Review: Top 10 reasons why Civ V is awful (updated)

Civilization five game box

(UPDATE in December 2014 — I guess it’s impressive that this debate is still going on and people are still adding comments to the blog post. I personally think it’s a little silly to criticize the post, which was written more than four years ago, over the many game features which have been updated or added since, but, hey, have at it.)

(UPDATE in February 2013 — The argument is over, people. Civ V designer Jon Shafer finally comes clean and admits he didn’t know what the heck he was doing, didn’t think through most of the changes he made to the franchise and simply didn’t appreciate how many players actually played the game. Oy vey. Here’s my take on Shafer’s admissions.)

(UPDATE in June 2012 — This two-year-old post still draws a fair amount of traffic so I wanted to clarify that it’s a review of the game as originally released back in 2010 and I long ago stopped playing, obviously. But Civ V remains by far the lowest-rated versions by players and a recent review of the Gods & Kings add-on pack, which restored religion and espionage two years too late, found it equally lacking.)

The game Sid Meier’s Civilization V came out last week, though it sounds like good master Sid has little to do with it. At least I hope not. Hardcore fans of the Civ franchise should avoid this train wreck. Civ V is just awful, unbearably bad, compared the preceding versions. The publisher removed many great features and left in their place a beautifully rendered and lobotomized exercise in boredom. Ugh. We’re reverting to playing Civ IV in our house.

Here are at least 10 reasons why Civ V is awful:

10. City-states: For four versions, the computer AI controlled opposing civilizations. Now, in addition to full-blown civs, the computer also controls minor city-states. And these city-states, which are scattered all over the place, constantly send you messages asking for things or complaining. Yet the payoff for allying with a city-state is pretty minor. Wow. Boring.

9. City defenses: Here’s a recurring theme you’ll hear a lot in this review. Civ V simplifies the task of defending cities to the point where there is little thought or strategy involved. Cities automatically defend themselves and the only aspect you can influence is by building a few structures. No keeping troops in a city at all. Bizarre. Boring.

8. City squares: In the old Civ, cities expanded in big chunks at a time when culture points built up to a certain level. This made generating culture points important at the individual city level. In Civ V, cities barely expand at all. Most expansion requires you purchase extra spaces one at a time. This is boring micromanagement (“Hmm, should I pay 60 gold for that grassland space or 120 gold for the one with the hills?”) and takes too long to expand.

7. No more stacking units: In Civ V, only one unit can occupy a space at a time. No more stacks. That’s all well and good until you have a couple of dozen units covering everything on the map and moving all over the place for no reason because you can’t stack them where you want them. And Civ V brings back the odious and annoying “zone of control” that prevents a unit from moving through free spaces next to enemy units. Blech.

6. Wonders diminished: Building famous wonders of the world is one of the most fun parts of playing Civ, no? But in Civ V, not only are there fewer wonders but the unique powers of wonders have been so diminished you’ll wonder about the point of building them. Each wonder is reduced to one incredibly simple power and adds almost nothing in the way of cultural expansion points. And did I mention that cultural points have been reduced to irrelevance?

5. Leaders diminished: As with wonders, the unique abilities of the leaders of each civ have been reduced and there are fewer leaders to choose from. I’ll make this the last point along these lines but will note here that civ-specific buildings and units are also simplified and reduced in importance. Everything is simplified and reduced in importance as far as I can tell.

4. Espionage removed: Want to prepare for a coming war by hassling a foe in secret? Or try to undermine a competitor without resorting to open warfare? What about just getting info on a hostile opponent? Stealing tech? Not in Civ V where the entire spying and espionage system has been removed.

3. Useless graphics: Isn’t it cool to sit around and watch a dozen tiny individual soldiers battle each other in great detail for ever single fight? No? What about upping the computing power required by turning formerly darkened spaces into beautiful, swirling fog covered spaces? No? What a waste.

2. Steam required: You can’t play Civ V without installing Steam, an annoying and persistent online game playing system that crams itself into the plumbing of your Windows installation, pops up annoying messages and adds nothing to the game unless you play over the Internet. In Civ IV, you could choose to use Steam but now it’s mandatory even for those of us who never play over the Internet. Requiring persistent software that gums up Windows and won’t go away? Yuck.

And finally, the #1 reason Civ V is awful: Elimination of religion and general irrelevance of culture. A great addition to Civ IV, probably the best, was introducing religions and using cultural points to regulate border expansion. Religions also played a big role in diplomatic relations and early scientific research. All eliminated. Blech.

Extra bonus reasons why Civ V is awful: loss of control over spending on tech, culture and other priorities. Elimination of trading techs with other civs. Oversimplification of government civics. Allowing military units to cross water without boats. Happiness and health no longer tracked city by city but empire wide — well, health has been eliminated but happiness is empire wide. I could go on and on…

Extra extra bonus: How in the heck did major gaming magazines not pick up on how awful this game is?

Some commenters like the game, as is their right. Please keep comments civil.

  • John ‘Genryu’

    Civ V is basically broken. Fine if you like something dumbed down and pretty but for anyone who likes their strategy gaming to be…strategic – simply awful.

  • John ‘Genryu’

    ” Most reviews disagree with your overall take on the game…” That’s because most reviewers are either trying to keep their advertisers on side or have only played the game for an hour or two before writing their reviews.

  • John ‘Genryu’

    “I would like to mention that alot of people like this game.” A million flies might like a pile of crap too. So what?

  • John ‘Genryu’

    “I would like to mention that many consumers enjoy this game…” I’m not a consumer. I’m a gamer. The difference is important.

  • Devin

    In mine only one Civ is ever left. And yes I realize this is 2 years old, so what?

  • Devin

    Yeah, not objective at all.

  • Devin

    I had a religion…

  • Devin

    The non-stacking troops really does increase the whole strategy aspect, especially on archipelago… I HATE archipelago!

  • Jacques Shellac

    The reviewer identifies specific problems with the game, which are apparently backed up by admissions from the designer. The reviewer also notes that Civ V is the least popular of all the past iterations of Civilization. Cites are provided that reinforce these assertions.

    Pardon. The problem doesn’t seem to be a matter of bad semantics on my part.

  • Dúnadan

    How is 1UPT ‘realistic’? In Panzer General, Maybe, but this is Civilization. The scale is far too large for 1UPT to be anything but ludicrous.

  • Dúnadan

    It makes more strategic sense in a game of this scale than 1UPT.

    If you want 1UPT, play Panzer General. PG’s scale allows for it. Not Civ.

  • Dúnadan

    Explain to me how making the amount of units one can place in a tile completely out of scale with the rest of the game adds ‘immence strategy’.

  • KebertXela

    Well, the Gods and Kings expansion pack made the game much more playable and enjoyable. Read a great review of the Brave New World expansion pack and on my 2nd game with that. Ummmm, no…. this added nothing that improved the game but a few new Civilizations really.

    I agree with the review for the most part with the exception of the fact that I think the special buildings, special units, wonders, and leader are all basically on par with Civ IV. Wonders not so much diminished but conceptually changed.

    I have played every version of Civilization including the Call to Power series. This one is the 3 best of the 4 Sid named versions. Each was different and had their own tedious parts (I could not play Civ 3 late game as supermarkets was ridiculous – as was attempting to deal with unhappiness when in conquering mode). Civ V has its own boring, tedious aspects late game. I don’t like the tech tree nearly as much in this version as past. I hate that Railroad is in the modern era and most games I play I have submarines, airplanes, and artillery before I have rails.

    Pros:

    1. Graphics of course
    2. I like the diminished use of roads and workers endlessly building roads on every tile.
    3. I do like the hexagonal movements
    4. Did not like the lack of the stacking units at first, but actually I think the requires more tactics and strategy for attacks.
    5. City expansion I find more interesting that you are not confines to a 2 block radius. I like having the option of purchasing more territory quickly.
    6. I like that cities can bombard

    Cons:

    1. I miss the Great General which you attach to a unit.
    2. Less diversity in military units
    3. Tech tree not as good
    4. Social policies not as interesting as mix and match Civics. Some social policies are totally pointless.
    5. Espionage not as good.

    6. Diplomacy lacking and no trading of maps or techs.
    7. City states are annoying and pointless. Fairly stupid addition.
    8. Archeology (Brave New World) is another ridiculous and pointless addition – as it tourism which I have no idea what the point of that is.
    9. Great people not quite as good as Civ IV
    10. Yes, I too think the embarking of units and the removal of transports is unrealistic and minimizes tactics
    11. Dislike that garrisoning units is fairly useless in most cases

  • Shane Warne

    I dislike it how you can’t zoom in on cities anymore :-( And previously you could ‘read up’ on the history of each wonder in a tab. It’ll open an entire article, so the older Civs were educational too!

    Civ 5 is still good but I just feel in my personal experience which I noticed the first time I played it is that it feels somewhat simplified and less complex (talking about the civil management and diplomacy side etc). Which allows for a wider audience I guess but it greatly diminishes the longevity. Expansions are a must for this game but that is rather poor, it should have been created to that standard initially from the get-go, without the requirement of expansions.

  • Ryan McGuigan

    I don’t agree with alot of this, I mean, I don’t know how you’re not getting a huge empire with the land gathering mechanic, I very rarely have to buy tiles only when a useful plot is about to be taken by a neighbor, and sticking loads of units in one tile is silly. When I am at war, I have to think about where my units are going, consider what terrain there is, I have to plan very carefully actually when a city is in a very defensible spot! It adds enormous strategy to warfare. And wonders are underpowered? Have you seen the sistine chapel? 25% culture for gods sake! Most of these points are incredibly biased and personal reasons, it’s not reasons why it’s awful, it’s why it’s awful for you. I agree with you on a couple points, like the tough computer requirements, but at least there are a ton of options to tone it down.

    There are ways that the game could be polished and features that it needs from other games, but I still find it a damn enjoyable game.

  • Ryan McGuigan

    Well, gamers are consumers for the gaming market . . .

    That is what he means by consumer, people who buy video games.

  • Paul Denton

    When it takes 6 turns to move a unit from one side of a besieged city to the other — just so it can actually attack – that is not good game design. There are so many “nope, can’t go there” places on the board. Get into the 500 year war to conquer one city because the overpowered city defenses can destroy your one-unit-per-tile one turn at a time. Of course you cannot capture a city without ranged units because the defense is overpowered, and the AI’s overpowered bombardment always knows how to attack and one-hit destroy the one melee unit that you needed to keep adjacent to the city in order to actually capture it, since they arranged that ranged units can’t capture anything. So the siege simply continues and continues. For me that is not good game design, that is simply stupid. Can you overcome that? Yes — but why should you have to? Civ V took a fun game and deleted 90% of the fun out of it.

  • IbbySquared

    Six turns? Don’t know what game you’re playing. Sure it takes a bit longer to move a unit, but that’s how it’s supposed to be; you have to judge the geography around a city and make a plan on where you’re going to move your units, not just throw everything in a mad fit and complain when the city defences/stationed unit make a mess of your clumsy attack.

    The ranged unit thing makes sense, otherwise you’d just spam crossbows and just kick back while you bring it from 100-0 in two turns, where’s the strategy there? The new method teaches you to value the different unit types, forcing you to make decisions. Do you leave your melee units in the back ready to take the city and leave your weaker ranged units open to attacks? Do you use your melee units as meatshields, letting them soak up all the damage while your ranged units bombard the city safe from counter attacks?

    Sieges are supposed to be hard, you’re literally taking away a major part of their civilisation; you’re taking away from them a whole means of production along with the resources and land around it. If you lose all your melee units, its your bad planning which led to the failed attack. You should’ve scouted ahead and gauged their own military strength and decided how you were going to invade and move which units where.

    Just because a game makes you think a bit doesn’t mean it sucks the fun out of it.

  • IbbySquared

    Civ 5 and Civ 4 are different games, it’s not fair of you to expect it to remain the same without any changes but visual.

    Anyone who’s actually taken the time to learn and play the game (how the civ series requires you to), they’d know that what you said comes from a completely ignorant view of the game’s mechanics. Some of what you said is true, but only when you play on the easy levels meant for people to LEARN the game.

    10) “the payoff for allying with a city-state is pretty minor” this is the first thing I read, and i know from here you have no idea of the game mechanics. City-states help you in vital ways where you can’t help yourself; each provides different bonuses and most of them have heavily important resources (strategic or luxury) which you GAIN when you ally with them. City-states basically become a devoted partner when you ally with them; they share all their resources with you (always nice to get 6 iron or dyes, etc) while giving you gold, food, culture or faith (depending on the city) and declaring war on your enemies. They are hugely important when you start playing at anything higher than level 4 difficulty, which you would know if you tried.

    9) Nothing wrong with the defence, don’t know what’s so different. You plant a unit in the base, and it boosts the defence of the city. City gets a bombard attack (basically a stationary unit) which help you fend off anyone attacking. The attack is only so over powered if you’re a whole era in front of other civs, which wouldn’t occur in an average game. It adds a bit of difficulty for the invader because they have to brave a constant barrage of missiles from the city, which forces them to think strategically about where they’re attacking and what they’re attacking with. If the invader puts all his ranged units first, obviously the siege isn’t going to go very well with a whole unit dying from the city bombard + stationed unit per turn.

    8) Civ 5 is different from Civ 4 in this regard; instead of instantly covering as much space as possible as quickly as possible, it snowballs. The culture growth starts off small and before you know it you’ll be covering huge plots of land with your cities. If you actually played on anything higher than difficulty 3, you’d know that its a waste of money spending it on tile purchases where you could just get it when your border expands in 10 turns.

    7) The removal of unit stacking shouldn’t even need to be justified. Where was the strategy in moving 20 units across the same plot? One military unit per tile forces you to think tactically instead of turning it into a muscle contest where the winner is decided by who stacked the most units. Now you actually have to plan ahead instead of throwing them all in one massive single-tile push.

    6) Majority of wonders in the game give huge bonuses which cannot be ignored. For example, Pyramids cut off a full 25% of tile improvement time. That’s a huge number of saved turns where your workers could be improving other tiles Angkor Wat reduces the money and culture cost of purchasing new tiles by 25%. A quarter of the price removed from every purchase, from a wonder. Machu Pichu gives you 25% more gold from trade routes. Did you know that about a quarter of your gold income is from trade routes? Imagine increasing that permanently as long as the wonder remains yours.

    Wonders give you huge bonuses, did you even look over them?

    5) I agree slightly with this, as some leader’s abilities only shine in specific cases. But the thing to remember is that the leader’s powers were made purposely to NOT be game-changing, they give you boosts. That way if another leader can’t utilize their own ability, it won’t damage them too much.

    4) I agree that espionage was always fun in Civ 4, but it’s understandable that they left it out. New game with new features, you can’t be so shocked that they had to trim back some stuff. Also, fair to point out that espionage was introduced as an expansion in Civ 4, it wasn’t brought out in the vanilla version.

    3) Useless graphics? The visual upgrades make the game look amazing, its not so horrible of them to provide better graphics than the previous civ. Also, you can run the game with its new graphics (even on low it looks great) on most – if not all – modern computers. Fair to say that if your computer can’t handle Civ 5 graphics, you’re due for an upgrade because the graphics on every other game are only getting better.

    2) It is a bit of a bother that you have to go through steam, but try to understand that a good majority of computer gamers use steam already for some games, it’s not such a bother as you make it out to be. Besides, having it open through steam allows them to reach more people, more people = more funding for new civ games.
    “crams itself into the plumbing of your Windows installation”, it’s like you know nothing about the program. It’s just like any other, install it and run. There’s no fiddling about. You run it, it updates the game and you’re free to play. Not really a hassle.

    1) Again, like espionage, it was one of those things that helped people learn the game easier without worrying about religious pressures. Imagine how cluttered the game would feel to first-time civ players when they have no idea how to manage or use the religious bonuses.
    And also, like espionage, civ 4 brought it out in an expansion. How many games could you say you’ve truly won/lost due to espionage or religion?

    Most of the critical arguments in your “unbiased review” are spoken from purely ignorance, I UNDERSTAND your frustrations with about three of these reasons and agree with none of them. If you actually had any experience with civ besides a 10 minute test run, you’d know that most of what you said is ridiculous.

  • Luis Arturo Sánchez Gutierrez

    The game was nearly unbearable in it’s vanilla version, yeah. But with it’s expansions, the game was built (with commercial delay) a masterpiece.

    My friend. You seem to be a player with no interest in micromanagement and tactical warfare; likely a lover of massive attacks and major decisions. But alike the others reviewers, I must agree I love this game by the same aspects you blame. I must say I consider this game divides us fans of civilization between the Tabletop gamers and the micro-strategic ones, like myself. (Yeah! A bonus for my Osaka’s culture… SEND those apples there, ’cause I need hammers there!) A jewel nearly anyone should buy within the product’s sale. Also, Steam is wonderful, so I don’t care the second one.

  • David S

    The good:

    Hexes look better than squares. It gives the world a more natural look.

    Cultural expansion by individual tiles is a brilliant concept. (The amount of times I raged when a next door neighbor took all my territory. )

    The bad.

    1upt is a joke. You remember stack move from civ 4. Ever say screw it and move all your units individually. No because that’s a f@#king stupid idea.

    The micromanaging gets worse, all the nifty features from civ 4 that helped with managing huge empires are gone. No governors. No select all cities. Etc etc. (The game also f@! ks you over for having lots of cities. )

    Basically the game is boring. Needlessly. Unless you play on duel.

  • Anthony St Louis

    actually, I have to agree with Kat, just because some people like a little simplicity, doesn’t mean they are dumb, stupid or slow… personally I like Civ V better then my first game made by this developer which was alpha centauri, but that doesn’t mean I hate alpha centauri because it’s more complicated. I do have to say that the stacking thing is a little annoying sometimes…. but I honestly think this review is based a lot on nostalgia goggles… which really drives me nuts because some people hate certain games simply because it’s “not like the original”….. of course it’s not like the original! it’s a different game XD

  • Annonym theSoviet

    “Well, gamers are consumers for the gaming market . . .”

    Not unless you pirate them ;)

  • Annonym theSoviet

    Stannis baratheon lost the siege of King’s Landing with his 100k+ army. But if he split that army into groups of 1000 soldiers all over westeros, not only would he lose his army, but he would also lose Dragonstone.

  • Troy Mooney

    In my honest opinion, culture as it is now, is horrible for balance, it breaks it completely in many ways. The most cultural player will usually win 95% of the time. Religion breaks it even further, though it’s not as awful, IF you get one, which it’s entirely possible to not get a religion… regardless of how arbitrary and dumb that really is.

    As someone who could beat Deity in Civ 3, when these pointless systems weren’t a thing and border expansion made sense and didn’t have a game-breaking system added onto it, I’m the bottomfeeder of my group ALWAYS in multiplayer.

    My friends always go heavily for culture and religion, and as such they gain a collossal lead on me, even if I’ve got more cities than them for the whole game.

    IF you ripped the bonuses from either system, the game wouldn’t actually really be broken balance-wise as it is now, and for a game that’s about balance (all strategy games are) taking those out actually ends up making it more fun, since everyone’s on an equal playing field… rather than everyone being on an equal playing field, except for aggressive Montezuma, the Celts, and other civs whom either have a great power, or a power that focuses culture or religion in some way, making them a great power.

    Also Happiness is completely arbitrary, the only reason It’s handled on an empire-wide basis is because Firaxis wanted to cap player city growth and expansion by adding that stupid system like how they did. Before? It was on a city-to-city basis. The capital usually never had happiness problems, other cities would, depending on their position relative to the capital’s position, but now, you need to have two happiness buildings per city in order to really keep in the green, where if your tax rate was spent on entertainment for the most part, and only one happiness building was in outlying cities… you were fine for happiness, sometimes your cities were entirely happy.

    Don’t even get me started on the inclusion of resources, but then the exclusion of super tiles like shield grasslands, or the more obvious ones, but those were entirely the fault of Civ 3. Prevented people from making literal SuperCities, which had wicked good positioning to make, a production Super City, could make a wonder in less than 5 turns if you had a production focus in it, and the needed buildings, but you’d get pollution near there the most.

    Why not allow Super cities to exist? You CANNOT make alot of them. They require pixel perfect placement for the most part (to allow you to develop the super tiles to make them truly shine). It causes you to make many outlying cities which aren’t close together, you ended up having happiness and also security problems since other cities would end up trying to take your city which has hogged every wonder in the game, or the city that is the reason you’ve gotten to the final research, the points research before people have gotten space flight. Or even maybe the city that is why you have an income of literally 100 gold per turn. The city that’s got all your military supported by it due to having a massive food production? People take that out, and your military will end up draining you dry for food and money.

  • alandente

    As someone who has played every game from Civ2 onwards to death, I have to say that I totally agree with this article.

    My first thought when playing Civ5 was ‘Why the hell did they take away that awesome religious element from Civ4??!!’. My second thought was ‘Oh cool, city states… there’s some obvious interesting tactical stuff behind this… oh wait. Oh my God, why?!’.

  • Lucas Chu

    BNW fixes issue 1,4 and 5

  • Paul Denton

    So, you’re saying that Civ I, II, III, and IV didn’t make you think??? Never had a problem with any of them. Did I leave my melee units in the back, ready to take the city? Yeah, tried that — except that the dumb game design wouldn’t let them move through the ranged units, resulting in six more turns while the computer puts them on boats and circles the peninsula. So, I moved them to the front — where the city defenses killed them. Inability to stack or to move through units is just dumb game design. The ability to instantly have units move into water whether you actually wanted that or not is simply lazy design. Most games of this genre require you to build transports, which may be inconvenient but it’s both realistic and YOU control when your units go out to sea. Sorry, but I’ll stick with my opinion that they sucked the fun out of this game.

  • John

    Every new wave of game designer knows better than the guys before them. Something you guys forget is the general public doesn’t like change for the sake of change, and familiarity is very important for a game feeling like an extension not an aberration of its roots. I hate civ 5. I would rather go back and play no graphics moo, mom and civ 1 over this no detail heap.

  • YoonYoungJo

    It’s a CIVILIZATION skill game. Not an army units Panzar General war general strategy game.

    Civilization is supposed to be what the name means. It’s a game of skill on making civilization level decisions.

    NOT army level decisions. Not being a major or corporal making battlefield decisions. It’s about making decisions and choices that effect a bigger picture for an entire Civilization.

    That’s why it’s called Civilization and NOT Army battler. Or The General.

  • ChewChewTrain

    I lost ALL respect for Civ5 with the new, illogical, one unit per tile rule. If the game is meant to mimic reality, then why can’t multiple military units operate in one city tile to defend it? This doesn’t make sense.

  • Jessica Lindsay

    I know this was a couple years ago, but I’m just going to throw this out there:
    I’m really bad at video games and I haven’t had ANY of the problems you describe. All it takes is the most basic level of critical thinking – seriously, if you suck this bad at the game I feel sorry for you.
    There’s a difference between simply making the game HARDER (which is what you’re complaining about here, because again, it stops being “bad game design” if you put even the smallest amount of thought into what you’re doing instead of just spamming units) and messing it up. There’s nothing wrong with making it so you have to actually move units as you would in real life. In real life, it takes time to get to the battlefield. There’s nothing wrong with forcing you to space units in a more realistic way, so you can’t just squeeze seven onto one tile. That isn’t a strategy, that’s just taking advantage of the previous game design so you don’t have to think. There’s nothing wrong with not being able to capture cities with ranged units (otherwise, as Ibby said, you would just spam ranged units which again, isn’t a strategy so much as breaking the game) and there is nothing wrong with the city defence. I just took out four enemy cities in half an hour.

    Honestly it just sounds from this as if the reason you were complaining is that you don’t actually like strategy games. You like the process of crushing everything with little to no resistance. Civ 5 is not meant to be like that. It’s meant to be a strategy game you have to put actual thought into. It’s not the devs’ fault you can’t handle that.

  • Jessica Lindsay

    “The dumb game design wouldn’t let them move through the ranged units, resulting in six more turns”:

    Yes. That’s why you MOVE the ranged unit first. Two turns. Easy. Or better still, surround the city with both ranged AND melee units. That way they automatically capture the city. ONE turn. I have yet to find a map where you cannot do either of these things. Why were you doing it the hardest way possible?

    Also you realise the instant embark only happens when you unlock the tech for it, and that it’s designed to help with the very issue you complained about in terms of units taking too long to get places? I think you just don’t understand the way the pathing works.

  • Jessica Lindsay

    That awkward moment when you didn’t understand the word “consumer”. By being a gamer, you literally ARE a consumer. That is, unless you steal every game you play, which is not only illegal but contributes to the destruction of gaming as a whole.