It’s 2 A.M. and Gandhi has declared war on Montezuma. Through a convoluted mess of alliances, every nation on the globe has been dragged into a major world war. Everyone from the Russians to the Persians are tangled in the conflict with the exception of England – Queen Elizabeth is too focused on completing the space race to bother herself with such petty squabbles. Thus, another round of Sid Meier’s Civilization V (Civ5) goes well on to the break of dawn.
For those unfamiliar with this classic computer game franchise, Sid Meier’s Civilization is a turn-based strategy game series in which the player assumes the role as the leader of one of a dozen possible nations. Taking on the role of historical figures such as Augustus Caesar or Napoleon Bonaparte. It is up to the player to take his or her chosen civilization from 4000 B.C. to the modern era and assure global supremacy for the nation. Whether this means domination through militaristic means, taking full control of the global economy, or achieving a perfect society is entirely up to the player. However, there are always other nations all trying to reach their own goals and none will stop until they achieve victory first.
Some console owners may already be familiar with the Civilization series after the release of Sid Meier’s Civilization Revolution (CivRev) on consoles in 2008. While each successive title in the series had become more and more complicated since the original Civilization in 1991, the team at Firaxis Games worked with the series creator to make this title a bit more accessible one for the console market. Game mechanics both large and small were completely reworked to make CivRev a more palatable experience for newcomers. In past Civilization games, the user interface was crowded and impenetrable. Games dragged out due to the myriad factors the player had to deal with on any given turn. Yet the new interface and design of CivRev made it both a critical success and a strong seller for publisher 2K Games.
Now that the series has returned to the PC once more, the team at Firaxis Games has taken a lot of the design mentality behind CivRev and applied it towards their newest installment in the Civilization series. At first glance, the ideas and core concepts of Civ5 can be more than slightly overwhelming. There is a lot to keep track of in the game and managing a growing empire while maintaining diplomatic relations or prepping for war can be a lot to take in at first. Fortunately, the interface and visual design of Civ5 goes a long way toward making the game a more enjoyable experience for both casual players and those all too familiar with late-night marathon sessions of Civilization.
The main interface in Civ5 has been completely reworked to easily deliver critical information to the player and to keep the screen clutter-free. As developments arise such as the arrival of new research possibilities or the completion of building projects, Civ5 delivers the news quickly and efficiently. Information prompts are displayed with eye-catching icons and the game goes as far as to highlight important events on the world map. While players in the past may have felt lost as necessary data and news were obscured by the endless menus found in previous Civilization titles, the interface in Civ5 points players in the right direction constantly without ever becoming a nuisance.
Just as Firaxis Games redesigned the look of the series in CivRev, the team has returned to the drawing board once again in Civ5 to give the series another graphical overhaul. The visual design and style of the newest Civilization game is easily the most beautiful seen in the series yet. The world in Civ5 is displayed with a crispness and an incredible attention to detail, the unit animations are all smoothly rendered and exciting to watch, and even the menus themselves incorporate a classical architecture aesthetic which lend to the eye-catching style of the game. While previous Civilization games in the past have looked somewhat dull, Civ5’s style is both radiant and gorgeous.
In addition to the beautiful visuals of the game, the sound design in Civ5 is also top notch. Each nation’s leader speaks in his or her native language and the music pieces chosen for each individual civilization go a long way towards giving personality to each faction. Various classical orchestra pieces are strewn throughout the experience and all the English voice-acting is incredibly strong. Between the sound and visuals of Civ5, this installment in the franchise is easily the most vibrant to date.
But as any Civ fan would tell you, what matters most in Civilization is the game play itself. For the past two decades, the Civilization series has provided its fans with thousands of hours of deep strategic warfare and diplomatic espionage. Victory at any cost is the driving idea behind any Civilization title and little has changed since the first game. Each title in the series plays much like the one before it and Civ5 doesn’t set itself apart from this trend. At first glance Civ5 may appear to be more of the same, but what makes it the best Civilization yet are the finer details of the experience.
While Civ5 plays out like a traditional installment in the series, its strengths come from the refinements made to the engine and the ideas brought over by CivRev. In addition to the massive overhaul of the game’s interface, the entire technology research tree and combat system have been completely remade in this iteration of the series. There are hundreds of small changes, but all of them work towards making Civ5 a far more streamlined experience than any other title that has come before it.
Important upgrades to buildings and infrastructure can now be used earlier and the different forms of government available are more useful and easier to understand. Crossing the ocean was once a massive chore and a monotonous exercise in micromanagement, but now units automatically bring their own boats upon hitting the water. With the major move to a hexagonal grid world for unit movement, combat has been given a greater tactical depth than ever before. It’s changes such as these that go a long way towards making Civ5 the most enjoyable title in the series yet.
If there is one single element of the Civilization series that has contributed to its immense staying power, it would have to be the utterly addictive nature of the games. Every game session has a chance to turn into a night-long marathon and there’s always something to look forward to on the next turn. Each session can be fully customized with a variety of unique and randomly generated maps, multiple difficulty settings, mods built directly into the game, and even opponents custom tailored to the player’s liking. The inclusion of local area network and online multiplayer also add a ton of value to an already massive game. In Civ5 alone there’s enough content to keep anyone busy for years to come.
Sid Meier’s Civilization V can easily be counted among the best games of the year and a necessary title for any true strategy game fan to have on their PC. What Firaxis Games has crafted is one of the most beautiful, strategically rewarding, and addictive titles to come out this year or any other in recent memory. Civ5 is the most refined and enjoyable title in an already critically acclaimed series and an absolute testament to the series’ pedigree.
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