Thursday, January 3, 2013

GOT 'IM - Civilization V: Gods & Kings

I haven't *completed* this new game for my list, but I have *beaten* it.  Several times.  It's not exactly a game that you *beat* per se, but I've put so much time into it the past few months that I feel justified in reviewing it.  Let's talk Civilization V. 

Hoo boy, Civilization. I played a lot of Civ II back in the day and a little of Civ III in between the present and "the day;" when I say a LOT of Civ II, I mean it.  Civilization games are one of the ultimate time-slaying, let-me-take-one-more-turn video games of all time. And Civilization V is probably the best of them.

Sid Meier's Civilization franchise has been destroying sleep schedules since before it was ever a videogame, beginning life as a popular board game with some similarities to the earlier Risk and the later Settlers of Catan.  In video game form, the gist of it is that you choose a legendary civilization from history (there are something like 40+ to choose from in Civ 5) and found cities, build armies, discover new technologies, and all manner of other things to become the greatest civilization on the map.

I could go on and on talking about the classic Civ gameplay mechanics, but I'll spare the fine details.  You're on a large map made of hexagons of various terrains, and they look gorgeous.  Maps range from water-heavy archipelagos to massive Pangaea maps, with the total area and number of opposing civilizations up to player choice.  Players achieve victory in a number of different ways - conquering every civilization (self-explanatory), achieving diplomatic victory by getting voted as chief nation in the UN (more on this later), creating a cultural utopia (basically getting an enormous Culture score), or by sending a spaceship to Alpha Centauri (basically getting a bunch of endgame technologies and then building the special spaceship parts that the techs allow you to build). 

Civilization, more than Diablo, more than Warcraft, and more than any Japanese RPG, will make you lose track of time and take that one last turn.  You develop a sprawling empire of cities, improvements, and allies, and building, expanding, and strengthening it is a blast and a half.  Civ V refines its basic controls to a new height, with basic movements and controls easy to understand and possessing staggering breadth and depth.  The unit variety is huge and varied, and made better with each civilization receiving at least one unique unit.

Civ III (changing gears for a second) did a very dumb thing by crippling your cities' economy and production with its Corruption system (thank goodness it's nowhere to be found in Civ V), but did a very awesome thing by making the different civilizations unique by giving them unique units and abilities.  Civ V takes this to an awesome extreme with its insane variety of leaders (over 40 when you count DLC, which I've indulged in somewhat) and multitude of Civ-specific skills.  I favor diplomatic and scientific victories in Civ V, so my favorite Civs to use are Greece (great at currying favor with City-States for diplomacy), Babylon (Great Scientists are earned faster), Korea (tons of science bonuses from buildings and wonders), and Japan (one of the best Civs for a military victory).  So not only is Civilization V possessing great gameplay variety on its own, its incredibly diverse selection of playable Civilizations makes it even better.

Oh, and by the way, Wonders are special buildings that can either be National Wonders (only one per civilization, like a National College or a Treasury) or World Wonders (only one per game, like The Pyramids or The Statue of Liberty).  Wonders give really good bonuses in a variety of ways, but are particularly good at boosting Culture. 

The other major additions to the Civ formula that I didn't recognize instantly are City-States and Culture.  City-States are like opposing Civilizations, except that they only have one city that expands slowly, are always positioned next to at least one valuable resource, and are never a military aggressor.  City-States can be conquered like a civilization, but they're easier to ally with and will provide bonuses if you ally with them.  Dealing with City-States is important for a diplomatic victory, since each City-State has a vote in the United Nations.

Culture is a similar that works just like population, production, gold, happiness, and science (the five cornerstone statistics of any city in a Civilization game).  I think Culture was in Civ III, but not in this much of a capacity.  Higher culture scores make your city borders expand faster (always good), but more importantly gives you a bunch of very powerful themed bonuses that focus on one of ten specific aspects of building a Civilization.  If you max five of the ten culture tracks then the door opens for a cultural victory.  Culture provides a myriad of bonuses to a Civilization, so focusing on Culture doesn't necessarily mean you lose out on other resources (which can definitely be the case with, say, science vs. gold).  In the Gods & Kings expansion, several Culture bonuses and buildings also increase Faith.

Ah yes, Faith.  In the Gods & Kings expansion, which I downloaded on sale a few months after my first Civ V binges, religion reenters the Civ landscape following a brief absence.  Religions... aren't as powerful as culture bonuses or (in my opinion...) a focus on science, but spreading and maintaining a religion can supplement your Civ's stats pretty well, except for science.  Science and faith can coexist in a few small bonuses, but they lie on opposing Culture tracks and generally a developing Civ can't emphasize both.  Building your religion is pretty entertaining - you need to first get a Great Prophet in one of your cities (Great People give specific bonuses as your cities cultivate them) and found a religion, then as your religion grows, you add bonuses that the religion gives you.  Religions can be spread, squelched, or strengthened with prophets, missionaries, and inquisitors.  Again, you can't win by 100% focusing on Religion, but having a strong religion can easily supplement the path to a cultural, diplomatic, or even military victory.  The G&K expansion also adds a few Civilizations, units, buildings, and wonders, fixes a few balance issues, and adds some more maps.  Faith/Religion is the big new addition, though. 

So look.  If you like city-building games, turn-based strategy games, surprisingly educational games, or any combination thereof, you probably already really like at least one Civilization game of years past.  And this is the best Civilization game.  It's more accessiable than ever AND deeper than ever, the amount of variety is tremendous, and that's before DLC gave you dozens of new civilizations, historical scenario maps, and smaller improvements like additional Wonders.  Civilization is a cornerstone of all video games, and Civilization V: Gods & Kings is a 100% worthy entry to the series. 

But a disclaimer - Civilization V isn't really a game that you "beat" per se.  An individual game can last between... two and thirty hours, and it would probably take thousands of hours to play everything that Civilization V has to offer.  I beat the game several times and sampled the historical scenarios.  I even bought about eight bucks worth of DLC (Ethiopia, Korea, and a few bonus Wonders).  I don't think it's even possible for me to beat all of Civ V, but for the purposes of writing 

Games Beaten: 2012 Edition
1. Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins
2. Radiant Historia
3. Mass Effect
4. Mass Effect 2
5. Breath of Death VII: The Beginning (Hard mode)
6. Grandia II
7. On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness - Episode 2
8. Mass Effect 3
9. Journey
10. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
11. Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP
12. Star Ocean: Second Evolution
13. Red Dead Redemption
14. On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 3
15. Persona 3 FES
16. Final Fantasy XII
17. DeathSpank: Thongs of Virtue
18. Super Mario Galaxy
19. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
20. Fire Emblem: Fuuin no Tsurugi
21. Torchlight II
22. Rogue Galaxy 
23. Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana
24. Okami
25. Civilization V: Gods & Kings

Targets: 10/12

Look, this review is late.  I beat Civ V for the first time earlier this summer (multiple times, in fact), then beat it several more times after I bought the expansion in November.  I let this review sit in the queue for far too long, and case in point I have another one to write for a game I beat on January 1st.  So hopefully, sometime in the next hour or two you'll be hearing about Valkyria Chronicles. 

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