Written with the cooperation of Thomas Hanley, my long-time friend and assisting writer for Gamer Codex. His insight into the game surpasses even mine, so I thank him for assisting in the review process.
The latest installment in Sid Meyer’s genre-defining series doesn’t so much represent a revolution (not unlike its console predecessor) in strategy gaming, as it is a refinement of key values. Civilization V, in some ways, is equal to Civilization IV or Civ: Revolution’s levels of quality. However, there are key distinctions that make V the most technically impressive and accessible turn-based strategy game yet, and easily one of 2010’s best releases.
Gameplay is the core of Civilization. You pick a nation out of a list of 18 historically notable cultures (24 if you buy the additional DLC or get the Game of the Year Edition), and after selecting options for A.I difficulty, map size, game length, and more, you begin the exciting task of running your own nation. Your goal is to become the most powerful culture on this custom planet, though the method by which you attain this (be it conquering others, building up a space program, becoming leader of the United Nations or just getting the highest score before 2050) is yours to choose.
There are noteworthy changes to the UI, however. You no longer move units from square to square; now, the hexagonal movement allows for more options when exploring. Placing units one on top of the other is no longer possible, adding more strategy to the combat, which has been improved to be more entertaining and challenging. You also have access to advisers (representing military, cultural, economic and scientific views) who you can consult for advice on your next move.
Some changes take away things which some Civilization fans will miss, though. Religion, for instance, has been removed, replaced by policies which you can purchase with culture points you earn over time. This means that forcing religions on enemies and captured nations is no longer possible: a bit of a loss to veterans, but not too bad.
I can’t speak about the gameplay without mentioning the A.I, which can vary in difficulty and strategic tactics. I’ve been informed that the computer players match the nationalities they control (America being capitalistic and militaristic, the Aztec being war-mongers), so there’s a hint of personality in the A.I. However, nothing will ever beat playing online with a couple of your friends, which is mostly enjoyable and works well in the Civilization formula (barring the occasional loading screens near the start of matches, and infrequent slowdown).
Meanwhile, Civilization V’s presentation gives other PC graphics titans a run for their money. Though there is occasional slowdown on older hardware, the game generally runs well, with its environments filled with details and personality. Art design is also exceptional, as the landscapes are bright and match the terrain that they represent.
Sound design is also top of the line, with a soundtrack that is as moving as it is epic. It fits with the action on screen, becoming calm when conflict settles down. The voice work, particular the narrator of the Technology quotes, is well-acted, giving the individual leaders of nations their own distinct personality traits, though I still miss Leonard Nemoy’s performance from Civilization IV.
In the end, Civilization V is highly successful at its goal: to make the franchise more refined and accessible than ever before. For newcomers to the franchise, given the choice between strategy games, I would highly recommend this. For long-standing fans or hardcore gamers…well, you don’t need me to tell you Civilization V is worth buying. Just play it, and enjoy ruling your Civilization (for better or worse).
Gameplay: 8.5 – Certain removed and added features, and technical issues during multiplayer, don’t take away from the sheer fun of controlling your own nation.
Presentation: 9.5 – Exceptional voice work, soundtrack and visuals, though there is potential for slowdown and a hole left by a certain voice actor
Overall Score: 9.0