The lights are on
It's difficult enough to make a successful game: time, funding and expertise aren't always in plentiful supply, but when these resources are available the game in development at least stands a chance. Making a successful sequel is another matter entirely: struggling against the natural depreciation of successive installments is an uphill struggle that has sunk many of our most beloved franchises. So how did the folks at Firaxis manage to make the most successful turn-based strategy game of all time even better? By condensing options, adding depth to diplomacy and policies, and polishing the entire package with an intuitive and friendly interface, Firaxis' flagship franchise has triumphed once again, withstanding the ravages of time like no other.
Having multiple options for victory is not a new concept for Civ; 5 has finally made them all viable and inviting. Options such as diplomatic and cultural victories were practically broken in 3, improved in 4, and now in 5 they have been brought up to speed with the tried and true method of steamrolling Montezuma's hut with a Panzer. Filling out 5 policy trees or eliminating all opposing capitals for cultural and conquest victories respectively are now cut and dry objectives, much improved over amassing legendary culture in 3 cities (has anyone out there managed that?) or occupying 2/3 of the landmass, stretching your resources to their limits in the process. Civ 5 has also decreased the variety of military units you have for a given time period, and in doing so taken away some of the emphasis on the conquest element of the game and given equal attention to aspects such as culture and commerce.
The methods by which you manage your empire have been simplified, but in a way that retains the sense of being in control while cutting out some of the more unnecessary, tedious decisions of games past. City placement was all-important in Civ 4: if you didn't position your settlement right next to an available water source, for instance, you'd be stuck at a low population for ages. Now with the option of buying tiles, you have more flexibility with which to plan your expansion, as well as making smaller empires a much more attractive option. Civ 5 has done away with the complicated city interface of 4, with all of its icons, bells and whistles, in favor of a streamlined sequence of menus that are simple and easy to make sense of. I was a bit disappointed at first that religion had been eliminated from the game, but after playing a few rounds I saw that the expanded diplomatic functions that have been included overshadow the religious system's significance by a wide margin.
The inclusion of city-states as minor civs is just one of these improvements to diplomacy. In the past, in order to represent minor civilizations, designers would have to classify them as barbarians (one example being the barbarian city of Dublin in the 1000AD scenario of Civ 4). The people of these minor civs (historically) were far from barbarians, and the option of making them city-states gives the player a way in which to interact with them as if they were other players, without overloading the game with competitors. They expand the political landscape of the game tremendously: sure you could conquer Warsaw for the gold resource on its plot, but if there's an aggressive civ on its other side it may be in your best interest to leave it be, perhaps even strike an alliance with them. As far as inter-civ diplomacy goes, there are plenty of new ways in which to interact, such as research agreements for tech advancement, secret alliances and assistance pacts, all of which produce a greater sense of inter-dependency. If you're too aggressive toward other civs or city states, they'll band together behind your back and surprise you.
One last detail I'd like to mention is the rule of one military unit per tile. It may seem like a serious limitation at first, but as you play it will start to make sense. Is it realistic for 20 units of soldiers to occupy one road? How about 10 battleships in one small section of ocean? By allowing only one unit per tile, combat and tactics have become rather more realistic, forcing the player to be creative in their strategy. Fortunately, with the hexagram series of tiles, there are two more ways from which to approach your target.
My complaints so far are very few. It seems ridiculous that 3 city states I've never even seen or heard of would declare war on me for bullying one nextdoor. The music is decent, but not quite as memorable as tunes of games past (like that modern era jazz tune from 3 or some of the classical from 4).
Overall, Civ 5 is a supremely crafted entry into the series, one that every Civ fan as well as strategy newbs owe it to themselves to pick up. I couldn't think of a single person, gamer as well as non-gamer, who wouldn't find this enjoyable. Civ 5 is most deserving of a 10.
Very good review! You really know what you're talking about, and how to talk about it. Have you sent this in to any websites or magazines?
Though "tactics have become rather more realistic" is a bit odd.
Very good review. The only problem I have in the game is when Alexander or the king of Siam befriends every single city state in the game and when you try to make friends with just 1 they immediately become threatened.