Civilization 5 Review

It has been quite awhile now since I first got Civilization 5. I wanted to give the game plenty of play time before I gave it a review because I wanted it to be an honest one and not a quick reaction to it. Because of this, it has taken awhile because as we all know Civilization is a long-winded game. I have actually put more than 8 game play cycles into this game in order to give it a fair opinion, so I hopefully I get that. The first thing any player will notice when picking up this game is the graphics. The graphics are just phenomenal. I absolutely love them and it was certainly a worthy upgrade. Particularly, one of their enhancements was to create different tile sets for different continents so that when you go to a new continent, you see someplace different. This was a great touch. They also give you different theme music based on the Civ that you are currently playing, I really feel these little touches make the game feel more alive.

They also have these little cut scenes with beautifully rendered renditions of the civilization leaders whenever you speak to them. And these leaders say a phrase in their own language. Honestly I wish they hadn’t done this. The scenes are lovely and it is cool to have the phrase or whatever to give authenticity. However, the cut scene takes up the whole screen, causes some slow down while it loads and you know what? It would have been more than sufficient just to throw up a small picture. Hearing the same phrase over and over again also gets repetitive even if you don’t know what phrase they are saying. I feel like they dumped a lot of man hours into making these and I wish they would have just made an additional Civ instead.

The big change in this game was that they went to a single unit per tile. I have seen a fair number of complaints on the change, but overall I think it is a positive when it comes to combat strategy. Gone is stacking, yes, but often times you are also attacking with fewer enemies in the first place. You shouldn’t need more than say a dozen or two units for any particular war, and oftentimes much less than that. With this though, you can block off routes with your troops, you can flank your opponent, etc.

There really are a number of strategic opportunities to exploit just because of this one small change. The one major problem with this is that there isn’t an easy solution to maneuvering multiple troops at the same time. This means that even though you have fewer troops, once you get later in the game, it does become a burden to go to war with another civ and then have to send all of your troops to a single city one of at a time. This is tedious and was badly done.

One of the big things that I miss from previous versions of this series is the Offense and Defense of a troop. No more having strategy on whether to choose a pikeman or a swordsman for your troop, now you just pick which one has the highest strength which acts on the behalf for both. What this generally means is that a lot of units which I did use more in previous editions I don’t use anymore. Pikeman in particular are a unit I do not use in Civ 5. They are at a position in which there are other better units and the main thing they do is provide bonuses to horse units.

Another change to the series is the addition of City-States. And I can honestly say these can add to the game, or they can be a minor annoyance. It basically is one or the other and is largely dependent on how you want to play. If you want them to add to the game, you have to be one of a few Civs that get bonuses for interacting with them, like Greece, AND you have to take the patronage policy which helps with them as well. If you do this, you can get some really amazing bonuses out the city-states. They can give great people, lots of culture and food. But in general they are a money sink if you try otherwise. The main way to gain influence with them is by feeding them gold, it costs a lot of gold and then the influence degrades fairly quickly without the bonuses you get from civs and/or social policies. This makes their usefulness limited as they are only helpful when you invest a lot into them.

I also feel like they missed an opportunity with Militaristic city-states. These city-states will give you a free unit every 20 turns. And, these units are often at the cutting edge if not a little in front of the rest of the world. I have gotten infantry from them before my neighbors and I got infantry which was awesome. However, I would have really liked it if you got a unit unique to that city-state. I think this could have really added some flavor to the game and how cool would it be to get essentially an infantry that has a slight difference to it visually that dictates that it is different to blow away your opponent.

That brings about another change: gold. Gold now is a form of currency within the game instead of a bar that you need to control. There is still a bunch of control in it, you want to earn more than you are spending because if you do then you get a lot of gold in the bank. You can then use the gold to buy stuff in the game, like influence in city-states, or instant build a troop or a building (not wonders though), or buy a tile for a city, etc. This becomes really useful. You can choose not to build troops, which have an upkeep cost to them, and thus earn more gold every turn. Then if you get attacked, you can use your gold surplus to instant build a defense and take the opponent by surprised.

The last major feature that they added was limited resources. Now instead of just needing to find iron and then you can build all the swordsmen you want, you need to find more iron to build more. When you work an iron tile, you only get a limited amount to use, at that point you can build them up to however many iron that tile provided. So a tile with 4 iron will give you 4 swordsman. This is a great feature that really makes you fight over resources, I felt this was especially true for the early game resources like iron and horses, but oil also has the issue.

It seems like the logic of the game invariably gives you only 1 of the late game resources (oil, aluminum and uranium) on your home continent, and then you have to go get the others which is a good system actually. Some are definitely  more useful than others. Coal for instance really only has two things to produce with them, Factory (50% bonus to production with a 2 maintenance cost) and Ironclad (a strong, slow unit that can only go over shallow waters but is overshadowed by other units quick). I also was sad that they don’t have gunpowder as a resource and feel that was a wasted opportunity, there is plenty of gunpowder units out there that could go with it, and the mid-time period seems rather short on strategic resources. This honestly was my favorite new feature and in my opinion long overdue. I kind of wish that it got moved over to luxury resources too, but without city happiness, it is hard to do that. In a lot of respects this actually gets to a major weakness pointed out in the game and that is diplomacy, or more specifically the AI, or lack there of. The AI is extremely dumb compared to previous versions. In fact the above tactic is one I have used. I will purposely not build troops, they intrinsically know that I have no troops and attack me because I am weak. I then instant build a ton of troops and wipe them out. This is actually a great tactic because it works out that it is easier to defend than attack unless they have a ton of troops. And generally they attack with everything so if you can get past their initial surge then they won’t have anything left. And I imagine you are viewed as less of a warmonger if you don’t initiate the wars.

The AI often takes questionable tactics, and at best are just fairly predictable. I have begun using random personalities because I know exactly that if I get France near me I need to take them  out. I also feel that there are a lot of warmongering civs in this version (more than previous) and that if you stand up against any of them, they all start harassing you for warmongering. Everything just seems off.

There is a real lack of diplomacy. You never have any idea how, or even if, your decisions affect other nations, but they have a really distinct knowledge of everything you do. It’s as if they have spies looking at you but you have no way to spy on them (Yeah they took spies out of the game btw). For instance, the Pact of Secrecy, it doesn’t seem to serve a point. A civ A will offer it to me against civ B one turn, and the next turn the game announces to me that the two of them have signed a Pact of Cooperation, and then if I do something nice to Civ B, like sign a Pact of Cooperation, Civ A seems to get upset at me. There are all sorts of things like this which seem really odd in the diplomacy realm.

There is a lot missing out of the game. At launch there was not built in modding capability despite really advertising this as a feature, they have since launched it but I almost feel like it was past the time when people may have been interested. Also, they took out religion out of the game, to some it was a good thing, to some, like me it was bad. I never was big on playing religion, but I liked the option and I felt that it gave an extra dynamic to the game which is now missing. Pollution and health has been taken out of the game, as has city happiness. Instead all of this has been wrapped up in a civ-wide happiness stat. This has particularly devalued a lot of the late-game buildings such as Hospital which used to increase the health of a city, and thus increased the happiness of the city, and now just makes your city grow faster when it is already pretty big. I don’t think I have once built the Hospital, and most of the city growth buildings are fairly unworthy of a build considering maintenance costs to them. I was a big fan of health and happiness, as I liked that you had to pay attention to each city’s particular happiness. It is totally possible that most cities are happy but one is revolting. I don’t mind that all may be a little less happy if the one is revolting, but I think this was a bad move. Health can go either way, i can see what they were going for, after all health led to happiness and productivity, so why not just bring it in? But then why doesn’t the Hospital provide happiness? Also of note that really affected me is the idea of Culture. Now culture still is in the game.

Many buildings, wonders, and great artists provide culture, and a city with culture will grow fast, and a nation with culture will get access to Social Policies. The Social Policies replace the civics which honestly I don’t mind and I find it a nice change. However, what I don’t like is that no more can you conquer the world through culture. I used to build culture on the border and take over city by city this way. Now, you cannot take over an opponent’s Hex by increasing your culture output, and thus the only way of taking over a neighboring village is by force. They’ve also gotten rid of a number of other smaller things from Civ 4, like multiple civ leaders (I loved this but hope it comes back in an expansion), random events (they thought we thought the computer was cheating, overall it being missing makes the game less fun), etc.

Much of this can actually be fixed with mods, in fact I do run with a mod that adds random events back into the game and I find that it is a much more enjoyable game with it. So, with that I generally am not overly pleased by the game. I think it is still a fun game and I enjoy playing it. But is it better than it’s predecessors? Not really. I actually wish that they could have made this game more like 3 or 4, just with the single unit per tile and city-states. But it isn’t. It really feels like a weakened version of the game we like. It didn’t help that it comes with what seems like a shortage of civs and now it costs $5 to download Babylon. The game literally feels like I NEED to download mods just to make it good. I have hopes that a couple of expansions will iron it out, but again, should I have to pay extra to get a complete game?