Life October 02, 2010

My quick Civilization V review

As the avid reader of this blog might have noticed I haven’t posted anything about creating custom EPiServer properties, Scala or anything else in a little while. Luckily I have an excuse as good as any. Civilization V was released last Friday and since then I’ve spent 39 hours playing it (according to Steam).

I’ve been playing Civilization for as long as I can remember. I’ve been pretty much obsessed by all version of the game including the digressions Civilization IV: Colonization and the console game Civilization Revolution. The only version I can’t really remember playing a lot is Civilization II but as that was released in 1996 when I was 14 and “I just won a conquest victory playing at the emperor level” probably wasn’t a great conversation starter at teenage parties that’s not really surprising.

Anyhow, throughout all of the previous versions the core of the game, such as the quadratic grid, has pretty much remained the same and the different versions have differentiated themselves with better graphics and new “extra” concepts like spying, corporations, colonization of space etc. Civilization V is different though. Many of the additional game concept such as corporations, health and spying that Civilization IV had has been tossed. And instead of adding other such concepts the game developers have remade some of the most fundamental concepts of the game.

The old square grid has been removed and instead units move over a hexagonal grid. Another drastic change is that each tile can only hold a single military unit. No more attacking with stacks of 20 knights. For the first time it is also possible for ranged units such as archers and cannons to be truly ranged as they can attack from several squares away. Their exact range are determined by their location and what lies between that and desired target. For instance, an archer has a hard time attacking an enemy if the tiles between the archer and the enemy is a mountain. On the other hand, if the archer is itself located on top of a hill its range is improved.

A new dimension

These changes combined with a few others, such as that cities have the ability to bombard besiegers, adds a whole new dimension to the game. To me warfare in Civilization has mostly been about stacking up as many units as possible and then attacking more or less without considering tactics. Now it's no longer possible to stack units making each individual unit strengths and weaknesses much more important. And so is troop movements. Protecting siege weapons and other ranged units along with choosing the best attack vector for non-ranged unit is much more important and challenging than in previous versions of the game.


In the above screenshot my French swordsmen and crossbowmen are having a really hard time taking the city of Persepolis due to the hills that they have to climb to reach it. In order for the crossbowmen to be able to attack the city they have to climb up on top of the hills and the swordsmen who can normally move two tiles per turn are slowed by the hills. In both cases they are vulnerable to bombardments from the city and they are significantly weakened before they even have a chance to attack.

Border expansion

Another interesting change compared to the previous version of the game is how border expansion works. In Civilization IV a city could only expand its borders by producing culture. Other civilizations could push back our borders by producing even more culture which made it absolutely crucial to produce a significant amount of culture. In Civilization V borders can still be expanded both by producing culture. But they can also be expanded by spending money as individual tiles surrounding a city can be bought. I think that this is a very welcome change as it balances the role that culture plays in the game. It also makes it more important to produce a surplus of gold.


One caveat

One disadvantage of the new version is that it feels a bit slow. The graphics are really beautiful and my graphics card isn’t exactly top of the line so I can understand why I had to turn the graphics settings from best to medium. What’s worse is that there is a considerable wait between each turn when the AI opponents perform their moves. I’m not sure if this is somehow by design or if the game really is that demanding performance-wise. But as comparison Football Manager, another turn based game that I like to play that usually take a lot of time to process each turn flies on my computer and feels faster than ever before. Meanwhile Civilization V feels sluggish which I can’t recall that any of the older versions have. It’s not very bad though, and I usually don’t mind arguments for getting a new computer.


All in all I love the new Civilization! It does take a little getting used to the fundamental changes that have been made but I don’t think any seasoned Civ player minds that. I also think this game might win back those that have stopped playing it due to the complexity added by halfhearted concepts like corporations and health. Final judgment will have to wait though. In order to compare the game to the previous versions we’ll have to wait a couple of years to see if it’s equally addictive. After all, Civilization IV kept me playing for five years, all the way up to the release of Civilization V.

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Joel Abrahamsson

Joel Abrahamsson

I'm a passionate web developer and systems architect living in Stockholm, Sweden. I work as CTO for a large media site and enjoy developing with all technologies, especially .NET, Node.js, and ElasticSearch. Read more


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