Sid Meier’s Civilization V – Game Review

Sid Meier's Civilization V – Game Review I’ve been a fan of the Sid Meier’s Civilization games since I played my first game of Civilization II: Test of Time way back in 1999.  Civilization, known affectionately as Civ, has changed a lot over its different releases and their respective expansions. Each version has had a wealth of strategies and details that all need to be delicately balanced in order to play a game well.   In Civilization V we’re back at it again, building empires, crushing enemies, pasturing sheep, and building World Wonders in the most detailed and complex version of the Civilization family yet.  There are new ways to play and win with additional tools and game concepts.  Modding capabilities and multiplayer options have also expanded.

Civilization games all take on world building strategy to a far higher and much more intricate level than its competitors, Age of Empires for example. In Civ, everything needs to be taken into account: citizen happiness, military, food, entertainment, health and in the later games, culture and religion too.

This review mainly considers Civilization V in context of earlier versions of the game, but if you’re totally new to the franchise and looking for an entry level recommendation, I can assure that Civilization V is a remarkable turn-based, strategy game. It’s fun and it’s challenging and as far as play time to cost of the game ratio goes, you’ll absolutely get your money’s worth.
Earlier Civ versions are still totally playable though they are simpler than Civ 5, but I find each version has its own strengths so recommend also checking them out.  Civilization V is definitely the most advanced version.   Be warned though, playing any version of Civilization has been known to cause large time sucking vortexes and once you start playing, you may never be able to stop.

Sid Meier's Civilization V – Game Review2Coming from Civilization 4, the first thing players will notice, besides the totally different play screen, will be the map. It looks a lot more like the three dimensional map screen we saw in Civ 3, which was then revolutionary for the game.  I’m not a fan of the new style world map in the bottom right corner as it looks clunky and quite frankly far too ugly alongside the rest of the fine visuals.  The city screens are also different, individual cities no longer have individual happiness and tiles adjacent to the city’s borders can be bought for varying amounts, in order to speed expansion.

Perhaps the biggest development in the game is hexagonal movement tiles instead of the usual squares.  Hexagonal tiles make movement a lot more intuitive and you’re going to need that since troops of the same class can no longer occupy the same tile.  This makes battle, particularly city attacks a totally different process to earlier games.  Previously, I would find the best defence spot, a hill or forest for example and pile a mass of troops into the one square. No longer, I’m afraid. Troops need to be shifted in and out of front lines. It’s tricky and took me a long time to get used to but it does make for much more realistic warfare. Well, as realistic as this kind of game can be.

Another big change as far as combat goes is that cities can now defend themselves with bombardment if an enemy is in territorial range (that’s the big red arrow in the screenshot). This is a great addition as it means protecting those newly built early cities from hordes of raging barbarians is a lot easier. It does meant though that attacking cities is harder, so make sure you’ve enough long range units covering your melee troops.  Ranged attacks by archer units are also a new and useful addition.  Combat is no longer a fight to the death, but now relies on hit points and damage for a kill. A handy stats window pops up when an enemy is selected advising of the most likely outcome of the battle.
Barbarian activity is a lot more advanced than earlier games. Should a worker or settler be captured by the barbarians, your troops have to find and destroy the barbarian camp they were taken to reclaim the unit.

There are no religions in Civilization V, although they are included in the new expansion pack Gods and Kings which I haven’t played.  I never really played a religious strategy in Civ 4 so the change didn’t bother me.  One of the biggest cultural changes is the addition of Policies.  Policies are much like Civ 4’s Civics in that they emphasise different things – expansion, worker speed, happiness etc – to facilitate game play.  Once enough culture points have been accumulated, leaders unlock and then adopt a social policy such as Tradition, Patronage or Enlightenment, with a whole range of sub-policies in each branch.  Once a certain number of social policies have been adopted, players can then start on the Utopia Project victory, a kind of cultural equivalent to the Space Race victory of previous game versions.

We also now have City States dotted around the world. City States are like small, one city civilisations you can either befriend or smash.  I like to befriend them, as given enough influence over them, they provide resources as well as the occasional free unit.  Once friendly, they do however ask you to protect them, which can lead to unwanted battle.  Attacking a City State is generally easy, but do so carefully as it can bring other City States or entire civilisations down on you as well.

Research, diplomacy, units, wonders and workers continue to operate in essentially the same ways as before.  I have to add the Diplomacy screens are a beauty to behold compared to all earlier Civ versions. Players can no longer trade technologies but can embark on joint research projects.
Resources are a little different, with a particular resource able to be depleted once used.  This was a feature of Civ 3, not used in Civ 4. It’s annoying but forces a much more strategic approach to building units and improvements.

Due to the high resolutions, without a tough enough processor the game can lag considerably especially later in play.  There are certain options you can select to compensate for this a little.  Playing through Steam allows for different challenges to be unlocked, but these aren’t necessary to play and I’d probably only pay attention to them in a Steam community situation. Standard Civ multiplayer options are available, Hot Seat, LAN and Internet. I’ve only been playing Hot Seat and have not had an issue with it.  The game has been a bit buggy, so getting updates through Steam is highly recommended.  Steam also has a number of other upgrades including extra civilisation profiles and scenarios.

Overall, Civilization V is another hit for the massive Sid Meier Civilization franchise. It has won a host of awards including Game Spy’s Game of The Year 2010 in both the PC and the Strategy categories, and IGN’s 2010 Best Strategy Game, and it couldn’t be more deserving.  Existing fans of the franchise should be impressed with the new developments, even if some to take a little getting used to, and new comers will find themselves entering at the peak.  Go now and play it. I take no responsibility for any Civilization addiction or hours and hours of lost time.


Kate Krake

Kate Krake (aka Kate Murphy) is a writer with a long established passion for all realms of popular culture. She lives in Brisbane, Australia. Find out more on Kate's Blog.