Welcome to part 12 of a brand new mega list for CelJaded’s Top 100 Best Video Games. This twelfth post features entry #8 – Sid Meier’s Civilization V.
Be sure to read the introduction that I put together beforehand too as it gives a more detailed introduction on what I’m trying to achieve here as well as a few other random musings that you may find insightful.
If you’re looking for another post in this same series then consider visiting the associated index which includes a readout of all published entries and the posts in which they appear.
“Numberless are the world’s wonders, but none are more wonderful than man.” – Sophocles
#8 – Sid Meier’s Civilization V
Principal Platforms: PC | Developer: Firaxis Games | Publisher: 2K Games, Aspyr | Genre: 4X Strategy | Year: 2010
My earliest experience with the venerable Civilization series came many years ago during a conversation that two of my friends were having over me during a quiet moment at school.
Since I had clearly not played a game of this magnitude before, I could only listen on as they discussed the seemingly endless tactics, strategies and policies that they favoured when playing this seemingly one-of-a-kind piece of software.
I was inspired and soon after purchased a copy of Civilization III and later Civilization IV to begin my introduction to these complex and deeply strategic games of conquest and colonization.
Ultimately, my early experiments with the series proved to be a failure and it wouldn’t until the release of Civilization V years later where I would finally break through to the extraordinary depth and immersive quality that this franchise is known for.
True to its roots, Civilization V presents you with the grand turn-based strategic concept of governing an entire race of settlers. From your humble stone age roots of barbarians and catapults to the futuristic era of stealth bombers and Giant Death Robots, your civilization will seek to grow its culture, science and diplomatic influence across randomly generated maps resembling Earth.
The early going of a Civilization V game is where the formula is at its most potent as your tribe of prehistoric workers and warriors take their first exciting steps in carving out the land that will be their home. As ruler, your job is divided into a mountain of individual tasks and decisions that will heap upon you as turns tick by.
What is this city going to construct? Where is this tank going to move? Which technology would you like to research next? This constant barrage of questions will hit you at every new juncture and your effective management of such pressing concerns is key to your longterm success.
The concept is streamlined so much in comparison to previous titles that if you’re new to the series, Civilization V is definitely a good place to begin your introduction.
The interface is pleasingly sharp, information is presented clearly and right-clicking practically any asset on-screen brings up an associated entry in the comprehensive ‘Civlopedia’; a database containing just about every game concept and unit statistic you might need to know.
The move to a hex-based map grid over the more traditional tile-based layout has allowed for some finely detailed maps that are a lot more interesting to explore and colonize. Similarly, the new culture-powered social policy system is another change that gives the game a greater sense of forward momentum.
Perhaps the biggest individual change is that of the ‘one unit per tile’ rule that prevents military divisions from stacking up in the same hex as each other. This tweak has huge consequences to the way combat plays out and conquering a city will now take a good deal of tactical thought as you manoeuvre your troops into firing range.
The new city states that dot each map are another inspired addition that adds plenty of flavour to newly generated maps. These miniature one city civilizations desire peaceful relations with your people and will supply you with distinct bonuses should you manage to curry their favour with gifts of gold or by fulfilling certain tasks. Of course, attacking these outposts and annexing their lands into your own territory is not out of the question either and it’s all part of what makes Civilization V so unpredictable and exciting.
These are just some of the simple improvements unique to the game then, but what truly sets it apart?
If anything, Civilization V is the most divisive title in the series to date and possesses more than its fair share of detractors. It’s true that when you start delving beneath the surface, Civilization V can be seen as a rather flawed game.
For one, the AI leaves a lot to be desired. Frequently making unreasonable demands and launching easily blunted assaults; the AI in Civilization V under-performs at almost every juncture and it won’t take long before a human player begins to detect ways in which it can be manipulated.
The pursuit of science is something that frequently outstrips every other priority too. Owing to the game’s design, science plays such a crucial role in Civilization V that sometimes you can feel a little restricted in the best way to manage your turn-by-turn affairs.
Although the ‘one unit per tile’ rule is good in theory, in practice it too often becomes a traffic jam and the need to position individual units quickly becomes tedious. Add in a somewhat lacklustre end-game, cluttered UI and some poorly balanced policies, and it’s not hard to see why Civilization V is sometimes reviled by the faithful “Civ” veterans.
But if you ask me, many of these problems are concerns that only fully manifest during high difficulty games; something that beginners will be a hundred hours from appreciating.
Yes, the computer really struggles to play this game at times and can’t hope to compare to a human player who knows what they’re doing. But then I can’t help but compare this to a time where the same thing was true about Chess.
It didn’t last, did it? And in time I’m sure Firaxis will perfect their AI programming routines and then we human players could be in real trouble!
Civilization V has so much depth, so much variety and so much replay value as it is, that even those who criticize the game find, much like myself, that they simply cannot stop playing it.
Again, variety is the key here. With dozens of different civilizations to choose from (America, Mongolia, China etc.), each with their own unique abilities and bonuses, no two games are likely to play out quite the same way and as such, Civilization V is a tough game for strategy fans to get bored of.
As Arabia you might seek to establish a lucrative trade network and ‘buy’ yourself friends using your mountains of dosh, as England you might construct a powerful maritime nation and go on the offensive with enhanced frigates and longbows, and as France you may instead choose to wow the world with your awe-inspiring culture and devotion to the arts; ensnaring people to your ideology with that time honoured brand of “polite terrorism” that is tourism.
The two official expansions to the game only seek to refine it further with the official releases Gods and Kings and Brave New World both adding a raft of additional features including new civilizations and wonders, religion, espionage, trade routes and an expanded culture game including great works and archaeology.
Unlike its ‘not quite there yet’ spin-off called Civilization: Beyond Earth, each different leader here has a very clear-cut personality and plan of attack from game to game. This is helped by more realistic animated screens that depict each ruler; each one speaking their own native language and exhibiting traits unique to their historical portrayal.
Five years ago I made a pact with myself to really learn Civilization V and give it the proper chance that I never gave its two prequels. Over 600 hours of play and many more of intense study later (many thanks to the awesome CivFanatics website!), I feel very privileged to be amongst the (roughly) 1.5% of players in the world who have completed the game at its highest difficulty setting.
Even so, in every new game I find myself drawn not to the most powerful strategies, but instead to the ones that intrigue me the most. It’s a testament to the game’s diverse palette of “boardgamey” elements that make every setup so unique and rife with potential.
Ultimately, my favourite aspect of Civilization V is the mere fact that it’s a game you can get really good at by using your own approach. This is a game that just keeps paying off as you come to appreciate the finer aspects of tile yields, unit movement and preparing for events that will come hundreds of turns from where you are now.
For all of its more controversial elements and related failings, the hours I’ve spent playing Civilization V make it quite obvious; this is still one of the most varied and consistently satisfying games that I’ve played to date.
In your face, Gandhi!