E3 2010: Civilization V Breathes New Life Into the Series

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E3 2010: Civilization V Breathes New Life Into the Series

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Civilization V's new features, like the social policy trees and the hex-tile combat, totally change how the game is played - in a good way.

I'm a Civ-freak and I've taken over the world multiple times in all of the game's iterations. Getting to see the hex grid mechanics and city state features at this year's GDC was enlightening, but, here at E3, Firaxis producer Dennis Shirk was able to show me just how awesomely some of the other new features are going to impact my strategy.

The combat in Civ V is very different. Only one unit can occupy a hex, so arranging your armies in a line is the only way be effective. Ranged units, such as cannons, are used to soften up defensive positions but they need to be protected from a frontal assault. Plus, units get a +15 percent bonus when there is an allied unit next to it.

All of the combat changes are to prevent the "Stack of Doom" into which previous Civ strategy usually devolved. This made clear by the demonstration given by Peter Murray from Take-Two Interactive. "With clever selection of units, good, efficient use of terrain, and solid tactical deployments, one unit of Riflemen held off an attack against three military units and actually beat them back pretty badly," Murray said. "When you're able to do that, that feels really good. The Stack of Doom model really favored the civilization that had the biggest production capability. Now, if you don't have the biggest production, but you're a good general on the battlefield, you're going to be able to hold out for a little while longer. And that feels really cool when that happens."

When you do get to take over a city, you now have a third option instead of capturing it outright and adding it to your civ or razing the city to the ground (which now takes a turn for each population size number). You can set up a puppet government, which gives your civ all of the resources of that city (gold, culture and science) but you cannot direct its production. This way, the amount of unhappiness that would be produced from a captured city is reduced.

Another innovation that I personally think is genius and long-needed is the ability for land units to "embark" into sea travel without having to build dedicated transport units. "You don't have to build transports and fill them up with units anymore," Shirk said. "Now, they take the turn, and load themselves into the water. It's like they're loading themselves onto a ship, but they're defenseless. [Embarking] makes it very easy to stage a cross-continent invasion, which was always very difficult to do before, but they are wide open [to attack]. [Opposing navies] can just mow through them, so you have to build a strong navy to defend them."

Other than combat, Dennis Shirk told me about the new social policy system which replaces the civics of Civ IV and integrates with the culture system. "With the social policies, you have ten different branches that you can go down. Liberty, Tradition, Piety, things like that, and they all have policy trees underneath them," Shirk told me sitting at a booth in the 2K Games lounge. "Culture is the currency for these trees, so you're unlocking these trees as you go through time. The further in time you are, the more trees become available to you; and you're using culture [points] to buy these powerful policies."

There are ten trees in total, and each has about four or five policies to unlock within them, but you'd be hard-pressed to unlock them all. "If you fill 6 out of the 10 trees, fill 'em all up, that unlocks a world wonder called Utopia. It's the biggest wonder in the game. If you build it, and no one stops you from building it, that will win a culture victory," Shirk said. "Before in Civilization IV, it was about maintaining the top 3 cities that have the most culture output, [lead designer] Jon [Schafer] really wanted to do something cool with culture and make it something that you can really strive for."

One example given of a social policy was that under the Tradition tree is a policy called Aristocracy, which gives +33 percent bonus to building wonders. The goal is for these policies to be important for everybody, and not just the culture players. "Even if you weren't going for a culture victory, if you're going for the military path or the science path, these are really powerful modifications that make your civilization really, really unique," said Shirk.

City-states are another great innovation, but it was revealed that these NPC single-city civilizations will figure prominently into the Diplomatic victory condition. "City States have votes, too. If you have a city-state that's been conquered by another civ, and you liberate them from that other civ, you're almost guaranteed a vote in the U.N.," Shirk said. Gone are the days of massive vote numbers in the U.N. tied to population; every civ and city state gets only one vote. This makes befriending the city-states very important if you want to secure a Diplomatic victory.

The Science victory, where you build a spaceship to reach the stars and win the game, is probably the most similar to all the previous Civs. "One of the small differences that we added in is that when you build your spaceship parts, they have to be driven by truck to the capital for assembly," Shirk told me. "So there is always that little bit of possibility of killing something out in the open to stop someone from achieving a space race victory."

We got to see this in action during the demo. Playing as Rome, we used a gunship helicopter unit to scope out Montezuma's territory and saw that he was trucking the last spaceship part, the cockpit, to his capital of Tenochitlan. Because he's deployed quite a defensive position, with anti-tank guns and SAM units entrenched on a mountain range, there's no way that the Romans could take the capital through conventional weapons. That left only one possibility: Nuke 'em back to the Stone Age.

The ICBM blast animation was impressive, filling the screen with white light and leaving a huge mushroom cloud over what was left of the Aztec capital. Tanks that were conveniently placed outside the blast range of the nuke then steamrolled into the city and captured it. Oh, and the spaceship cockpit was incinerated, stopping Montezuma's space victory in its tracks.

I can't wait to get my hands on this game and try some of these tactics out for myself. Civilization V is out for the PC on September 21st, available on Steam.

Keep track of all our E3 2010 coverage here.

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I do not have words to describe how happy I am right now. Its like my life has meaning again.

I simply can't wait! All of the changes sound perfect and will make the games a lot more interesting, although I wonder if Gandhi will be as trigger happy with the nukes as he was in all my games against him.

This is so cool! Glad they are really looking into what made it epic! I'm really excited to see how it's all going to be implemented!

Why have I not started playing Civilization yet? This sounds like something that I'd enjoy immensely.

Sounds AWESOME.
I eagerly await this.

AWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW!!!!!!!!!! I just got into Civ 3 recently and found it really intimidating yet addictive! This one sounds even better, but I'm not sure if i would drop 50 bucks on it...

Heart of Darkness:
Why have I not started playing Civilization yet? This sounds like something that I'd enjoy immensely.

If you're going to, I would reccomend Civilization 4. As well as about 4 hours for you to enjoy the beginning of your game without interruptions. A full game usually takes like 12 hours.

Edit: Woops. Superfluous quote deleted.

I really like where they are going with this. The new UI and art deco skin is looking good as well as the gameplay.

Uhhuhuhuhuhuhuuhh.

This has moistened my crotch. I cannot -wait- for this.

Out of all the games coming out this year, this one excites me the most.

As long as they can make it so that you can play the medium levels without having the Computer being a cheating bastard, I'll be happier than the guys with the Clone Banks.

This sounds great! My only problem is not knowing if my PC can play it.

Does this need a Box-o-Magic from the moon, or can a 2005 laptop play it as well?

The civ series have been a black hole of my time, I can pour weeks into a single game and still want to play more. I'm slightly scared by the fact that it comes out just as I start my uni course, so their goes that degree I wanted...

Civ V will be mine. I must have it.

And here I am, more or less about to try Civilization for the first time with Civ IV.

Why am I so late? Not sure. Because I usually suck at strategy games, I suppose.

Why now? Because I figured it might be a nice alternative when no one wants to play Settles of Catan or Clone Wars RISK.

The changes sound pretty interesting, though, and reading about them makes me look forward to playing IV even more too.

First day buy for me.
No question.

I think I might have to take two weeks off in October.

Just...one...more...turn

AC10:
First day buy for me.
No question.

Indeedie.

Ohh, yes. The stragic fighting system has intruiged me immensley.

I wasn't actually excited about this game til I read this. Let's just hope they fixed the issue of spear throwers (not the racist term) taking out an Apache. That always irked me when that happened. Damn lucky dice rolls and having one spear thrower take out like 3 Apaches. There is no way that would EVER happen IRL.

Wonder if Gandhi will be a war mongering douche in this game too?

Who am I kidding, he'll be knocking down my door as usual...

Damn him!

The pre-order's been burning a hole in my library for more than a month; September can't get here fast enough.

Since strategy seems to be more of a lever here, it opens the possibility of having the scaling AI difficulty levels scale by skill rather than cheesy production bonuses. This is further evidenced by the stepping away from the "wars are won by raw numbers" mentality of the Stack of Doom.

I have to say the most intriguing addition is the re-vamp of the culture system. The idea of an IWIN wonder was used back in SMAC and to very good effect. This seems like a step further in that you have to commit your economy and setup to farm those policy points prior to building the Utopia.

My ONLY worry is cheese from the city states. I picture some random bonus from a city state being easily abused, so that if you start a game near city state X which gives bonus Y, then strategy Z instantly becomes the most powerful strategy for you for that game, once you buddy up with them. I'm sure they have that same worry and are working hard to balance them with internal testing.

Pinstar:

My ONLY worry is cheese from the city states. I picture some random bonus from a city state being easily abused, so that if you start a game near city state X which gives bonus Y, then strategy Z instantly becomes the most powerful strategy for you for that game, once you buddy up with them. I'm sure they have that same worry and are working hard to balance them with internal testing.

Well it's civilization, it's always got big random effects and it's almost always easy to win through certain paths. It'll be a fun romp and the culture thing sounds great.

Sounds awesome to a old-school civ fan!

Question:

Does it include the idiotic DRM?

Straying Bullet:
Question:

Does it include the idiotic DRM?

It integrates with Steam and Steamworks for multiplayer, AFAIK.

Greg Tito:

Straying Bullet:
Question:

Does it include the idiotic DRM?

It integrates with Steam and Steamworks for multiplayer, AFAIK.

Much appreciated my friend.

That... might actually get me back into Civilization. That sounds pretty cool! :D

Greg Tito:

Straying Bullet:
Question:

Does it include the idiotic DRM?

It integrates with Steam and Steamworks for multiplayer, AFAIK.

You need steam at all times.

Sure you can set steam to offline, but the fact that it REQUIRES Steam is very irritating to me.

If they'd make it not require steam if you only play offline and single player I'd pre-order their best version tonight :/.

Greg Tito:

Another innovation that I personally think is genius and long-needed is the ability for land units to "embark" into sea travel without having to build dedicated transport units. "You don't have to build transports and fill them up with units anymore," Shirk said. "Now, they take the turn, and load themselves into the water. It's like they're loading themselves onto a ship, but they're defenseless. [Embarking] makes it very easy to stage a cross-continent invasion, which was always very difficult to do before

Wait.........so unit can just casually sail across the ocean and invade other nations without the need to have any kind of a navy?

And just how the hell is that a genius and long-needed ability?

Greg Tito:
[Embarking] makes it very easy to stage a cross-continent invasion, which was always very difficult to do before

Of course it was difficult, BECAUSE IT WAS A CROSS CONTINENT INVASION!!!!!! Were you expecting a walk in the park when you attempted to launch naval invasions on the other side of the globe?

EDIT: Also, so STEAM is needed? That is a really bad sign. The Total war franchise use to be awesome until CA decided to make Empire and force STEAM into peoples throats, and the game sucked. To be fair it did not suck because of STEAM itself, but these days I consider it a warning and a bad omen when famous franchises that use to be non-STEAM suddenly decide to require STEAM at all times.

I'm crying tears of joy.

Demon ID:
The civ series have been a black hole of my time, I can pour weeks into a single game and still want to play more. I'm slightly scared by the fact that it comes out just as I start my uni course, so their goes that degree I wanted...

RESIST THE URGE!

I'd have to see it in action but I'm not entirely sure if I'm a big fan of the new combat mechanic. I understand this kind of combat is a touchy thing, but it seems to me that it would be possible for a few high quality units to replace what should be a much larger and more powerful military. Sort of going the opposite route from "the stack of doom" but causing an equal play imbalance.

Irregardless, I'm not paying full price for a purely digital game that requires STEAM, so it will be a while before I find out.

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