My name is Andrew, and I'm an addict.
Yes, if I go back an count up the hours that individual franchises have stolen from my youth, I'm pretty sure that the Civilization series will be at the top of the heap. It's hard to pinpoint what exactly makes the games so addictive, but addictive it surely is. While all the games in the series have allowed players to begin with a single settler in the year 4,000 BC and guide a civilization all the way to the space age, Civilzation V has refined the concept to such a point that will players will have to be careful not to cut themselves on the edge of the game disc.
At its core, Civilization is a game about decisions and experimentation. Turn by turn, you make little decisions such as what to build in your cities, to pursue military glory or scientific superiority, positioning of units, what technologies will benefit you, and sculpting the land to your liking. Once your decisions are made, you sit back and watch as the results of your decisions bear fruit or blow up your face. Now that I think about it, the most appealing aspect of the series is how simply and elegantly it presents macro concepts like rewriting of human history, rather than games like the Sims that simulate on a micro level.
Civilization V has a whole new interface that is more user friendly than ever. Whenever there is any event that requires your attention, the game will queue up things that need your attention on the right side of the screen. This can be anything from issuing orders to units, changing production, choosing new technologies to research, and much more will show up in this queue. The game will also update you on world events and what other Civs are up to. A simple left click will take you to the event in question, or events can be just as easily dismissed with a right click. This new system makes keeping on top of everything that's going on extremely easy and intuitive.
The biggest change to the series is how battles are fought. Past games have taken place on a square grid, but Civ V has changed over to a hexagonal grid. This change in and of itself doesn't change the game too much, but now you can no longer stack more than one unit of each type on any single tile. The strategy of war has completely changed thanks to this little tweak. Taking over cities is no longer the battle of attrition that it was in past games. In previous titles, if you wanted to defend a city or conquer one, you would stack as many military units as possible in a single tile and continuously attack or defend until one player simply ran out of units. This time, military units receive flanking bonuses, and attackers funnelled into a straight line will be easy fodder for any defence.
Since units are no longer stackable even in city tiles, cities come pre built with the ability to bombard any tile within two spaces, and only one unit can garrison in a city to improve its defence. The true battle for any city takes place in the surrounding lands, not within its walls. If you brush up on your history, you'll know that this is a much more realistic depiction of human warfare, and it's a welcome change. Instead, cities have a certain number of hit points, and when depleted the city is conquered. Once conquered, a civilization can keep the city as a puppet state, which means its part of your civilization, but you can't order its production. Your other options are to annex the city and deal with the unhappy populace, or burn the city to the ground.
Also, forcing players to position their units throughout the land instead of in their cities encourages a more offensive military strategy for those who decide to play the game that way. Winning the game by domination this time means capturing every capital city in the game instead of completely dominating the world.
Air units and units with ranged attacks have also received a facelift. Any unit that boasts a ranged attack from archers, to frigates, to artillery can bombard adjacent tiles while remaining safe themselves. Of course, when defending against a melee unit, these units will fall very quickly. Before attacking any tile, the game will bring up a helpful window that lets you know how well your units will fare in battle. Battles also usually last several turns, with units retreating and losing and gaining troops. It's not a one and done scenario like in past Civ games. Bonuses in the form of experience points increase the strategy further.
The way that cities are run has been changed in other subtle ways as well. You can expand your borders through culture like in Civ IV, but this time around, you can pull out your wallet and buy bordering tiles as well. This strategy is essential for peacefully capturing tiles that may carry important resources. Like always, connecting your cities through a trade network of harbours and roads is essential as well.
If you decide to play the game in peaceful fashion, you have several options as to how to win the game as well. If you have a culturally rich civilization, you use acquired culture points to adopt new social policies, that act in a similar way to skill trees in games like Diablo. If you complete five full policy trees, you're able to win by building a utopia project. Culture points are earned by building culturally significant buildings and by not over expanding your borders, which is a very different strategy from past Civ games which encouraged rapid and aggressive expansion.
This system replaces the interchangeable civics from Civ IV, and instead adds permanent bonuses to your civilization. Social policies run the gamut from freedom of speech, to military honor, and many more. Some Civ purists may decry the loss of religions and changeable civics, but with everything else that Civ V brings to the table, it's a loss that I personally am able to deal with.
Finally, you're able to win the game through diplomatic means by building the United Nations and being elected as leader by the other players, or by winning the space race as per past titles.
Diplomacy has also changed to a certain extent. The diplomacy screen now have full voice acting, and a fully rendered world leader that are more expressive than ever before, but to minimal emotional effect. The biggest change is that you can no longer trade technologies with other civilizations straight up, but rather enter into research agreements, in which both Civs pay a fee and receive a free technology after a certain number of turns.
The final wrinkle in the Civ formula is the addition of city states. City states are single city civilizations that are not trying to win the game. By giving these states money or other gifts, you can reap the benefits of being allies or friends. Depending on the tendencies, these city states can be cultural, scientific, militaristic, or otherwise, and they will reward you with units and resources. Throughout the game, states will make requests that will yield numerous rewards, such as defending them from invaders, taking out another city state, connecting them to your trade network, building world wonders, or discovering natural wonders sprinkled throughout the map. You can complete or ignore these are your leisure, but maintaining a healthy relationship with neighbouring city states is indispensable to victory. Of course, you can simply take them over with your military might as well.
On the multiplayer front, Civ V is unfortunately lacking, especially compared to Civilization IV. Your only options are to play over the internet, or over a LAN connection. I can't understand why hot seat multiplayer got the boot, but that has been my personal favourite way to play Civilization multiplayer over the years. At least this time around, you're not stuck twiddling your thumbs for 20 minutes at a time waiting for your opponents to complete their turns, and are able to make your own changes and adjustments during other players' turns. Online performance is fine, but there's still too much downtime to deal with. Bring a friend or two over for a LAN party however, and you'll have more fun with this than any board game. Civilization multiplayer will forever be best experienced with friends in the same room, and Civ V is no exception.
Civ 5 is a beautiful game, stacking up favourably with any strategy game on the market, real time or turn based. You can tell units' health just by counting the number of troops in their ranks, and the world map looks outstanding. The hexagonal tiles bleed into each other seamlessly, and strategic decisions are simply made from a glance. Even at lower detail settings, the game oozes personality and visual excellence. Zoom in and out of the map and it becomes truly astonishing to notice all the little details that the developers have crammed into every tile on the world map. All this detail comes at a bit of a price however, as the game has pretty high system requirements by turn based strategy requirements. On a fairly high end dual core 2.3 Ghz laptop with a 4250 Radeon HD video card and 3 gigs of RAM, I was able to get stable frame rates at medium details. Your mileage will obviously vary.
The classical stylings of the soundtrack are definitely a take or leave it affair that I personally relished. It would be pretty hard to screw up the sound design for a Civilization game, but the nicely acted snippets of voice acting and the battle cries and explosions all sound appropriate and cohesive to the rest of the experience.
It's very hard to describe a Civilization game in great detail without starting to ramble. If you take nothing else from this review, know that Civilization V is more inviting, fun, and engrossing than any lengthy description can truly convey. Not long after installing the game, I personally guarantee that you will be sucked into the world of Civ for hours at a time, regardless of what kind of genre you normally play. Civilization V is ultimate refinement of one of gaming's greatest franchises, and a shoo-in contender for game of the year.