I picked up Civ V as a Steam special, which is still going on this weekend– $12.50, so grab it if you haven’t yet.

My initial reactions are mostly negative, though take this with a helping of salt: there may be only so much Civ a man can play, and I spent most of that on Civ2 and 3.  So it may be that there’s just too little to rekindle the affair than that it’s actually subpar.  (Plus, so many things have changed that it feels like a slog to re-learn the tech tree or learn what the best units or buildings or civs are.)

To start with the positives, it’s more gorgeous than ever, city states are a great addition, I love the city itself having ranged attacks, and so far I haven’t seen any of the morasses that could plague 3 and 4.  Maybe that’s just because I’m playing at a low level, but I haven’t seen anything like the money gap that can ruin a game of Civ4, or the popular dissatisfaction that made waging war difficult in Civ3.

It’s cute that the leaders speak in their own languages.

On the neutral side: hexes.  I barely notice them and can’t say they improve or don’t improve the game.

The biggest negative is that the game feels like it’s pushing you to have no more than a handful of cities.  There just wasn’t room for more than four in my section of the map.  Which would be OK if the game was scaled accordingly, but it still seems designed for huge empires.  E.g, in one of those four cities, I was looking at production times of 33 turns for a swordsman, 30+ turns for any building.  My capital is better, but the end result is that it takes forever to research anything or to build up an army.

Napoleon declared war on me twice; fortunately he was easy to send off.  But the one offensive war I tried was a fiasco.  I got rid of the enemy’s units, but also lost almost my entire army– I think I had one troop left, plus a Great General.  Neither of us could go anywhere.  The lesson I learned was that half a dozen units weren’t enough– but remember it takes dozens of turns to build up even that far.  How many would I need to actually get at his cities?  And this is playing on an easy level.

Recent Civs have seemed to play down militarism more and more, making a game for people who want to handcraft a lovely little civilization and win while never fighting a war.  But frankly I find that dull… a few space races are enough.  I like building up an empire in order to fight a war, and if I can’t do that very easily, it just isn’t that compelling.   

I think the UI has gone downhill.  It’s spare and dramatic, but it’s hard to get a sense of what’s going on.  I had no idea, for instance, whether my cities are happy or not, or how to automate a worker, or what the tech tree looks like.  I’m sure all that is in there somewhere, but it’s not as obvious.  Many things were nicely presented in Civ4 that take additional keystrokes to find or show now, such as which leaders want to trade luxuries; along the same lines, when you research a tech, you have to click again to choose the next one to research. 

Minor gruntles:

  • It takes forever to be able to use the ocean.  (In Civ2 I’d be exploring the seacoasts via trireme for half the game.) 
  • Repetitive useless voice-overs: “You may find this information useful.”
  • The tiny units.  I liked the three-unit dudes from Civ4.  The units are now so multiple and small that you can barely see what they are, and you can’t zoom in as far. 
  • Why do they implement Steam achievements, but break Steam screenshots? 
  • Wonder pictures are just not as good as Wonder movies.
  • Dumb unit promotions, seemingly limited to terrain adaptation. 

I was afraid that this version would be a huge time sink, but it’s looking like that’s not going to be a problem.  I’ll probably fire it up again and try to take out Napoleon, now that I know he has only two cities.