-game and only slightly less time out of it.
The first major change is that everything is based on a hexagonal grid, rather than squares. This is a huge (and welcome) change from every other Civ game. The format leads to much more realistic maps and combat. Combined with the one-military-unit-per-tile rule, this makes for much more strategic, even-handed combat.
Economics have been revamped as well. There are no more sliders for you to divide up your commerce as you see fit. Instead, science, culture and gold have been separated almost entirely. Science is now produced by citizens and learning institutions, while gold is harvested from working tiles and constructing buildings, and is used to upkeep everything in your empire from your roads to your armies. Culture has been detached entirely from your economy and is now based entirely on structures.
Diplomacy is now less about calculating how much a country likes you based on various point modifiers, and more about deciding how long it should wait before stabbing players in the back. The A.I. plays to win now, rather than just to survive. Not only that, but each ruler has his or her own victory stratagem. Napoleon will try to amass a land army. Elizabeth will build more than her share of naval vessels. It doesn’t pigeonhole them either, as they’ll adapt if their primary goals are harder to reach.
The diplomatic process gets a little more complicated, too, with the addition of city-states. City-states are small nations that don’t try to win the game. Instead, they’re there to be allies in times of war, obstructions on the path of expansion or just another foe to take down. Gaining their support is as simple as handing them some gold, though they’ll ask for other things as well. Sometimes they’ll ask for military aid against an enemy, and other times they’ll just ask you to build a Wonder. Getting their support is crucial to a diplomatic victory, as each city-state has a vote in the United Nations.
The cultural system has, inevitably, also gotten a revamp. Instead of the old system of adopting Civics, players purchase Social Policies with culture points. They can shape their societies in this way, focusing on a large empire, strong soldiers or maritime commerce. What’s more, you can mix and match the various policies somewhat and use a little of each. (If you completely purchase five of the ten trees, you can build the Utopia Project and secure victory.)
Visually, the game impresses more than it ever has. The landscapes look much more realistic and less algorithmically-generated, allowing for extra realism. Leaders are fully-animated and in their element, rather than just heads in a window, and they express emotions in a much more believable way. Detailed unit battles look nice up-close, as actual shots are fired and real hits take down foes. All of this would be painful to lower-end systems, except Firaxis has made sure that settings levels allow all players to get the most out of their hardware.
The multiplayer system is a new one as well. Based entirely on Steam (the main reason why all players must use it to play the game at all), there has been a concerted effort to streamline the experience. It takes a few cues from the console Civilization Revolution, and the changes make things much more pleasant. There are still a few hiccups here and there, but it’s an impressive mode for a turn-based game.
Civ V is not Civ IV. It’s different, and in ways that make things much more painless. The result is a game that keeps you playing for way longer than you ever meant to.
Pros: Streamlined system, tactical battles, graphical upgrades
Cons: Multiplayer hiccups, some elements removed in streamlining effort, if you need to leave the house in the next few weeks this may not be the game for you
Staff writer Shawn Vermette contributed to this review.