GDC 2010 Preview: Sid Meier's Civilization VBy Andrew Pfister - Posted Mar 10, 2010
What We Know: The fifth installment in the acclaimed Civilization franchise aims to reinvigorate the classic turn-based strategy genre with a new engine built from the ground-up. In development at Firaxis and to be published by 2K Games, Civilization V features a new combat system, deeper diplomatic interactions between the game's 18(!) civilizations, and other expanded features, so get ready to have many hours of your life sucked away.
What We Saw: They had me at the pretty shimmering water.
Truthfully, they had me at the announcement of a new Civilization game, the latest in the classic turn-based strategy series of barbarian taunting, cow pastures, settling Elvis Presley in the bustling metropolis of “Awesometown” for a culture bonus, and if you’re interested, complete global domination.
But Civilization V has some really pretty water.
Of course, there’s much more to it than that, and my first glimpse of Civ V’s revolutions and refinements came this week at GDC. If you’ve never played a Civilization game, it basically works like this: Build out your national empire by establishing new cities, using workers to improve your land tiles and generate production, raising a military to fend off agitated neighbors, researching new technology, and managing diplomatic relationships with competing countries. The ultimate goal is to achieve victory either by military might or enlightened rule. In Civ games up to this point, the turn-based strategies based on these elements took place on a map based on square tiles and 8-way movement. But now, that’s all changed.
The map of Civilization V is based on hexagonal tiles. And though it’s a reduction in the number of directions you can move, it means that your borders will expand outward in a more natural, almost spherical manner (if you were to think of the map as an actual globe). With the old square tiles, a diagonal move might allow you to bypass two defending units into an unoccupied tile between them – the hex system seals that gap and forces all diagonal moves into directly adjacent tiles. For you military types, that means a unified front line of defense (or offense).
Which brings us to the other significant change: Units no longer stack on the same tile. The “Stacks of Doom” -- military units loaded on the same single tile – will be no more, and the strategic focus will presumably be shifted to having a properly-upgraded unit in the right place at the right time, and buoyed by the right support units. Helping that out will be actual ranged units that can provide bombardment support from behind the front lines.
In a similar effort to draw combat out into the greater map, military units will no longer be the primary mode of direct defense for your cities. Instead, each metropolis will have a set number of hit points determined by its population. There will also be inherent defenses like a garrison and the ability to bombard nearby foes, but you’ll have to think long and hard about leaving your capital vulnerable for too long. Once that goes down, you’re toast.
A third major change is the introduction of the city-state. These smaller sovereign lands are entirely A.I. driven and have only one city, but appear to be key in “greasing the wheels of diplomacy,” as the product rep put it in today’s demo. The city-states cannot “win” the game like an A.I. leader of a proper nation, but they can be negotiated with, which has the potential to set up some interesting diplomatic dilemmas. You can give them gold or provide assistance, which makes them friendly to your country…and when another nation tries any funny stuff, you’ll have a say in the next step.
Opposing A.I. leaders (it’d be presumptuous to automatically assume that they’re enemies, after all…) also will exhibit some more “human” characteristics. For starters, no more gibberish: they’ll speak in their native tongues when dealing with you. They’ve each been programmed to have a unique “flavor” and way of behaving, including monitoring your actions more closely and reacting accordingly. You can also enter into combined research agreements, where both nations contribute a certain amount of gold for a researching bonus. The new diplomacy is something difficult to show in such a short time, so we’ll have to wait for an extended demonstration.
It’s easy to forget that Civ IV came out way back in 2005, and part of that is due to the impassioned support of its modder community, who took the base game and made maps, modes, and much more beyond regular Civilization. Firaxis is embracing this community by building the mod framework and support network directly into Civilization V. There’ll be a world-building map that they say anyone can use, without the ability to use scripting languages. And as far as downloading, searching for and organizing user-made content, an in-game browser will make that process far easier. So it’s safe to start brainstorming ideas now.
We were promised that much more will be revealed in the months leading up to its generally-defined “Fall” release, including more on how units can be upgraded, the tech research and culture systems, and multiplayer. For someone who recently had to institute a “no starting a new game before 9:00PM” policy, I couldn’t be more excited.
(Oh, and the Barbarians are back. And I’m just going to assume that they’re still jerks.)