Civilization 5 Review
8.0our score

You bastard Ghandi! You absolute shit!

This sentence sums up something in Civ 5 which is rare in a game. Ghandi just made me mad. I cared that he’s just invaded my long time ally of Kuala Lumpar, denying me supplies of Iron, Gems and the culture points I need to adopt better social policies. I was pissed. He had no good reason for that; they weren’t a threat to him.

My rage fired, I set immediately to work in Rome and Antium, churning out Roman legions by the err, 2s , and after a small border build-up I marched confidently on the walls of Mumbai. Surely nothing could stop my Legions?

Well, they had a good go at stopping them. The city pelted my units with rocks and arrows, and it was actually quite troublesome, but eventually Mumbai was transferred to proper Roman ownership. Then Ghandi’s armies arrived, and I found myself less with armies and more with lots of dead bodies. And then his armies that had taken Kuala Lumpar turned up too.

Thankfully, I was saved by the invention of currency, and some clever social policy adoption that soon generated enough gold to send heavily armoured knights into the fray, and soon he was pleading for mercy, and offering some quite tempting resources for peace.

Sadly, this option was not as tempting as owning all his cities and getting them forever. So I crushed him while returning Kuala Lumpar back to its independent city state status. They now think I’m the best thing ever, and I can start to placate the Indi-Romans that are now part of my much bigger empire.

Soon Ghandi, soon.

Yeah, you build the wall. It won't stop me.

Civilization 5 is, as you hopefully know, the latest in a long line of Civilization games, which give the player control over an ever-expanding empire (or not, if you decide the 1-city challenge game mode is for you). How you get to any of the different victory conditions is entirely up to you: it can be via researching your way there, making peace with everyone, or crushing everyone so there’s no competition left.

How the game plays is largely up to you – you do have to do the usual building cities and expanding etc, but beyond that there’s a wide range of options to begin with, as well as a good choice of different civilisations to choose from, some with their unique units and buildings, and these can enhance the way you want to play – China and Japan both have some particularly lovely bonuses for those of you who like rampaging across enemy lands – whereas my vast Roman empire gets to build things quicker if the city of Rome already has one.

As is traditional with Civ games, it is insanely addictive. You start your plan to expand/invade/develop something and the next thing you know it’s 7 hours later, the clock is long past midnight, and someone just ate a portion of your life. The randomly generated game worlds and good selection of game options give a good replayability, and you can always up the difficulty for more of a challenge as well.

Graphically, the game has improved once again, although my 4GB RAM, Core2 6600 and NVIDIA 8800 GTS struggles somewhat with maps above standard, or detail on higher than medium, so that’s worth bearing in mind. Things do look very pretty, particularly in DirectX 11, so if you have Windows 7 and a good graphics card, you should get some really nice visuals from it.

In terms of new gameplay, features I particularly like are the City States and Strategic Resources. City states are small independent towns that grow, expand their borders and so on, but never grow to more than 1 city. You can just invade them and take them over (more on combat shortly), but I find it far better to ply them with cash, wipe out their enemies, or any of the variety of ways to keep them happy. They come in 3 flavours (culture, military, or food) , which reflects which benefit you get them from, and early on they can provide really big advantages to your game if kept happy. You can even use them to fight for you against other civilisations if handled right.

Strategic resources are things such as horses, iron and so on. However, you have a limited amount of each from each resources spot, and it gets used up every time you build a unit or building that needs them and returned when the unit or building is destroyed. What this means in the game is that you are pushed towards settling new locations even late on so that you get the resources. This also means that wars to control resources such coal or oil supplies can be waged.

Talent trees are everywhere now. Thankfully, the version in Civ 5 isn’t just a quick rushed job, but a well thought out feature that lets you affect how the game will play out, and you find that you don’t always make the same choices. Here’s how they work: cities, some buildings and some City States will give you culture. As well as being used to expand city borders (although much less dramatically than in previous Civ games), it is mainly used to keep gaining culture until you get enough to spend a point on Social Policies.

Combat has had a bit of an overhaul too , there are some elements of the previous system in play, but it’s now much more focused on things like terrain, flanking, group bonuses, the type of units involved and so on. Gone are the days of spearmen killing bomber aircraft. Cities can now defend themselves and fire at enemies, which means you can no longer capture cities with a single unit. Now you really do need an army of 4-5 to do it. Though, of course you’ll have used your culture to get combat bonuses from the Social Policies system. What are these, you may ask?

Warriors invading a barbarian camp

Take that! Evil Barbarian scum!

I love social policies. Since I’m a fan of the city states, I will choose Patronage early on, which slows the rate at which city states lose influence from you. This then unlocks a small tree of 5 other bonuses, with some as powerful as getting a percentage of their research spending, or free great people every so often. There are ten different branches of social policies, although some cannot be active at the same time as other ones (i.e., Liberty and Autocracy), and then can give you really nice bonuses to whichever part of your civilisation needs it. I often like to take commerce late game and really build up my cash reserves, but you can also increase happiness (more golden ages), culture output, and there’s even a method of winning the game via policies.

Speaking of winning the game, the AI generally tries to stop you doing it. As well it should, but you’ll often find it knows when you are about to win and since each victory condition takes time to achieve, other nations will declare war on you purely to stop you winning. On the whole, the AI I find to be more sensible – when you really start winning in wars, they will often offer you everything they have for peace, rather than trying to fight a losing war forever. They do have an annoying habit of sending you insulting messages – I think that this is Firaxis telling you that you need a stronger army – but generally speaking I noticed no real problems with it. On higher difficulties the AI can present quite a challenge as well, and maintains much larger armies.

While we are on problems, I spotted a few with launching the game. It comes in DirectX 9 (Windows XP) and 10/11 (Vista/Windows 7) flavours, and I’m only able to run the DirectX 9 version here on Windows 7 for some reason. Seems like a few other people online have the same issue as well. There’s also an annoying intro which you think is unskippable, until you realise the game is loading behind it, so you can skip it, but only halfway though. That is quite annoying, as even with the ways to disable the intro movie, you still have to wait for it to load. Thankfully Firaxis have a good history of patching games for a long time, so I’m expecting that as many of these problems as possible will be sorted out, but really there aren’t any game-stopping ones. I would struggle to name 4 bugs for example, in over 40 hours of play time.

There aren’t a whole lot of problems with the game though, and there’s already been a patch released to fix some of them. There’s also a built in mod browser and download interface, although the installation is confusing and you end up not activating mods you thought you had, until you realise exactly how it works.

On the whole I am pretty pleased with Civilization 5. In some ways it’s a simpler version of the previous games, but there are enough new ideas and changes to keep it both fresh and familiar at the same time. Hardcore Civ fans will probably not like some of the change, but on the whole it feels cleaner and simpler, with much of the old depth still there, if not so obviously.

It reminds me of seeing an old drinking friend who’s just had some new clothes and a haircut after spending time abroad – recognisable, new, interesting , but you wake up 2 days later wondering just what the hell happened to Friday and Saturday.

And then you start all over again.

the author

Regular ManaPool writer and good friend of ET. I live and work in York, UK and try to provide a good honest opinion about the games i play. I like variety, strategy and to be challenged by games. I also provide technical backup to fix any problems with the site.