Sid Meier’s Civilization V
Suppose you were presented with an analogy on the SAT or other standardized test that said “Sid Meier: Simulations :: John Madden: __________” If you chose c) Football, congratulations. If you have no idea what an analogy is, or what those little dots are, then let us move on because I’m clearly showing my age.
Sid Meier is a name that is synonymous with simulation video games ranging from pirate ships to trains and even into outer space. If his name is in the title, you can rest assured that you are about to experience a level of detail about a subject you never thought imaginable. His most notable creation is the Civilization series of turn-based strategy games which focus on historical and cultural simulation. Civilization stands amongst the big league players of the video game industry and is as much a part of video game history as Final Fantasy, Mario, and Metal Gear. This is a series that has stood the test of time and consistently manages to impress with each iteration.
Civilization V is no different from its predecessors in this regards. Borrowing elements from the core series, as well as its console offshoot Civilization Revolution, Civ V is a welcome addition to the series. The premise remains the same; you begin in a random location during the Stone Age with a group of settlers and one military unit. From those humble beginnings a mighty civilization will grow and prosper with the ultimate goal of becoming the greatest on Earth.
One of the biggest reasons more players haven’t played the Civilization series is that the games typically come with a steep learning curve, daunting goals and an overall air of intimidation. Civ V aims to alleviate a lot of the pressure for new players with a completely redesigned graphical user-interface that is reminiscent of the user-friendly Mac OS X or the Wii. Others may argue that this new GUI is meant to ‘dumb-down’ the series, but Firaxis hasn’t really changed anything beyond the layout, colors, and buttons. They’ve managed to keep the same level of complexity in regards to the technology tree, social policies, city management and unit behavior, while streamlining the entire process into one that is very welcoming for new players, and much easier to work with for veterans.
Common amongst all of Sid Meier’s games are the plethora of options, tweaks and customizations available. Entire FAQs and wikis can and have been written about each facet of Civilization games. As long as you’re willing to spend the time learning, the re-playability of a Civ title is endless. If you happen to be a history and research buff, the vast Civopedia included with the game will take up even more of your time.
In term of continuation, the tech-tree remains intact, allowing players to research new technology throughout their civilization’s history. From the wheel to the Internet, the tech-tree encompasses most of the greatest inventions in history. Each technology comes with a benefit and although some are better than others, they each serve a greater purpose in the pursuit of becoming the world’s greatest civilization. In lieu of founding various religions and choosing from different civics, Civ V has ‘Social Policies.’ Throughout the game a civilization gains culture points, which can then be invested in any number of the ten different social policies. Each policy contains five branches, which can be mixed and matched. If a player wants an honorable and pious nation, they can invest their points into the Honor and Piety policies and reap the benefits of such a culture. Rather than beginning with the American civilization starting out in 4000BC, founding Buddhism, and eventually adopting the monarchy civic, these social policies not only make sense, but are far more streamlined, intuitive, and rewarding than the system used in Civilization IV.
Along with the better-for-the-eyes GUI, Civ V is also a beautiful game by itself. The graphics have been beefed up to utilize DirectX 10, and it definitely shows. Landscapes are amazingly detailed, terrain seamlessly changes from sprawling plains to jagged mountains, and the vast oceans are gorgeous with real-time lighting and reflections. Firaxis also changed the core movement structure of the game from squares to hexagons, which again streamlines and enhances the way the game is played. It also allows for structures and farms to be presented in a much more sensible way than when they had been cramped into a small square tile.
Thanks to hexagonal movement, the battlefield makes much more sense and allows for a much deeper sense of strategy. Additionally, units are no longer represented by a solitary worker, warrior, and so on. Once a unit has been produced they are represented as a full group that move as one unit. When military units do battle their strength and chances of victory can easily be identified just by looking at how many individual soldiers are left in the group. After taking damage individual units are literally slaughtered and vanish from the playing field. The player can check an intuitive window that pops up with the chances of victory and reasons for it, and then watch the units do battle once initiated. One of the better additions to the series is that only one unit is allowed on one tile at a time. Not only do you not have to watch 20 groups of units do battle at once, but ranged units become far more strategic. Archers, and cities themselves, are able to bombard enemies from a distance before they close the gap. They can be used to support the melee units on the front lines. The entire process and presentation of battle has been improved so much that I personally enjoy fighting more than I ever had in any other Civilization game.
The beauty of Civilization is that the games can easily be enjoyed alone, but are equally as fun when played with friends. Civ V offers both local and Internet play, which are incredibly easy to set up and play within minutes. If purchased through Steam, waging war and having diplomatic disputes with your buddies is as a simple as clicking “invite to join game.” The multiplayer mode is not without its faults, however. The most often vocalized complaint against the multiplayer, and one which still echos throughout the halls of the Firaxis forums, is the fact that there are no unit animations whatsoever. I won’t ever claim to be knowledgeable in the technical aspects of game design, but if the developers thought there would be a sacrifice to performance from leaving the animations, why not shut off some of the more superfluous details? I would personally much rather see units do battle or my worker build a farm instead of seagulls circling over fish under an ocean that reflects the sunlight and the seagulls in real-time. Instead, when units do battle the player sees a static unit moving as if presented in a slide-show, or green grass that suddenly becomes farmland.
Despite my gripe with the animations in multiplayer, Civilization V is the perfect entry for the series’ debut in the current generation of gaming. I remain hopeful that Firaxis will someday allow me to watch in full detail as my glorious armies lay waste to my enemies’ lands.