Civilization V: To Be Completed in 2011

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.

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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?”

Graphics

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.

User Interface

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.

Curtis Retherford

Edit, 9:19 Oct 15: Apparently there is a way to access diplomacy screens that I was unable to find by myself. Thanks, reddit!

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8 responses to “Civilization V: To Be Completed in 2011

  1. Mostly agree, although the fact that they re-wrote the modding engine which now uses Lua instead of Python is completely missing from this article. Lua makes for faster, easier to develop mods (it’s easier to fiddle with for complete newbies over Python as well).

    • Curtis Retherford

      You’re right, although I have yet to mess around with modding Civ V, so I didn’t have much to say personally about it. (Although I like how well integrated mods are within the game itself. Fairly straight-forward and fuss-free.) Definitely one of the many positive steps forward in this game.

  2. “Instead, you must exit out of the production screen, enter the city screen, and then enter in the production screen from there.”

    You don’t have to exit out of the production screen. Just click on the city icon on the map when you’re in production screen and it’ll load up the city info and still leave the production screen up.

  3. You forgot to mention the click-fest that is multiplayer. If you click faster, you win a battle or skirmish. Period.

  4. Hm. I was thinking that I might pick this up when it gets a Mac release, but now I’m not so sure. I’ve never played Civ, besides five confusing minutes of Civ Rev on my iPhone, so when I heard mostly positive things about the new game from other outlets, I thought this might be the one for me. Perhaps not.

    The scope of Civ 5 scares me. I’ve bought too many games over the last couple of years that were supposed to last forever, games that should have been infinitely replayable. Little Big Planet, Starcraft 2, etc, and from what I’ve heard about Civ 5, it works similarly. It’s a game I’m supposed to be playing for the next five years. But when it comes down to it, I don’t think I get anymore game time out of these games than I do any other releases. Mostly I just get intimidated by their communities and advanced learning curves.

    Sorry for the tangent. Thanks for the review, Curtis.

  5. You also forgot the fact that multiplayer sucks. It’s slow, clunky & broken According to Firaxis it’s going to be “Awesome”. Woopee f’in do. I payed for a complete game, not to act as an Alpha tester on the only mode I play. All “communications problems on the net” excuses are a bit thin when I’m playing with both players on a Gig Lan. As for a 2 player game losing sync and leaving you no way of restarting, that sucks. I know there are Auto-save files and I can load them. Pity the system has decided that because we’d become unsync’ed I’m the only player. I’m goingback to Civ 4. I’ll play Civ 5 again when it has a multiplayer mode.

  6. Civilization V even after the latest patch keeps crashing at the end game (past 400 turns or so) just given up playing it, tried everything, DX9, 11 etc, drivers, got fresh install and my PC is way over the minimum requirements and 8 gig ram, yet still crashes, ah well might come back in a few months or so when they’ve sorted this bugged up pile of crap out, shame really was awesome to start with then gets bugged out to hell later on on.

  7. Why does no one seem to feel that this game is just BROKEN! They just patched the game AGAIN, and now the multiplayer portion of the game is EVEN WORSE (if you can believe that it could be). Now the game crashes REGULARLY at anywhere between 28 to 51 turns. It will NOT start a game with more than 4 players, and the only “improvement” is that the annoying barbs are spawning faster! The problem is, plain and simple, is a LACK OF MULTIPLAYER SUPPORT FROM FIRAXIS! NO DEDICATED SERVERS! IT is a crying shame that a game this fun should only be played against a LAME A.I. that cheats.

    Bad, bad, bad customer service…and they try to blame nvidia or ATI for driver issues. So: ALL OF US HAVE BAD DRIVERS? If you think we’re that stupid, you developers should move to N. Korea where idiotic propoganda still has a foothold. SHAME ON YOU FOR YOUR LACK OF SUPPORT FIRAXIS!!!

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