I have never played a *Civilization game prior to jumping into **Civ V. To be honest, I don’t have much time playing strategy games either, but the series has always intrigued me and been in my backlog for a while now. I was told by some friends that I will lose dozens of hours of my life building marvelous structures just to watch them come crumbling down around me if I make a mistake. The task was daunting, but I was more than willing to give it a try.
Jumping into a game without using the tutorial; which I will admit wasn’t very smart, I was quickly over powered by the five other nations that seemed all too willing to plunder my land and sack my cities. Now that I look back on it, I suppose my first mistake was trying to dedicate all of my technology to militaristic purposes, when I should have dedicated some time to other key factors such as science and agricultural needs. My second mistake surely came when I tried to use my units to attack Babylon while it was in alliance with the Zulu people. My units didn’t last long, and neither did my main capital.
Having my first taste of Civ. V was bitter sweet. I enjoyed the hell out of trying to expand my empire, but it clearly didn’t go well when I began the attack. It wasn’t until I sat down and read some tactics from the expansive Civilopedia that I realized what I had been doing wrong, and where I needed to improve. Civ V is without a doubt a strategy game, and part of that strategy is seeking help from other players.
I figured out pretty quickly that part of the goal in Civilization is to exercise your adaptability while the game throws one of its many tricks at you. Building your city into a mighty empire is but one part of your global dominance. You need to explore different avenues, such as creating a scientifically superior civilization, or a cultural powerhouse that exudes its power over foreign citizens.
Civilization V is all about leading your nation through the eras of history, starting with a single city and building it into an empire that spans the map. Before you start a new game, you choose one of 18 leaders from the course of history, each of whom possesses a particular benefit that helps your empire. This benefit may range from cultural theming bonuses, as is the case with Napoléon and the French, or military focused ones such as America’s sight bonus for ground units. From this point, your goal is to collect resources, manage your economy, make diplomatic decisions with other civilizations, and protect your empire from the enemy before you get a chance to attack theirs. As mentioned before, there are various ways to win the game: defeat your opponents through militaristic means, win the space race, win a diplomatic victory through votes at the United Nations, become the culturally superior civilization, or by possessing the highest score by the end of the turn limit.
Each victory condition feeds off of one another. It is difficult to manage a military victory without being scientifically superior to the enemy AI. If your empire is in the Medieval era and your opponents are struggling to get out of the Ancient, you will most likely sack at least one civilization’s capital and possibly its whole realm. Even so, nothing you do in civilization should be without a solid cultural foundation. The culture you gain is spent on social policies. Each time you reach a cultural benchmark, you select from a policy list, which is then split into more policies with separate sub-trees. Policies are essentially benefits that you use towards upgrading your empire in one-way or another. They allow you to focus on certain aspects of your strategy, such as building a science-based civilization. However, they also allow you to balance certain aspects of your empire that may have fallen behind.
The user interface is pretty easy to navigate, even for a Civilization novice like myself. Advisors appear each game and give you hints as to what your next turn should be. This setting can be turned off manually, but for your first couple of games, it is best to leave it alone. Between these hints and experience, your time is spent strategizing, rather than fumbling around with the screen trying to figure out what everything on the user interface means. Equally as helpful, the game does a wonderful job at managing all of your vital information within a click or two. The only negative aspect of the UI is that once you have a large number of units, it is a chore to keep an eye on them.
Tactical combat is an aspect that you will spend quite a bit of time on. Since stacking units isn’t allowed, with the exception of workers and special units, it forces you to strategize on the field. The strengths and weaknesses of each unit should be studied before sending them out for battle. A ranged unit being placed behind front line soldiers seems simple enough, but understanding how your enemy is positioned is also critical. Attacking an enemy while they are on a hill, expect to receive a combat penalty. Trying to cross the river standing in your way, you guessed it; your soldiers are going to be vulnerable during the journey. These may seem like normal things to take into consideration, but during the thick of things, you may forget that your enemy’s horsemen will completely demolish your bowmen. Being mindful of your actions is great, but being mindful of your opponents, now that is something special.
There are ways of increasing your units’ chances of surviving conflicts. One of which is actively engaging in conflicts. Each time your unit attacks an enemy, or is attacked by an enemy, they will gain experience points. Whether it is through attack, sight, healing, exploration, or an instant heal, there are several bonuses for your units once they reach a new XP milestone. Furthermore, you can always spend some of that hard-earned gold and upgrade the unity completely. For example, if you have the correct research path, you can upgrade a trebuchet into a cannon.
It may sound a little hectic at first, but it is extremely easy to navigate around the battlefield. Before launching an attack, if you move your cursor over an enemy, it will give you a preview of what the outcome will be. Although, this doesn’t take into account what consequences lay in front of you once you destroy that unit. You might win the battle, but now you’re so close to an enemy cities’ barrage attack that your battle-tested unit is wiped out in one turn. In fact, you should probably be taking into consideration all that is going on around your hexagons. The AI is more than willing to surround your units and unleash hell on you. It just so happens that if this does occur, it will most likely come down to the user not paying attention, rather than the AI blindsiding you.
Needless to say, gaining allies will help secure your place on the map. You can bypass an alliance with another civilization, thanks to the neutral city-states placed around the map. Although they wont actively attack you, unless provoked, you cannot just romp around their territory without the consequences. If they happen to be under the protection or in an alliance with an opponent, keep in mind that they will join their allies and attack whomever goes to war with them. For example, if Montezuma has wooed a city-state near your borders, and you go to war with Montezuma, be prepared for the city-state to start attacking you simultaneously. This can be replicated vice-versa, and it is also recommended you do so.
City-states can be won over by offering them gold or units, completing side missions for them, or offering your protection from other civ’s. By gaining their favor, you can freely move through their territory, have them join you in war, or on occasion they will send you various items such as resources. They also serve the purpose of securing a diplomatic victory. They will offer you their vote in the United Nations, making them invaluable if you’re trying your hand in that method of winning. However, your alliance with city-states should be another part of your overall strategy. Since your alliance with them decreases over time, you must consistently send them coins or units to maintain your pact. This is costly, so managing your alliances wisely around diplomatic meetings is always of importance.
Although diplomacy is interesting and at times can help secure your empire, it often feels hollow, particularly when dealing with competing civilizations. Nations are fastidious at best. The AI will often do one thing that completely contradicts a previous action. On one of my turns, I asked to open borders with one nation, just for that nation to turn me down. However, their next turn they came to me and offered me gold to open my borders with them. Obviously it worked out in my benefit because I got a fiscal reward and what I wanted in the first place, but it still doesn’t make sense. The same can be said during war. If you offer peace to a nation, they will most likely turn you down and then offer you peace in addition to one of their secondary cities. Also, don’t get me started on the moods of certain leaders – yes I am looking at you Ghandi. You never know where you stand with another civilization, because the leaders are impulsive.
Although the gameplay is what most people will stick around for, it goes without saying that Civilization V has some remarkable visuals, as well as, one of gaming’s best soundtracks. The environments are glossy and remarkably sunny, while the great leaders are noteworthy, because of their detailed looks and elaborate backdrops. Each leader is remarkably different and memorable. Wu Zetian has a glare that cuts right through you, while Montezuma manages to captivate with his over the top appearance and antics. Orchestral tunes are constantly in the background, often turning a frantic battle into a serene masterpiece. It is important to mention how little the game replays the same music. Obviously you will here the same classical pieces over time, but that is to be expected when some games can last into double-digit hours. They never wear out their welcome, nor do they become overly familiarizing.
By nature, you will spend dozens of hours in each game you play. So it is important for a strategy title of this magnitude to remain fun each and every game. Random maps, numerous civilizations, and many other advanced options allow you to stay in control of each game you play. The options, while not endless, are extremely flexible. You can remove barbarians from the map, set a maximum number of turns, or even start in a completely different era of the game. There is also an option to randomize leader attitudes, such as the aggressiveness of the Aztecs, and adjust the game speeds to meet your match preference.
Multiplayer games are available, but the few that I have tried weren’t for me. If you are prepared for the challenge, make sure that you have a few hours to spare, because each game is played in one sitting. You can set a turn timer to limit how long players get to consider their next move, but even so, the game is still taxing. Should you want to play online with friends as opposed to complete strangers, you must invite them through Steam’s overlay. The games ran smooth, with the exception of minimal lagging. But it wasn’t anything to fret about.
Sid Meier’s Civilization V manages to be fun and complex with just enough difficulty to keep the games constantly entertaining. AI quirks and a few other minor issues aside, you are looking at an attractive and sophisticated game that melts time away and blends days into nights. If you’re the type of individual with a lot of time to game, than by all means give this marathon a try. Conversely, if you don’t have more than an hour to play, you should probably look elsewhere. This game requires you to dedicate quite a bit of time to experimentation and strategy building, thus Civilization is a game that you must play constantly to get better at. Picking up and playing every once in a while is not wise. If you are prepared to take the plunge, there is no better place to do so.
*This review is for the Mac version of Sid Meier’s Civilization V, but for all intended purposes it will be recorded as a review for the PC version as well.
** This review is for Civ V’s base game, without the additions of the Brave New World or the Gods and Kings expansion packs.