Video Game Thoughts: Sid Meier’s Civilization V

Sid Meier’s Civilization V was a 2010 turn-based strategy game by Firaxis Games for the PC. The year 2010 was a great year for strategy games. Early in the year was Supreme Commander 2, then StarCraft II in the summer, and Civilization V in the fall. These were all big sequels for popular video game franchises. I had a lot of fun with Civilization IV over the years, but it had become pretty outdated. I was really excited when Civilization V came out. I debated whether to buy it then or wait, but I did buy it in the end.

The graphics, sound, and music were amazing, as good or better than I expected. The gameplay was also very good the first few times. Unfortunately, after a few times through the game, I saw that the strategy needed polishing. There were certain strategies that were just too strong compared to other strategies. Also, the game required the player to plan a victory path from the beginning of the game. There was no sense of adapting or modifying my strategy as the game evolved. I loved that aspect of Civilization IV. I never knew how I was going to win. I just had to take it one turn at a time.

After playing Civilization V for about a month, I took a break to wait for the patch. The patch did address the balance of the strategies and improved some parts of the game, but the game still needed a lot more. Over the years I would play the game here and there whenever a new patch came out. The game didn’t get really good until the expansions started coming out. It was then that they were able to finally improve the game to where the strategy was as good as Civilization IV.

One lingering problem that existed from the beginning, however, was the fairly bad computer AI in the game. The patches improved the AI in diplomacy fairly well. The AI mostly knew how to trade and interact with others. However, the AI in combat never improved that much. I still saw a few dumb moves in every game I played. Sometimes it was so bad, it single-handedly caused the AI to have no chance of recovering and lose the game.

Unfortunately, I don’t know if there was anything they could do about the AI combat. Good AI is very time consuming to create. It really takes a team of experts to do, an expensive proposition. One option could have been to design AI that would act based on the knowledge from previous games. That is the common practice AI creators use. Give an AI enough past history, and it can usually learn what to do. That is really the computer’s advantage over humans; it can store a whole lot more memories than we can, and in perfect detail. Most strategy games have some trouble with AI. The video game publishers just don’t weigh it very highly, so they aren’t willing to give developers much money for it. The AI systems are usually a last minute thing even for single player games like Civilization V.

Gods & Kings expansion

Gods & Kings added the typical things expansions add like new civilizations to play as, new units, and new buildings, but it also added a major new mechanic: religion. The religion system was done perfectly in my eyes. At the beginning of the game, religion was a big deal in diplomacy. It could start wars between civilizations or give the player an easy ally. Late in the game, it lost its effect, simulating the secularization of society. In real life, I wish people were more religious, especially Christian, but the game was at least historical.

What was great about religion was that it wasn’t required. The player could ignore religion if they wanted. Investing in religion required resources, resources that could instead go to a bigger army or faster research of new technologies. Religion added a lot more replayability to the beginning of the game. There was no longer just the same pattern every game. The player now had to make this choice whether to go with religion or not, and it had a pretty big impact on the game until halfway through.

This expansion also added an Espionage system, but I never really liked it much. The player got secret agents they could use to either gain small bonuses for their empire or small penalties for other player’s empires. I didn’t like it because it lacked strategy. Every few turns the player had to give their  agents orders, but the results were not great. Spies gave the player maybe a few bonus diplomacy points for better relations or maybe a small amount of intrigue about what an enemy civilization was up to. I used the system, but I wanted more choices. How it was, there was a set optimal way to use spies. Any choices outside of that optimal way was less efficient. There was just no strategy in the espionage system.

Brave New World expansion

Brave New World also added new civilizations, units, and buildings, but the big additions this time were a large overhaul to the culture and diplomacy systems. From the beginning, diplomacy was pretty weak. A lot of times the player couldn’t make any good deals with AI players. The best the player could do was try to limit the damage that their actions made on relations with other civilizations. They couldn’t really make true alliances. The AI players also made horrible deals with the player.

Brave New World fixed all this. The diplomacy actually had a big impact now, and the player had a lot more choices in how to deal with other civilizations. This was especially true in the late game. In each game the United Nations was formed eventually. The player could vote on new laws that would affect the world. If they played well, they could even become the leader of the UN, giving them the power to propose new laws. This was a huge improvement to the AI. To me, the diplomacy AI was nearly perfect now. The combat AI still made lots of mistakes, but at least one part of the AI was good now.

The new culture system was awesome too. In the old system, culture was a self-centered thing. Nothing other civilizations did would impact the player’s culture. Players didn’t need to involve other civilizations when it came to culture. To focus on culture meant to isolate my civilization. There just weren’t any choices to make, so it was boring. The new system added a really cool “works of art” system. The player could get various types of artists and have them create art. Then they could put this art in the player’s cities to get tourism bonuses. The player could eventually win through the sheer power of cultural influence, no warring required.

I loved this new way to win because I was generally a peaceful player. I always liked to focus on improving my economy, getting advanced technologies, and making lots of friends along the way. Military fighting was the exact opposite. I had to spend so many resources on fighting, I seriously hampered my economy and research rates. I was always interested in being the most efficient. This is true in real life also. In the game, that meant avoiding fighting until it was required. I still played some games with lots of conquest but only for the occasional change of pace. Defeating all other civilizations in combat was the least interesting way to win to me.

Despite being five years old now, I still play Civilization V sometimes. It is really the perfect game for where I am at in life. It’s a single player game, so I can pause and save at any time. It’s turn-based, so I can step away for a few moments at any time. It’s really a very flexible game. It can fit into anyone’s lifestyle. However, I know the gameplay would be too slow moving for some people. Right now, I am looking for games that require more thinking than execution. That’s Civilization V in a nutshell.

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