Civilization V Review

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When it comes to computer games, calling a game a sequel usually means something.  At its worst a sequel has the same engine with nothing new beyond a slightly different story or new scenarios.  At its best a sequel builds on its predecessors, presenting the same game, but only with more, hopefully of everything, and with earlier problems cleared up.

"…the case can be made that it’s not a sequel at all…"

Civilization V is neither the worst, nor the best, that a sequel can offer.  It certainly uses nothing like the same engine as Civilization IV…and it doesn’t seem to build on the ideas, either.  In fact, the case can be made that it’s not a sequel at all, instead being a license product much like Civilization: Revolutions and Civilization: Colonization.

Having said that I’m going to treat Civilization V (CivV) as its own game, comparing it at times to another game in the same genre: Civilization IV (or Civ4).  In broad terms, both let the player become leader of a real world civilization, starting in 4000 B.C., and through strategy, guile, and/or brute force lead that civilization through time, hopefully growing and expanding, eventually to dominate the world.


As a new game, CivV is very rough around the edges.  Every time you load up the game you’ll have to click through the ESRB warning, save games aren’t handled as smoothly as in Civ4, pathfinding and unit AI aren’t as developed, you can only select useful options like “fast animation” at the beginning of the game (problematic in the late game, where aircraft animations take 15 seconds apiece), and a host of other little issues abound.  Still, this type of game, even when inefficiently programmed, can present a fairly addictive format, where a player gets trapped into playing “just one more turn” for hours at a time, and CivV certainly accomplished this.

While you nominally take the role of a famous leader (e.g., George Washington for the Americans), the leader is just a figurehead.  Your civilization is completely defined by a few benefits, including a special unit and, often, a special building.  For example, the Egyptians can build special chariots and tombs that grant bonuses.  This differs from Civ4, where a choice of leaders can influence your civilization somewhat, in addition to civilization bonuses.

The world, incidentally, isn’t necessarily Earth, and the player has the option (much like in Civ4) to influence how the world is randomly created, with many small islands, one huge continent, or many variants possible.  Curiously, CivV still includes Earth elements such as the Great Barrier Reef, which is randomly placed in the ocean (and grants a bonus to your civilization for finding it).

Once civilization is chosen and world built, the player is placed on the world with a settler and a weak military unit, and the game officially begins.  The first order of business is to found the capital city.  Usually, the settler is placed at a good site, so this occurs quickly.  Next is to explore around the capital with the military unit.  While exploring, the unit will eventually encounter resources (good for the civilization, once developed), enemy barbarians, city-states, and other civilizations.  The latter two lead to diplomacy.


City-states are unique to CivV.  These lone cities usually have resources (or something else you want), and, if you pay them a bribe, they’ll share their resources with you.  Over time, you’ll have to keep bribing them (or optionally solve a random quest for them, but bribes are more common by far), and that’s really all they have to offer, being one trick ponies.  Give them money, they give you stuff.  You can conquer them, but usually it’s a better deal to just pay them off or ignore them.  On the other hand, dealing with other civilizations is much less trivial.  Getting on good terms with other civilizations is important; even though there’s no technology or map trading like in Civ4, resource trading is critical in this game.

Your civilization is rated for technology, happiness, and culture.  As you build libraries and such, you’ll produce more research points, eventually letting you discover important technologies like the wheel, or acoustics, or whatever.  Unlike in Civ4, the tech tree is more of a vine; you pretty much need every technology to advance (including Chivalry, even if you don’t have any horses or don’t intend to build knights).

Happiness is key to growth.  Each new resource in your civilization produces happiness (5 points), and you’ll quickly learn to get new resources from other civilizations or city states whenever possible.  As you get more people or build/conquer more cities, you’ll get unhappiness.  An unhappy civilization can’t really grow, and a happy civilization gets more golden ages, so you’ll always want as many happy points as possible.  Unhappiness gets produced with every city added to your empire, making growth difficult in any event – growth via combat is doubly hard, as conquered cities can create “bonus” unhappiness.

Culture’s primary purpose in CivV is to determine policies.  As you gain culture points, you can choose policies for your civilization, like Piety (makes your civilization a little happier), Patronage (makes dealing with City States easier), Honor (helps with military), and so on.  Once you pick a policy, you’re stuck with it forever.  This is a major difference from Civ4, where your system of government (basically a collection of policies) could change depending on need, going from a slave-filled to theocracy to mercantilist republic in a few years, and could then be reverted if needed.  In CivV, your government is fixed, there’s no changing anything; as most policies are real no-brainers (e.g., one policy gives you six turns of bonuses, while another gives over a dozen turns, minimum), it really seems like every time you’ll play CivV, you’ll play much the same way.  Additionally, as you get more cities or choose more policies, the number of points needed for the next policy skyrockets, meaning you generally don’t want many cities in your civilization.

Another important difference between CivV and Civ4 concerns adapting your civilization.  In CivV, if your people are unhappy, you have exactly one way to fix it: by building happiness-producing buildings (at least, after you’ve gotten all the resources you can, but that’s a given).  If you’re short on money, you likewise can only respond by building more moneymaking buildings (or tweaking your cities for small differences).  If you want more culture, again, your only option is to build culture-making buildings.  This forces extremely careful civilization management, as any shortfall will likely affect your civilization for a long, long time.


Civ4, on the other hand, has the same options as CivV, but in addition you have sliders that let you decide what’s more important to you at a given point in time: if you want money, you can sacrifice making culture or happiness for your people, and same for anything else.  Civ4 also has espionage, but that’s not in CivV at all.

All the growth penalties mean there are few benefits to having a large civilization; research, perhaps, is about all you can gain from having a large number of cities, but I’ve found that half a dozen cities are more than enough to cover the entire tree before the game ends.  CivV isn’t about size at all, and even an advanced, warlike civilization won’t build more than a dozen units or so (compared to the stacks of units common to Civ4).  Entire games of CivV can be played out in around 4 hours.  Incidentally, there’s no stacking in CivV, just one combat unit per hexagon, so it’s just as well that armies aren’t supposed to be large in this game, even if it leads to strange quirks like archers shooting further the riflemen.

"…I find myself wondering why they didn’t use some of the good ideas of Civ4."

There are multiple ways to win the game of CivV, but, once again, I find myself wondering why they didn’t use some of the good ideas of Civ4.  One way to win, for example, is the United Nations.  In CivV, you win by building the U.N., then getting city-states on your side (i.e., simply paying money), and they vote you in.  It’s a sure thing.  That’s all – everything – that the UN can do.  Now, compare this to Civ4.  In Civ4, the U.N., in addition to making it possible for you to win – and it was always dicey – could let you vote for free religion, bans on nuclear weapons, end wars, and other things.  Why take all these options out of CivV?  This is just one example, but it highlights a powerful theme of CivV: it’s much like Civ4, but with less of everything.

Civilization V is certainly a fun game, but it seriously lacks the addictive quality of Civ4.  Yes, I still click “next turn” plenty, but I do so out of boredom, hoping the next turn will be more interesting… and I’m starting to regret taking Civ4 off the hard drive for this.  Granted, the version of Civ4 I played had multiple expansions, and in time I hope CivV gets “expanded” to be as fun and addictive as the games that have come before it.

Gameplay: 7

Graphics: 6

Sound: 9

Value: 7


8 Responses to Civilization V Review

  1. Skrot says:

    Good review, I agree with most of your points. It feels like the game has been stripped of complexity and while some of the changes and additions are welcome, the lack of options in much of the gameplay leaves Civ V as a weak, insipid cousin of an otherwise deep, complex franchise.

  2. Rick says:

    Thanks…sometimes my opinion of a game improves after I write the review, but I’m still finding myself not playing the game, not even interested in playing the game. It’s good a for a few plays, mind you, and I’ll certainly give any full expansions a look, but otherwise it’s just taking up space on the hard drive.

  3. 133 says:

    whoever made it is a douche, whoever bought is an idiot.

  4. Bobby says:

    I find it funny how you make a statement early on to treat the review of Civ 5 as it’s own game and then do little more than say how this feature is worse in Civ 5 compared to Civ 4.

  5. Doom says:

    Absolutely, it’s quite common when a new game comes out, to compare it to the top title(s) in the genre.

    I mean, if the next Battlefield game came out, changed everything about it, it really stands to reason to compare it to other FPS games like in the Battlefield series, or the MOH, and so forth.

    Civilization is pretty much its own genre, however. There are a few other games that are sort of close (Age of Wonders II), but Civ has dominated the genre so long that it really makes sense to compare it to that.

  6. Keshie says:

    I agree with a lot of people here about how flawed (and therefore disappointing) Civ V is. I’ve never felt happy with Civilisation and I think if you’re going to try to simulate all of human history, you should try to realise those ambition properly ‘cos we’re going to hate you if you don’t get it right.

    I used to excuse Civilsation’s failings on the technology of the day but come on! – by 2010 there’s no excuse any more for the bullshit oversimplification and massive lacking of this series.

    Here’s a short list of things that could (I think should) be a part of the Civilisation series.

    1: Mini-games on political interaction, changing as the political systems change.
    Eg: Celtic politics was based on a system of Breton Law whereby the strongest challenger in physical combat won and physical purity was paramount. No warrior missing a body part would ever be accepted as Rí (King).
    Modern democratic policy is essentially a popularity circus. No need to explain, right?

    If Civilisation is serious about portraying political flux in the course of history, where are the first-person spearfights between me and a rival to determine the course of the tribe? Where’re the economics and policy games I have to play to determine who’s most popular in the local economic region I ‘represent’?

    2: Warfare. Civilisation abstracts too much here. You might as well be playing Risk or Rock-Paper-Scissors. There are SCORES of in-depth military computer and boardgames requiring less processing time to calculate operational factors in battle than the effort needed to show Bayonetta whipping off her clothes each time she gets into battle.
    Civilisation starves us all of this supposedly crucial gameplay factor.

    3: The developers need to (at least) try understanding that when you attempt to portray other cultures of times past, you NEED TO STEP OUTSIDE OF YOUR CULTURAL COMFORT ZONE!
    Would they make cutscenes of Romans selling captured children to military whorehouses? Mayans discovering Astronomical proofs and then taking their families to watch the day’s underclass being decapitated for the Sun God?
    Nude Rapa Nuins? Nude Tribes of Australia? The English selling Opium in China to destabilise the Qing Dynasty? The European slaughter and dispossession of the North American Nations in the name of ‘Manifest Destiny’? Or just how about the economic divide that caused the French Revolution (and which still exists today in Brazil, North America, Thailand, India and most of Africa, as a game-changing factor you should try to deal with?

    When you play as any culture, you should be aware that the other cultures in the game are fundamentally NOT LIKE YOU! Instead all we’ve gotten so far is that they have a different name and different resources. That’s pretty much it. What a fail!

    4: My last point is that the victory conditions are actually depressingly shallow.
    Murder and subjugate everyone else, have the most ‘wealth’ (yeah right, Capitalism Kid) or achieve some vague technological triumph. Or something.
    OK SERIOUSLY: Appeal to our desires for brutal world domination, a new age of enlightenment, global mind control or whatever the fuck or some kind of Escape-To-The-Stars Scenario which OMG….. Alpha Centauri did way back in 1999.
    Every single game I’ve ever played of Civilisation has ended like an official release to Quit Now And Be Permitted To Sleep Again. That’s it!

    I’ve never wanted to run and tell my friends about the awesome life-enhancing experience I’ve had, like when I played and completed “Legend Of Zelda: Link’s Awakening” on an original Gameboy.
    I find relating my Conquest Of Human Civilisation to be like recounting how well I played a game of Solitaire over the weekend. It’s nothing. It’s not a feeling I can be bothered to share. I’ve finished a boardgame I’ve been playing, with myself. (And please… don’t talk about multiplayer. I’ve never ONCE met a player interested in talking non-violent Buddhsit globalisation as a means to globalised harmony.)

    Games like Call Of Duty and Modern Warfare (I actually think Call Of Duty isn’t a game, more like a movie experience on player-advancing rails) give you epic, awesome and unforgettably surprising endings.
    Is it really too much to ask that the Civilisation series can end a game as well??

    Since this is Democratic Capitalist Consumer society the answer is obviously with you, game-buying consumer 🙂

  7. John Browing says:

    Yet you forgot to take your cut from Firaxis.
    Seriously though, how did this game receive a minimum of 8/10 from EVERYONE except cpugamer. This game was a joke. Seems that it barely deserves a 5/10 and that a 7/10 sould be the maximum.

    Though I was joking about Rick not getting his cut from the developers, I question the validity of own thoughts.

    1. The reviewers were paid off.
    2. The reviewers never played the game beyond 5 minutes.

    Elemental: War of Magic was also another title that got warm reviews, yet was a horrible game. Stardock is making good on the game by spending an additional year developing it and releasing the patches as they become available. Firaxis is MUM about an additional improvements to the game. Shame on them.

  8. Rastan999 says:

    I thought I was too dumb to undertand the new Civ 5 but I guess I was not. Totally agree with your comments. This game is disappointing for whoever has played CIV4. Even civ 2 is much better. I miss the espionage, I miss the old advisor council, I miss the old wonders benefits… I do like though the concept of borders introduced. It’s quite nice. Also I don’t like the fact that you have to be online to play. And I bought the game in a shop when it was released, opened the box and there was no disc and no book. I had to download the game! Did not like that at all.

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Civilization V Boxart


  • Developer: Firaxis
  • Publisher: 2K Games
  • Genre: TBS
  • Release Date: September 20, 2010
  • Link: The Official Site
  • ESRB Rating:
Everyone Over 10

Minimum Requirements

• Win XP SP3/ Vista SP2/ 7
• Dual Core CPU
• 8GB HDD Space
• 256MB ATI HD2600 XT or 256MB nVidia 7900 GS
• DirectX 9.0c compatibile sound card
• DirectX 9.0c

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