Civilization V

By: Craig Lager

Published: October 11, 2010 Posted in: Review

After fourteen hours or so with Civ V I’ve come away feeling a little disappointed and also a little stupid. Civ has always evaded me – I was too young to understand it when I played II, I didn’t like how it handled combat when I recently played IV, but going into V I thought it would finally click – and for a while I thought it had done, but in the end, well, I’m left with an overwhelming sense of apathy.

Civilization 5 - Ranged attack

The new look and feel won me over initially – it’s extremely polished and slick. Big buttons fill the screen directing your attention to exactly where it needs to be. “A UNIT NEEDS ORDERS” a glowing, web 2.0 button screams. “A CITY NEEDS A NEW CONSTRUCTION PROJECT”. You can’t miss what you need to do and everything generally makes sense – high praise for a turn based game, a genre that’s notorious for complex and barely explained systems.

Often though you’re just waiting and wondering if, really, you should be doing something more involved – especially in the early game. The pace isn’t so much glacial but more stifled. Neptunes Pride is glacial in the way that you are waiting for something to happen and it’s tense, unnerving and you’re questioning yourself. Here you are clicking “next turn” 10 times in a row waiting for a construction to finish before you just choose something else to set off. And god help you if you’re not going for a conquest win (kill everybody) because then you aren’t even marching little armies around and smashing stuff up.

I’ve tried to dig deeper with Civ, to try and find what I should be doing other than clicking “next turn” and the only thing I’ve found is to go and have fights, but that’s not Civ – right? Winning through fighting is just an option I shouldn’t have to do it. Diplomacy then. Well it plain doesn’t work and it’s so sodding simplistic that it’s barely a surprise.

Civilization 5 - the map is really pretty

“Hey Germany ol’ buddy ol’ pal, I’ve just been attacked by the Romans, fancy helping me out?”

“Nein”

“Ok, can I have some cash to get some defences?”

“Nein”

“But we’ve been allied for centuries! I helped you out when you needed stuff!”

“Nein”

Message: Germany has declared war on you.

Diplomacy fails always, even trading is almost hopeless unless it’s initiated by the AI. Once I tried to trade a cotton supply for a wool supply (or something equally as arbitrary) with a very friendly nation. Would they do it? No, not unless I also supplied them with Gold, Marble and a fee. It was ridiculous and it wasn’t a one off. Unless the AI is initiating, you are rarely going to get an acceptable deal unless you have a huge army and are threatening to use it, and even then anything outside of trade is reduced to a binary answer.

Civilization 5 - he actually said they wanted peace

It’s extra hard to make deals since you aren’t given any information that you can use or exploit. In the diplomacy screen in Total War you are given a plethora of information – who the faction you are speaking to is allied with, who they are at war with, their wealth, their army size. Here you get nothing apart from how the faction feels towards you which is mostly denoted by how far the camera is zoomed in on their face. “He hates me! Look at his eyebrows!”. Also factions will declare war on you with no prior hint, no provocation, and no ultimatum, so if you’re playing like Ghandi (actual Ghandi, not Nuclear Civilization Ghandi) you’re in for a tough, if not impossible, ride.

Fighting then is the only realistic way to progress – you not only skip the awful diplomacy but you get to march armies around that can blow things up. Also, as an aside, why is there no marching stuff around in the name of peace? I mean, to call on Total War again, that has people you can marry off, spies to send out, assassins, religious figures. You can structure your government, convert nations to your religion through force, and blockade trade routes – none of that here. If you think about it – this is more of a war game than Total War – and that’s titularly about War. Go figure. Yes, so, you march armies around – they don;t stack now, it’s one unit per tile – advance wars on a grand scale – and it works, but it’s a little simplistic.

Civilization 5 - it gets complicated. A bit.

Best tech wins. It’s unsurprising, and historically true – of course people with rifles are going to rinse through people with swords, but that doesn’t make for an exciting game. The best thing about turn based combat is the depth – to plan moves and manipulate rules through thought, not just “who has the biggest and most advanced army”. Essentially it becomes boring, a long process of stomp stomp stomp until you’ve crushed a city or nation, then it’s on to the next one in a constant war that barely raises your heart rate.

Maybe I was stupid to think that a new Civ would be the one for me – it’s gorgeous looking tiles appealing far beyond IVs dull visuals, and the hex based one-unit-per-tile structure enticing me into a deeper, almost advance wars combat. Unfortunately it never – it’s not complexity and tooth and nail maths, it’s sedate clicking of the “next turn” interspersed with some combat tactics now and again that are far too simplistic to care about. All the while I’ve been thinking that I’ve missed something with Civ, but if after fourteen hours I’m missing something, well I refuse to believe it’s my fault.

Craig Lager
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