Procrastination Amplification: Punditry on MMOs and games in general.

10 Bad Things About Civilization V

No game is all praise and awe and neither is Civilization V. On Monday I talked about a random selection of things that are good about the game; today I’ll give you the flip-side. Below is an unsorted and incomplete list of ten things that I didn’t like about the game. Read this in conjunction with Monday’s post and you might be able to derive a picture of whether you’ll like the game or not.

Awful AI

Computer players in Civilization have never been very clever. It has become quite the stable strategy in these games to declare war on an enemy, take a couple of cities, accept their desperate terms for a few turns of peace and then hit them again. This is not the kind of bad AI I am talking about.

Most obvious is the AI’s inability to deal with the new one-unit-per-tile system. In direct combat it is already quite bad, performing such clever acts as moving a siege unit to the front lines (suicide) when it could have stayed behind raining death and destruction or running a sortie with their only defending unit instead of using it to bolster defensive strength. Movement might be even worse though. City states seem to be mentally unable to cross any sort of obstacle on their way to attacking other civilizations, for example. They will not cross your borders even when allied with you to fight your war (you might get angry!) and if they have to move more then a couple of hexes, or through a mountain pass or across a small body of water they will fail completely. Enemy civilizations on the warpath with someone else are easily stopped by strategically placing one or two of your units at a chokepoint they have to pass and when at war with you they will happily run their units one-by-one through said chokepoint to be slaughtered by your artillery.

Then there’s diplomacy… In one game Washington first asked me for a secret pact against Napoleon and then even wanted me to go to war with him. I agreed on the condition that I’d have ten turns to prepare and when I was ready I attacked the vile French who had been terrorizing my good old American buddies. Naturally this made Washington very angry, leading – over time – to a declaration of war and his inevitable destruction.

Moving units one-at-a-time

I like the whole one-unit-per-tile system, I really do. Alas it means that you can no longer simply move stacks of units around to where you want them but have to micromanage each and every one of them instead. In combat / enemy territory this is tactically interesting and correct – but when travelling it is really annoying. Especially embarking and landing a larger army is a logistical nightmare and no fun at all.

Also really awful for this are chokepoints. While you can give your units orders for multiple turns, they will get horribly confused when there are other units of yours in the way. Give your army the order to move through a narrow mountain pass and watch the ensuing carnage. You can manage those moves by hand, of course, but even that is slow and annoying. Maybe there should be an option to group units together as a caravan without fighting capability that you can control as one unit. The way it is is no fun to be sure.

The game is slow

The whole game, especially early on, feels extremely sluggish when played on normal speed. It takes forever to build things and for cities to grow and there simply isn’t a whole lot of things to do, especially in the early game. You will just be sitting around, hitting enter and moving your one or two scouting units around. Even those feel slow though as pretty much everything hinders their movement (forests, hills, rivers) and once you find something to do – say a barbarian encampment to exterminate – they will take forever to heal up.

As for building – there is no more slavery to use to speed up production and while you can still chop forests to add to a production effort, it is usually a bad idea to do so. So you sit around doing a whole lot of nothing while waiting for things to happen. Not fun. Other Civ games had this as well, but it seems even more pronounced in this one.

The game is really slow

What’s even worse than having to pass the turn endless times in a row without anything happening? Why, it taking forever to do so of course! Granted, my gaming rig isn’t the newest in town but it runs many contemporary games fine. Civilization though thinks it’s special somehow. It takes forever (well… relatively) to calculate enemy turns even when there really is nothing to calculate. Even when I kept on playing a bit after wiping out every single opponent on the map it still took a good 20 seconds to pass the turn. It is probably really computation-intensive to have the city states move their units around in circles within their territory or something.

I even get graphics-lag from time to time in the game. Not as bad as in Elemental: War of Magic, but it does happen and it is annoying. Why is it that strategy games have to be harder on my graphics card than, say, Mass Effect 2?


I praised the game for its polish on Monday, but that polish didn’t get all the way through to testing. We are used to having a few bugs in freshly released games and I can live with those, but if they destroy hours upon hours of gameplay that were put into a game of Civilization they really get a new meaning. In one game I allowed an enemy ten turns of peace in exchange for pretty much everything he had (his gold, gold per turn, all his luxury resources, and a couple of cities) planning to continue my aggression once the treaty ended. Little did I know that the game would forget to end that peace treaty ever – meaning I would be banned from attacking that player ever again. Something like that really gets into the way of your plans for world domination.

There are other bugs too – graphical artifacts and broken research agreements for example – but they pale in comparison to simply nullifying hours of invested gameplay.

Luxury Resources

I like the new way that strategic resources work, but that doesn’t extend to the luxury branch. Silk, gems, whales (!), and their ilk don’t really do all that much and especially don’t differ from each other. Gaining access to a new type of luxury resource raises the happiness in your empire and cities will from time to time demand a specific new resource. Other than that, all of these are identical. It doesn’t matter whether you have access to furs or dyes – the effect is the same. Even the resources yield of tiles with luxury resources on them is pretty much the same. Resource tile yields in general are boring and have little impact on the game. In Civilization IV, a tile with cattle on it would be really useful and help a city out greatly. In Civilization V it is just nice to have but really nothing spectacular.

Information about luxury resources is also hard to get. A couple of times I have traded away resources that I needed simply because I couldn’t find a good overview on how many of each resource I actually had. Would one additional info screen have been so hard to add?

City States

City states are a nice idea, but their handling could really be improved. It is really annoying that pretty much the only way to continuously stay on their good side is to gift them gold over and over again. There are quests, sure, but those only go so far and usually you get stuck on a useless one sooner or later (such as being asked to eliminate another city state). Why can’t they be impressed by my culture, or happy about the trade routes to my empire and my continued protection? Why don’t I even get a thank you when I persuade another player to stop the war against them?

Then there’s their limited usefulness in times of war due to their inability to move their army anywhere really…


In Civ V, every playable civilization has a unique trait and a combination of two unique units and/or buildings. The Iroquese can use forests as roads and the French get a bit more culture before the discovery of steam power. When compared with the leader traits in the predecessor, these new traits are really weak and of low impact. I like that they are unique (unlike in Civ IV) but I really would have liked them to have more of an impact on the game. Granted, more powerful abilities would likely have been even more imbalanced then these already are – but imbalance in a largely single-player game doesn’t strike me as too big a problem.

They will also be selling additional civilizations as downloadable content and have been offering some as pre-order bonuses, but with differences being as small as they are, I can’t really say that I would be interested in investing money that way.

Tech tree

There’s a poster that comes with the boxed version of the game with all kinds of information on the game on it, among them the full technology tree. Civilization veterans will look at it and immediately see the similarities to older version. The whole thing really hasn’t changed all that much since the original Civilization. It feels to me as if it had been slimmed a bit since Civilization IV and there really aren’t all that many interesting technologies to discover. Especially in the later stages of the game, most technologies are simply irrelevant. I also really miss the ability to make actual, long-term choices regarding technology – but you really can’t. Prerequisites make it so that you can push ahead in one area of science but sooner or later you will have to catch up in the others to proceed.

Don’t get me wrong, technological choices can have a huge impact on the game early on, but later on it’s all pretty much the same for everyone in every game. Also the rewards for being the first to discover a certain technology have been completely removed from the game – quite a shame, I enjoyed those races.

Time to move on

A lot of gameplay mechanics have changed since the original game, but the fiction has stayed more or less the same. You still iron working to build swordsmen and use mechanized infantry with air support to steamroll your less advanced opponents. I get the whole tradition thing and not wanting to touch on the heart of good old Civilization, but I can’t help but think that I’d enjoy the game much more if it was in a different setting. I don’t know how many times I’ve discovered writing in my computer gaming career, but it can’t be a healthy number. Alpha Centauri was a nice departure from the dross of playing the same game over and over and over again even if it wasn’t all that different from Civilization mechanics wise. It took Starcraft twelve years to be remade and people are still complaining about it being the same as the original. I think twelve years is a good number, why don’t you give us some “Warcraft” in between?

I’m afraid you won’t get any screenshots today as steam decided that updating Borderlands would be a good use of my allocated 3G bandwidth. Here’s hoping that I will have real internet again soon.

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