Sid Meier's Civilization V Review
Sid Meier's Civilization V box art
System: PC Review Rating Legend
Dev: Firaxis Games 1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid 4.0 - 4.4 = Great
Pub: 2K Games 2.0 - 2.4 = Poor 4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy
Release: Sept. 21, 2010 2.5 - 2.9 = Average 5.0 = The Best
Players: 1 (2+ Online) 3.0 - 3.4 = Fair
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+ 3.5 - 3.9 = Good
Refined Civilization
by Robert VerBruggen

If you have a job, a spouse, a school to attend, chores to do, or really any responsibilities whatsoever, take note: Civilization V comes out Tuesday, and it’s hard to play this game for less than five hours in a sitting. You’re always on the cusp of a major technological breakthrough, in the midst of an epic battle, or consumed by the day-to-day task of managing an empire. The real world needs to step aside for a bit, because Civilization is back, and it’s as addictive as ever.

Sid Meier's Civilization V screenshot

To put it simply, there’s something for everyone here. Newcomers to the series will be delighted to know that some of the tweaks, especially the simplified menus and the excellent play-as-you-learn tutorial mode, make Civilization significantly more accessible. Longtime fans will relish the chance to pick apart a new system, figuring out which strategies, technologies, and tricks are superior to the others.

Longtime fans will also enjoy the fact that Civilization V still feels like Civilization. Starting in 4000 B.C. with a small city in the middle of a big world, you build a nation. You expand its borders, manage its wars, and direct its technological and cultural pursuits. To win, you can rule the world (diplomatically or militarily), be the first nation to assemble a space ship, have the highest score when the game ends in 2050, or (new to Civ 5) develop your nation’s culture to the point that you establish a utopia. All of these paths require you to navigate countless risk-reward scenarios, and on the higher difficulty settings, there’s precious little room for error. Because you can adjust the speed of time, the size and type of your map, and even the number of foes you’ll battle, a single game need not take long, but the whole point of Civilization is to win in different ways and on ever-higher difficulty settings.

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All that should sound familiar because the series has been nailing those elements from the get-go. But in Civ V, just under the hood lies a completely overhauled system.

Let’s start with the combat. Whereas older versions of Civ allowed players to place multiple military units in a single square and move them around as a group (creating what fans called a “stack of doom”), Civ V allows only one military unit per tile, forcing players to pay close attention to how they position and move their fighters. Also, the developers turned the series’ trademark square tiles into hexagons, so that every tile can be attacked from six directions (instead of eight), and the layout of the terrain looks more natural. Another difference is military units take longer to produce but are also more resilient to attack, and yet another is cities can attack invaders even if there’s no unit garrisoned in them. Put all this together and you have a combat system that’s focused more on strategy and less on brute force. When taking a city, your raw firepower is still probably the single most important factor, but sometimes it’s possible to overcome losing odds with smart strategy.

Sid Meier's Civilization V screenshot

The AI got a significant adjustment as well. Enemy leaders have distinct personalities, presenting you with a variety of challenges as you try to navigate a world full of foreign cultures, and they’re much savvier traders than they used to be. Apparently, the developers accomplished all this by having four different types of AI control each leader (one controls individual units, another manages war strategy, another handles the empire’s basic development, and the last one plans for the long term).

There are scores of smaller changes as well, and almost all are for the better and here are just a few. In addition to the major empires, there are a variety of AI-controlled “city-states” on each map; these entities can’t win the game (and don’t expand beyond a single city), but by currying their favor, you can get them to provide you useful resources (or, of course, you can just conquer them.). To win by military domination, you just have to be the only player in possession of his original capital, rather than exterminating all the other armies. Strategic resources are now finite; you can use an iron resource to build some Swordsman units, for example, but when it runs out, you have to find a new source. Government, civics, and religion trees are combined into the new Social Policy menu. Each nation has its own special features (only America can build a Minuteman, for example). Military units can cross water without being loaded onto transport units. There’s a “strategic view” that displays the world as a grid with all the various gameplay elements clearly noted.

Sid Meier's Civilization V screenshot

All of this, of course, only scratches the surface of the gameplay. The series’ trademark simultaneous-turn multiplayer returns, of course. The developers have promised PitBoss, play-by-mail, hot-seat, modding, and matchmaking modes will be added in the near future. DLC packs will contain extra nations and maps. As the developers continue to support the game and fans explore the new setup, we expect Civ V’s community will grow to be just as big and dedicated as Civ IV’s was.

Screenshots / Images
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