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First Impressions of Civilization V from E3 2010

Releasing a new Civilization game is a lot like releasing a new Ford Mustang. No matter what you do, legions of cranky fan boys in love with the old ones are going to complain.

Much as Ford has learned to update its flagship muscle car without erasing the past and agitating silver-haired devotees, Civilization V will attempt to appease the core of the Civilization experience while improving the looks and attempting to make it more accessible to the common gamer.

Goodbye, Grid

The biggest news, as 2K’s original press release foretold, will be the switch to hex tiles, rather than square ones. While seemingly trivial on the surface, the switch will make movement more equitable, and eliminates ambiguity in certain situations, like whether two landlocked tiles of water diagonal from each other are connected.

What Civilization fans refer to as “the stack of doom” – piling dozens of units onto the same tile before an assault – will also disappear. Now, only one type of unit can occupy one type of tile. To compensate, ranged units can now fire across multiple tiles, opening a single tile, like a city, to incoming attacks from all around it, not just adjacent tiles.

Spit Shine on the World

Graphics have never been the main selling point for Civilization, but being the first refresh since 2006, there’s no doubt that Civilization V brings a whole new level of beauty to the world, with rich 3D terrain, glittering oceans, and ultra-detailed units. Hex tiles, besides their practical applications, also break terrain into more organic shapes, and the level of detail has increased as well. While a unit of warriors used to get just one icon in earlier games, then a handful of soldiers standing on a tile by Civilzation IV, the latest one introduces about 10, who will engage in simulated warfare and see their numbers dwindle when parties clash.

Don’t Bother Me

One of the most promising new features for fans who have flirted with Civilization, but been turned away by the complexity, will be new levels of automation that simplify the game for players who don’t want to spend all their time micromanaging cities. For instance, selecting a goal on the tech tree, like gunpowder, will automatically get your scientists to work studying all the prerequisites for it, until it’s finished. Similarly, you can tell a city to focus on one type of production, like gold, and the game will intelligently manage tile use to maximize profit. To appease hardcore players, it’s still strictly optional, and even after choosing an automated option, you can go in and fine tune to your own liking.

Social Policy

Not at all aspects of society can be broken down into gold, inventions and wonders of the world. Civilization V recognizes another previously undefined X factor with “social policies.” You can now buy social policies such as freedom, honor, piety or rationalism for a civilization, with culture as a currency. Each will come with its own benefits. Aristocracy, for instance, helps with building wonders.

Final Impressions

We could have predicted the next dozen Civilization games would layer on complexity and better graphics, but we’re most pleased to see that 2K has still taken into account the needs of the casual player with optional automation. Between the beautiful new environs and this (optionally) simplified play, even those without dog-eared manuals and stockpiled Red Bull should be able to enjoy the latest spin on one of the best turn-based strategy games ever designed.

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