Friday, December 09, 2005

Civilization IV: A Review

If you have any family members or loved ones that you have no particular need or desire to see again for several months, then Civilization IV is quite possibly the perfect gift for them. The fourth edition of the turn-based strategy classic
is updated once again, and quite frankly, I'm as hooked as ever. Despite moving to a new game publisher, very little of the major ideas behind the game have been changed, but fundamentals have been enhanced in several important ways. For instance:

No more "spearmen killing tanks". Units are more rigorously classified and have different strengths and weaknesses so that even an army of medieval units isn't going to dent your expensive Modern Armor any more. The Age of Empires-esque unit-promotion style works well too, with elite squads of defenders, attackers, guerrillas, and even medics possible.

The endless patchwork of roads is no longer necessary. They no longer serve any function but transport, so you don't have to endlessly clutter your map with them. In the same vein, tiles are much more versatile, with more customization of production through improvements. Want some more shields? Build a workshop. More commerce? A village. More food? You get the idea.

Resources are more evenly distributed, and don't disappear on you, at least not that I've seen. No more incidents where you suddenly lose your oil in the middle of a war and have your tanks fizzle out.

Research is more fluid with multiple paths, although in practice, most research techs are no brainers, especially at the beginning.

City combat is more streamlined as well, with bombardment absolutely crucial now. Unless you have complete superiority, some catapults, cannons or bombers are going to be required to whittle down a city.

Another major addition is religion, which mainly adds to the diplomacy of the game. Although no religion is functionally different than another, civilizations with the same one will tend to band together. Ignore this at your peril. Religion is also the primary way to keep citizens happy, with stabs at multiculturalism even encouraged in late game play.

Specialists have changed from a luxury to a nearly required game strategy in this version, with a tremendous amount of increased production possible and the added wrinkle of Great People. Introduced in Civ III as a way to hurry wonders, more tasks have been granted to them, from the spread of religions, commerce, science and more. I'd go so far as to say that creating Great People is probably the most important aspect to the game now, and can completely turn the tide of a game.

Much has been made of the move to 3-D graphics for the game. It's probably necessary in an updating-the-game-for-new-audiences way, it actually adds very little and can actually make the maps more difficult to see at time, which some units looking too much alike. However, it's a slick design that will inevitably see improvement for Civ V. That's just how this series has worked. Moreover, the basic cycle of research/build/conquer has not been altered and the "one more turn" addiction of this game remains.



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