Thursday, December 23, 2010

Sid Meier's Civilization 5

Published by: 2K Games
Developed by: Firaxis
Genre: Turn-Based Strategy
Release Date: September 21, 2010
Versions: PC, Mac 
My Score: 4/5

Under Otto Eduard Leopold von Bismarck, the first chancellor of the German Empire my German Nation spreads across the world quickly, being likened to plague by my enemies and constantly at war with the Chinese empire Wu Zetian. In my game, they are a force to be reckoned with -- a nation wresting control of the seas with modern navies, and taking cities by force with infantry and tanks, giving Furor Teutonicus a new meaning.

It's a turn-based strategy game based around building up a selected society into a world power. And, yes, Civilization V can look seriously boring to the casual bystander, but for the person at the helm of the game each turn can lead to a weighty decision, giving the player a certain feeling of power that few, if any, games match.

Civilization has no campaign, instead it simply allows the players to create a world of their devising and jump right into it either by themselves or with others in multiplayer. The biggest choice a player will make is what civilization they're going to play. Each civilization is led by a great leader from history, and gets a few special benefits and units, so its' important to consider what type of victory you're out to achieve before setting your nationality. For instance the French get cultural bonuses that give them a huge bonus towards a cultural victory, while playing Germany will give players access to powerful military units like the Panzer tank that can aid in taking over the world by force. Of course you can always pick a military-focused leader and take them on a route towards a cultural victory, but this will also present a greater challenge.

Besides picking a nation, players can further customize their scenario by switching between options such as whether the world will be made of several continents or not, what era they start in (Civ moves in eras, such as Medieval, Renaissance, etc., which also influences the level of technology you have access to), and how many other civilizations they wish to compete with. It essentially makes for infinite replayability, giving players a simple tool set to craft the challenge they want in of the world over and over again.

And hell yes, this is the type of game that you want to just play over and over. Like its predecessors, Civilization V is amazingly addictive, with games commonly drawing more than five or six hours out of me in a single sitting. The reason? Because win or lose, Civilization V allows players to guide an entire society and craft their own story, taking them from the dawn of history and far into the future. I love taking the Japanese and making them into a peaceful country who wants nothing more than to make Opera houses and win over their neighbors via their culture, or take the Aztecs and fashion them into a powerful imperialistic nation that is completely fascist and obsessed with world domination. Civilization V really is what you make of it, and for me it's a good way to tell alternate stories about some of history's most interesting nations.

(The Order Is - America, Arabia, Aztec, China, Egypt, England, France, Germany, Greece, India, Iroquois, Japan, Ottoman, Persia, Rome, Russia, Siam, Songhai.)

I say Civilization V is only "good" -- and not "great,"  -- at crafting stories because I feel like the game's taken away some pretty important tools for customizing your society.  In Civilization V, though, players gather up "culture" as a resource, spending it every so many turns on "policies" that give their civilization bonuses. For instance a player might choose to put policy points into the "Piety" tree, giving their nation a boost to happiness and forcing them to accept an unnamed religion. I really appreciate the way the various policy trees give players a wide array of customization options for their nation, but I miss the power and ridiculous glee I got out doing things like forcing Judaism down the throats of my enemies because my Jewish Japanese empire was out to win owning the hearts and minds of my neighbors. 

Winning, actually, is where one of Civilization V's weaknesses come to light. While players can win through either diplomacy (via building the United Nations and being elected the leader), conquest (by taking out all other nations), science (by building a space ship and launching it), culture (by completing five of the policy tree branches), or by having the biggest score in the year 2050, in all the games I played it seemed it was overly difficult to get anything but a timed or military victory against the AI when starting from the earliest period. The AI is simply far too aggressive once they're on your borders, and no amount of gifts or other concessions would keep them from deciding to attack me. Attacking would then force me to focus on my military, taking my cities' production away from building the other scientific or cultural items I needed to win. It's more than a little annoying to play for ten or more hours only to realize that the victory you've been working towards is going to be thwarted by a belligerent computer player. I mean, look, I'm all for the blood of nations on my hands, but sometimes I like to be peaceful too, you know?

Still, if combat is what you're looking for, Civilization V has it in spades, and it's better than ever. In past Civilization games you could "stack" enemies on a space on the board, allowing you to make gigantic armies that players had to smash against one another turn after turn -- with results only really savvy strategy players seemed to fully comprehend. Civ V, on the other hand, doesn't allow stacking at all, forcing players to use more strategy than ever. With hexagon-shaped tiles making up the board, players now maneuver fewer units so that they can surround enemy forces, or use powerful units to choke off key points like mountain passes. Ranged units can also now fire over other units, making players carefully consider every army formation. As a result, combat is vastly more satisfying than it has ever been, feeling much more like a game of chess than a simple game of my-numbers-bigger-than-yours. 

Combat is just one example of how Civilization V improves the franchise, with a host of other significant changes making this the most approachable the series has ever been. For instance take the advisor system. Like the console title Civilization Revolution (and other past Civilization games for PC), players have access to a set of advisors. These advisors specialize in various branches of nation building such as military and economics, and are available at any time for players confused about how to proceed. Moreover, each time a player chooses a new construction for their city, they can easily identify which building or unit their advisors think is pertinent thanks to symbols sitting next to the options. Every place the player looks in Civ V there's helpful tips on how to proceed, as well as in depth in-game "civlopedia" that easily allows players to find most any detail they could need in a given moment. Every menu or interaction in Civ V is more intuitive and helpful -- a testament to the lessons learned by a developer that's been making these games for almost two decades. 

Civilization V is one of the best turn-based strategy games I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing. Whether teaming up with my friends for some multiplayer, or simply losing a whole night of sleep to the game’s endlessly replayable single player, this is one game that any strategy enthusiast, or, hell anyone strat-curious should check out. With all the tips, advisers and tools in place, this is the first Civilization for PC that I feel is worth just about every person’s time. Go forth and create, subdue, and exploit. Do as Firaxis has done, and bring Civilization to the masses.


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