No series of games did more to establish a genre in PC gaming than Firaxis Games’ Civilization series. Since Civilization’s release in 1991 the Civilization series has set the standard by which 4x games are measured. Civilization V’s, the latest title of the series, has continued this trend alongside its advancement of the series in the gaming industry.
Single player and multiplayer in Civ V are effectively the same experience. As with most 4x games Civ V does not have a story driven element. Players start with a settler and a warrior unit from which they must construct a capital city and go on to lead their chosen civilization to greatness. The game world is divided into tiles, hexagonal spaces that units move over and cities work to produce resources, of which their are four primary resources. Strategic, bonus, and luxury resources can appear on terrain tiles and are worked by the owning city to provide benefits to the player’s civilization, research, and the city itself.
Cities produce citizens depending on the food available to that city with higher food increasing citizen production. Citizens work the tiles that the city owns, adding the tile’s yield to the city’s base production. The more citizens a city has the more food it consumes thus requiring increasing supplies of food to support large cities. Worker units can construct buildings on tiles and special resources to increase their resource yield and provide stockpiles of those resources for trade. Workers can also construct roads between cities and into the countryside to increase unit movement on road tiles.
Civ V is turn based so combat takes place between civilizations as the turns rotate. Military units are divided into ranged or melee categories. Melee units may not have melee weapons (Great War Infantry for example) but are classified as melee because they can only damage units in adjacent tiles. Ranged units can attack units one or more tiles away without fear of retaliation. Each unit can only make one attack per turn and only certain units can move and attack in the same turn. Military units can be upgraded into more advanced versions as the player researches technologies and advances in eras.
The core experience of Civ V comes from managing the myriad strategic, domestic, and diplomatic aspects of a growing civilization. Technologies must be researched to unlock new units, buildings, and bonuses as well as allowing the player’s civilization to progress through the games eras, groupings of technological level that range from the Ancient Era to the Information Era. Cultural policies must be enacted to grant empire wide bonuses and set the civilization’s ideology. Income, and the trade that helps it flourish, must be carefully managed and exploited to maintain building and unit upkeep while providing a surplus for quick purchases and negotiations.
There are five ways to achieve victory and each one focuses on, but does not require, certain playing styles. Like any good strategy game there is a Conquest victory; the player must capture the capital of every other civilization while defending their own. The player can win a Cultural victory by producing enough tourism from Great Works and Great People, items and units generated by culture buildings, to become the dominate culture in the world. The Science victory involves constructing the parts of an interstellar colonization spaceship; a laborious process but that one that is completely contained inside the player’s own borders. The Diplomatic victory involves the player’s civilization becoming leader of the world through election by the United Nations. Finally, if a turn limit has been set, the civilization with the highest score at the end the in-game year 2050 wins a Score victory.
Many of the Civ V’s gameplay features occupy the player’s attention simply for the sake of surviving one turn to another, but it is the player’s preferred victory path that truly determines the focus of overall gameplay. Different civilizations have unique units, buildings, and bonuses that aid them in achieving one victory type over the others, such as Germany’s reduced upkeep for military units and Babylon’s science boost from Great Scientists. However, the beauty of Civ V is that no component of a developing civilization is obsolete. Trade, Great People, and even religion can be leveraged to speed the player toward any of the victory options throughout the eras. Certain aspects can be sacrificed to prioritize a chosen strategy, but no amount of culture or diplomatic weight can protect a civilization from a military superpower. A truly successful civilization will master, if not dominate, every aspect of Civ V.
The AI in Civ V is well designed for a game with such layered complexity. Each civilization has its own flavor that bends them toward a particular path to victory, but the AI will also adjust to accommodate shifting developments as the game goes on. However AI diplomacy can still be one dimensional, with the AI rarely forgiving past wrongs and making illogical economic and military decisions. It also has some trouble going beyond the swarm mechanic for unit combat. This doesn’t inhibit the AI’s ability to be a true threat, but does decrease its capacity to hinder the player as games progress.
Multiplayer provides an added benefit over the somewhat predictable patterns of the AI. Players take their turns simultaneously, which can cause some lag on lower quality connections as the game tries to resolve all actions at once. However this does ensure that players aren’t stuck waiting for a single player to finish his or her turn. Diplomacy also takes place interactively, with a player’s offer displayed for the other player to modify, accept, or reject at their leisure. Civ V does feature an automatic re-synchronization system, which can be surprising during play as the game activates it automatically, but it does ensure that progress and continuity are preserved over game sessions.
Civ V’s graphics requirements were extensive for its time, but present little problem for modern computers. Full maps covered with development and activity can cause long load times on some older machines but do little to impact actual gameplay.
Ultimately, in what is perhaps Civ V’s single greatest feature, this latest title in the Civilization series cannot be fully experienced in a single game. A multitude of civilizations, maps, and paths to victory are available in myriad combinations. Random maps can also be generated for additional variety. The Complete Edition offers a total of 43 civilizations and any gamer should find at least half of those appealing for multiple games. Any strategy gamer would find Civ V fresh and thoroughly entertaining over multiple playthroughs. Fans of previous Civ games should note that Civ V brings new material to the genre, wisely choosing not to attempt to rehash Civ IV. This doesn’t make it better or worse than its predecessors but rather it is a new way to play Civilization; which is precisely what it should be.