September 23rd, 2010

Standing the test of time?

For the benefit of people on the fence, a first impressions review of Civ 5, specifically the changes from Civ 4. By no means comprehensive, possibly not even accurate - I've played for one evening.

Hexes instead of squares - this is a change for the good, but I'm not sure it would be a big thing, except in combination with...

One unit per tile - this is AMAZING. Tedious killer stacks of death now have to be vast spread out armies, with flanks and rear areas and everything. Combat is vast and swirling. You need armies outside of cities to prevent encirclement (which gives bonuses to the attacker).

Ranged/Arty units - this contributes to the above mentioned armies. You have units that can attack without fear of reprisal, but should some fast unit get round your line to them, they are terribly vulnerable.

Change in attack/defence bonuses (you now get a penalty if you are attacked in the open, just like desert in Civ 5) - This is poor. It means that of two even units, the one that attacks first comes off best in open terrain (it's vice versa in rough terrain). that might have been intended to encourage aggression, but in my noe major war so far, it encouraged sitting just out of attack range, desperate not to be first-striked.

Noone has to die - well, obviously someone does in the end, but in a given battle both sides may take casualties (in the form of HP loss) but they may also both survive. I think this is good - adds to the strategy layer of military stuff.

"Free" sea transport for land units - I haven't played with this much, but after a certain tech land units can transport for free, becoming slow vulnerable boats for the duration of their trip. I think this is probably good - reducing the need for transport ships to be hanging around, but equally it could just reduce what was a meaningful decision.

Limit on units based on the resource to create them - ie if you have access to two horses, you can make a maximum of 2 units requiring horses. This makes strategic resources interesting past the first one, which is great.

Science decoupled from income - this is huge. It eliminates a non decision, and makes the economy more important. A really good change I think. Previously, you could adjust your science to earn more money, but it was almost always correct to run at the highest science rating you possibly could. If you failed at economy a bit you just ran at 90% science instead of 100%, and that was a tiny penalty. Now if you fail at economy, it hurts a lot more, and the false decision of "what science rating shall I set" is gone.

Global happiness - I'm not sure about this. In Civ 4 your cities had their own happiness scores. In Civ 5 it's a national score, and you need to keep it above 0 or penalties kick in for all cities. That removes one aspect of city management, which I'm not sure needed removing. It has benefits - it's now the control factor on number of cities, which works really well, but...yeah, I don't like losing individual city happiness.

No religion - I thought i'd miss this, but actually I specifically don't miss the rush to an early religion that was the start of pretty much any Civ 4 game I was playing to win. I liked the layer of depth religions added to the political situation, but on balance I think this is a good change.

Roads cost upkeep - This is great. No more roading everywhere to keep your workers busy. Make trade routes that count. Build a military road if you need one, but you'll pay for it. This takes the non decision of building roads everywhere, and turns it into a decision about critical roads. Good.

Individual traits - Civ 4 had 2 traits for each leader from a list, so one guy might be Philosophical/Aggressive, and another Aggressive/Spiritual. In Civ 5 each civ has a unique ability, such as the Japanese having all units attack with full strength even when damaged, or the Egyptians building wonders 20% faster. I quite liked to pick two from a list approach, to be honest, but the individual abilities thing is fine too.

Tech Tree - this seems less deep than in Civ 4. I've only played 1/2 a game, but if this turns out to be true, then meh. I always want more tech options in Civ games - I'd be most happy if it was actually impossible to finsih the tech tree in a single game - you had to ignore some side routes if you were going to finish others.

Civics - as you produce culture you get to choose civic options, from several "trees" such as Honour, Piety, Freedom, Autocracy... these each have an unlock effect (Unlock Honour and get 25% in combat against Barbarians) and 5 abilities in a tree once you unlock that particular civic area. This is really good - although you don't make the sacrifices you had to in Civ 4, you are never faced with switching out one civic to get another, and weighing up the benefits. I guess I'm 50/50 on the new civics at the moment.

City growth - your cities still expand based on culture production, but now they do it hex by hex (instead of expanding to a fat cross after a certain threshold.) This is better than the "all at once" that Civ 4 does.

This sounds like Civ 5 is compeltely amazing, and it is a lot of fun. The thing is, though, is that although I can list all these changes and in most I prefer Civ 5, I'm not sure that Civ 5 is as better than Civ 4 as all this suggests. I will have to play more to work this out.