Civ IV - overrated?

Ita Bear

Warlord
Joined
Dec 8, 2020
Messages
233
Hi folks,

Civilization IV is, by quite a comfortable margin, my favourite computer game. It has given me 16 years of virtual pleasure and I intend to keep on playing it into the future. I see a lot of criticism thrown at its successors, often deserved, but fair criticism of Civ IV often gets downplayed. I'd like to discuss a few of them.

The AI in Civs V and VI often gets derided and with good reason. That said, the AI in IV is hardly great. Its shortcomings are camouflaged by the fact all combat takes place on one tile, so worrying about movement isn't necessary. We've all invaded enemy empires to find they've farmed their entire landmass with no cottages and luxury/strategic resources have been left unimproved. The AI will send settlers to remote Arctic wastelands, almost as if to spite the player and stop you from settling there.

The AI also very regularly take dreadful tech paths. They don't seem to evaluate their surroundings, instead prioritising what their flavour and coding demands of them. So Gandhi, surrounded by Genghis, Shaka and Monty, will not train extra units - he will instead think founding a third religion will help him out of his nightmare. :D Isolated civs on small islands will build the Great Wall and other such oddities. The AI's empire building capabilities leave a lot to be desired.

Some of the mechanics are also questionable. The vast majority of players agree that Slavery is the best civic in the game; often never leaving it. The instantaneous conversion of population to hammers can be considered rather gamey. For a civic to be so useful for the entire game shows some pretty poor balancing. Some civics are so poor they are virtually never used. Looking at you, feudalism. :nono:

The game comes with many, many buildings, many of them of very questionable use. I've seen many arguments from high-level players that, in the majority of cases, it's better to simply spam more units and take your enemy's cities. Can a game be considered a civilisation builder when building a civilisation is so discouraged? When your civilisation is forever doomed to use slavery for eternity?

Combat is far from great, also. RNG doesn't make for satisfying gameplay and here it's on full display. Wars can be won or lost based on pure luck. Perhaps this is fine for some folk, but even for me it gets old sometimes. The crowning glory, though, goes to siege weaponry. Something is fundamentally wrong when the correct way to use siege weaponry is spam them, then suicide them into enemy armies or cities to soften them up. 1UPT has its faults, but it at least allows for archery and siege units to be used as intended - support for the main fighting force.

There are many other things that can annoy - GPP "pollution" (we've all got a Great Artist instead of the 99% chance of a Great Scientist!) Independent GP counters is a much better system, I think. Automating workers is basically a "make me lose" button. Tribal huts and random events are very unbalanced and usually turned off. Some corporations are objectively better than others. I could go on, but I'll stop there for now. :crazyeye:

Interested to hear your analysis. Do you have other faults to add?

Kind regards,
Ita Bear
 

Fippy

Mycro Junkie
Joined
Mar 17, 2013
Messages
13,385
There are several arguments i would bring against that :)

AIs are not great in most games, but in IV they at least function well enuf and difficulty levels are set really good. Most newer games have nothing that compares to Deity.

You can play without slavery if you like. Overpowered early game? Yup.
Later? Nopes, SP + Caste is much better. Even Civics like Bur and Paci pass Slavery easily once workshops become really good. They can compete before as well, so can Rep from Pyras.

Combat can feel like it's trolling you, but complaining about AIs and also wanting clearer results bite each other. Some difficulties and not knowing what will come are good.

GPP pollution adds another layer of strategy decisions.
Want Oracle? Live with Priest points..NE to double up? Live with Artist points, and so on.

Events and Huts can add fun moments for new players, or for HOF play.
Not everything must be tailored towards standard maps.
 

AcaMetis

Emperor
Joined
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Messages
1,668
The AI also very regularly take dreadful tech paths. They don't seem to evaluate their surroundings, instead prioritising what their flavour and coding demands of them. So Gandhi, surrounded by Genghis, Shaka and Monty, will not train extra units - he will instead think founding a third religion will help him out of his nightmare. :D Isolated civs on small islands will build the Great Wall and other such oddities. The AI's empire building capabilities leave a lot to be desired.
I would argue that the AI personalities is very much a positive, even if it's implementation/balancing isn't perfect and it leads to AIs looking like absolute buffoons at times: Sulla's(?) AI Survivor series has multiple instances of Willem displaying all the intelligence of a vegetable when it comes to just not getting that last military tech he needs to turn an ignoble death into a certain victory. But if AIs all tried to play the map you'd end up with 50-odd different skins for the same opponent all trying to play the game as a player would, but poorly. That'd get boring real quick, and would eventually make the game impossible to play on higher difficulties because AIs playing "smart" should realize that six archers vs. two warriors is a free capitol. And a dead player.

Some of the mechanics are also questionable. The vast majority of players agree that Slavery is the best civic in the game; often never leaving it. The instantaneous conversion of population to hammers can be considered rather gamey. For a civic to be so useful for the entire game shows some pretty poor balancing. Some civics are so poor they are virtually never used. Looking at you, feudalism. :nono:
Players often leave Slavery in favor of Caste System once they're ready to generate some great people (a Caste/Pacifism double switch right after starting a Golden Age is an extremely common thing) or are just done whipping for the moment, only switching back to it once they're ready to start whipping out a pre-industrial army and/or some infrastructure. Feudalism is also not the most uncommon civic to run, since a few AIs have it as their favorite civic (can run it for +diplo) and an unconditional +2 exp in all cities isn't useless when whipping out an army. The real problem with Feudalism is that it competes with Bureau (super-capitol that can keep your economy alive) and Nationalism (+2 :) from barracks, enables drafting, saves a ton of money in civic upkeep), and fails to come out on top.

Unless you meant Serfdom rather than Feudalism, in which case I got nothing. Serfdom is just...I mean I've used it before, admittedly on Marathon speed with a SPI leader, but on a standard map you'd be hard-pressed to find a situation where Serfdom is both available and worth running over Slavery (and/or Caste System).

The game comes with many, many buildings, many of them of very questionable use. I've seen many arguments from high-level players that, in the majority of cases, it's better to simply spam more units and take your enemy's cities. Can a game be considered a civilisation builder when building a civilisation is so discouraged? When your civilisation is forever doomed to use slavery for eternity?
Most of the buildings aren't worthwhile simply because they're not able to compete with building Wealth and assorted wealth-making tricks - you can build a courthouse to save money on maintenance, but you can also build wealth and effectively save money on maintenance now. Because of the snowballing effect of early advantages it's nearly always better to take the early advantage, and especially when you can use that advantage to render the long-term benefit of the building moot (either by winning the game or, in the case of a courthouse, reaching State Property faster) the building becomes not worth building. It's not that courthouses are bad, it's that they're not better.

Warfare is certainly very powerful and profitable, but for most of the game you're not better off building units. For most of the game you're building the empire that will one day be able to research, build, and make the most of the units you will one day use to conquer the world (or avoid getting conquered in turn, at least). Quick and successful warfare is a very calculated and planned move, win first and then go to war and all of that, and it takes a well build empire to put those plans in motion.

Also, staying in Slavery for eternity is all but impossible. All AIs are hardcoded to love Emancipation no matter how out of character it would be for them (Monty the emancipator of the people, he declares from atop his Sacrificial Altar...yeah, right), so once the UN is build both Slavery and Caste System are on a short timer before they're made to exit, stage left.

Combat is far from great, also. RNG doesn't make for satisfying gameplay and here it's on full display. Wars can be won or lost based on pure luck. Perhaps this is fine for some folk, but even for me it gets old sometimes. The crowning glory, though, goes to siege weaponry. Something is fundamentally wrong when the correct way to use siege weaponry is spam them, then suicide them into enemy armies or cities to soften them up. 1UPT has its faults, but it at least allows for archery and siege units to be used as intended - support for the main fighting force.
RNG isn't the most engaging or entertaining system, I'll agree, and the fact that the game doesn't understand how it's own RNG works doesn't help (100% chance of victory :nya: -> unit dies :dubious:). But if the alternative was a Covert Action-style minigame I'd say RNG is the lesser of two evils. That said I've rarely seen wars won or lost based purely on a few fights going one way or another. Though I'll note: rarely, not never. It's just part of what's required to make a game unpredictable, though.

How Siege weaponry is used indeed makes little logical sense, but than what part of the game does? I've no explanation for how a civilization that has no concept of fishing boats is able to use a river to transport resources but not units, how Gold can make a civilization with no concept of Currency discover how to build sailboats that much faster, what kind of stealth technology hides all the worlds horses until people figure out animal husbandry when pigs, sheep and cows are all visible and able to be put to some minor use from T0, etc.

There are many other things that can annoy - GPP "pollution" (we've all got a Great Artist instead of the 99% chance of a Great Scientist!) Independent GP counters is a much better system, I think. Automating workers is basically a "make me lose" button. Tribal huts and random events are very unbalanced and usually turned off. Some corporations are objectively better than others. I could go on, but I'll stop there for now.
The game does have it's flaws, yes.
 

jnebbe

Prince
Joined
Dec 14, 2019
Messages
328
One of my favorite things about video games is how the developers build a system, they create rules, tools, stats, variables that players can change, and then let players determine how to best utilize what they're given. What's most interesting to me is how often the best way/meta is usually to play incredibly different from how the game's "supposed" to be played. I immediately think of games like quake or melee which became famous because of players pushing the system they were given to it's limits. The charm of Civ IV for me is trying to give the ai so many overwhelming advantages and still managing to come out on top by manipulating the system that Firaxis built. It does feel a little silly to have all of your production come from corn farms but if that's more effective than building mines then so be it.

Of course when you look at a game pushed to it's limits it's going to look pretty strange compared to how it's "supposed to be played" but to me that's this game's biggest appeal.

Dunno if that answer's your question but oh well :crazyeye:
 

6K Man

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Civ4 has faults, but a lot of those faults only become apparent when you have been playing the game a long, long time. For example, Slavery. Slavery is an awesome civic and arguably overpowered, but there's a learning curve to it. If you just mash the Whip button as soon as it stops being greyed out, you'll have suboptimal results (and eventually cripple your cities with unhappiness or lack of growth). Years of experience have taught us about how overflow works, how to manage city growth for optimal whips, etc.

Now, if Slavery was simplified to "Press a button and a building appears" with no side effects like loss of population or unhappiness, it would be a terribly overpowered mechanic and badly designed.

A lot of the things you cite as faults force the player to make "interesting decisions", and those decisions make a game replayable. Don't want GPP pollution? Don't build National Epic in your GPP city... but then you lose out on a 100% bonus. And if combat wasn't random, there would be a table showing exactly how many War Chariots to build before rushing a (Protective/Not Protective) (Hill/Not Hill) (Creative/Not Creative) AI Capital. And that would be less fun, IMO.

Civ4 is a 16 (?) year old game that still holds up well in comparisons to successors that came out a decade later. Hardly overrated.
 

PPQ_Purple

Purple Cube
Joined
Oct 11, 2008
Messages
5,225
One of my favorite things about video games is how the developers build a system, they create rules, tools, stats, variables that players can change, and then let players determine how to best utilize what they're given. What's most interesting to me is how often the best way/meta is usually to play incredibly different from how the game's "supposed" to be played. I immediately think of games like quake or melee which became famous because of players pushing the system they were given to it's limits. The charm of Civ IV for me is trying to give the ai so many overwhelming advantages and still managing to come out on top by manipulating the system that Firaxis built. It does feel a little silly to have all of your production come from corn farms but if that's more effective than building mines then so be it.

Of course when you look at a game pushed to it's limits it's going to look pretty strange compared to how it's "supposed to be played" but to me that's this game's biggest appeal.

Dunno if that answer's your question but oh well :crazyeye:
That's a valid view on things. Although personally I feel exactly the opposite.

I newer liked the power gamer mentality that permeates the player base where people go out of their way to abuse the mechanics and make up rules like "Newer use this Civic" and "Always do X and Y in that order" etc. It just feels utterly unfun to me. Like it's the same as with pro chess where it's not really a game of strategy any more so much as memorising moves and counter moves and always doing the same thing like a computer.

Now that's not saying that isn't a valid way to play. Any way that gives you fun is valid for you. I just don't like it.
 

Enyavar

Prince
Joined
May 16, 2015
Messages
499
I almost forget how the unmodded Civ IV plays, but even that vanilla BTS is (mechanically) superior to the successor games.

Yes, hexagonal maps are asthetically more fun, and there is nice eye candy compared to the somewhat tired look that old Civ4 has... but the underlying mechanics made you choose your politics, instead of piling points on points in civic trees where you'd never get rid of a stupid old "honor" tree even late in the game.

Now, what I reply to your criticism of the base game of Civ4 BTS: Try the mods. With Rhye's mod alone I killed many years, and I'm now a DoC fan for many further years.
 

sampsa

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Like it's the same as with pro chess where it's not really a game of strategy any more so much as memorising moves and counter moves and always doing the same thing like a computer.
I've heard this claim in several different forms lately, but in reality nothing could be further from the truth. The best player on the planet has a rather different, almost anti-computer approach to openings. For a while the chess world thought that it's because Carlsen is just bad at openings. Recently the top players were asked "who has the best opening preparation?". Nearly everyone replied without hesitation: "Magnus Carlsen". Because humans cannot remember everything, they should resort to understanding.

In the same way if in Civ4 you understand why some civics are rarely used and why X should be usually done before Y, you are starting a journey to actually understanding the game. For me, learning to understand something is fun (fun in a very broad sense), but I understand that it's not for everyone.
 

PPQ_Purple

Purple Cube
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Messages
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Indeed, a matter of taste it is. And it is this variety of ways to play the game and enjoy it that is a large part of why this game has remained relevant for so long and will remain relevant until it becomes physically unplayable where as so many titles are forgotten within a year. It simply is so much to so many people and so good at being that.
 

The Civs 6

King
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As someone who plays all 3 of 4, 5 and 6 regularly, they each have their strengths and weaknesses. I would love to be able to add Civ 2 to the rotation, and as I am typing this, I am wondering if adding Civ 1 would be worth it as well.
 

Enyavar

Prince
Joined
May 16, 2015
Messages
499
As someone who plays all 3 of 4, 5 and 6 regularly, they each have their strengths and weaknesses. I would love to be able to add Civ 2 to the rotation, and as I am typing this, I am wondering if adding Civ 1 would be worth it as well.
I played FreeCiv for a while, it was programmed to be played like Civ 2.
I loved FreeCiv but it wasted so much of my time. The AI is especially dumb; but if you play it against harder level adversaries, they are dumb and scarily advanced way too fast. Never played the original, so I have no idea if the comparison with FreeCiv is fair.
 

vorlon_mi

Emperor
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As someone who plays all 3 of 4, 5 and 6 regularly, they each have their strengths and weaknesses. I would love to be able to add Civ 2 to the rotation, and as I am typing this, I am wondering if adding Civ 1 would be worth it as well.

Civ 2 was a blast, especially for the advisor videos. I'm not sure how to make it work on my Win 10 laptop; I don't have access to a 32bit system any more.

Civ 1 would be an even greater challenge to play on a current computer. Would need to visit that corner of Civfanatics to see how they're doing it.
 

PPQ_Purple

Purple Cube
Joined
Oct 11, 2008
Messages
5,225
As someone who plays all 3 of 4, 5 and 6 regularly, they each have their strengths and weaknesses. I would love to be able to add Civ 2 to the rotation, and as I am typing this, I am wondering if adding Civ 1 would be worth it as well.
Add SMAC to it as well. Great game. Honestly my favorite of the series. One of the very few high brow SF video games ever.
 
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