Let’s talk about a remake of an old (and incredibly classic) PC game. Civilization (1991) was one of the first few games that I ever played, and I believe that Civilization and all its successors (Colonization, Alpha Centauri, the lot) played a big part in the kind of geek I ended up as.
Civilization V is plays upon many of the same features that made Civilization a classic, and will be instantly understood by anyone who’s played any of its predecessors. A turn based strategy game, you play as the Egyptians, English, Germans, or any other nation in history on a journey through the ages to gain world dominance via military, cultural, scientific or diplomatic means. You build cities on prime spots of land, harvest resources, bequeath luxuries upon your people in the hopes that they keep happy enough to work productively, and plan your next step, be it building cavalry and tanks or researching the wheel or nuclear fusion.
There are some significant differences in the new game, however. Perhaps the most easily noticeable change is the departure from traditional square grid maps to a hex map system (reminding me of Settlers of Catan). This is a great change; the hex map does make the world look a lot more organic than previous iterations. The move to include City-States (mini nations one city large) is also something I welcome; previous Civ games always felt a bit strange to only have 4-8 civilizations on a map. The inclusion of City-States allows the you to have that feeling of cultural breadth, and also allows a whole slew of options. Do you conquer the City-State, or provide gifts and turn it into an ally who provides benefits on a regular basis?
Other changes are a bit more niggly. The inability to stack units (each hex is now limited to one combat and one non-combat unit) makes unit management a lot messier, especially when an empire has a significant amount of workers improving roads and building farms. On the other hand, this forces the player to spread out his armies, and together with a new method of combat (melee units need to be next to enemies to attack while ranged units may bombard from afar) lends itself to a much more tactical combat system.
Social policies are also a double edged sword; culture now has its own tech tree much like the research tree, with benefits to the civilization based on what social policies you select. This progression makes each policy selection very important; the player feels as if he is truly advancing to some final social goal. On the other hand, it doesn’t make much historical sense for a civilization to be stuck in a social paradigm for all time: after all, cultures throughout history have jumped from monarchies to communists to capitalism and everything in between.
The two biggest faults in the game however are the menu selection system and the AI. While the layout of the menu selection is pretty (with a great Art Deco feel), I feel as if there’s too much nesting. That combined with the slight lag when opening windows up sometimes means that I have to waste a few seconds opening up and trying to find that piece of information I need, enough to annoy me a little bit. A second issue is the AI. The tactical potential of Civ V can’t exactly flower, purely because of the blunt hammer that is the AI. What good is a tactical system when you leave your archers on the front ranks to be annihilated by swordsmen, or when you send in melee troops into a chokepoint where I have infested with artillery? I have personally witnessed both of these things things done by the AI.
Not to say that Civilization V isn’t a good game, mind you. If you love turned based strategies, or if you’ve been addicted by any of the previous versions of Civilization, I guarantee that you will be losing at least a few nights’ sleep playing this new one. That I’ve disappeared off the face of the earth ever since it was released is proof of that fact. It is a great game, and a worthy successor to the Civilization title. Is it however a classic, to be held in comparison with the original, or the last Civilization IV? Maybe not.