Review of Civilization V

I admit it. I am a powergamer. I find pleasure in working out what makes the game work, and how it’s inner workings are finely balanced against each other. It’s not always I put this knowledge to use when playing though, most of the time I just want to relax and «go with the flow» of the game.

Ever since I got a «Sid Meier Collection CD» that included the original Civilization with my first soundcard and CD-ROM, I’ve been a fan of the game and played all the Civ-titles (Including Alpha Centauri and Colonization, but not CivRev), but it’s only for the later games that I’ve been a powergamer and played at a competitive level. For the first two games I was happy to just plodge along at the lowest level and just see my empire grow.

When Civ V was announced to radically alter the concepts, I was sceptical if they could manage to pull off the needed changes. The early reviews sold me on pre-ordering the game. After playing around with it for two weeks now, and I must say it feels more like the «Junior Warlords» edition of Civ III then a new Civ V.

Mapboard and Interface

As you start the game for the first time, you will be struck immediately by the new art style. This is the first time I can remember actually noticing and caring about the art-style of a game, and personally I very much like the new style. All menus and icons are designed with a classic Art Deco feel, but unfortunately most of the icons do not scale well. Most of the time, you only get to see a scaled down icon (you can see the full version in Civilopedia) which is unrecognizable unless you focus hard.Normal vs miniature icon for granary

As you load up your first game, you’ll also notice that the world looks very different now. The terrain graphics look very organic (as opposed to Civ IV’s more cartoonish terrainstyle), and the moved to hexes makes the world look a lot less square. In my opinion, hexes is the single best thing they did; as it makes distances and movement costs more uniform. You can no longer cover more space by moving diagonally.

The sad part is that tile-yields have been homogenized. A hill has the same yield no matter what terrain is underneath; the same goes for forests and jungles, which makes the game feel bland. The number of resources have been drastically reduced, and their effects even more so. Rivers are actually a bigger boost then bonus resources now, and jungles are better then grassland.

The interface has also been changed to fit the new art-style, and at first glance it looks lovely. Sadly, when you try to use it, you find that most of the functions you would actually use are hidden away somewhere. This is most noticeable when you are in the city interface screen. In order to move your citizens around, you have to first open the city governor tab, and then you can «lock» citizens to certain tiles. If you click the city-center to redistribute though, your «locked» citizens still are redistributed. Below is a picture of the Civ V cityscreen (and the governor settings) with Civ IV’s tile control and governor copied in:

A big part of how organic the maps look now, is that border expansion only happens one tile at a time now. You can also fork out gold to buy control directly, but once a tile has been claimed it stays claimed unless you use military force (or the Great Artist that can steal a few tiles). The downside of this is that most cities will not ever claim all of the area around them, leaving you with large holes. The image below shows this rather well. I’m playing as Catherine of Russia, who actually has 50% lower cost of cultural expansions, and still my first cities haven’t covered all their area.

In general, the map looks good and organic, the interface looks nice but is sadly lacking in usability (many common actions are hidden away behind several clicks) and several fast overviews have grown immensely in size for no apparent reason, such as the score overview (again, with Civ IV comparison):

Maybe the worst part is how hard it is to get information out of the system. You have no way of knowing how advanced your opponents are; you only get a notification when they change eras but this is not recorded anywhere. If you’re lucky, you might find out the amount of technologies they know from the periodical summaries.

Cities and Empires

Phew, that was a lot of changes to go through so far, but we have barely scraped the surface of the game (literally). While there has always been penalties for growing large empires in the games (corruption in Civ I-III and City Maintenance in Civ IV), there are no direct costs for cities now. Instead, you have a global happiness pool that all your cities contribute to. Luxury resources that used to make 1 person happy in each city, now give a flat 5 happiness. This leads to the «interesting» situation where it’s optimal to build as many small cities as you can, each of which can be self-contained. Cities also are much harder to grow in size this time, which makes it strange that the city radius was increased to cover 36 squares. Given that the design goal was to build fewer but better cities, this is a puzzling situation and doesn’t feel like Civilization. Welcome back, Infinite City Sprawl (ICS)

While buildings in Civ IV to a certain degree fit into niches (library before university, observatory before research lab), in Civ V almost all buildings fit into some sort of  «building-tree» that simply give you more of the same. Their effects have also been homogenized; buildings in Civ IV used to give atleast one and usually two or more effects besides their main purpose. Libraries would give culture, and forges would give happiness with the correct resources. This time around, the only «bonus» you get from buildings is when they allow you to run specialists (which for some strange reason, you have to go digging in the Civilopedia to find out about).

Technologies and Progression

As usual, the technology tree has been completely redesigned. This time thery have gone back to strict requirements (as opposed to Civ IV’s alternate research paths). The result is a tech-tree that looks slim and easy to understand. The sad part is that it’s mostly boring (when playing, I rarely wanted any of the next available techs and had to go hunting in the techtree for a future target) as well as completely illogical:

  • It’s possible to research Printing Press without knowing Writing; you can actually go all the way to Dynamite in the Industrial era without knowing Writing.
  • Similarly, you can reach Biology (also in the Industrial Era) without knowing Masonry or even Mining; passing several large structures on the way.
  • Metallurgy (or even rifling) is not required to build a Spaceship.
  • You can build horse-riding Lancers without knowing Horseback Riding.
  • The Giant Death Robot (yes, really) can be built without knowing robotics.
  • Rifle-wielding Infantry can be built without knowing Rifling.
  • Nuclear Missilies does not require rocketry.

There are more inconsistencies, but I think that should illustrate the point. Most of the should have been picked up in basic testing, if not in concept review. The other main issue, is that you seem to be researching quite a lot faster then you are able to actually put your knowledge to use.

Diplomacy and the AI

The entire diplomacy part has been reworked, the main purpose seems to have been to make it «less gamey»; or in other words, less deterministic. This seems to have been accomplished by removing most explicit feedback and overview from the game, leaving you to guess what will and won’t please the other players.

Instead the AIs will approach you with treaties of cooperation and secrecy, which are completely unexplained. What’s even worse, is that the AIs hold the player to a different standard then themselves (atleast on higher difficulties). This is amply demonstrated by Sulla in his Immortal game.

The AI also seems to be unable to make good deals for peace; if you’ve only broken down his attack waves he’ll happily sign over half his empire, but if you have captured most of his cities too he won’t give you anything for peace. Sounds about as logical as you’d expect by now.

Another major addition to the game is Citystates. These are minor civilizations that are there for you to take advantage of; they are not competing for victory. You can interact with them in a number of ways, such as gifting them gold or units to improve relations; or trespass throurh their territory or even capture them.

This doesn’t seem to have been thought through: Trespassing on a citystate carries a far heavier penalty then gifting them a unit though, even when they ask you to kill a unit in their territory. Even when they explicitly asked for units, the reward is a pitiful increase in relations compared to gifting gold (Not to mention a warrior gives the same benefit as a tank).

Staying on their good side is as simple as gifting them gold every now and then; and the rewards are simply not balanced: Keeping 2 maritime citystates allied will give all your cities in the entire empire +6 food (after the renessaince era) which allows you to run size 4 cities with 100% specialists or hills (see the earlier notes about ICS).

When it comes to the AI, it seems entirely incapable of handling the new rules; especially one unit-per-tile (1UPT). Unless it has overwhelming force, they have huge problems capturing cities, often shuffling around in the field for tens of turns. Pathfinding is also messed up, and does not handle embarkation (land units can transport themselves over water) gracefully. I’ve also seen some straight-up FUBAR moves, such as turning on «emphasize production» actually lowering the production of the city.


Civ V was announced to be the «most moddable Civilization game ever», and comes with an in-game marketplace where you can browse published mods. This is a good step forward, but right now it’s very difficult to filter out the good mods from the trash in there.

Firaxis also released a set of modding tools, of which ModBuddy is supposed to be the central tool for making new mods. In reality, itis just an IDE that has syntax highlighting and compile functionalities. There are no templates to ease you into adding new components, or even documentation of what the different fields in the XML files mean. Actually, it doesn’t even tell you that you need to go hunting around the gamefiles to find the relevant XML to learn from. All documentation I’ve seen to date has been fanmade, and lacking in details.If the game was actually designed using only these tools, the designers have my sympathy. Given the earlier statements, I was expecting a custom editor that could let you edit the different aspects of the game and then generate the relevant XML files for the mod.

Early experimentation with modelling seems to imply that reuse of existing models is not possible (unlike Civ IV), which will make it a lot harder to add new units. Atleast the map builder has been improved drastically from Civ IV, and is more like the map builder from Civ III with more options.


I said earlier that the game feels like Civ III: Junior Warlords but that isn’t correct. It feels like an early public beta version of Junior Warlords. In addition to all the aforementioned bugs, there are still some gems to be found: You can’t liberate citystates when playing OCC (all cities are autorazed), and you only get «War Weariness» (or Civ V’s version of it atleast) when you’re fighting a successful war. The game has potential to become good, but as it stands now it only socres a 5/10.

Published in: on oktober 12, 2010 at 18:17  Legg igjen en kommentar