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Reviewed by Jeff Morgan
he “Civilization” series is one of the most critically acclaimed and polarizing franchises still alive in the game industry. Devotees have obsessed over the math behind each new iteration for years, debating the precise turn at which you are best suited to build your first settler. A lot of RTS fans can’t stand the slow pace and the turn-based gameplay, a system that feels a decade behind for some players. I think of “Civilization” like the NPR of strategy games – it can be slow and dull, but it’s a complex, layered and ultimately rewarding experience.
“Civilization V” is about as far a departure from “Civilization” convention as can be, though some will see it as a return after the console-only “Civilization Revolution.” Verteran players may despise the simpler style, but I actually liked that “Civilization V” is an accessible version of the franchise. I was never much of a “Civilization” player, but “Civilization V” managed to hook me right off the bat. The gameplay is more dynamic than even “Civilization IV” was and much easier to pick up. For the hardcore, there are still options to turn off the autopilot and fine tune your Civilization as you see fit.
One of the biggest differences from the previous version is the elimination of the “stack of doom” in favor of a single-unit, hex tile system. In “Civilization IV,” you could layer troops upon troops upon troops, building defensively and offensively, all in one tile, and then use that tile to march through cities. In “Civilization V,” it’s one unit per tile, so there’s more positioning to worry about. Though it can be interesting from the player’s perspective, the computer has a hard time managing multiple military units. It will occasionally storm a city, often with more units than you thought possible, but it leaves little in the way of backup. Once a city is taken, it’s an easy thing for the player to take it back and counter attack.
If there’s one thing RTS fans didn’t like about “Civilization,” it was the lack of warfare. In “Civilization V,” though, warfare is probably the most interesting aspect of the game. While building a robust economy can be fun, it’s typically easier to tech ahead of your enemies and rush them with mounted cavalry or rifleman while they’re still researching iron or steel. As I mentioned, the computer doesn’t manage troop movement well, and troops now have high enough mobility to allow for distance campaigns, which were nearly impossible in older versions of the game.
I also found warfare to be more enjoyable because of how ridiculously stubborn the other empire leaders tend to be. In my first few campaigns, I was centuries beyond my rival Civilizations, but they’d still pop up from time to time to mock me about my weak army or a struggling economy. It didn’t matter if I tried to leverage my considerable resources for favorable trade, or form defensive pacts, or even schmooze my way to favor with the city-states; Napoleon and Alexander showed up frequently to throw something in my face, to which my only response could be “You’ll pay for this in time,” or “Very well.”
At its heart, “Civilization V” is still a great game, for both veterans and noobies alike. Some older players might be disappointed by the ways the game polarizes your opponents, either for or against you. In every campaign I’ve played, it became necessary at some point to mass a military force and rush a capital. The journey to that point was always fun, but once I set my mind to warfare, it was a simple matter to just end the game.