Civilization 5

January 3rd, 2011 by Potato

Someone made the grievous error of giving me Civ5 for Potatomas before my thesis is finished. Civilization games take hours to play through, even on the fairly fast settings, which is valuable time I should be spending thesising. Nonetheless, I couldn’t help but play a game or two over the holidays here, and I have to say I was fairly disappointed in this entry to the long-running series.

For those unfamiliar with the games, Civilization takes you through the development of a civilization from the stone age (arbitrarily set at 4000 BC) to the modern day (the game ends when game time hits 2050 AD). You explore the planet, found cities, build armies, negotiate with other civilizations, ward off barbarians, and develop the land to become more productive. All along you research new technologies and advance your civilization, so that at the beginning you may send out archers and axe-wielding warriors, and by the end you’re commanding aircraft carriers and tanks (or new to Civ 5, Giant Death Robots). Your diplomatic options also evolve: you can’t share maps before you learn how to draw one, and resource-sharing treaties have to wait until your civilization develops writing abilities.

Anyhow, that’s the gist of it, and each entry in the Civ lineup has tweaked the formula in some way. There are a lot of changes to the formula in Civ 5:

The good: I particularly like the switch to a hex-grid. Sadly, that’s about all I can say was definitely an improvement to Civ 5.

The mixed bag: The game has reformulated the way armies and units work, so that units no longer stack: that is, you can’t have more than one unit on a single game space. This means that armies are generally a lot smaller than the massive forces that were sometimes built up in previous iterations, which saves a bit on the micro-management during war. Adding to the unit count reduction is the fact that cities can quite effectively defend themselves. The game now models a defensive force/militia/garrison of some sort so you don’t need to manually build units to defend your cities. Cities are tough, too: you can’t take one over with a single group of rampaging horsemen. Unfortunately, cities don’t build up that toughness over time very much (there is a bit of improved defense as a city grows), so if an enemy player sneaks in a settler to build a city where you wanted to build one, it’s immediately very tough to get rid of, and you’ll have to summon the whole army up instead of just picking it off with a spare unit or two.

The resource system has changed so that instead of just needing to find a source of a particular strategic resource, those resources are rationed: some iron mines only contain enough ore to outfit two legions of swordsmen, some have enough for eight, but just getting an iron mine is not enough to build strategic units willy-nilly. This isn’t too much of a restriction since I’ve found there are fewer units in play anyway, but one weird twist is that you also require continued access to that resource to keep your units working (if you lose your iron mine, your swordsmen fight at reduced strength).

The broken: Unfortunately, a lot is broken in this instalment of Civ, and it’s now uninstalled (also good for thesis willpower). If I ever get the hankering to play again, I’ll probably go back to Civ IV. Continuing with the changes to the formula first:

The empire happiness scoring has been changed: no longer is it on a city-by-city basis, but you must keep your empire as a whole happy, or the whole thing collapses into unproductive rioting. The collective scoring part isn’t so bad: it actually relieves some of the city micromanagement required to keep cities happy. However, the system is terribly, horribly broken when it comes to conquering cities: a conquered city provides a relatively huge amount of unhappiness to your empire (vs the old way of just the conquered city being unhappy and unproductive). If your empire racks up too many unhappy points, you slip into riots, rebellions, and civil war. The only way I’ve managed to do this so far has been by winning wars. Oddly enough, your citizens seem to be happier when you lose wars, or at least win slowly enough to integrate the new cities one-by-one. One time I was dominating another (AI) civ in battle: he had no army left. He offered peace, surrendering all but one of his cities in the process. Even though the cities were handed over as part of a peace talk process, there was just as much unhappiness as if my tanks had rolled in as conquerors. The collective hit from all those cities at once sent my empire into a civil war — this, the result of winning the war the other player started? So yeah, the happiness system is totally broken as of right now.

The purchase/hurry system from previous Civs is gone. It used to be that you could build stuff in your cities (military units, city improvements, etc) either turn-by-turn based on the productive output of the city, or you could spend gold from your empire’s treasury to have the project finished immediately. If you started building it normally, but wanted it done sooner, you could just pay a small bit of gold to hurry up the completion, depending on how much work had already been completed. No more: now, even if you’re 99% done, it still costs the same amount of gold to hurry production as if you had started from scratch. And, it doesn’t appear as though you get to carry-over production to the next item in your build queue if you do hurry (or cancel) the current project.

Rule changes aside, the game is broken in a number of other ways. For starters, it’s just plain buggy: though I’ve only had two all-out crashes, I’ve had a number of minor game bugs, most notably in the graphics department (ghost images being torn across the screen, etc.), but also a few game bugs (like harbours being blockaded by ghost ships). The game is inexcusably slow too. I have, IMHO, a reasonably bitching quad-core desktop gaming rig. Nonetheless, it takes forever to process a turn. I have all the graphics settings on low, and still sometimes when I scroll the map too fast, I get blank spots that then slowly paint in. That’s just ridiculous, especially since the graphics don’t look any better than they did in Civ IV. The AI has been screwy too: a few times now other civilizations I’ve been nothing but nice to, who are vastly weaker and less advanced than I am, will just up and declare war on me for no reason at all, and then I go out and trounce them. One time, a civ came to me and offered a diplomatic deal. I hit “accept”, without modifying the deal at all, and the AI refused, saying it couldn’t accept “my” terms. Huh?

In the end, I can’t recommend Civ 5 even to Civ fanatics who will probably play it anyway. The game came out a few months ago, and there have been a few patches to fix some of the previous issues… but the game still needs a lot of work before it’s ready.

4 Responses to “Civilization 5”

  1. Invest It Wisely Says:

    I loved Civ III, especially TAM mod, and Civ IV was a lot of fun as well. I eventually uninstalled the game even though I enjoyed it since it was such a time suck. I can’t say I’m looking too forward to Civ V though especially after this review.

  2. Potato Says:

    I never got the “beyond the sword” expansion for Civ IV — if I have the time and a hankering for Civ again, I think I’ll go pick that up rather than reinstall Civ V (unless I hear about a major patch down the road).

  3. Potato Says:

    Oh, I forgot one other mixed bag change in Civ 5: embarkation/water transport is now transparent (it’s assumed you’ll find a way to get your land units across water, so no more need to build transports). Unfortunately, the pathing algorithm sees that the first turn move to water uses all movement points, and tries to path to avoid water as long as possible, even though once in the ships the units move decently fast (embarked movement upgrades through the game to keep pace with triremes/frigates/battleships).

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