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Review: Civilization V

February 25, 2012

It feels like far too long since I’ve done a proper review. Talk about network decay. But we’re not here to talk about references to TVTropes, we’re here to talk Civ V. I really don’t have much of a history with the Civilization series – my first encounter was Civ III, and I remember not really enjoying it.

After hearing so much on the internet about Civilization IV, I decided to try it out. I wound up falling in love with it. I would spend upwards of thousands of turns and dozens of hours just seeing how far I could take it. After seeing all sorts of positive things about Civilization V on the internet, I decided to check it out.

I am not a fan. Oh, the game is executed well, the graphics are good, the animation works well, but I don’t know. It just never seemed to click as a whole product for me. Well, maybe I should start out with what’s good.

The graphics strike a good balance between striking visuals and something that my laptop can actually run. There are a lot more…I’m not quite sure how to put it. The easiest way to explain it I guess is to say that each unit has more individual members on screen. For instance, the minuteman unit has two rows of something in the neighborhood of six or seven men. And, I do kind of like the new hexagonal design that seems like something of a throwback to old school wargaming. Plus, artillery (catapults and such) can actually attack from a distance.

Now for the bad. The biggest complaint I have about this particular game in the series is that you can no longer stack units to create armies, like how they do in real wars. Worse than that, it removes an entire level of strategy by mandating that each of your units remain separate. In Civ IV, setting up the armies came down to, really, how I wanted to use my artillery. I had to decide whether or not to group them with infantry (I usually do, for their protection) and how much, whether or not to combine infantry and cavalry and what proportion, and which armies attack first. Now, it’s just a matter of surrounding a city and hammering away at it until you kill the defenders, and then starting to hammer away at the city itself (which is an issue I’ll get to) until you can finally take over.

And let’s think about that for a second. Just as a thought experiment, imagine you’ve just marched your musketmen and cannons up to a city being defended by a bunch of guys with clubs. After you kill them off, what’s to stop you from blowing open the gates or just blowing a huge honking hole in the wall and taking the town? Apparently, you have to conduct a house-to-house sweep before you can take the town, and even after that they’ll still resist you until you build them a courthouse, which takes for-fucking-ever since everyone’s out resisting instead of building the goddamn courthouse that they asked for so they would stop resisting AHHHHH-

(We’re sorry about that, folks. Just a short mental break caused by circular logic, we’ll be back in just a moment. – Ed.)

Well then. I know, I know, it’s probably not as big of a deal as I’m making out of it, but it just doesn’t make any sense to me. There’s just a lot more logic to how it was handled in Civ IV, where if you killed the defenders, you could just take the city but you still had to occupy it before you could get  them to produce anything.

And then there’s the whole “social policy” mechanic. For those who haven’t played it, social policies have replaced the civics from IV. And surprise, surprise, this annoyed me too. Mainly because of how it was handled. Instead of, y’know, coming up with new ideas about society based on how technologically advanced you are, now you adopt new social policies based on how much culture your civilization generates. Again, this just feels weird to me, culture governing things like liberty and freedom as opposed to the influence of your cities in the world stage.

And on the topic of the world, it seems like the actual play area is smaller, a feeling not helped by the larger tiles and the fact that units can’t stack. And, I know that this is a minor complaint in the grand scheme of things, but Civ V couldn’t get Leonard Nimoy to come back as the narrator. I’d say save yourself a few bucks and pick up Civilization IV instead, if only to hear Spock describe the beginning of the world.

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