Sid Meier’s Civilization V Review for PC

Sid Meier’s Civilization V Review for PC

Refined Civilization

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.

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.

Graphically, the game is quite beautiful, though it’s best played on newer systems (look at the required specs, and seriously contemplate the recommended specs, before buying). So we could experience the visuals to the fullest, including DirectX 11 and 3-D, NVIDIA generously provided us a souped-up Digital Storm rig equipped with its GeForce GTS 450 video card and 3D Vision glasses.

Sid Meier's Civilization V screenshot

A major selling point of DirectX 11 is its ability to process “tessellation.” As you can see by looking at before-and-after pictures online, older versions of DirectX had trouble rendering smooth, round objects, and the new technology solves the problem. It’s a subtle difference when you’re focused on playing the game, to be sure, but Civ 5, with its beautiful landscapes and detailed imagery (especially when you zoom in), definitely provides a glimpse into the future of PC graphics.

We weren’t quite as impressed with the 3-D (which you activate with NVIDIA’s software, not in the game itself). Sure, it looks good, “better than in the theater” a friend of ours said when we had her take a look. But Civilization is played on a basically flat surface, seen from above, so when you’re not zoomed in, all the effect really does is make the various images “pop” a little more. Also, as we’ve already mentioned, Civ V practically forces you to play for hours at a time, so the 3-D becomes fatiguing long before you’re ready to shut the machine off. Further, the glasses run on a rechargeable battery for some reason, and they flicker if you don’t have the settings tweaked correctly. We suspect they would be a bigger improvement on a game you play in short bursts and that has lots of action (we can confirm from a NVIDIA demonstration CD that Burnout Paradise looks truly awesome in three dimensions).

But back to the game. The bottom line is this: Civilization V keeps everything that makes the series great, makes the game more accessible to non-fans, and overhauls many of the finer gameplay details. Every PC gamer owes it to himself to give this game a shot.

This is a great-looking game, and it takes advantages of DirectX 11 if you have it. 4.7 Control
It’s all played with a mouse plus keyboard shortcuts, and the improved menu system dramatically simplifies things. 4.6 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The sound keeps to the background with calm music and some light sound effects. 4.7 Play Value
Like every Civ title, this game has replay value galore, and every minute just deepens your addiction. 4.7 Overall Rating – Must Buy
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.

Game Features:

  • Jump right in and play at your own pace with an intuitive interface that eases new players into the game. Civ veterans will appreciate the depth, detail, and control that are highlights of the series.
  • Ultra realistic graphics showcase lush landscapes for you to explore, battle over, and claim as your own. Art-deco influences abound in the menus and icons in the most well-designed Civ ever developed.
  • Compete with Civ players all over the world or locally in LAN matches, mod the game in unprecedented ways, and install mods directly from an in-game community hub without ever leaving the game. Civilization V brings community to the forefront.
  • Civilization V operates on many different systems, from high-end DX11 desktops to many laptops. Enjoy unlimited installations on multiple PCs with your Steam account and take your Civ V experience with you everywhere you go.
  • A new hex-based gameplay grid opens up exciting new combat and build strategies. City-states become a new resource in your diplomatic battleground. An improved diplomacy system allows you to negotiate with fully interactive leaders. Custom music scores and orchestral recordings give Civ V the level of polish and quality you expect from the series.

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