Sunday, December 05, 2010

"Civilization V" sucks

For the sake of convenience, I'm going to refer to version # of the long-running "Civilization" series of video games as C#.

I first got invested in the "Civilization" series back in the late 90s with the release of C3. C3 had its quirks. Modern battleships would occasionally get sneak attacked and destroyed by spear-wielding barbarians in dugout canoes, for example.

C4 was the incremental improvement on C3, and it fixed some old quirks and added new ones. The most glaring lacuna is that, based on the amounts of CD-ROM space devoted to different aspects of the game, C4 is essentially an animation program for three-dimensional heads of world leaders with a few gameplay elements knocked on.

The current version of the franchise is this year's C5. If C4 was a step forward from C3, C5 is the two steps backwards. Here's a list of what I believe the game does right and what it does wrong.

Right: the hexagonal tileset
The most obvious change introduced into C5 is the new hexagonal tile shape which gives the terrain a more natural feel compared to the traditional square tile set. Unit movement is more natural as well since it feels harder to speed up movement by gaming the tile topology. C5 also handles the problem of what do to with the polar ice caps more gracefully than its predecessor.

Wrong: the same old unit animation
A C4 warrior unit, for example, consisted of a trio of little animated warriors who walk around the map like real, little people when they follow your orders. A C5 warrior unit consists of... a few more, slightly smaller little people still walking around following orders. Maybe this is some kind of titanic, computer programming breakthrough. Maybe it's just the programmers being lazy. Either way, I'm definitely not impressed.

Right: C5 eliminates the three-dimensional animated heads

Wrong: stupid diplomacy
World leaders in C5 are constantly pestering you to join "pacts of cooperation" or "pacts of secrecy". What these pacts do, why they're important, and what happens when you violate their terms is apparently a complete mystery. The "pact of secrecy" is so secret that even the game programmers don't seem to know what it is.

Right: better voice-overs
C5 replaces the celebrity voice-overs of Leonard Nimoy with voice-overs by actor W. Morgan Sheppard (cf. the film "Gettysburg"). It's hard to overstate what a smart move this was.

Wrong: C4's video clips were replaced with static splash panels.
This is incredibly disappointing. C4's video clips were mind-bogglingly bad; completing, say, the Pyramids in C4 wins you a 20-second video clip showing the Pyramids being built in super-fast motion. Completing the Pyramids in C5 wins you a static splash image of the Pyramids and a 20 second audio clip. When you win the game in C4, you were treated to a 20-second video clip showcasing sweet, sweet late-90s computer graphics. In C5, you get an early-90s static image and another voice-over.


Terrain and terrain improvements
Right: "on the fly" expansion of civilization borders.
This is a major leap forward. In C4, each city had a static, pre-defined zone of tiles that it could work. In C5, cities slowly expand their suite of workable tiles, but you can also purchase tiles to work for your city. This lets cities rapidly expand to encompass strategic tiles and critical resources and then slowly filling in the gaps as other priorities rise in importance later in the game.

Wrong: workers have little to do
C5 workers can build farms, mines, trading posts, and lumber mills to improve tiles. You have one primitive improvement for each of the three primitive resources and one primitive improvement to stick on forests. And that's it. Your workers pretty much have nothing to do for a big chunk of the game. Roads also cost money for upkeep, which means you can't pass the time having your workers carve out "road spaghetti".

Game Mechanics
Right: cities have built-in garrisons
Cities can fight back against beseigers. This is more realistic and spares you from producing the large garrison armies of C4.

Wrong: Cities can shoot volleys of arrows at opponents even if you haven't researched "archery" yet.

Right: Ranged units can actually attack opponents "at range". Major conceptual breakthrough.

Wrong: Unit upkeep is a mystery.
C5 tells you a total gold cost for maintaining units. There is no way to break this down on a per unit basis. The C5 documentation is totally silent on this point. Late in the game, you'll do things like delete your do-nothing worker unit and discover it, alone, was responsible for 50% of your unit upkeep costs over the last 200 turns.

Right: You can buy "social policies" with culture points.
This seems to be a rational solution for turning culture (i.e. the stuff you do when you're not at war) into a viable game mechanic.

Wrong: You can't switch social policies.
Once you buy a social policy, you're stuck with it forever, even if it becomes worthless.

Right: city-states
C5 has the innovative feature of non-competitive city states that you can ally with or attack. The city states will give you resources, culture, science points, food, or even military units if you befriend them. They make an intriguing addition to the game-play if you can get on their good sides.

Wrong: the game is designed to deter conquest victories
Cities have garrisons now, so good luck storming one with a handful of stone age warriors. Resource limits prevent you from mass producing key military units. Your civilization's global happiness degrades rapidly when you annex (or even "puppet") captured cities. And in a deliberate slap to the face of all of the hard-core conquest players, there are some cities that cannot be razed so a "one-city" conquest victory is impossible.

Summation: Unless you're a hard-core "Civilization" masochist, I recommend that you not drop any money on this game.


Anonymous stcrowe said...

True true, Civilization V was a massive disappointment.

I think there trying to dumb down the Civ series. Complexity of the series has increased from Civ 1 to Civ 4, but then came Civ Revolution, which marked the turn to mainstream civilization.

I could barely stand Civ Rev (actually I never did finish any game I started). Civ 5 is like one step up from Civ Rev, and I can image that Civ 6 will follow the Civ V route.

TBS players like us will be playing the older civ games as long as these mainstream dumb versions of civ games stop making the big bucks.

2:01 PM  
Blogger Joseph said...

I think they were trying to make Civ V as addicting as possible for the least cost.

12:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Stop sticking up for CIV V, it is the biggest disappointment released for those that have played CIV IV before (in a proper long time game), some things are good about CIV V, but CIV IV is better overall.

2:34 AM  
Anonymous JoeSunCity said...

What drives me nuts about this game is that it is designed for a maximum of 10 - 12 city civilizations. That is why they put in the global happiness and maintenance cost. Maybe they should have called it Mini-Civilization or Micro-Civilization.

7:23 PM  

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