Whenever a game with as much hype and legacy as Civilization V comes along, it generates a tremendous amount of discussion and debate. Even before the game's release, as snippets and details are discovered, would-be fans are either extolling the virtues of the Greatest Game Ever or decrying the Greatest Travesty of the Gaming World. Some will exclaim that Civilization V is not a Civilization title at all, while others will say it's merely a gussied-up, carbon-copy version of a previous installment. The truth, of course, is always somewhere in between. For me, Civilization V is a very good game, with many elements distilled from previous titles, mixed with a healthy dose of fresh ideas. It's not simply a re-make of an earlier version, and that's not at all what I wanted. It does make some rather major changes to the Civilization brand, and for the most part I found those changes to be solid ones. Through it all, however, Civilization V keeps the same "Civ" feel that draws me in and sucks away countless hours of time.
So what's new this time around? First up are the civilizations themselves. Each civilization boasts two unique units and/or buildings, along with a special ability that sets them apart from the rest of the world. CivV has moved away from the mix-and-match Civ traits we saw in earlier games, meaning the special abilities in CivV truly set a civilization apart. For instance, the Iroquois nation gains the ability to use forests contained within friendly territory as roads, while the Aztecs gain valuable culture points with each enemy defeated. With only one leader available per civilization, these ageless shepherds of the empires are now just a visual extension of the civilization itself, conferring no additional bonuses or abilities.
After choosing their civilization and setting up the parameters of their game world, players are transported to a beautiful, hex-based world map. I won't wander into the minefield argument here about hex-vs.-square, other than to say that I like the new layout. Being a card-carrying boardgame geek, I feel completely at home with the move to a more...table-topish feel for the game. Civilization V also boasts an alternate view which makes the map simple, clean, and very "old school" in presentation. I prefer to play on the more detailed map, but it's nice to have the option for the other.
As always, Civilization V is a game of cities. Once a city is planted, it begins "working" the ring of hexes surrounding it. For each level of population in a city, a citizen can be assigned to gather resources from a single hex. Terrain type and special resources dictate how much food, production, and money can be accrued, and each of these are vital to empire expansion. Food determines how quickly a city will grow, production how quickly the city can construct buildings and train units, and money takes care of just about everything else. Through certain buildings, cities also generate Culture to help them expand. In addition to adding to the civilization's global Culture pool, city-specific culture points allow cities to "buy" additional hexes into their area of influence and control. Should this expansion not be quick enough, players also have the option of spending money to purchase additional hex control.
Speaking of Culture, this value is treated a bit differently in Civ V. Culture points, useful in expanding city influence, also take players down a social technology tree filled with Social Policies. These policies are a set of ten mini-trees, each of which can focus the civilization into a particular style of play. Some are better for war-mongering empires, while others will give a large boost to technology or additional culture. Each step in each tree confers a new bonus, and researching heavily down the Social Policy path is a new victory condition. If players completely research five of the social policies, they gain the ability to research the Utopia Project, culminating in a game-win.
Of course, players still have the tried-and-true technology path toward a space-race victory. The tech tree is the heart of progress in Civilization V, as always. A bit smaller than in previous Civ titles (at least for now), CivV's tech tree nonetheless offers plenty of difficult choices on the path to victory. Other than offering the player the most powerful units, Wonders, and buildings, the technology path also allows players the ability to construct the Alpha Centauri starship and send it on its way for victory.
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