It is two in the morning. The sporadic gunfire and explosion in the other room has finally died out. If that registered, one might reach the conclusion that the Halo: Reach game has come to an end. But no. Bismarck is out to redraw the map of Europe and the sun never sets on the British Empire. Speaking of the sun, a dim orange glow shines through the curtains. Sid Meier has done it again! “Just one more turn” syndrome strikes again.
The iconic Civilization series has returned with Civilization 5. For those who don’t know, the Civilization series is a turn-based strategy game where gamers play as a civilization of their choosing throughout human history. Starting at any time, usually the stone age, players slowly begin building a civilization. There are multiple paths to victory including military domination, technology, culture, and diplomacy. While this may seem overwhelmingly complex, game play has been streamlined enough to make Civilization 5 readily accessible to more casual gamers. The interface is designed to guide new players through all of the important menus with ease. Surprisingly, this hand holding is subtle enough that it should not be intrusive to more experienced players.
The centerpiece of the Civilization experience is, as always, guiding a nation through the ages. Predictably, this massive scope overlooks many of the nuances of particular ages. For instance, there is only one ironclad unit available. It is modeled after the iconic American Civil War ironclads, neglecting the far larger oceangoing British ironclads, such as the HMS Warrior. Then there is the oddity in the tech tree of being able to build destroyers before battleships. Destroyers came after battleships as a means of protecting horrifically expensive dreadnoughts from torpedo attack. There is no reason for a destroyer without a capital ship to protect and no justification for destroyers being the most powerful vessels available for a time. For detail and historic accuracy there are far better choices, such as Empire: Total War and Hearts of Iron III. This is not to say that Civilization 5 is bad. It is a game of epic proportions, not a detailed simulator of the economics, power politics, and technology of the first world war.
Civilization 5 makes several major departures from previous games. For the first time, the Civilization series has switched to hexagonal tiles. This makes unit movement far more straightforward and prevents units from moving further by traveling diagonally. Civilization 5 has also eliminated the stack of doom. Only a single unit may occupy a tile at the end of a turn, ending the aptly named favorite of stacking dozens of units on a single tile and annihilating anything that crossed its path. There are now typically fewer units in play and they must be positioned better. Cities are much harder to capture because they have combat strength comparable to a few units, removing the need for a garrisoned unit in every city.
This time around there are city states mixed in among the great powers. These city states are not playable and cannot win the game (or found new cities for that matter), but they provide the proxies necessary for Napoleon’s Continental System or the Cold War. Culture has been completely redone with social policies replacing the religions of Civilization 4. Culture points are now spent to unlock policies and their accompanying bonuses. This time around, the civilization bonuses feel marginalized and the leader traits are gone. Each nation only gets one leader and the national bonuses are minimal.
That being said, Civilization 4 was a hard act to follow. Combat has never been the strong point of the series. The stacks of doom will be sorely missed, but the hexagonal tiles are a welcome improvement. There are plenty of other flaws in terms of detail and historical accuracy, but that is not the point of the Civilization series or games in general. They deliver a thrilling experiences that takes gamers through the history of human civilization. Civilization 5 does not disappoint here.