Review: Civilization V

Greg Tito | 17 Sep 2010 12:10
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Civilization is the game that made me a PC gamer for life. A friend at school gave me a copy that fit on two 3.5" floppy disks and when I first installed it on my 386 running DOS in 1991, I didn't know what to make of the blocky graphics and turn-based gameplay. But I kept playing. And playing. Just one more turn, and I'll go to bed. I've got an algebra quiz tomorrow, I've got to sleep, but those damn French just keep invading ... Gah, is that the sun coming up?

The fifth version of Civ to bear Sid Meier's name (or 6th if you count Alpha Centauri, 7th if you count Revolutions, ah nevermind) is no different in its addictiveness. Since I've been able to play it, I've got less sleep than an adult male should. The core game of Civ is intact; you still found cities, build units to explore your surroundings, attack barbarians, research technology, and interact with other civilizations through diplomacy or war. But with Civ V, it all feels more polished and more fun.

It's also probably the most accessible Civ to date, and that has to do with the excellently presented user interface. Clearly inspired by Revolutions, the UI alerts the player to the most relevant information, but in a very non-intrusive way. There are no annoying popups, events are instead placed in a list on the right of the screen above the "Next Turn" button. The list can get little cluttered when large events happen late in the game, like when a Civ declares war and everyone follows suit, and the time between turns is a bit longer than I'd like, but it's easy to overlook these small complaints now that I no longer leave my capital building nothing for a few turns.

Like previous Civs, there is a lot of information to grasp, but it's all safely tucked away behind intuitive buttons. I especially dug the info bar at the top of the screen (Titan panel anyone?) with the most relevant data. Hovering over the happiness display lets me know exactly why my people were so pissed at me. The user interface of Civ V gives me the tools to play the game without pulling too much focus from the game itself. What more could you ask for?

Other familiar game systems have been revamped. Culture still pushes the borders of your cities, but you can buy individual tiles with gold to become part of your civ. Accumulating culture points unlocks social policies, which are like your civilization's talent trees. The benefits from social policies are big, like Honor's combat bonus against barbarians or a boost to Happiness from Piety. I found myself carefully deciding what kind of civilization I wanted to play; the system is robust and a lot of fun.

While the diplomacy system is largely unchanged, you meet leaders and can trade with them or enter agreements like Pacts of Secrecy or Cooperation, the city-states are a great addition. These small states are not out to win the game or take anything over, but they add complexity to the world diplomacy. If you are nice to them, and do the tasks they ask or give them gold, they will give you culture, food or military units. If you attack them, they may gang up on you and declare permament war against your civilization. It was really engaging choosing between attacking the English because they assaulted my ally, the city of Brussels that was giving me an important luxury resource, or if I should hold back and try to liberate the city when I was more prepared. The city-states are a welcome addition.

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