Civilization V is not done yet. It’s good, and it could be great, but for now it is incomplete. Which is too bad, because although Civilization V is not profoundly different from Civilization IV, it is a solid step forward, fixing or improving upon many aspects of the previous Civilization games. Unfortunately, problems with the graphics and the user interface mar what should be a spectacular game.
Many of the improvements to the game seem so natural, and so logical, that it’s amazing that they weren’t made earlier in the series’ run. The hexagonal tiles are easier to navigate than the old square ones, and result in more natural looking borders. The one-unit-per-tile rule gives battles more strategic depth, and allows you to more easily see the massive armies your opponents are building up on your border. Ranged units can, given suitable cover, be effective in actual battle, unlike the old Civilzation’s use for archers: Fortify ’em in a city and forget ’em. City-states add more ways to win, and more ways to hinder your opponents.
It’s unfortunate, then, that these changes had to come with some hefty, and unnecessary, setbacks. Most notably, Civilization V is a resource hog. It sucks up memory and processor speed, and leaves very little to show for it. The graphics are nice, but the textures don’t always load evenly, and scrolling is occasionally jerky. On large maps, a single turn can take a minute or more to process, which gives us a new computing benchmark: Where once we had “Yeah, but can it play Crysis?” we now have “Yeah, but can it get to the next turn on a Huge map in Civ V in under 5 minutes?”
To be honest, I’m baffled as to why, exactly, the graphics are so slow. It’s not as if the game has to render that much, really. Some mountains, some grass, a couple units. This is far less than even low end games from 5 years ago could render, and yet Civ V groans under the exertion as if it were a fat man trying to sit up. Surely there are some simplifications the graphics team could have done to ensure that textures loaded evenly and that resource indicators consistently appeared (a problem the game has had since at least Civilization IV). Instead, you must wait. It would also be nice to be able to zoom out far enough to actually view your entire empire at once, and to tilt or rotate the camera. Isn’t this 3D? Do we need to research that technology before we can implement it?
These graphical problems may be fixed soon, and may simply be the all-too-common “Release now, fix it later” hiccups that come with many games. If so, Civilization V will be, when it is completed, a superb addition to the series. But for now, expect long delays between turns as your civilization grows and the occasional game-crashing bug. And, if you’re curious about certain topics that arise in-game, don’t expect much help from the Civilopedia, the game’s help encyclopedia. Many topics (such as Pacts of Secrecy) are not mentioned at all, and the topics that are mentioned are given such a cursory glance that it’s a wonder Firaxis included the Civilopedia at all, and didn’t instead simply include a link to the amazon page where you can purchase the strategy guide.
A bigger problem, however, is the user interface. It’s as if the programmers at Firaxis asked themselves “can we take the user interface from Civ IV, which worked, and break it in just enough places that it hinders gameplay?” Clicking on the Move button now enters you into a a closed loop which can only be exited by either clicking on a hex or unclicking the Move button. There should be an easy, quick way to exit out of menu options (such as using the right or middle mouse buttons). The middle mouse button no longer focuses the camera on the currently selected unit. Units which have expended their movement points cannot be queued for further movements.
Basically, the user interface was not designed to integrate access to the information necessary to play the game. While in the diplomacy screens, there is
no no easy or obvious way to look up which nations are currently are at war, or who is unhappy with whom, or other bits of crucial information needed to decide how to deal with other nations. Bringing up the production screen for a city does not show the actual city information screen, but instead overlays a new screen over the current screen. To know what building is best for a given city, you need to know what buildings the city currently has, what its finance, culture, happiness, and production outputs are, and how the citizens of that city are currently employed. None of this information is shown in the production screen. Instead, you must exit out of the production screen, enter the city screen, and then enter in the production screen from there.
This information would in no way hinder play for more casual fans. Ideally, all information should be easily accessible, but easily hidden or ignored. Instead of focusing on certain information, the user interface blocks access to it completely. Civilization V is a game that, at a certain level, requires a fair amount of micromanagement, which necessitates access to information. It is certainly possible to make a user interface which works for every level of Civ player, but this is not it.
2K Games has announced some upcoming bug fixes, which is a step in the right direction. However, it’s a small step. Without major fixes to the graphics engine and the user interface, Civilization V simple does not live up to its potential. Once it gets there, it will be phenomenal.
Edit, 9:19 Oct 15: Apparently there is a way to access diplomacy screens that I was unable to find by myself. Thanks, reddit!