The Dawn of a New Civilization

If you mosey over to GamePro.com, you will find that I recently wrote the first of a three-part series on Civilization V. GamePro has been evolving its approach to reviews and one of the areas it is innovating is in how it approaches open-ended games like MMO’s, sports sims, and now a grand strategy game like Civilization V.

Games like this are tough to review because it’s not a simple matter of completing a narrative or seeing how you feel about one or two new mechanics. These are experiences built to last over scores of hours, and much of their nuance only becomes apparent after you’ve spent a lot of time with them. So rather than simply have a reviewer go hog-wild on the game for a week or so, then pass a “final” verdict, Gamepro is having guys like me, who know these genres, play over a longer period of time.

My first piece consists mostly of first impressions. Over the next month, I’ll be playing more games, pushing it in new direction, and keeping an eye out for patches. Then I’ll write another piece that really digs into how Firaxis changed this game, and whether these changes add up to a successful strategy game. Sometime after that, I’ll have some valedictory thoughts on the game, and chisel my verdict into the granite of time.

Or at least, I’ll post them to the web.

  1. That’s a great way to handle these sorts of games. I think it would be great if other industry sites and publications followed suit.

    I think the ongoing play aspect of gaming is something that the review mechanic is not set up to handle. We copy our concept of reviews from other art forms, like movies and books, that are inherently one-off experiences. But with gaming, your long term engagement is key. Now with DLC, patches, online play, and expansions, games are in a more continuous state of development than ever. The closest parallel might be a TV series, where the piece evolves over a period of months and years.

    • gildamere
    • September 30th, 2010 2:43am

    What games have you played? I’ve played 2 random matches:
    Greek – small size, difficulty 3, sea map, domination victory in 1925
    Arab – normal size, difficulty 4, 2 large continents, diplomatic victory in 2005

    Maybe it’s just because I have played as 2 commerce-laden civs, but I have had no AI competition at all in securing city-state allies. I haven’t actually had any interesting battle sequences, as I’ve been so technologically advanced that I could just roll through (e.g. Mech. Inf. vs. Samurai). I’m gonna up the difficulty again and restart until I get a hardcore aggro civ and try for an early-game war machine and try to Autocracy/Order myself to a domination victory.
    That said, I love love love the social policies. The balance of planning vs. plans (as quoted by D.D. Eisenhower in the Pentagon splash) is right on. Sometimes, you have to grab the policy you need for a quick upperhand. The only one I see as necessary is initial Honor, for barbarian encampment notification, especially on a sea map. As Greek I went for Freedom and Patronage; Arab, full Piety then Commerce/Patronage.
    My Arab match was much more interesting. Heavy early-game commerce, choosing all trading posts over farms, with granary/water mill for food sources, followed by lots of workers. Road trade routes give a sick amount of cash. This allowed me to make early friends of a close maritime CS, so when I started spreading out with settlers, I had crazy food coming in, so I had the highest population the entire game. Research is based on population, not commerce% anymore, so I was always ahead, especially with all the research agreements I could afford. My continent ended up being Russia, France and Japan duking it out and leaving me off to the side. India and Greece got swept up pretty early (I had the kill shot on India, as they snuck a settler through a mountain pass and smack-dab in the middle of my lands.
    Diplomacy *is* useless. I have no idea what the other people thought of me, aside from trying to decipher verbage in parting phrases. At least they never attacked me, so that’s good.
    What is the ETA on the next article?

      • Flitcraft
      • September 30th, 2010 3:47am

      AI is a major, major problem. At best, people are being mildly challenged, but it clearly can’t play the game worth a damn. I’m hoping for some significant patches in the next month, because I’m going to find it harder to be positive about this game if the challenge level doesn’t increase. Couple that with the fact that multiplayer isn’t in good shape, and Civ V has some major problems.

      But every other aspect of the design seems pretty good. So fingers crossed other parts of the game catch up to it.

      Next article should be in about three weeks. Oh, are you on Steam? We should try some MP. Send my your ID sometime.

    • gildamere
    • September 30th, 2010 7:50pm

    Steam handle = gildamere1984

  2. I look forward to seeing your future posts on Civ V, Rob. Like BNRMatt, I like the idea of visiting these games over a period of time — and I suspect such an approach would be particularly useful for the likes of the Total War games. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Tom first used the phrase “Chick Parabola” in reference to Empire, because the whole series suffers particularly badly from that.

      • Flitcraft
      • October 1st, 2010 10:24pm

      That is a very good point, and I should see about locking that down.

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