Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Civilization V

Post-Launch Review
Civilization V
Developer: Firaxis Games
Released: September 2010
Played: a half-dozen games in about 60 hours


Guide your civilization through thousands of years from the stone age past the modern era. Expand your influence through exploration, research, conquest, diplomacy, religion, espionage, economics, and culture.

At Launch

Civilization V was very well received, earning average review scores of 90%. Reviewers praised the accessibility and addictiveness. Criticisms were common, though apparently they didn't impact the score much. The main points of contention were that it was light on features compared to previous Civ games and that the AI was poor.

Post Launch

Quite a lot of DLC was released.
There are two major expansions. Gods & Kings adds religion, espionage, improved naval combat and combat AI, and nine new civs. Brave New World adds international trade routes, the world congress, tourism, great works, nine civs, and eight wonders.
There are also a bunch of smaller DLC packs adding new civs, wonders, scenarios, and map types, depending on the pack.

I'd heard that Civilization is a highly addictive series, but I didn't take it seriously at first. Civilization V is my first time playing a Civ game, and I'm generally not good at strategy games, so I figured I should try the tutorial to get a handle on it. I started the tutorial at 4pm. Eventually I realized I was hungry, so I checked the time, and it was... 11:30pm. Uh oh.

The "one more turn" effect sure is powerful - that plus the achievements kept me playing for 60 hours before I finally decided to get around to writing this review. But now that I am writing and reflecting on the experience, I'm not sure how much I actually enjoyed the game itself.
Looks nice at all zoom levels
I expected the meat of Civ V to be in scenarios, but it very much wasn't. In fact, it seems that the few scenarios I had were all from expansions and DLC. The main experience is random map and random opponents. Which, don't get me wrong, works very well with all the expansions and DLC due to the sheer variety present.

I liked the early game the most - the phase of a game where you're first exploring, discovering resources, founding cities, and establishing plans and frameworks. I enjoyed the early game partially because I already love exploration in games, but also because it felt like one of the most strategically vital parts - where you found your cities, how long you take to do so, in what order you research technologies, and which units and buildings you prioritize is key to establishing direction for later in the game. It's your big chance to get a head start and beat the other players to the punch on a key wonder or location.
As the game develops there's still a lot of strategy, but I found it less interesting once the land was all snapped up. Managing diplomacy, tourism, war, happiness, and economy in a full world are less my thing than exploring and building in new areas. As a simulation of history it makes sense, but I don't like how more and more limits and walls appear as you progress through the ages, as opposed to the early game where you can essentially do what you want.

The biggest thing that bugged me is the lack of an "undo" button for unit actions. In a turn-based game where time isn't a factor in deciding moves, why can I not take back an accidental click if I haven't done anything else yet? I've had times where I accidentally clicked the wrong mouse button and sent a key military unit in completely the wrong direction, wasting two turns and therefore losing a battle I would have won if I could simply undo the mistaken move.

On the other hand, one of the most interesting things about the game is how each different civ gets different bonuses and unique units that encourage you to play a certain way without forcing it. For example, Rome gets a 25% production bonus for each building that already exists in the capital, which means it's a good idea to build new buildings in the capital before any other cities. Rome also gets some very strong unique units in the early game, encouraging early military expansion. But you don't have to do either of these things - you can treat them as nice bonuses that shore up weaknesses on your diplomatic strategy, if you so choose.
The nuclear option
I'm a little iffy on some of the bonuses that are stronger in certain map types. As an example, Polynesian units can embark onto water from the start of the game, instead of after researching a specific technology. This makes Polynesia very strong in the early game on island maps, able to explore ruins and establish cities across the sea before the other civs. I haven't tried multiplayer, but it makes me wonder about the multiplayer balance.

Actually, I've already mentioned some DLC, so I might as well get to that: I would absolutely recommend all the DLC. I had it from the start, and Civ V felt like a very rich deep game. As I did my research to write this review, I'm actually shocked at how many of the major systems I used and became accustomed to are not present in the base game. Religion and espionage are big deals, and tourism and the world congress are potential win conditions - and that's all expansion content! Not to mention all the extra civs and their unique play styles. Early reviews were justified to complain about lack of content, but post-expansions no one could reasonably make that claim. Seriously, if you're interested in Civ V, get the complete pack.

And while I'm making recommendations anyway...

Recommendation: play it.

I normally don't like strategy games, but the fact that Civ is turn-based instead of real-time is a big point in its favour, at least for me. Civ V (with expansions) is incredibly deep and complex while still being easy to get into, especially with the help pop-ups that show up when you encounter something new. There are quite a lot of ways to play and win, and the game's life is extended by the random maps and the many different civs and strategies. But what really keeps me hooked is that "one more turn" effect. A turn is relatively quick, and it always feels like you're accomplishing something meaningful, even if you're skipping the turn to progress construction and research. So it's very easy to "one more turn" yourself to 4am. 
And yes, I'm speaking from experience.

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