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Civilization 5 Preview

April 3rd, 2010 by Troy Goodfellow · 18 Comments · Firaxis, Gameshark, Preview

PAX East came right on the heels of the Game Developers’ Conference, so the presentation that I was treated to was very much like the one that GDC attendees saw. There is nothing in my preview that you haven’t read somewhere else.

Actually, that’s not entirely true.

It’s amazing what little things games journalists miss. Assuming that my group wasn’t the first to see the combat model in action, why am I the only one (that I know of) that noticed the use of flanking bonuses in the battle calculations? With a single unit per hex, maybe people assumed this would be the case. But Civ has never had this sort of thing and it’s worth mentioning since it reflects the Shafer approach to war.

Most reports on the leaders of Civ 5 have also mentioned Julius Caesar, but he’s not the Roman leader – Augustus is. This might seem like a small thing, but considering that other early reports mentioned Stalin (who is also not in the game) I wonder what people are seeing when they get previews. Given all the animations required for the leaders in this game, I doubt they are swapping names in and out at this stage.

Not in the preview, since I didn’t know what to write about it, is a curious happy face icon in the upper left. Is this a global happiness thing for your empire? Is this being taken out of the cities? No idea.

This is, by the way, typical of how I approach preview presentations when I don’t get a hands on demo. Once it becomes clear that the amount of new information will be sparse, I scan the menus and images and look for things the presenters aren’t talking about.

The big problem with a presentation like this is that it is a feature list. Better diplomacy! Bismarck! Hexes! Battles! Civ, however, is a system. No preview presentation can really capture how the whole package fits together. At its best, Civilization is a bunch of things interacting with other things, creating an impression of coherence. It’s great to ooh and ahh over the maps – and they look amazing – but I still don’t have a clear idea of how everything works.

We know that armies will be smaller and that outproducing in the arms race will be less important than sound tactics. But what does this mean for production in general? Culture expands more slowly and deliberately, but you can buy up land, too. So where does wealth fit in? Is it now more useful to turn a profit than a small deficit? You can sign research pacts with other leaders but how is the bonus compared to libraries? What’s the penalty?

I am excited about the possibilities here. Civ 5 seems to be as big a departure from 4 as that was from 3. But even after seeing some of it, I have more questions than clues.


18 Comments so far ↓

  • M.S. Smith

    Civ 5 looks a lot more like a wargame to me. I’m not quite sure what to make of that. I kind of like the idea, but it would be a drastic departure.

  • Alex

    I’m really happy with what I am reading in the previews I have seen. Better and moremrealistic combat is a dream for me, and I can only Imagine the mod possibilities with this new battle system. With modern day war games being low budget and made for the gronards, this game has me hyped a huge amount.

  • Noah

    From what I’ve been reading of Civ V it does look like it will be featuring more war game -like components, which has me very excited. I’ve always liked Civ, but have felt that it’d be that much better if the military model was more involved.
    If V can bring in a more robust war system while still maintaining the strong, dynamic empire-building base then this could be The Game for me.

  • Troy

    Jon Shafer is a big Panzer General fan, and he cites it as a design inspiration. They are also dramatically changing the naval warfare system, as I note in the preview at Gameshark.

    But this is still a Civilization game. There will be more wargame stuff, but not so much that it drowns out or takes prominence over the other systems. Some beer and pretzel combat that requires more thinking than stacks of doom, but with much smaller armies than Civ players are used to.

  • Andrew Doull

    No comments by anyone on how the new Civ game has been inspired by many of the improvements made in Civ Revolution?

    I may be in the minority here, but imho Civ Rev contains very deep unit balance whereas I find Civ IV unplayable.

  • Troy

    Not sure I see too much overlap between Civ Rev and Civ 5 beyond the cleaner interface. Civ Rev has a diplomatic system that is largely war/peace, is also all about conquering cities, has a very streamlined tech tree…Civ Rev is, in many ways, a throwback to the original Civ.

    Could you elaborate Andrew?

  • JonathanStrange

    I’ve been a big fan of the Civ series for years. As much as I love Civ 4, I have to admit I’m getting a bit tired of the whole thing. Even with the mods, Civ 4’s excellence has grown stale for me.

    So I look forward to a change in Civ V. Not the “streamlined” Civ Rev – which bored me rapidly and which I felt was a step backwards (though, such is the strength of Civ games, still playable) but something more.

    A fanatic such as I should be more concerned about those details mentioned by Troy but I’m not. I love this series but if it doesn’t take chances and make enough changes, it’ll become a game that I reminisce about but no longer actually play. There’s always the old Civs if I need to have my 4x fix.

  • Andrew Doull

    Hi Troy – I’ve written more about Civ IV vs Civ Rev at http://roguelikedeveloper.blogspot.com/2009/09/iv-revolution_21.html – perhaps coming to the series with Civ Rev first, makes me less willing to put up with the peculiarities of the Civ IV interface and obtuseness of some of the design.

  • WCG

    Civ II is still my all-time favorite. I disliked Civ III (mostly because the borders idea didn’t really work, I think). Civ IV was much better, but… I just couldn’t get excited about it. Well, I’d played Civ II for years and years, so maybe I’d just had enough Civilization (hard as that is for me to say).

    For me, the wargame component of Civilization is the least interesting part of the game. It’s absolutely necessary – I never did like SimCity – but it’s not why I played the game over and over again. It’s the building components that are so great (and it’s the workers – the engineers – that are my favorite units).

    So it sounds like Civ V might be going in the wrong direction for me. I loved the original Master of Orion, too, at least partly because of the building components. MOO 2 and 3 were very disappointing. The trend seems to be away from the kinds of games I like. Well, there’s always Dwarf Fortress, I guess.

  • Joseph Crook

    I would be lying if I said I wasn’t absolutely stoked about Civ V. Unlike the gentleman above me I actually loved MOO 2 (Disappointing?!? how?!? what?!?), and have a different take on the new combat/hex system. In my opinion movement, and combat ( The “Wargame Component”)were always the weakest part of CIV, hence less interesting, and I feel it is great they are giving this aspect a revision. It will of course keep the empire building (“Building Components”) aspect, which is still the MAIN FOCUS and always will be, it’s just that they are giving much needed attention to the combat system. Also, if I am not mistaken, and please someone correct me if I am, hexes do not complicate movement and combat much more than tiles, but the idea is for greater range of movement and better facing. Also hexes will fix the coastline and other terrain problems past iterations had. I can understand how people balk at the thought of hexes, because of complex wargames that used them in the past, but I assure you it is how the hexes are used, not the hexes themselves. BTW, Thanks for the update Troy. Cheers!

  • Quinten

    I always wanted tactical battles in Civ, but I agreed with what was said in an early episode about why they wouldn’t work: the game is about controlling tiles, and a separate tactical engine wouldn’t make sense in that context. I think this is a great way to give Civ tactical combat, but still be a Civ game and not the god awful Call to Power.

    I am more excited for Civ 5 than I was for Civ 4. I love 4, but the combat always made me yell at my computer when it was illogical. Hopefully 5 will be better on that end.

  • Alan Au

    I have put more than my fair share of hours into Civ and Civ 2 (but really, who hasn’t?). Civ 3 got some playtime due to the excellent Conquests expansion, despite the flawed core design. I haven’t played CivRev, but my understanding is that it’s Civ-Lite, and that I would probably find it too simplistic after having explored the rich complexities of Civ 4.

    As for Civ 4, I think I’ve hit the peak of the Chick parabola. That is, I’ve reached a point where there are “preferred” strategies, at least if I want to survive beyond the middle ages at the higher difficulty levels. I still consider it a classic, but I feel like I’ve reached the limit of what it has to offer.

    I’m excited about Civ 5 because I think the military aspect is one area where Civ has traditionally been weak. In particular, I’m hoping the new system places more emphasis on strategy and less on numerical superiority.

  • Joseph Crook

    My thoughts exactly Alan. Very well put. Nice “Chick Parabola” reference. I can imagine the game does lose its luster if you know every possible preferred/successful strategy, but I guess we can still look back to when the game was still shiny, new, and mysterious to us. And I wholeheartedly agree that it should be more strategy based than numerical superiority based, although a medieval archer should still not be able to shoot down a helicopter etc. etc.. I don’t know how they would/will fix that, but it has always been a minor quibble of mine, and I will not miss is when it’s gone. And as for Civ Rev I would not reccomend it to a hardcore civ player of course, but it is a great way to ease people into the series that have not tried it before. You know, like that stubborn girlfriend who thinks games are for losers. Next thing you know, she’s hooked on Peggle and Civ Rev. But yeah, totally in agreement with ya Alan.

  • Jason Innes

    Thanks for the additional info, Troy! Regarding the flanking bonuses, though, I think you can’t assume they will be in the final. I also saw the Civ 5 presentation (on Sunday) and in my session someone noticed a different detail in the battle calculations: a “Fear” number. The person who noticed it asked about it, and the presenter said that “Fear” was an experimental factor (morale-related, I assume) that was being tested but was likely not going to be in the final game. So although I agree that flanking bonuses would be a great addition to the more tactical-seeming Civ 5 combat model, I don’t think their presence in the demo code means they’re definitely in.

  • Primemover

    This should be a great change for the Civ series. I loved the everything about Civ IV…except when it came to combat. The combat was so loathsome, as you had little control over the outcome (I felt like it was so random and the AI just arbitrarily decided whether it would win or you would win a given battle). The game would always go downhill for me once combat on a frequent basis was needed. This new system sounds like it is going to put an already great game design over the top!

  • Steve

    I still enjoy civ 4 after all the years, and just when I was wondering how they could possibly top it, it sounds like they are. I told myself before if I ever had the time I’d make a civ 4 mod with panzer general style (best beer & pretzels wargame ever) combat rules.

    Lo and behold, great minds think alike! I think it will be a hit, but some arent going to like the greater emphasis on tactics. Too bad for them I say!

  • Nicholas Tam

    On one hand, I’m very excited about the military side of the game putting an emphasis back on map control rather than stacks of doom. I think we already saw the seeds of this with the fortress improvements and naval blockading system in Civ IV: BtS, and it’s going to be interesting to see how things pan out with Shafer redoing the combat system from scratch.

    On the other hand, I’ve never been a very militaristic player, and one thing that we’ve seen very little of in these previews so far is the research and building game. I’d far prefer a tech tree with multiple tangled pathways like in Civ IV over the streamlining of Civ Rev. The Diplomatic Victory has also been a weakness in the Civ series relative to the other victory conditions, and the late-game role of the UN is something that I never felt caught up to the depth of the Planetary Council in SMAC.

    In any case, the changes to territory, resource control, and city defence have me looking forward to figuring out how One City Challenge is going to work in this version; I think it’s going to require a drastic rethinking in strategy from the approaches that worked in the previous titles.

  • Kremmen

    I must be in the minority. I played Civ 2 and Civ 3 to bits and loved both of them. I got Civ 4 as a matter of course and I hated it. I just couldn’t get to grips with it.
    So, am I going to like Civ 5 ?