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A New Civilization

A New Civilization

  10:12:24 am, by   , 845 words  
Viewed 11527 times since 02/10/10
Categories: Games

Well it's been over a week since I got Civilization V and the inclination to play it 24 hours a day, forgoing sleep and basic hygiene, has finally passed. It's time to write down what I think about this latest version in Sid Meier's most famous series.

It's good. It's very good, in fact. But first, a history lesson.

The original Civilization was released in 1991 and was an incredibly simple game. You founded cities and built things in them - either buildings or units. Some buildings gave you money, some gave sped up later construction, some made people happy and so on. The units either let you improve the area around your cities, found new ones, or act as your army and let you attack other people. You could also research new technology that gave you access to more advanced buildings and units. You could win either by building a spaceship to take you to Alpha Centauri or by wiping out every other civilization.

I spent a LOT of time playing that first version, as did my flatmates. Five computer scientists living together in a flat doesn't lead to huge, pulsating parties at the best of times, but when all five of us were playing Civ at the same time, it was quieter than a wet Sunday in Wales.

I never played Civ II, but I understand it was basically the same game with prettier graphics. After that, there was been a tendency for each new version of Civ to add things in the mistaken belief that this improved the game. By the time Civ IV came out in 2005 it was far too busy. In addition to the basic game, you had to trade resources, found and spread religions and do various other things that made the game more involved but detracted from the essential simplicity. Civ V seems to be a conscious attempt to go back over the series and build a game around the best features, eliminating the extraneous details and adding new ones that make it the best Civ yet.

So what do we have? Well it's still about building cities and units, obviously. Religion has gone, which is good because it didn't add anything much. Wonders of the World that confer huge, one-player-only benefits have gone too, which is also good because in previous versions games were essentially won or lost depending on who managed to build certain wonders first. Trading is still there but has been reduced to "can do" rather than "must do", which is also good. But the biggest change is that you can now only put one unit on one tile at one time. When I first heard this it sounded like a disaster but this also turns out to be good. Previous games let you build a huge army and put it all on one tile, meaning you could advance into enemy territory with an unstoppable force and wipe out any resistance. You could have 100 workers ready to build railroads and 50 tanks ready to advance over them, and often you could destroy even a big enemy in one turn by careful movement. Not very realistic. In this version, it's much trickier. First, cities defend themselves; second, the stacking means you can only attack with a few units at once. This turns aerial bombardment from a largely pointless sideshow into a must-have.

The other new feature is "social policies". In previous versions, these were (roughly) included in the technology tree, but are now separate. There are ten sets of policies (Tradition, Liberty, Honour, Piety, Patronage, Autocracy, Freedom, Rationalism, Commerce and Order) that let you choose the sort of empire you want to build. Some of them work better for small empires, some for large; some for militaristic empires and some for peaceful. It makes more sense for things to work like this. Suddenly switching from a dictatorship to a democracy the moment you research it was always a bit odd, but now there's a gradual shift as you implement more policies in your chosen trees.

One problem I had is that the hardware requirements are pretty stiff for such a simple game. My old nVidia 8800GT card simply couldn't take the strain and couldn't run the DirectX 10/11 version, meaning I had to play with the much less pretty DirectX 9 graphics. At least it gave you the option, but my computer ran games like Oblivion, Far Cry 2 and Fallout 3 without complaint so why should a turn-based strategy game cause such a problem? Luckily, I'd been meaning to upgrade for ages and a cheap GTS 450 card made things a lot better.

In summary, this is a great Civ. It lets you concentrate on the important things rather than fretting that some religion or other refuses to spread to one of your cities. It must be good given the sheer amount of time I've spent playing it (curse Steam and the way it keeps track of these things!) If you like RTS games, and particularly if you like previous versions of Civilization, this version is a game you will really enjoy.

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