It's almost been five years since Civilization IV was released and as is often the case all memories of previous versions have been erased. It's Civilization. It's been like this since the start of time. But Civilization has changed with each iteration, more than I care to go into detail on here, and Civilization V might bring some of the most dramatic changes in the history of the franchise.
To some degree I think that the success of Civilization Revolution, the trimmed down and console adapted take on the series released in 2008, will forever change the way I and many others regard Civilization. The basic concept is so addictive that you can strip it down, switch parts, and dress it up any way you want, and there is still something worthwhile to be experienced. But I also think that Civilization Revolution was an eye opener for Firaxis themselves. The later stages of an epic scale Civilization IV campaign would drag on forever, with countless numbers of units roaming the world and stacks of units filling cities to a point where battles got extremely drawn out even if the outcome was pretty much a lock.
Perhaps this is one of the reasons why Firaxis opted to limit the number of units occupying one tile to simply one this time around, with cities not being able to host any units at all. It changes the way you will defend and attack fundamentally, and units will be fewer and more expensive to produce. However, this doesn't mean that combat has been simplified, instead combat will involve more tactics and it is not certain that a conflict between two units will result in the obliteration of one (it is likely to take a few turns). Add to this how archers are now able to attack from two tiles away, and the added layer of complexity hexagon tiles bring, and combat is a brand new experience. It's one of those things that I cannot evaluate by merely looking at a presentation, I need to get my hands on this and try it out for a few hours, before I can truly tell if this is an evolution that I'm going to enjoy during the hundred or so hours I plan to spend with Civilization V over the next few years.
I can imagine how building fortifications to protect your cities and maintaining lines of infantry, supported by cavalry and artillery is going to be the basics of combat strategy. A good mix of units, where it is vital to use the right unit for each task, and where old and obsolete units are of little or no use. But I really need to try this out for myself, not just see a prefabricated scenario played out with a producer manning mouse and keyboard. But what I can say is that I'm very excited about the prospects of more strategically challenging combat in Civilization V. No more stacks...
I have already mentioned the hexagons. Another major change that comes with Civilization V that will not only impact combat, but movement in general and also how realistically the landscape can be shaped. The leap in terms of graphics and visual presentation is probably the biggest one yet in the series, perhaps with the exception of the leap made from the first to the second game. The interface and menus have been trimmed down and option players seldom use have been hidden to simplify and streamline the graphical user interface. Since we will be using shortcuts in a matter of hours anyway, this is a welcome change.
While Civilization has never been about crisp graphics, it is still nice to see what Firaxis have done with this edition as it sets a different tone to gaming experience with a more realistic world for you to conquer. Naturally the graphics will be scalable as Firaxis are well aware that a large portion of their potential player base will use ancient desktops that may even pre-date Civilization IV. While I personally never cared much about the different faction leaders, these have been animated in greater detail this time around and you will get to her them speak in their native tongue. But what is much more exciting is that these leaders will now play the game with different agendas, and they may act in one way in order to deceive you later on. It adds a further dimension to the single player game that only multiplayer campaigns could bring in the past (and then you pretty much always knew people wanted to screw you over at some point).
That takes us to diplomacy, an area where much is as it has always been, yet the inclusion of city states will bring about an added dimension. City states are basically a one city civilisation that can never grow larger than that one city. You can of course conquer them outright, claim their land and resources, but there is also benefits to be had from treating them well and helping them out with different tasks. You could then use the loyalty you have gained with the city state to weaken your true adversaries.
There are other minute changes to the formula that has the potential to revolutionise the way you play the game. For instance your territory or sphere of influence does not just radiate due to culture from your cities, instead your population will decide in what direction it is most important to grow your borders. If there is an important resource or valuable tile in one direction your territory will grow towards it. Neat. But if you are impatient, and let's face it most of us are, you may want to spend a bit of gold in order to buy a tile outright. It's a strategic choice of course - is it worth founding a new city in order to gain that land or is it more wise to use a bit of cash? It is important to note that cities will now extend three tiles in every direction, which means that in order to optimise their potential you can't build cities as densely as in previous games.
Although I haven't gotten my hands on Civilization V yet I can already tell that there is enough changes in there to warrant a sequel to one of my favourite games of all times - Civilization IV. Some of these changes have the potential to truly revolutionise the Civilization experience, and isn't that exactly what we would like to see from a franchise that is just about to celebrate its 20th birthday?