Civilization V – A Newbie’s Review

by Rob Williams on October 11, 2010 in Gaming

Firaxis’ latest Civilization game came out a couple of weeks ago and was greeted by some rave reviews, but at the same time, there were some mixed-reactions to it amongst long-time fans. Me? I’ve never touched a Civilization game before, so here’s a fresh perspective… one I had to write while taking a break from the game!

Graphics, Mechanics, Bugs & Final Thoughts

First and foremost, as a newcomer, I was captivated almost immediately with this game. I mentioned earlier that it’s a complex game overall, but despite that, it’s easy to grasp, and after a couple of rounds, you will almost feel like a pro (that probably won’t be the case, but you will at least understand the game quite well). It’s hard to explain, but while there are many mechanics at play, the game rarely feels overwhelming, so in that regard, it is quite welcoming.

The game as a whole is incredibly detailed, although not from a graphics perspective, per se. Maxed out, the textures are a bit lacking, and there’s a lot of repetition. But, Civilization is a game where that kind of thing is expected. Even still, I do wish there was a bit more detail on all of the building and unit models. The zoom is limited, and it’s for that reason… zooming in highlights the absolute lack of detail that’s hard to see otherwise (you can alter the zoom allowance in the config.ini file).

Where I really would have liked to have seen improved graphics is with the wonders (Eiffel Tower, Sistine Chapel, et cetera), and also natural wonders (Great Barrier Reef, Old Faithful, et cetera). Given the importance and cool-factor of these, it would have been neat to zoom in and check out real detail. Instead, you can barely even see where the wonder is, and sometimes, it’ll be placed behind your city, making it impossible to look at. It’s a bit strange.

There might be other occasions when some things are out of place culturally as well, something I noticed when I completed a map as China. I saw that my city had three Taipei 101 models, which is the first problem. Being a one of a kind building… it shouldn’t be in the small (graphically) city three times. It’s noticeable. The other problem is that though Taiwan is officially a part of China, the politics there are not so cut and dry, and many Taiwanese people would find seeing Taipei 101 models in “Shanghai” city to be offensive for various reasons. I can understand why Firaxis included the building, but the company is either ignorant of rather simple facts, or just didn’t care.

Aside from all that, graphics in a game like this don’t matter much, and for what it’s worth, the game still looks great. Even on my relatively high-end PC (Core i7 Quad-Core 3.2GHz, 12GB of RAM, GeForce GTX 285), the game at times lagged a bit, especially when zoomed out. When you’re juggling many units, cities, buildings and other things, not to mention whatever belongs to other Civs and the terrain in general, the game can prove to be really, really demanding. Older PC’s can for the most part handle it (up to ~5 year old PCs), but there are no promises.

There have been many reports of issues people with dated hardware have run into, especially with regards to crashing late in the game, when there’s a lot going on in the background. Not sure if your PC can run the game? Download the demo… that’s your best bet. If you get really good performance, you should be fine.

Where I find the game really shines is with the voice acting and portrayals of all the different rulers. The company went to the extent of including voice acting for the real languages of each ruler, which is impressive, and sounds good. That is a major up, but a con is the fact that these rulers repeat themselves a lot. Of course, you do get to read such witty lines as, “I couldn’t help but notice how pathetic you are. And when I realized it I couldn’t help but share.”

One of the most important mechanics of the game is researching technology, and to do it, you must navigate a tech tree, which includes 75 different bits of technology (large JPEG). In order to learn certain technologies, you must first research prerequisites. For example, to research education, you first need to research writing and philosophy. Some of the prerequisites don’t make the most sense, but I guess the developers are a bit limited in just how tight the facts can be translated into gameplay.

To research technologies faster, it helps to have a higher output of science. To increase science, you must build buildings and wonders that help give a relative bonus. Culture, gold and other things work similarly. Your success relies heavily on which buildings you choose to build, but again, while it sounds complicated, it’s not. Hovering over any item before building it will tell you what bonuses it offers.

Unique strategies are required depending on the win you hope to achieve, but figuring out the best solutions will depend on your playstyle and difficulty level, not to mention map type. For some maps, it might be imperative to research sailing, but in others, there might be no need for that at all.

In all the time I’ve played the game, I never found myself bored, and I have no intention of laying off of it soon, but there are some things that I think Firaxis needs to fix, as the game has a fair amount of bugs that most everyone will experience.

One of the most prevalent for me is one where after a peace treaty is completed, a message will continue to pop up telling me so for the next 20 or so turns. There’s another bug that results in multiple stacked attacking units, which is simply not supposed to happen. There’s a limit of one unit per tile, although you can have one non-attacking unit on the same tile as an attacking unit (Worker and Longswordsman, for example).

In addition to these, there are many other bugs around, and you can learn more about them by either visiting the Steam forums or the official ones. The biggest “bug”, if you can call it that, is the awkward and unpredictable, or predictable AI Civilizations. Sometimes, their actions are nonsensical, and unrealistic, or completely expected and non-surprising.

During one map I was playing, I catered to Egypt’s every last request. I participated in research agreements, open borders, pacts of secrecy and so forth. Each time I talked to Ramesses II, he seemed pleased, and said it was good to see me again. Then two turns after a research agreement ended, he declared war. Now, that’s possible in the real-world, but unlikely, and very unrealistic in this instance.

It’s not just me who thinks the AI is a bit lacking, as our own Jamie Fletcher feels the exact same way. And so far, it seems to be the single largest complaint for the game. Still, it doesn’t bother me to such a great extent, but I do find it to be a bit foolish sometimes, and something that could have been far better.

Another large complaint is one that doesn’t affect me personally, but I can understand why it bothers some. In Civilization IV, two included mechanics were espionage and religion, which just by their names can tell you that they add a very dynamic element to the gameplay. Those are of course gone in Civ V, and as a result, many people believe that the game is too simplified. Well, compared to IV, it might be more simplified, but I can honestly say, it’s far from being “simple”. As far as I’m concerned, it caters to the die-hards and newbies alike, and for a game like this, that’s impressive.

Civilization V is far from perfect, but I feel the highs overshadow the lows, which is proven by the fact that I can’t picture myself giving up the game anytime soon. I can’t think of any game in recent memory, aside from an MMO, that I’ve played for anywhere close to 60 hours, but that’s what I have wrapped into Civ V so far, and as I see it, this is just the start.

If you are still not sure if Civ V is for you, the demo is easily accessible via Steam if you happen to have an account there. Or if not, it can be found on other popular download sites.

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Rob Williams

Rob founded Techgage in 2005 to be an ‘Advocate of the consumer’, focusing on fair reviews and keeping people apprised of news in the tech world. Catering to both enthusiasts and businesses alike; from desktop gaming to professional workstations, and all the supporting software.

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