Flashback Review: Civilization V

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Most people spend their summers going out on trips to the beach, meeting up with mates in the park, riding bikes, going swimming, or even sitting outside on a picnic blanket with a book. I spent my summer locked in my room, playing Civilization V. I do not regret it one bit.

Civilization VI is coming out this October, and so I thought I’d settle down with its predecessor, not just to hone my skills, but so I could evaluate exactly what it is that makes this game still so overwhelmingly popular six years later.

Civilization V, as you’d expect, is the fifth game in Sid Meier’s Civilization franchise, a series which dates back to 1991. Its focus is letting you choose any famous civilisation from world history, and guide them to victory – be it a victory of diplomacy, science, culture or domination. The last entry in the series, Civilization V, came out in 2010, and six years later, people are still talking about it.

Its initial release was met with a somewhat divisive reception. Some people cited its more user-friendly interface and colourful approach to the game as a step-up for the series, while others complained about the removal of religion and espionage, two popular game mechanics in previous titles, as well as the removal of stackable army units. However, six years on, with two major expansions that included the readdition of the espionage and religious mechanics, and the game is still considered a prime example of the 4x strategy genre.

It’s a game you can sink hours, days and weeks into, and still find yourself clamouring for just ‘one more turn’. The production and research mechanics constantly mean you’re on the verge of shaking up the game, and as soon as you find yourself declaring war on other civilisations, it’s almost impossible to drag yourself away. To a new player, the game may feel a bit slow and a tad cumbersome, but the game is incredibly good at helping people get to grips with the basic mechanics, and the advisers mean that if a player is ever lost, they have something they can refer to in order to push on.

On a personal note, I can attest to the fact that this is very much a game for history nerds. The game prides itself on being an anachronistic dust-up, letting you pit well-known world leaders against one another, and see who comes out on top. It’s the answer to your ‘who would win a fight?’ questions. Napoleon vs. Alexander the Great? Sure, why not? Elizabeth I taking on Otto von Bismarck? Go for it! George Washington and Attila the Hun? Be sure to take pictures! What’s fantastic is that each leader’s AI is programmed to work in a similar manner to how they functioned in real life (with the only exception being the overly nuke-friendly Gandhi), so these battles play as closely to reality as current technology can allow.

By focusing on strategy and history, the game could easily be written off as boring, but there’s something about its charming art deco aesthetic, and it’s willingness to take time out and help new players throw themselves into the game, which keeps the game from ever feeling like a task. Instead Civilization V feels weirdly exciting, in spite of its slow pace.

Civilization VI comes out later this year, and with it will surely come a massive amount of changes and improvements – but let’s never forget what a legacy its predecessor left. It’s a game that, six years on, still rarely talked about ‘retroactively’, because people talk about it as a topical creation. And why? Because unlike most games, Civilization V is not a game which shows its age. If you handed it to somebody, and told them it came out last year, they could believe you. The game is complex, helpful, friendly, fun and addictive, and it hasn’t aged a day. I’m sure after we’ve all played the next outing the Civilization franchise, V will definitely start to look and feel significantly older, but for now this game feels just as bold and refreshing as it did six years ago.

Civilization V was first released in 2010 via Firaxis Games. Its sequel, Civilization VI, is due to be released 21 October 2016.

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I'm Thomas Davies and one of my hobbies is writing in the biographic info section on websites.

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