I would not call myself a fan of the strategy game genre, be it real-time or turn-based. Beyond a little Freeciv in high school, Civilization V is my first real taste of the Civilization franchise. I was not sure what to expect, whether it would feel more like Sim City or StarCraft, but I was pleasantly surprised to find it is like neither.
Civilization has always been turn-based, allowing players to queue up their desired strategic decisions and watch them execute before being prompted for another round. To some this may seem a dated play style, especially considering that most recently released strategy games, such as Dawn of War II and StarCraft II, are real-time. Real-time strategy games require that you not only make the correct strategic decisions, but also execute them in the most time efficient manner possible to come out ahead of your opponent. With this element removed, Civilization V players can not only take some additional care with their strategy, but they can take some time to enjoy the scenery as well.
While the graphics are not the most impressive when considering other entries to the genre this year, I still find myself admiring the detail in the cities, the water, and my units in Civilization V. Unit animations are quite varied and very entertaining to watch. I regularly zoom all the way in on a newly acquired unit to see exactly how he is laying the hurt down on my opponent.
There are plenty of game modes, but no actual campaign or story involved. Players set up their own games, be it multi- or single-player, with a ton of options for customization. Options include world shape/size, number of players, starting civilizations, and many more. The game does a great job of introducing new players to the economic, scientific, military, and culture mechanics of the game via advisers and color coded production icons. Also added in Civilization V are city states. City states help to provide various short term goals to players and can dramatically effect the direction of the game in the long term.
The most impressive aspect of Civilization V is the NPC interaction. In games I found myself cursing Montezuma as he forced the border between us to militarize and praising Gandhi for entering into a research agreement. George Washington constantly taunted me and was allied with both of his surrounding city states as well as having a far more technologically advanced civilization, which rendered me unable to retaliate. When deciding things such as whether or not to grant Catherine the Great that open borders treaty she requested, I had to take into account that she tried to aggressively invade 100 turns ago.
Cutscenes ensue upon civilization interaction, with full voice acting and character animation for all world leaders. This type of interaction, especially in games that last 20+ hours, can get very addictive. I often found it impossibly hard to stop taking turns and start turning in for the night.
The only issue I found with the game is merely a product of technical limitation. As you get into larger games, with 16+ opponents, the processing of AI can get a bit ridiculous – we are talking 3+ minutes per turn as you enter the later stages of a game. There is a whole lot going on here behind the scenes, and although this review is based off playing on a pretty nice gaming PC, I was surprised at the time that passed between turns. I’m sure the latest and greatest CPUs may process the AI calculations faster, so this may not be as large an issue for some players, but many will notice it.
While some players may initially wish for an actual narrative, they will find that Civilization V allows the player to experience their own story. Every game will play out differently and events will stick with the player for some time. I will be coming back to Civilization V over and over again, and I will never regret adding this masterpiece to my strategy collection.
Civilization V is rated E10+ (Everyone 10 and older) by the ESRB for Drug Reference, Mild Language, Mild Violence.