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Auncien's Skeptic's Review

Discussion in 'Civ5 - General Discussions' started by Auncien, Sep 22, 2010.

  1. Auncien

    Auncien Prince

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    As promised (something like two weeks ago), I now offer my skeptic’s thoughts on Civilization V.

    Random salient facts:

    I pre-purchased the standard edition of the game via Steam. I’ve played three games so far on Epic speed / Prince difficulty: one as India, one as Egypt and one as Russia. I’ve logged about 14 hours and some change since launch (real life keeps distracting me from what’s important, I’m sure you all can identify). I’m on an AMD Phenom II X4 955 quad running at 3.2 ghz. I use 8gb of corsair RAM (I can’t remember the speed at the moment… fast enough). I have an old Geforce 9800 GTX video card on an ASUS M4N82 Deluxe board (one card, not using SLI). I’m running Windows 7 64 bit home edition. I have those $100 logitech decent speakers w/ sub that you get from your local electronics store. I forget what they’re called.

    I was one of those who worried that Civilization V would be “dumbed down.” I worried that the desire for broader market appeal would have negative effects on the newest game in the Civ franchise by way of decreasing the complexity of the system. It turns out that this isn’t the case at all. The UI reminds one of Civilization: Revolution, but as many mainstream reviews have suggested, the similarity really does end there.

    I also thought that I would either love the game or hate it. For some reason, the weird ‘middle-ground’ that I’ve ended up in never even entered my mind as a possibility. I enjoy the game, but I have some reservations about it too, none of which have anything to do with the level of complexity. It’s still complex. I’m just not sure yet if its complex in the right ways, if that makes sense.

    Civilization V is not Civilization IV:

    It’s just not. Let’s just put that dead horse to rest right now. I loved IV. I still love IV. But to compare these two games to one another really wouldn’t do either one justice. Some components of IV please me more and some parts of V make me happier. A lot of that is really subjective so we’ll just leave it there for this review. Any comparison to the past can be read as a reference to the Civ pedigree, not exclusively the previous title.

    continued below...
     
  2. Auncien

    Auncien Prince

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    Gameplay:

    In many ways this is the most difficult bit to write. I’m stuck between loving (and yes, enjoying very much) the new gameplay changes and constantly asking myself, not why did they change x, y or z from CiV IV but why did they make a particular decision at all or why didn’t they carry it forward logically into a better iteration?

    The empire-management component of the game seems to have been boiled down to a seesaw system with gold on one end and happiness on the other, with the goal being to balance these two in an environment of warfare, expansion, scientific pursuit and cultural growth. Okay fine. I’m even enjoying the challenge of balancing these two components. Even though the happiness system is empire wide, it does still have local causes and consequences. Elegant, effective and neat.

    I do however have to wonder if this balancing act is going to be at all fun or challenging six weeks (or days… or hours) from now when I’ve figured out the sweet spot. Is this something that can replace health, corruption, maintenance, distance and location specific needs? I honestly don’t know the answer. It could be simplistic lip-service to empire simulation. It could be that I just don’t ‘get it’ yet. I’ll just pose the question and let everyone decide for themselves because it’s heavily subjective and somewhat user specific empirically because everyone has a different Civ skill set.

    Empire building in general is pretty straightforward. Each building has a purpose (money, science, production, food or culture) and each category has tiers of awesomeness that you can climb, if you’ve balanced your happy / cash seesaw appropriately. My only problem with this is that it’s very, very transparent and maybe too straightforward? It’s an elegant and fun system to be sure but does it have enough ambiguity? There’s not a lot of nuance to it. It’s just right there for you to see, which is kind of nice but again, what about six weeks or months from now? Will it still be interesting? Again, this is extremely subjective stuff and I’m not going to tell anyone what to think. I’m still not sure myself, but its worth some discussion.

    The little special tile improvements made by the great people are a nice addition and they can actually help significantly with your in-game goals. The wonders, on the other hand, are somewhat bland and uninspiring and you may find yourself thinking “is it really worth it to build that or should I just build another unit?” The wonders are no longer as special or fun or cool or specific. They’re very generic culture factories that are somewhat lacking in their former glory.

    Strategic view is useful and fun to use. From an immersion perspective the globe will be missed. From a gameplay and utility perspective, however, you can’t beat strategic view.

    Warfare is excellent. Single unit per tile was a good way to go. Hexes increase fairness and require a bit more thought and planning, which is a good thing. Fighting is in many ways the most satisfying part of Civilization V. The only drawback is that no one seems to have told the AI how to do it. If it gets the drop on you and invades when you aren’t ready it can seem pretty intimidating. If it can’t overwhelm you with units however then it seems to just give up and wait for the end. I’ve played for a day now and I feel confident of my ability to invade a foe twice my size (currently happening in the game I’m playing now) Once I break his main line he’s done. It’s over. He just rolls over. In a week from now am I still going to want to bother? The AI, in my opinion, is a severe shortcoming of Civilization V.

    It also has the very funny habit of sending undefended workers into the front lines. Why? I have no idea. But it does so consistently.

    Diplomacy is also a mixed bag. On the one hand you can do new and interesting things that really add a lot to the diplomatic game. On the other hand you really have no clue how those things are working out. Not overtly stating another leader’s inclinations toward the player was a good call. Makes things more humanlike and interesting. Depriving the player of ALL feedback of any kind excluding the “Hey man I hate you… just thought you’d like to know” or an overt declaration of war is somewhat jarring and detracts from gameplay.

    The result is that the AI opponents don’t feel like people. They don’t have the personality of the foes from past games. They just feel like AIs that are all plotting against you in some rudimentary, 1990s AI kind of way that you really don’t need to think about too much. “He’ll build lots of units so I’ll build lots of units” is all you need to know. The flavor is completely gone and no amount of animation or voice acting is going to change that. The silent, boisterous leaderheads from the previous game and their overt but snidely, wonderfully written diplomatic modifiers did more for immersion than anything in V. I’ll likely never hate Bismarck or fear Washington. There won’t be any grudges for enemies or warm feelings for allies. They don’t have teeth and what’s worse is they don’t even roleplay the part well with their old endearing, if psychotic, personalities.

    One final but important thought on diplomacy: city-states. They’re just awesome. They’re pure win and there is nothing negative to say about them. I want to see a component of an expansion dedicated to these guys because they were one of the breaths of fresh air that the series needed. They’re fantastic. Did I mention that I really like city-states?

    continued...
     
  3. Auncien

    Auncien Prince

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    Graphics:

    They’re great overall, but rough around the edges. Everything looks nice and for the most part meshes fairly well into the surrounding world. The units are well done. The roads, rivers and some of the tile improvements, however, stick out like sore thumbs, if only because the rest of the world is so pleasing to the eye. Also, it would be great if we could admire things by zooming in farther on the main map.

    The way the trading post paths never line up right or the way the roads cross each other, obviously never touching like some sort of contemporary interstate interchange, just looks sloppy. The trading posts themselves look silly and like they don’t belong in the world. Farm graphics are pleasing but sometimes awkward when placed next to something else. Rivers are too bright, too uniform and don’t fit into the world very well.

    Cities look very generic and do not differ very much as they grow. Rather than looking like they’re alive, they resemble gamey little markers. This was something that previous titles in the series handled very well and it’s a shame that for whatever reason the designers of V didn’t think it important to breath more life into what are arguably the stars of the show (the cities themselves).

    The hex system makes the world look very nice and makes it more fun to explore. The oil-painted overall look of the map is excellent. The different tile sets for different continents are just plain cool and will add to the replayability of the game. In other words, their heart was in the right place with the art style of the game, but many of the details seem like they could have used more careful judgment or more time in the creative process. A lot of details look just plain rushed.

    Sound:

    Like its art, the game’s sound has moments where it really shines and instances where you find yourself wanting to turn it off. The soundtrack for the game and the effects fit well together, but taken alone each piece isn’t all that impressive.

    The musical scores, for example, are pleasing as they don’t harass your mind while you’re pounding away at history for hours on end. They’re quality and some are fun to listen to. They do, however, get pretty repetitive after a while and they sort of start to run together in that ‘sleepy, between 2pm and 4:30pm afternoon classical station zombie music’ way. As someone who likes leaving the game music on while playing, I’m not sure how I’ll feel about this in two years or so after a couple thousand hours of playing the game.

    The sound effects themselves have a canned, weak quality to them. A cannon blast sounds pitifully tiny. Rifles sound far away and as if they’re coming from a plastic figurine from “The Indian in the Cupboard.” I’m using a subwoofer but apparently nobody told Civilization V. Everything in the effects track sounds distant and it just sort of helps to remove you from the experience somewhat. EDIT: After several more hours of gameplay and advancing further into the tech tree / timeline, i notice that the later era sound effects are quite a bit more powerful. So upon further reflection, the sound effects are fine. Rifles and cannon should boom less than artillery and destroyers.

    The UI sounds as well seem adequate but somewhat uninspired. Gone is the foreboding war horn of old. Gone is the vocal humanistic sigh when a wonder is completed somewhere (to be replaced by an extremely annoying ‘you failed at whack-a-mole’ bonk noise).

    Also, it feels wrong not having Leonard Nimoy usher in a new technology. The new guy just doesn’t cut it.

    Performance:

    Even on my clean, well-maintained performance system, this beast drags a bit. It plays and I don’t have to wait more than a few seconds between turns, but you can tell that it wants to be further optimized. To be fair, it’s a day out from launch but to be fair (again) issues like this (and the other terrible ones that a lot of people claim to be experiencing) could have been avoided with more time in the QA cycle. it could use another polish pass.

    That being said, however, it plays well for extended periods, which is ultimately what we care about. If your system can handle it you can in fact play a several-hour marathon session and the game won’t make a fuss.

    There are some other bugs. The first time I sat down to play I tried to locally save a game and for whatever reason it wouldn’t let me. I had to use Steam Cloud. After a game client restart however the issue seems to have resolved itself. Further, skipping the intro movie is a hit or miss ordeal. You might end up watching some old guy tell you a story that he made up while smoking the peace pipe or you might have your game obey you and skip it when you hit enter (enter?!). You just never know. Also the game doesn’t seem to want to scale with non-native resolutions. It seems only to run in whatever native resolutions your monitor will handle (this issue could be confined to my setup, I don’t know). Further, the ‘force small UI’ option seems to do very little if anything.

    Presentation Note:

    This is highly subjective but I feel it deserves mention. The “coating of cute” wrapped around this game annoys me very much. “Who smiles the most” lists or “Who has the pointiest sticks” sounds like marketing speak designed to lure casual players into a game that they wouldn’t normally pick up. It doesn’t fit with the pedigree or personality of the series and even serves at a jolt within the gameplay world that they’ve provided with V.

    continued...
     
  4. Auncien

    Auncien Prince

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    Summary:

    If this all seems somewhat contradictory and it doesn’t leave you with a real thumbs up-thumbs down feeling on the game, then that’s perfect because that’s exactly how I feel about the game. I keep playing, which has to be worth something… I’m just not sure if I’ll be playing four years from now like some other games I won’t mention. I like the game and its changes, but I’m not sure if I’ll keep liking them or more importantly if they were worth what the series lost. While I’m playing I keep getting this feeling like “I’m having fun and this thing has high production value and oh that’s neat and this is cool…” but part of me isn’t sure if that will last beyond the newness and the excitement of A NEW CIV OMG OMG.

    And then you add to that the fact that the game seems to ‘want’ to be great but maybe in some areas didn’t quite take the extra steps or the extra time necessary to earn that greatness. From the gameplay, graphics, sound, performance and overall ‘feeling’ perspectives this game needed more time in the womb and that much isn’t ambiguous at all to me. It is a quality game. It is a good game. Most importantly it is a very enjoyable game. It just isn’t as good as it could have been or maybe quite as good as some reviews made it out to be, if that makes sense. It has all the right ideas but still somehow feels incomplete.

    To be fair, the expectations for Civilization V were impossible to live up to and the game makes an honest effort at trying. Furthermore, this is in fact 36 hours out from the launch of vanilla. V may (likely will) age very, very well. And on that note I’ll come to a conclusion. Civilization V doesn’t quite feel complete yet, but it definitely provides a very, very, very strong and worthy foundation on which the designers can complete it.

    Please don’t get the wrong idea. I think I love this game. I’m enjoying it very much. I appreciate the hard work and love that went into its creation. I’m just trying to be as complete and honest as I can in my evaluation of it.

    From a non-normative standpoint I’d say it’s a fantastic game that nobody who enjoys strategy games in general or Civilization should miss, although it still needs a lot of work and expansion.

    From a strictly quantitative perspective, I’d give it a 92 of 100.

    Thanks people of Firaxis for a great, fun experience.
     
  5. DrJambo

    DrJambo Crash-test dummy

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    Great review, but a 92 seems steep for the amount of negatives you highlight. It will be interesting to see if you still think CiV warrants a 92 in a few weeks.
     
  6. r_rolo1

    r_rolo1 King of myself

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    From my experience with the demo, I couldn't agree more. The game has potential if well developed from now on, but it is still very unpolished at it's current state.
     
  7. BoydofZINJ

    BoydofZINJ Warlord

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    As the old saying goes: American game companies release unfinished, unpolished, and buggy games.

    With that in mind, Sid is an all American boy, alright.
     
  8. cybrxkhan

    cybrxkhan Asian Xwedodah

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    Very good points made. From playing the demo, I pretty much agree that the game does need some polishing. I don't dislike the game, like what some people here have said, but I do think that it doesn't have the "pizazz" factor that both Civ3 and Civ4 had for me. Had not it been for the city-states, I would have been very apathetic to Civ5.
     
  9. ohioastronomy

    ohioastronomy King

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    Weak AI, unfortunately, is a crippling flaw in a single-player game. And I'm not sure that current-generation computers are good enough to match people in a tactical positioning game. In fact, I'm sure that they aren't.

    I'd add the odd inability to reverse past government decisions: once a theocracy, always a theocracy. It doesn't feel right in a game which follows a culture through millenia.
     
  10. RX2000

    RX2000 Prince

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    Eh? Sid is Canadian.... :D
     
  11. SevenSpirits

    SevenSpirits Immortal?

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    Spot-on review!

    I love the foundation of the game but so much of it feels unfinished. And the AI is just atrocious.
     
  12. Gatsby

    Gatsby King

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    :confused: If I had read your whole review right up to the point where you wrote "..quantitative perspective" I would have thought you'd give it a score of around 60-75%. But 92 out of 100 sounds like a pretty real thumbs-up to me.
     
  13. Auncien

    Auncien Prince

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    Gamespot, I think, used to have this category called 'tilt.' Sort of a 'what does my gut tell me about this product and its potential despite its current realities. Think of it that way :)
     
  14. Gatsby

    Gatsby King

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    So 92 out of 100 is a score of the game's potential then i.e. how good it might be a few patches and expansion packs from now?

    Good review overall btw, I haven't played CiV or the demo yet but you seem to have taken a thoughtful and balanced approach to it :)
     
  15. bernlin2000

    bernlin2000 Prince

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    Good review, interesting to see all the diverging opinions. I'm pretty sure I like city-states too, but I'm finding the logistics of having to move units all over the map to do their little quests a bit tiresome: I think if i'm going to play a city-state strategy I have to go with a Small or Tiny map. The only other choice is dumping gold into them: and (at least in the early game) it's a strategy that you can hardly do with the entire map's city-states.

    I thought I would like a diplomatic system that didn't give numerical cues as to the state of your relationship, but after playing with these mysterious void-like leaders I think something needs to be added back in, how about just the simple "cautious" "furious", etc. I think the use of the (apparently useless) pact of cooperation is one way to gauge how another civilization feels about you: if they asked for one they like you, if they cancel it they don't like you so much anymore. It's a round-about way of just having something more transparent, I don't see the point in the obfuscation anymore.

    Totally disagree with your assessment of the new tech announcer: very strong voice, and oftentimes has more expression then Nimoy did in his quotes "A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!!!" The missed wonder sound effect is quite irritating though: it makes you feel like you screwed up, when maybe you didn't want that wonder. I want the horn back too: always fun to hear that when you tell Monty that his head would look good on a pole.

    Between turns has been quite long for me, and I'm running at exactly the recommended specs (with my RAM, at 4GB, being the lowest stat). Once I get to 2000 BC, waiting 20 seconds is the norm, it was more like 5 seconds in BTS (although it was slower than that in vanilla CivIV). All in all, it's a bit of a disappointment since I preordered the game months ago, and have been watching all the preview videos. It's not as polished as you would expect, but I guess Firaxis just doesn't have the same commitment to highly polished initial releases as Blizzard (they're certainly at the extreme end of that spectrum, which is why I love them).
     
  16. Roots

    Roots Chieftain

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    Wait, what? You just gave like 5 as many negatives than positives, and besides combat it sounds like you liked everything about Civ IV better. I really don't see how your review adds up to a 92...
     
  17. ThERat

    ThERat Deity

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    Though I only played the demo, I think your review does reflect a lot of my feelings.

    Great review!

    Let's hope that Firaxis and the community makes this game into a gem, that it ought to be.
     
  18. Louis XXIV

    Louis XXIV Le Roi Soleil

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    Auncien, I was looking forward to your review. I agree with most of what you said too. I like that you evaluated everything objectively and didn't find nitpicky complaints. I hope that the game will still be enjoyable in the future too. I feel much will remain to be seen based on depths (if any) the fan base can flesh out of the game.
     
  19. St. Willibrord

    St. Willibrord Chieftain

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    This is, I feel, the best and most useful review I've seen so far. I was worried when I clicked on the post after seeing you bringing the thunder against Civ before it was even released, but I feel like this is an exceptionally fair treatment. With regard to your thoughts about potential for improvement, do you think maybe some mods adding complexity (i.e. more units, more factors, more stuff) a la Rise of Mankind for Civ IV could ratchet the game up from good to exceptional?
     
  20. Davor

    Davor Prince

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    As other people have said, I agree with what you have said from playing the demo, but once you made your score, you credibility went out the window.

    Can you please break down your score please? A 92? Really? Not from the review that I just have read. I would say a 75 no way near an A game. A B+ the most.

    I am having an empty feeling playing the demo, and since the demo is suppose to be how the game plays, I feel it slow. Slow is not good. So B+.

    I can't wait to see your break of your score.
     

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