Review: Civilization V

The Bottom Line

A worthy successor to Civilization IV, but far from a bold step forward for a classic game franchise.

Unfocused Ramblings

Years and years ago, I picked up a copy of Civilization II and convinced my dad that I really needed to own it. I’d heard from my cousin that it was a great game, and that (as a strategy fan) I really needed to give it a whirl. I loved the game. I probably ran a thousand civs to their completion, cheat mode or no, and I became intimately familiar with the inner workings of the game. Oddly, I learned as much about obscure World Wonders from Civilization II as I did from any class I took in secondary education. In perfect honesty, I didn’t enjoy Civilization III nearly as much, and I became somewhat disenfranchised with the whole series after playing it. A few years later, jaded as I was, I saw Civilization IV on the shelves at a local Best Buy and I decided, “Yeah, it’s time.”

Civilization IV brought me back to the series. From the opening screen with the Baba Yetu chant, I fell in love.

Well, Civilization V is missing Leonard Nimoy’s voice in the narration (and this is a brutal loss, but Mr. Nimoy certainly isn’t aging in reverse). But otherwise, it feels to me like a game that understands its audience. It’s like the developers actually played the game and tried different strategies, civilizations, levels of difficulty, and victory conditions, and realized there were areas where the game-play could be tremendously streamlined. Aside from a couple of major pet peeves – don’t worry, I’ll get into them –  it feels like a natural evolution from the model of almost-perfection that Civilization IV presented.

Unfortunately, while this latest installment represents a step forward in many areas, it is a step back in several others. Most painful in their absence are any presence of religion. I understand all too well how thorny a topic religion is. How is the developer supposed to handle this? Providing distinct characteristics is inevitably going to draw accusations of religious bias, deserved or no, and is not a realistic option. Making all religions do the same thing is going to draw the same sort of criticism and, from a game-play standpoint, it made Civilization IV too easy – spread your religion, and you ensured victory!

At the same time, religion is a cornerstone of all of human history. To simply excise it is… disappointing, and probably the thing that I liked least about this latest title. Rather than providing total customization in the vein of Civilization IV we are forced to accept certain limitations. Culture points are banked and spent on civics, rather than allowing our level of technology and personal preference determine our government’s style, which creates a much more limited scope for your civilization. It just doesn’t have the epic “evolutionary” feel that I always had when advancing a civilization in Civilization IV.

A part of me regrets that Civilization IV was so good. I want the franchise to continue to grow, and it’s hard for me to admit that we may have just hit a ceiling. In terms of our own personal technology, we can hit strides forward, but there’s very little opportunity to gain a greater understanding of the history of the human race.

The Big Question

Where do we go from here? To be honest, I didn’t see a tremendous potential for expansion from where Civilization IV took us. Are we doomed to just re-live a classic game franchise, or can we re-invigorate it? Are there untapped gems of potential in human development that the developers haven’t considered?

Overall Game-Play: 9.5

Yep, I’m giving it an almost-perfect score. I’ve played a dozen civilizations or more, and I’ve yet to encounter an aspect of game-play that frustrates me, or causes me to stop and wonder why I bother playing. I understand that many people are evaluating games purely on their multi-player merits right now, but this is a game that delivers primarily in the single-player “us against them” mode.

The biggest problems you’ll encounter in the game focus around the A.I.’s style of play – which can make achieving cultural or other “peaceful” victories frustrating – but while I have heard others complain about this, I haven’t found it to be a tremendous stumbling block.

Story N/A

There is no “campaign mode” so we don’t have a true evaluation of story. However, this game does allow you to explore an alternate history of the human race in an infinitely varied way. I’ve given this an N/A, but it probably deserves some honourary points for letting you develop your very own story.

Graphics 7.5

You’re almost certainly not playing this game for its visuals if you are playing it. It is, after all, a strategy game, and a darn fine one. The visuals are beautiful for the most part – certainly not an area of complaint – but they’re hardly a focus of the title, and I’d struggle to recall one particularly stunning sequence. I also don’t think that you will be disappointed by the graphics, however, unless you have other issues with the core game-play.

Sound 7.0

If you’re a Civilization IV die-hard, then you will definitely feel the lack of Leonard Nimoy in this title, and the absence of Christopher Ting’s enchantingly beautiful rendition of Baba Yetu at the title screen. In fact, I found very little that ‘stood out’ to me as far as the audio effects in this title. The score was fine, if forgettable, and I found myself feeling bad for anyone who would be tasked with scoring a Civilization game or voice-acting for it after the release of Civilization IV. All of that negativity having been aired, I will say that while Civilization V‘s score lacks the epic feel of its predecessor, its audio is far from disappointing, and you’re unlikely to be overly disappointed once you get past the absence of Nimoy’s impeccable delivery.

Multiplayer 5.0

Unfortunately, the multi-player mode is still a huge weakness of the series and the genre. In all my years of gaming, I still struggle to name a single turn-based game that has suffered the transition to multi-player well. The genre just doesn’t lend itself to an exceptional multiplayer environment. If you have an insatiable lust to compete against other players – despite streamlining and advances in the multi-player environment – this just may not be the title for you. The experience against the A.I. works at a leisurely pace you may enjoy, and ultimately involves a lot less hassle. That having been said, don’t shy away from challenging your friends to a Civilization match – as long as you have the time! Just be aware that this is no quick feat.