I have been a Civilization diehard fanboy since Civ2. I played Civ1, but I just couldn’t handle how nasty it looked. Civ2 was the first to be accessible enough to keep me entertained, and boy did it. Since my discovery of Civ2, I probably logged two full years of gameplay between Civ2, 3 and 4 and I loved them all. I am telling you this to demonstrate how much I wanted to love Civ5.
I have been eagerly waiting for the game’s release since I heard rumors of it’s development. Then it was released for PC and not for Mac and I was devastated, I waiting even longer for it to finally be released for Mac. Now I have it, and I played it, and I tried my best to love it, but the game let me down in every respect. All the innovations are let downs, some positive changes that were made in Civ4 (for the better) were reversed, the tactical AI is about ten steps back. It’s hard to believe the game was even released this bad. I don’t want to be vague. Let’s sink our teeth in to the details of how horrible the game design and programming really is.
It’s generally good game design to reward players for playing well. You tell a player to do something, and if that player does it he should reap rewards. If he does it well he should be rewarded more. These rewards should be the what drives the game, they are there to encourage the player to continue. Civilization 5 seems to take the opposite policy. It puts forth obstacles, and then punishes you for overcoming them. Also all of the things you enjoyed about civilization games before you no longer get to enjoy here. Lets look at the things that used to be fun, and I will explain why they are not fun in this game.
Prospecting and Exploring for New City Locations
It used to be fun to explore your surroundings and find juicy city locations. Then you need to race all your neighbors to those locations to grab them up as fast as you can. Well those days are gone. There are no juicy city locations in this game. You want to build your cities near luxury resources because they help generate happiness to your empire, but they hardly do anything for the actual city. Remember in Civilization 4 if you started with gems in your home town the huge smile that would creep across your face? Putting a mine on gems would give you a hammer and five gold turing that hill into a powerhouse tile! Well gems in Civ5 with a mine on them generate… I don’t even know something like four gold? Nothing to write home about. You can build cities pretty much anywhere and they will be about the same. Even things like cows or wheat which used to be spectacular tiles are just “meh” in Civ5.
Building New Cities
Building cities sucks. When you build a city you suffer several hinderances. The amount of happiness needed to enter a golden age increases meaning it takes longer between golden ages. The amount of culture needed to adopt a cultural policy increases. Your happiness decreases by two, and an additional one for each population the city births. Also there are wonders called National Wonders which are kinda like super buildings, like a super library, or super barracks. To build these wonders you need to build a barrack in every city. So the more cities you have the more buildings you need to make. Some of the time these buildings will be totally useless, but they will still cost you upkeep! So building more cities requires you to build more of these dumb buildings in order to make national wonders. I bet you can’t wait to get started! Of course a city is an investment and eventually (and I mean WAY down the road) a city will actually bring a return on all of those things it originally hinders. In the early game you only have one option for happiness, and that is luxuries. If you are fortunate enough to start next to luxuries then you can expand to four or even five cities before suffering. Later once your cities have any kind of production power, when you aren’t to busy building a military units or a wonders, you can build happiness buildings. But they will probably take 20+ turns to build. With each new city you are going to have to build a colosseum in it eventually, and it’s going to take way too long.
Improving Existing Cities
So building cities sucks, maybe it’s fun to grow existing cities? Not really. Your cities make such a pathetic number of hammers that it always takes forever to build anything. All the buildings scale with your production too, so it never seems to get any better. Gone are the days when you can spit out tanks each turn out of your powerhouse cities. As a matter of fact powerhouse cities are gone altogether. You can no longer specialize your cities, you simply have a city that has terrible production or a city that has average production, like I said there is nothing to get excited about. Let me also add how painfully slow city growth is. It takes ages to make a city large, and as city grows it generates more unhappiness for you to deal with (although this is typical of civilizations games so it’s a minor complaint) but doesn’t really give much back because of the sad tile yields.
Building tile improvements is mind numbing. You can build four: mine, farm, lumber mill and trade post. A mine adds one hammer, a farm one food, a mill one hammer and a trade post adds two gold. That’s it. Everything just adds one. Sure you can build stables, vineyards and quarries on whatever resource requires them, but they aren’t any better than a farm or a mine. For the first time, there isn’t really a reason not to automate your workers. You make no choices in how to develop your tiles (other than order of course) build a mine on all hills, farm on all river grasslands, and trade posts anytime you don’t know what to do. Or you can just build trade posts I guess.
I guess the Fraxis team decided that roads where overpowered in every previous Civ game and decided to make them worse. Now every tile of road costs you one gold per turn. That as much as some buildings cost. You better really think hard before making any roads because they are going to cost you for the rest of the game. When you connect two cities with a road you get trade route money which makes up for the cost of the roads I guess, but you can’t just put roads on everything like you used to. This took me a long time to get accustomed to, but then I thought “Well this isn’t so bad.” Later I realized how bad it was. Because of the new one unit per tile system moving and positioning an army is more important than ever. Without a road on every tile your army is doomed to getting clogged up and out of position. Which actually hurts you a bunch when you are on the defense. The person attacking you will probably already be organized outside your border. The defender now can’t get into a defensive stance because he only has one road and eight units. Where roads really overpowered? Do I really need to be punished for making lots of roads? Why don’t mines or farms cost money if roads do? You no longer need to build roads all over the place, so before you know it your workers all have nothing to do. Might as well use them to bait terrible AI moves in combat
Oh boy, let’s talk about the combat AI. The AI in this game is so bad, I feel like declaring war is an exploit. It is common to win wars with a handful of units, taking city after city with the same two siege units and swordsmen while reaching a kill-death spread of 10:1. The AI doesn’t hide it’s workers during war time, letting you poach a whole army of works that don’t even have anything to do. They will walk a unit right in front of your army, where there is a 100% chance he will die next turn, just to take one of your workers, and they wont even disband it before letting you take it back. If an AI is overseas there is absolutely nothing they can do to hurt you. The worst they can do is pillage some of your fishing boats and that is if you have no navy. It has no idea how to use siege, or deal with siege. It will consistently make the worst choice out of all possible choices. Clearly it’s a joke. It’s just like they forgot to program it. On higher difficulties the AI makes up for it’s terrible tactics by having 6x the units it should have, which is a pretty sloppy fix. It is a real shame too. I was very excited for tactical combat. For really planning out my moves and having a good time fighting. They just released the worst AI I have ever seen in a game. I can’t even beat chessmaster on the easiest level, and I can hold off an entire French invasion with two frigates and a cannon. Then when it comes to making peace the AI doesn’t make any sense. Sometimes I will join in on a war, and not fight a single battle, and the AI will offer me a peace treaty that involves them giving me all of their gold and three of their cities. Other times when I destroy all but two cities, and have a massive army knocking on the door step the refuse to give me even 30 gold with a peace treaty, preferring instead to just be captured.
When you capture an enemy city. You are given four horrible options: raze, puppet, annex and liberate. You have to choose one. Liberating a city means you capture a city that was originally someone else’s (Japan’s city that was captured by England for example) and you give it back to them (back to Japan.) This gives you a reputation boost with that civilization, and grants them the city. This is rarely useful for when you either really don’t want the city, or really need a rep boost with someone. Raze means you burn the city down, and you do not get to keep it. During the burning process the city contributes five unhappiness to your empire for your trouble. Annexing a city means you take control of the city and suffer all the awesome punishments of taking on a new city to your golden age timer, your culture policy timer, you now need to build more buildings to make national wonders, and on top of all that you take five unhappiness. This unhappiness can only be dispelled by build a courthouse, a special building that takes forever to build and spitefully cannot be rushed. Pretty much, it sucks annexing cities even more than it sucks to build cities.
The third, and clearly the best, option is called create puppet state. Which is my most hated feature of this horrible game. You take over the city, and only suffer two unhappiness and it doesn’t carry any of the other disadvantages of owning a city. The trade off is you don’t get to control this city. It will be controlled by a governor and build only non-military, non-wonder structures. That’s it. It is awesome. You get a city that will make you science and money, but wont cost you anything a city usually costs you, you just don’t get to control it. You are rewarded, a great deal, for choosing to play the game LESS. It is actually much better to have puppet cities than your own built cities. In my best games, I would only build 3-4 of my own cities, and then I would puppet 20-30 of the AI’s cities because of how much better it is than actually making your own empire. I literally only controlled 3-4 cities, and chose to not play the game on the other 26+ because of how beneficial it was. Talk about game design failure. Sure sometimes I would annex a city much later just so I can make military units. But only the absolute best production cities need to be controlled to field your army. Considering how small of an army you need to easily steamroll the inept AI you don’t need more than 3 cities making units ever. Or you could just pay city-states to give you units but I am not even going to get into that.
It has been gutted from this game. Diplomacy in this game is pretty darn close to non-existent. You can no longer trade for maps (why was this removed?) You can no longer trade for contacts (why was this removed?) not that this matters since you can no longer trade science either. You can only do two things, you can trade luxuries for gold, and you can sign research agreements. Trading luxuries is pretty standard, except they took a giant step back and allow trading a lump sum of gold for an agreement that will last for thirty turns. This is highly exploitive because you can trade everything to an enemy AI, and take all of his gold on turn zero. Then you can declare war on him/her and break all the deals, yet keep all the money on that same turn. I would feel worse about doing it if the AI wouldn’t do the same thing. And I don’t mean they take my money and declare war, I mean they GIVE ME their money and agree to accept my sugar for thirty turns, then break the trade. This exploit was discovered long before civ5, and the solution was implemented in civ4. You could only trade gold-per-turn for luxuries. So you both only benefit if the trade is going on. Why did they backtrack on this? It’s already a proven exploit. Research agreements are actually a great idea. It gives you a reason for being at peace. You both pay an amount of gold and then if you remain at peace for thirty turns, you both get a random science. I like it. But it’s the only useful peace of diplomacy in the game. Then there are these things called pacts of secrecy and pacts of cooperation which don’t seem to do anything. And of course you can declare war, and the AI will declare war on you all the time for no reason and any reason.
I am sure there is more, I haven’t even touched on the lack of espionage of any kind, the mind-numbing unit-experience system, the boring great people and wonders, or the game-breakingly imbalanced city-states. But I don’t even have the energy. This game doesn’t deserve this much of my time.