PlayBack: Sid Meier’s Civilization V

If you haven’t seen already, Sid Meier’s Civilization: Beyond Earth was released today, and our review is on the way soon. Until we take to the stars, we’ll give you a little history lesson and talk about the previous game in the series, Civ V. In a nutshell, Civilization is about building a civilisation from the ground up, be it starting with the skills and resources of hunter gatherers and progressing past the point of modern society, or jumping into the middle of a pre-existing timeline, like American colonials.

I’ll admit now that I’m new to strategy games. And by new, I mean that I’ve plugged around one hundred hours into a few and I’m still awful at all of them. Civ V is no exception. With a complicated base game and two major expansions on top (Gods And Kings and Brave New World), I’m amazed at anyone who has devoted the time to consider themselves competent. With standard matches lasting up to and over ten hours, split into multiple sections, with different strategies for each, the number of subtleties to play is countless, and can make all the difference between a glorious victory and a resounding failure.

Civ V

Best Bit

It would follow, then, that the best bit about Civ V would be the smug sense of satisfaction when you smear the last opposing world leader into the ground, shoot off into outer space, or win by whatever other means your strategy has led toward. Having never won a match, I wouldn’t know.

Despite my lack of victories in Civ V, I’ve still felt rewarded for my time spent on it, even if that time was just to watch my humble village metastasize into a world-consuming dystopia, or to stand bitterly in the shadow of a cultural giant. Like most competitive games, the learning curve is long and harsh, but the return is worth the investment. Discovering simple tricks, finding strategies to escape from previously impossible situations, and picking a personal style of play are what strategic games are all about.

At their core, strategy games like Civ should be slow and methodical. Each move should be part of an encompassing plan that’s ready to readjust itself for any given scenario. Whether you’re an avid tactician, or a newbie that’s learning the ropes, the range of speeds offered in Civ will suit all but the most impatient of players, letting them play out their master plans or rush through to get an idea of how not to die.

Civ V 2

Worst Bit

The AI. Either I have a rose-tinted view of the world, or civilisations in Civ V declare war at an alarmingly high frequency. Engaging other leaders is like an awkward dance where I’m continually treading on my partner’s toes, and their toes are also nuclear launch buttons. It seems that whether you choose to expand your horizons or plant your roots from the very beginning, other leaders will never be happy with your choices. To make matters worse, combat with other leaders generally leads to wars of attrition, either in the form of a stalemate along your respective borders, or in individual battles spreading over hundreds of in-game years.

Compound this with the enormous length of each game, and Civ V has the potential to become more terrifying than any horror game. Hours of work can be torn apart, and it can be difficult to tell exactly when your successful stint took a wrong turn. It’s exhilarating, and it’s addictive, but the urge to succeed pushes you into playing for longer than planned, completely without notice. Minor victories will fall under your belt, and you’ll begin to feel like progress is being made again, and when you finally muster the courage to click save and exit, you’ll realise that years have passed and wild animals are living in your house.

If you don’t own either Civ V or Beyond Earth, choosing one or the other is a tough choice. Beyond Earth won’t start with the benefit of expansion packs, meaning any potential balancing issues or underdeveloped features won’t be amended for while. Civ V has the boon of these expansions, and years of modders fine-tuning details that didn’t suit them and adding content where they felt it was lacking. The complete edition of Civ V is available on Steam for around £35 (or cheaper in sales), whereas Beyond Earth will set you back about £40, now that the pre-purchase sale is over.

Beyond Earth has that new car smell and is filled with new ideas, so it’s up to you whether the  slight difference in price is worth it for a flashier and (hopefully) mechanically superior game. If that doesn’t take your fancy, Civilization V remains a good alternative for any strategy loving fan.


  1. Agree with the worst bit. Every world leader is always keen to declare war with you, even if you’ve been nice to them with previous interactions. Nearly every game I’ve played has ended with full out nuclear war and a ruined map.

  2. I sunk many, many hours into Civ 4 and only a slightly lesser amount into Alpha Centauri, Civ 5, though just never grabbed and kept my attention. Steam says I’ve played it for less than 30 hours.
    I read a recent review of Beyond Earth that referenced Civ 5 and I think that the “it (Civ 5) feels like you are just re-arranging Human history through acquiring landmarks and not creating something unique” sums up my dissatisfaction with it.
    Couldn’t resist picking up Beyond Earth, though haven’t had much of a chance to play it yet. Hoping I won’t be disappointed :)

  3. I can’t deny it, I’m a huge fan of Civ V. At the time of writing, Steam clocks me at 2,431 hours of play time – 101 days. or 3.3 months of “one more go”. But I am by no means someone who’d consider themselves a good Civilization player!

    I think it’s the best version of the series yet, although not without flaws. After so many hours, I love how Civ still challenges me to carefully consider my approach: there is no fixed formula to winning. Each civilization requires a different approach to play to their strength but the lay of the land at the start of the game (what resources are available to you) in turn affects the approach you can take to the game. A game of Civ would a weekend to play at the very least, in the days of a 10-hour COD or BF story, Civ must seem glacial – and it’s brilliant because of it. For me, Civ’s strength lies in the way the game unfolds as a reflection of the player. Turn by turn, whether you are insular and focused on the scientific or cultural development of your own civilization, or seek victory at the tip of the sword, your approach is a product of the plans you formulate in your head and the world as it unfolds in the course of a game. All too often I’ve thought, “to hell with everyone else, I’m just going to concentrate on my own Civ, play on the defensive and f**k the outside world”, only for a vital strategic resource to spawn in another Civ’s territory. Usually coal. F***ing coal.

    I love the switch to hexagonal maps (it sounds lame, but it makes a huge difference to the gameplay), removing the stupid stacking of units from previous games and new rules for melee and ranged naval units more or less make sense. Diplomacy is a weak point, sadly – but only for the vanilla game. I find that the add on packs – Gods & Kings and Brave New World provide a marked improvement, although it could well be argued that Civ V should have just done it right in the first place, considering that Civ IV (post-add ons) was sublime with it’s approach to diplomacy. As an aside, I think it should be noted that there are mods available to Civ V that develop the diplomacy side of the game, so arguably criticism of it would be a moot point. Even without the mods I’d say that other comments of CPU civ’s being tending towards war is unusual, after the Gods and Kings add-on I found war was a far less regular occurrence. Although, that assumes everyone buys the add-on packs. Also picking opposing rulers other than Napoleon, Bismarck and Montezuma greatly reduce the likelihood of conflict, as other leaders seem less dickhead-ish.

    I think anyone itching to get in to a series with depth (proper depth, not console faux-depth) would find Civ V a great starting point, the tutorials are a significant benefit to newcomers while also beneficial to veterans of other games in the series. With a game that is different for every Civ and every randomly-generated map, it has provided me with a massive amount of fun a wonderful challenge and I look forward to Beyond Earth – just as soon as I’ve got the hang of this game. Just a thousand or so hours to go, then.

  4. Well said Mugsy. I love Civ. I’ve spent close to 1000hours playing it, which is way more than anything else in the last 4 years.

    I loved Civ Rev on the xbox360 then all over again on the PS3, although it was a little simplistic.

    Civ V nailed it. Even now I’m still playing this and my ps4 isn’t getting much use. My big hate from Civ iV was the stacks of doom. The hexagonal grid and one unit per tile is such a good change. I’m currently trying to win on Immortal.

    Someday deity….

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