Civilization V: Where Are We Now?

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Civ 5 is beautiful. When I’ve got 400 hours clocked and it’s still delivering that same glorious rush every time I bring another cultural, scientific or military conquest into its endgame, I just want to yell its praises from the rooftops. I’ve never even been a strategy gamer, but Civilization just seems to transcend its own genre; while the single-mindedness of war-based strategy games have their finite offerings of fun, Civ triples its appeal by offering victory in such a variety of sophisticated ways. Throwing troops at other troops and watching a lot of men die is an age-old pastime, but it’s lost its sting, and to me could not compare with the tension of a diplomatic shouting match with another civilization that’s chosen to park its tanks on my borders and put an embargo on my exports of oranges and cotton. The satisfaction of winning by simply being the happier, better, more culturally advanced people while another player tries to ham-fistedly win by aiming their guns at enough people is unbeatable. I’d say it’s the way Gandhi would want us to win, but frankly his in-game tendency to drop nukes is troubling.

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There is a reason Civilization V is so replayable – it’s because the game is absolutely massive. Two completely game-changing expansions and a whopping 25 extra civilizations added (which has more than doubled the roster) has made Civ 5, very suitably, stand the test of time. The first expansion, Gods & Kings added religion, a passive way to aid your victory with boosts to your output and means of diplomatically undermining your enemies, and espionage,  a small feature but one which can change the playing field in the road to having an empire of city states under your banner (a personal favourite tactic of mine). Brave New World completely blew the whole deal open by overhauling the entire system of cultural victory, as well as adding a heap of new features for diplomacy, trading and your civilization’s ideology. As if the game hadn’t already won a place in my heart, Brave New World landed it a spot in my top 5 of the generation.

So where does it leave us? Some might say Sid Meier’s job here is done, and it’s time to start working on Civilization VI. Possibly, but with a five-year gap between Civilization IV and V, Sid’s shown a liking for expanding the hell out of one game before moving on to the next. So it begs the question: what next?

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More civs?

Perhaps this should be on the lowest priority of new additions, simply because players are already seriously spoiled for choice when choosing a civilization to play as. From the barbaric Huns and Danish Vikings, to the scientific Babylonians and Koreans to the cultural kings of France and Poland, most of the world’s major players have been covered. But one of the special things about the current roster is how many ancient and now-departed civilizations are on the list, ones which you can give a chance to live into the modern era and into the future. The Incans may be long gone, but in Civ you can let them be the ones to discover space travel. This opens the field massively – why not have the ancient Bolivians who built one of the most mysterious and incredible stone structures in history. The introduction of the Iroquois, Shoshone and Polynesian civs was encouraging, showing native cultures that are now minorities – so we could potentially have Amazonian or Papa New Guinean rainforest tribes, aboriginal Australian or Inuit-Canadian peoples, or the Sami from the icy wastes of Northern Scandinavia. It’s great to play as powers we know today, but let’s see some more people who crafted life out of the earth’s bare essentials. There’s also a real lack of African civs, with merely the Zulus, Ethiopians and Egyptians currently. It’s a big continent, so let’s see it!

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Even more diplomatic expansion!

Something in particular I love about Brave New World is that it really takes the focus away from war in a big way – while matters used to have to be settled with arms for lack of any other mechanic, diplomacy now really is the way forward. Capturing other civs’ cities will now brand you with a pretty huge ‘warmongerer’ penalty and make you generally despised unless your victim was already considered a serious threat, so such things should really be last-resort. The only problem is that relations with civs are still rather cut-and-dry, you’re either on good terms or you’re definitely not. Nor does having another player as a friend offer you much more than defensive pacts and slightly better trading deals. Why not let us form proper coalitions, let our progress bind in more ways that just constantly signing research agreements. The world congress is great, but the articles to agree on often feel too few, and many of them too extreme. I want to undermine my enemies with the policies enacted, not immediately trigger a war with them.

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Improve that late-game…

Anyone that’s played the vanilla version of Civ V will certainly know how bad the later ages used to be – good god what a bore. Snail-pace turns, with hardly anything to develop other than military – as I said earlier, finally winning is still a fantastic feeling, but you have to trudge through real nonsense to get to it. The expansions helped, especially Brave New World, with plenty of tourism and globalisation-based buildings to construct, but ultimately you’re still left with basically only military and spaceship parts to build. As a primarily cultural player, I still find myself just clicking my way aimlessly through most of the Modern/Information era turns, with little of the vigilance and turn calculation required from the Ancient to Industrial era. If anything, just make a way to speed it all up!

Or have a way to remove it altogether…

I love the Ancient, Classical and and Medieval eras. They’re really the reason I’m so happy to keep starting up a fresh new game; to experience that glorious rush for Wonders, land expansion and Policies while trying to find to time to make enough units to defend your fledgling civilization. It’s fast, tense and aggressive, and over far too quickly. Age of Empires was great for letting players choose a starting and an end era; let’s have that again. Sometimes I want the Renaissance to be the final tolling of the bell, with the game stretched out to accommodate.

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Make the world a little more dynamic!

The mystery of starting a new map is a kick for sure, and exploring it with your early units is always filled with wonder and surprise when figuring out good places for new cities, and what could be built where. The problem is, I’ve got a real ‘thing’ for very European geography: I want grassy open plains, a bit of forestry, a good few mountains and zero snow or desert. There’s a couple of map customisation options, but only a couple times I’ve found a map that feels ‘perfect’. As well as this, I feel the world really should change throughout the eras – it certainly has in the real world in comparison to 2000 BC, and entering the future eras while still having a countryside of lumber mills and lush farmland seems a little optimistic. Global warming should be raising the sea level, acid rain meaning architecture needs updating and forests need protecting, population and demand meaning forests start disappearing completely.  This could even lend itself to the diplomacy branch; which civs will go green and try to save the world? Also, the earth is a cruel mistress; where are the earthquakes, hurricanes and droughts, and how will your people react, or your friends help?

One more thing…

Hey, Sid, you’re a Brit. Boudicca’s Iceni tribe was in the South East of England, not Edinburgh. Although, speaking of Scotland, let’s have William Wallace and some butt-naked blue-painted highlanders with claymores. You know you want to.

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Cor blimey guvna, I believe I'm the only British gent writing for this good site. Apart from having crumpets with the queen and enjoying the bloody hell out of free healthcare, I play video games and am occasionally allowed to write about them. Woo!