Atomp Reviews: Civilization V: A Brave New World [Firaxis Games]

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Tom Hooper aka Atomp

My first delve into the world of Civilization was the spinoff Call to Power 2 which was brilliant.  However, I then ventured back into the Sid Meier fold with Civilization 3, Alpha Centauri, Civilization IV and finally Civilization V. The Civilization series is a turn-based grand strategy game series based around the control of a Civilization through an alternate history, normally significantly different to real world history. In this sense it departs from the likes of other grand-strategies which are generally far more rooted (at least initially) in real world history and geography.

Despite this, I immensely enjoy every Civilization I’ve played in the past.  When Civ V came out it mixed up many of the traditional tropes of the Civilization series. I wouldn’t say that it was the changes that made Civ V a problem.  Instead it would be what they took out.  Firaxis had spent years patching complexity and depth into Civ IV through paid expansion packs, and suddenly with the release of Civ V much of that complexity is gone again. This is potentially my biggest gripe with how the Civilization release cycle works.  The games are released functional but lacking compared to their predecessors and then are brought up to comparable depth and complexity through paid expansion packs. The approach really encourages waiting for a few years before upgrading Civilization versions, which is essentially what I ended up doing–shunning Civ V as my go-to-Civ until the Brave New World expansion and a deep discount sale. This tactic also works out more economically, as there is normally a better deal to be had on the whole package or in sales compared to buying each expansion on release. This review, whilst being a review of the Brave New World expansion, is as much a review of Civ V at the patched up point it has reached with said expansion. As I’ve said, the game is incomplete without the expansions, which may as well be patches to bring the game in line with its predecessor.

The most visually obvious change is the move from a tile-based map to a hex-based map which alters the dynamics of unit movement somewhat. This change is coupled with one of my least favourite changes in Civ V, the non-stacking unit. In an attempt to counter the apparent problem of death-stacks in the likes of Civ IV, and make the combat more tactical, the game designers decided that it was a good idea to make units non-stackable. This would be a great idea if it weren’t for the weirdness of scale that it introduces; a hex capable of holding a city of millions cannot field both a unit of archers and a unit of warriors simultaneously.  This change may have been made with the best intentions but in the end it produces horrible situations of unit-Tetris or one of those tile sliding games where you must complete the picture. Eventually, it’s possible to adapt to the new movement mechanics, however I wouldn’t ever describe them as being very good, perhaps only tolerable. This tactical combat may have worked better had the restrictions been introduced in a zoomed in hex-grid combat mode or something of the sort, but as it is the idea means that whilst combat can be mildly entertaining it has frustrating moments where you’re fighting the map as much as the enemy.

Beyond this, many of the traditional elements of the Civilization franchise are present and correct. City management is much the same as in previous iterations and the worker/improvement foundations have been polished rather nicely to produce a system that is actually better than Civ IV. Diplomacy, trade, research and empire management have seen improvements compared to previous iterations as well. It’s fair to say that in many respects Civ V is an improvement over IV, hence why I have moved over to it. A Brave New world expanded the game’s cultural elements, allowing for cultural influence and tourism which in turn can be used offensively and defensively. This was a much needed addition to the base game and expands upon the foundations laid down by Civ IV in the same area, again patching in old features through paid expansions. The interface is also worth mentioning when discussing how Civ V stacks up against its predecessors; it hides a great deal more. The same information is available as before but it’s tucked away in little nooks and crannies in order to clean up the main screen, which I admit does create a nice clean look but also appears to simplify the game somewhat. This is probably going to be the first foul cry of a long serving Civilization veteran; Civ V feels dumbed-down. With the hidden information, clean/empty main display and a tendency to default in the direction of automation, Civ V does feel more accessible/dumbed down depending on who you ask.  To be fair it seems to have worked in ensuring popular support for Civ V. The game is consistently in the top 10 most played Steam games if not the top 5. Personally, I found that much like the combat it was something that grows on you over time.

Aesthetically, Civ V has made massive strides over its predecessors. It continues to look good, having barely aged since initial release. Model, texture, animation and interface quality shows a significant polish as this is clearly their expansion platform for the foreseeable future. The sound and music are, as ever for Civ, fantastic with fitting pieces playing per time period. Personally, I wouldn’t mind if they did a bit of a Skyrim and brought back some of the more memorable tracks from past titles and snuck them in there for effect. The graphical effects may hinder what exactly can run Civ V, though.  I have briefly tried to get it running on my Thinkpad T61 (toaster simulator; still great though) to no immediate success but I’m fairly sure with tweaking it would be plausible. On reasonable hardware, the game will run sweet as a nut and if not then the graphics options are very configurable. Compatibility is Windows and Mac with rumours of a Linux port in the works.

Now we come to the delicate matter of pricing which is absolutely something I’m more than a little skeptical over. I’m using Steam for pricing at this moment; the base game will cost £19.99 (approx $33.13); the Gold Edition with the base game, random meh DLC and the first expansion is £29.99 (approx $49.63) both of which would then require A Brave New World as a separate purchase at £19.99 (approx $33.13). So really the only way to get the game fully patched is to fork out £49.98 (approx $82.84) for the Gold Edition and A Brave New World. That is a horrific amount of money, so I’d actually recommend staying the hell away from Civ V until it’s on sale. This is the problem with this expansion model of patching a game, especially unpleasant when the expansions each cost as much as the base game does now.  For what improvements they made in Civ V and how fun it can occasionally be, the irritating little niggling things will come to foreground very very quickly when you’ve allotted a £50 void in your bank account for the privilege. If you have Civ IV and you enjoy it, then play that until Civ V hits a sale.  I cannot in good conscience recommend Civ V at its current price.

Steam Page Detailing Packages:

Gold Edition Steam Page:

A Brave New World Steam Page:

Complete Bundle with both Expansions on Green Man Gaming:

Gold Edition Gamersgate Page:

A Brave New World Gamersgate Page:

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