Friday, September 24, 2010

OMG it's finally here: A Civ V Review

Where Eep and Sake sit down on IRC to discuss their initial reaction to Sid Meier's Civilization V.

Eep: So I guess we should be upfront and say that we are both Civilization nuts. We were originally going to just buy one copy of this game and share it, but discovered on release day that a one copy household wasn't going to work. I started playing with Civ III and have logged more hours into Civ IV than I care to admit.

Sake: I actually started with Civ IV, and have been known to disappear into it for unhealthy stretches of time.

Eep: Well, what do you think of Civ V now that you've had a chance to play it a bit?

Sake: I like it. It feels a refinement of Civ IV. More streamlined, fewer weird systems interacting, but what's there interacts well. I think it's just as deep, and all the lost complexity was unnecessary cruft. Also, I love hexes, but that's the wargamer in me.

Eep: Haha, I love the hexes too. I think it has done some good things for unit movement. But at the same time I wonder if that was a bit of a nod to hex fanboys in order to draw them in.

Sake: Perhaps, but it wasn't at a cost to the game.

Eep: Agreed, the extra flexibility in movement is nice, especially with them getting rid of unit stacking.

Sake: I love removing unit stacking, it means you actually have to think! Before, you just built a fat stack of units and hurled it at the enemy, and it was basically untouchable, especially since the best unit for each fight would defend. Now, you have to make sure you position your units well so they're not too vulnerable, so they can gang up on a target, etc.

Eep: Yeah, though only being able to garrison one unit in my city makes me a bit nervous.

Sake: Well, the cities defend themselves somewhat. The thing is, it just means your defending army has to be arrayed around your city instead of on top of it. If you have 6 units covering a city, the city itself won't be attacked unless that army is destroyed, since ignoring them would be suicidal.

Eep: I do love that cities now can bombard. That helps with only being able to garrison one unit. But then again, in the only full game I've played the AI were so weak and stupid no one ever got near my cities.

Sake: The bombardments are nice. They basically make it impossible to sneak a scout into someone's city and claim it, which was always dumb. Well, that and the fact that the city fights back.

Eep: Yeah, at the start of my first game I tried to take a city-state, since I wasn't sure what to do with them yet, and was surprised at how hard I got my butt kicked.

Eep: Speaking of, what do you think about the addition of city-states to the mix? Cool or unnecessary?

Sake: I like the city-states. I'm at the point in my current game where I'm starting to run out of spare happiness, so I'm leery of building more cities. The city-states always get some nice resources nearby, so I can ally with them for access to iron, for instance. I was able to get some ballistae built earlier than would otherwise be possible, just by making Bucharest like me.

Sake: The fact that city-states issue quests is neat, too. Anyone can fulfill them, and the first civ to do so gets a huge boost to influence.

Eep: I like them as well, especially when early on I can make them like me by killing barbarians, which I would be doing anyway.

Sake: So what do you think of the AI? It's always been a weak point in Civ games, which is a shame because competitors like Galactic Civilizations have amazing opponents with distinct personalities. The Civ AIs don't seem to be able to judge when they can and cannot win a war, gleefully throwing themselves under my treads, etc. I don't get the sense that they're doing whatever they can out of desperation. I get the sense they truly don't know they can't win here. Worse, they think they're destined for victory!

Eep: The AI in this game is pretty weak. However, I feel like there is more difference in their personalities in V than there was in IV. The Aztec are always attacking everyone while France started fewer wars. However in my last game England had almost no naval power despite having a ton of coastal cities. O.o

Sake: When I'm sending knights to run down your warriors, it ought to change your thinking just a bit. If they sued for peace more often, or avoided declaring pointless wars, it would go a long way toward strengthening the idea that they're making decisions based on the state of the game.

Eep: Haha, and not insulting me when I vastly overpower them. I understand that is a mechanism to let you know that the game knows what is going on but man, it just makes me want to wipe them off the map!

Sake: Sometimes it feels like there's a hard-coded switch that says, "Well, we've hated you for X number of turns now, so we must declare war." They never seem to pursue other approaches, like wooing away my city-state allies or forming defensive pacts among themselves.Or just sucking it up because they know they're under my thumb.They're all suicidal fanatics. Just once, I'd like to see one of the three weak AIs who "share" my continent come to me with a proposed alliance against the other two. Just come over to the dark side for safety.

Eep: True, there also doesn't seem to be much intelligence in the trade function either. Countries who have major armies along their border will demand crazy prices for their goods despite the fact that I can just declare war and take what I want.

Sake: What if the more the player overpowered the other civs, the more they'd get a virtual boost to how much they like each other? A simple mathematical hack, but it would at least push them toward alliance against a common threat, which never seems to happen.

Sake: Anyway, we can play armchair designer all day; this is quibbling over details. The fact is, it's a Civ game. You should know, before you even play it, whether you'll enjoy it or not. People who were turned off by Civ IV's complexity and opacity would probably do well to give V a try, since it's a much more polished and streamlined experience. Everyone else either loves or hates this game already.

Eep: Yeah, I've had some people who didn't like the previous games ask me if I thought they would enjoy Civ V. I had to say no.

Sake: I would say, if they liked Civilization Revolution (on 360) more than Civilization IV, they should give V a try. Rev was pared down too much. V is in between, but much closer to IV.

Eep: Ugh, Revolution was terrible.

Sake: V really just feels a more polished, accessible IV.

Sake: Final thoughts?

Eep: Civ V is pretty. Oh so very pretty. And despite the AI having the flaws characteristic of this franchise, I am totally in love with the game.

Sake: Oh yes, I can't wait to sink back into it! One thing we can't really talk about at this stage is the mod browser. Civ V has completely integrated support for mods, to the point that you can download and install them from within the game itself. As the mod list fills up and the cream rises to the top, I suspect we'll see some very different experiences emerge from this flexible engine.

Eep: I haven't really looked into the mod aspect of it yet, though after my experiences with user created content in Neverwinter Nights I'm excited to see what the community does with this game.

Sake: Indeed. Well, there you have it. First impressions of Civ V. It's exactly what you'd expect from the next iteration of the Civilization franchise.

Eep: Yup, beautiful, addictive as all hell and flaws minor enough that the fans won't even notice as they forgo all activities for the next week in order to play just one more turn. I'd recommend that people who haven't played the Civ games before give it a go, especially using the tutorial, which I hear is quite helpful.

Eep: Okay, back to the game. Germany is seriously asking for it.

Sake: And Ghandi is pissing me off!


  1. I like this format for a review! I don't think I have ever played a Civ game, might need to check this one out...

  2. Great collaboration. Makes me wish I had the time, hard drive space, and someone to play with!