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Since my Windows machine decided to die on me, I don't have much to do but catch up on writing.  Let's talk about Civilization 5!

Civilization 5 marks a couple of huge strides forward for the series, but such progress highlights the fundamental weaknesses of the genre.  It's a game about planning and nation-building in a way that previous Civ games never managed.  The strides made in this edition are superb, but cannot overcome the fact that Civilization is simply not the type of game that the subject matter requires.  It should be a multiplayer game, but it's not designed as one.

Civilization 5 is streamlined.  Many mechanics from Civ 4 are either simplified or completely gone in Civ 5, while the combat system has been completely revamped for greater depth.  These are all very good things.  Most of the mechanics dropped since Civ 4 were, to be frank, redundant flavor mechanics.  Civ 5 instead focuses on polishing the mechanics that remain (with only two notable failures, those being overpowered maritime city-states and insufficient happiness penalties that permit a certain extreme strategy).  In boardgaming metaphors, it's a eurogame rather than an ameritrash game.  It prioritizes ruthless math ahead of experiential flavor.

Civ 5's unforgiving mechanics reward forward planning far more than past Civ titles.  Movement and construction take longer than before, and social policies take longer to evolve than civic or government swaps did in previous titles.  Most victory conditions reward early decisiveness, as it's difficult to switch from one to another after the early-middle game.  This may be off-putting to some, but I greatly enjoy it.  The degree to which entire nations could turn on a dime in previous Civ titles always struck me as odd.  You really have to plan ahead and prepare in Civ 5.  Or you would, if the computer put up a credible fight.

The artificial intelligence (AI) is still as inept as always, and the relative elegance of Civ 5's core design means that the player isn't so easily distracted from the AI's stupidity.  The Civilization AI has always fallen flat when it comes to waging war.  Even though the strategic AI feels better and more ruthless in Civ 5, the additional depth added to combat makes the AI's inadequacies even more apparent.  I got sick of Civ 4 because all strategies for playing single-player ultimately led to war.  It was, for all it's flavor, a shallow game.  War was the only arena complex enough to permit brains to overcame mathematical AI cheating.  That's still the case in Civ 5, only there are fewer mechanisms to distract from this ultimate reality.  The game thus comes across as being shallow - not because of any failure of mechanics, but because the opposition is pathetic.

Civ 5 should, therefore, thrive in multiplayer.  Yet it doesn't.  This is partly because of bugs in the multiplayer system (just like Civ 4 upon release, sadly), but more because Civilization games are not designed for multiplayer play.  Put simply, multiplayer Civilization takes too much time to play live and takes too many turns to play by email (PBEM).  A contiguous live game takes hours to complete.  PBEM Civ languishes because each individual turn is minute - a game of Civ can easily last 200+ turns.  Most games created for PBEM play are designed to end before approaching triple-digit turn numbers, because life events or sheer disinterest will inevitably derail a long game.  These games accomplish that by packing as many different actions and events into each turn as possible, maximizing each turn's tension and allowing a satisfying competitive narrative to emerge over the course of relatively few turns.  Solium Infernum, designed exclusively as a PBEM strategy game, is the exemplar of this design philosophy.  Civilization instead emphasizes maximum control by spreading events and decisions out over the course of many turns.  Good for a contiguous live game, but very bad for a fractured PBEM game.

The core problem is that single player games cannot handle symmetrical situations.  An AI is simply not as capable as the human brain.  Until that threshhold is reached, the single player format will only ever work well for asymmetrical challenges.  Were I to create any game or mod for a 4X engine, be it Elemental, Civilization, or other, it would either be aimed at multiplayer or would do away with the competition between analogous actors.

All that said, Civ 5 makes one truly momentous leap forward compared to its predecessors: culture and social policies.  In previous Civ games, you could change your government, or elements of your government, based on what technologies you'd discovered.  Culture, when present, only determined borders.  In Civ 5, culture is a resource used to implement social policies.  Social policies are nationwide bonuses that are implemented in ten trees, with policy trees being unlocked by your general progress through the technology tree.  What's critical is that culture is finally being given a tangible place in the slow, diverse evolution of societies and governments.  That's an enormous rhetorical move away from previous Civ games that place overwhelming emphasis on linear scientific development.  The only downside is that social policies are permanant, and there really ought to be some mechanism for social change over time.  Still, it's a move for which Civ 5 should be applauded; it's the first time that a Civ title has truly surpassed Alpha Centauri in rhetorical quality.

Civ 5 is the best of the series thus far, yet the genre has unsolvable problems.  If you can tolerate the core problems of the 4X genre, Civilization 5 is a good purchase.  If not, it may still make a good game engine for modding.  I certainly don't regret my purchase, despite my growing disaffection with the genre.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 4th, 2011 07:53 pm (UTC)
Civ5 is a failure. Civ4 has a lot of strategies for peacemongering. Especially first turns were very non-trivial, with order or techs, chopping, slaving, building, exploring, rushing, worker stealing etc making big difference.
Later game can be played in very different ways - cottage economy, specialist economy, buying techs, stealing techs, few good cities, a lot underdeveloped cities.

Civ5 has only one option (except one-city cultural victory game) - spam of small cities with trade posts all around and as few buildings as possible. It is as much a building strategy as Starcraft. But warfare is a little more interesting than Civ4, probably, I grant it.
Nov. 29th, 2011 10:36 pm (UTC)
Замечательно, очень ценная мысль
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )


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