It's hard for me not to be extremely excited about a new Civilization title. This franchise has eaten my gaming (and sleeping) hours unlike any other. So when I managed to get my hands on a preview copy of CivV, I was overjoyed. And after running through some of the paces I very much like what I see. And, no, this isn't simply a re-vamp of CivIV--Civilization V takes the series in several new directions, making for a fresh take on the series.
My first thought on seeing CivV in action was that this is a truly great looking game. The graphics are clean and crisp, and seeing the patchwork hex-map of varying terrain stretch out before me was a delight. The units all look fantastic, and the streamlined interface was a joy. In fact, much of the game feels streamlined, not to the point of over-simplicity, but to a much more elegant game than previous titles. As an avid boardgamer, what struck me the most was that Civilization V looks and feels a great deal like a tabletop game, full of fiddly, crunchy goodness.
But I'm sure most readers are waiting to see what, exactly, will be changing with the newest iteration of this venerable franchise, and I hope not to disappoint. I'll touch on the highlights of my brief foray into the game, remembering that I hardly had a chance to delve into everything CivV had to offer.
I'll begin the tour with the most obvious change to the Civ series--hex maps. I'm sure the arguments have already begun on which is better, square grid or hex. I will say I like the look of the hex layout--not only does it give a fresh direction to take the gameplay, but it also feels more like the classic tabletop wargames of my other favorite pastime. Since everything's gone hex-based, area control has also had a rather large change. Cities begin with influence on the six surrounding hexes, which are the only initial areas workable. As before, terrain types influence what can be gained from tasking a citizen to a particular hex. Food, production, and money are generated in varying degrees from the different terrains, which are all modified by randomly-allocated resources. I'll touch on resources a bit later. As cities generate culture, they allow cities to extend their reach, one hex at a time. No longer does influence expand in leaps and bounds--players have to slowly work their cities into larger and larger spheres of power. Should a city's culture not be working quickly enough for tastes, players may now purchase additional hexes of influence with coin.
Another huge change on the map is the unit restrictions. The mighty "death stack" is a thing of the past--CivV allows only a single land-based military unit per hex. And that space can only be shared with one additional non-military land unit, making unit swarms a non-issue. This limit also applies to the cities themselves--only one military unit at a time can be garrisoned per city. While this may seem crippling, city combat has changed drastically as well. Cities now defend themselves quite nicely without the aid of any combat units. Each city has a defense number and its own bank of hit points. This defense number is modified by city size, certain structures such as walls or castles, and the strength of any garrisoned unit. Even an "undefended" city of reasonable size may require several combat units, supported by artillery, to overcome.
Also limiting the amount of combat units is the way Civilization V handles resources. There are now three types of resources: basic, luxury, and strategic. Basic resources, such as sheep and wheat, simply give bonuses to the various points gathered from hexes. Luxury resources now give civilization-wide Happiness bonuses, which have become even more important this time around. But it's the strategic resources that make a huge change. Each strategic resource point nets the controlling players a certain number of points for that resource. So a horse pasture will allow the civilization to have four horses to their name. Most advanced combat units require one or more of these resources to build, and they will use up that resource as long as they're on the map. So if players only have a single location of horses, they can only field four knights at a time. Unit death or dismissal will return the resources to the bank, but even so each combat unit feels much more individually important this time around. In addition, no longer can an entire civilization run its war machine on a single oil well.
Civilization V also introduces "city-states" into the mix of computer-controlled players. These factions are smaller than a full-blown competing Civ, and they cannot achieve any of the victory conditions. Players have several options with regards to these city-states, from diplomacy to conquest. Gifting money or unit to a city-state will increase their relationship, to the point where they may begin offering resources or other units as rewards. Players may also choose to be protectors of a given city-state, sheltering these smaller factions from the other civilizations. Of course, more straightforward-minded players can simply conquer as they see fit, taking whatever resources by force.
Once again there is a limiting factor placed on those civilizations that simply want to spread across the map like locusts, and this time around that factor is Happiness. In CivV, Happiness is now a civilziation-wide score. Happiness decreases both with an increase in population and to a greater degree with additional cities. Combating this are the aforementioned luxury resources and certain buildings. An unhappy civilization is a poorly-working civilization, and there are huge penalties to production and growth for running negative Happiness. On the other hand, running a surplus of Happiness is a very, very good thing. Once the well-being of the civilization is met, each additional Happiness point per turn is added to a Golden Age score, triggering those wonderful, everything-boosting events. Golden Ages are no longer a one-time event, so players are wise to ramp Happiness as far as possible.
There is a great deal more that has changed, from Wonders to Technologies to Great People, but as an early build the details may morph in the next few weeks leading up to the release. I will lastly touch on the newest victory conditions, as I imagine these won't get too many tweaks. Returning in CivV is the always-rewarding Technology victory, capped off by launching that ship to Alpha Centauri. Conquest is a little different this time around--victory will be assured only if players will hold their starting capitol while having conquered each enemy starting capitol on the map. A diplomatic victory, complete with UN votes, also makes a return, but perhaps the most intriguing new victory condition is the newly-revamped Cultural end. Culture, in addition to spreading city influence, can now be spent on Social Policies, which are basically a series of cultural tech-trees. These policies give several bonuses to the corresponding civilization, and once five of these policies have been thoroughly researched, players may begin the "Utopia Project" to finalize their cultural endgame. This is a far more satisfying cultural goal than has been used previous titles.
This brief tour has certainly whetted my appetite for the full release in a few months. With all the changes, the slick interface, and the appealing new look, I have no doubts that I will be experiencing many exhausted mornings in the near future. I'm already clearing my gaming calendar.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.