(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.