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Review: Sid Meier's Civilization V
by Greg Mengel

“These concubines are less than satisfactory! Beat them, sell their families into slavery, and fast them for a week.” Emperor Washington barked brusquely in his chamber room, naked except for an array of jewelry decorating a pale, pouchy frame. All in the room glanced at each other nervously as the irate leader dressed, belting his longsword and donning his crown as servants draped his shoulders with a sleek bear-skin robe. Sneering, the now somewhat-clothed despot turned on three women wailing desperately on the ornamentally carpeted floor behind him, bodies bruised as tears cut rivers through their painted, sore faces. “Knowing their children and grandmothers labour at the salt mines of Hanoi will teach the ungrateful harlots to please without weeping. Ruined the whole evening...”

“Certainly, great Washington, Child of Zeus, Prince of Moon and Sun.” Grand Vizier Hamilton trod cautiously, bowing slightly in place. “Your vassal, Napoleon, has sent an envoy. A young knight named Richelieu, I believe. He awaits you in the palace hall.”

“Vassal...” Washington scoffed, shutting his eyes. Two slaves rushed from opposite walls to rub his temples. “I cannot tell a lie; the fairy French are more damned trouble than they’re worth. Were they not between me and that warmongering bitch Catherine...” Washington punched left palm with right fist.

“...they would fall before your knights like leaves in autumn.” Hamilton offered poetically.

Washington glared at Hamilton for a moment, as if deciding whether the man was being sarcastic, then chuckled.

“That’s why I don’t kill you and sell your loved ones into labour, my friend.” The leader closed on his aide briskly, slapping him hard on the shoulder. “You entertain me. Come! Napoleon’s lap boy awaits.”

The two advanced towards the White House throne room to meet their esteemed guest. Minutes later, when the coast was truly clear, Washington’s slaves and servants relaxed at the departure of their dictator, their tsunami of fear ebbing temporarily with a collected sigh of relief.

This is the world of Civilization, which has long addicted the masses of gamingkind. Part strategy game, part historical epic, all pure, unadulterated digital heroin; Sid Meier’s classic videogame series will always have a special place in the hearts of hundreds of thousands of gamers.

Its fifth installment does not disappoint. Still, it has issues, like the fact that it turns some of history’s most peaceful cultures and historical figures into genocidal egomaniacs bent on world supremacy. Only in the world of Civilization can Gandhi become an authoritarian fascist bent on the complete and utter destruction of a friendly, defenseless, culture-centric Germany led by Otto Von Bismark, the gentle lamb of leaders of state.

Summed up, here are the pros and cons of Civilization V.


Combat. Units not stacking is amazing, wonderful, and terrific. It leads to less units needed overall, which in turn forces players to think strategically about how they fight.

Range of victories. Cultural, diplomatic, space, time (score), conquest.

AI. It’s more intelligent than in previous installments... when it’s not acting like the bully from second grade, slapping you up and down the playground (see cons).

Unique civilization units, buildings, and abilities. Unique civilization attributes are much more diverse and useful than in the last game, and will drastically effect the way you play.

Policy Tree. Allows for custom play-style unique to each civilization/policy combo when combined with unique civilization strengths.

Downloadable content. Extra civilizations and official custom maps aren’t here yet, but when they do arrive, they’ll be swell.

Modding. It’s gonna be big. With a nice in-game mod browser and oodles of Firaxis support, the custom game and scenario possibilities have mountains more potential than in any previous installment.

Aesthetics. With smoother graphics, an intelligent soundtrack, and vibrant art, it’s the sleekest Civ yet.

Achievements. Beat the game before the Classical Era? With a single city? Using no hands? You’ll get props for that.


AI. At high difficulties, every non-playing civilization secretly - then openly - wants to kill you. Sweet-hammering-Thor, it gets annoying.

Steam is mandatory. If you don’t like Steam, tough luck: it’s the only way to play.

Addictive. It's as though heroin and World of Warcraft had a lovechild. When you stay up until four on a work night for the Xth day in a row, it becomes a problem.

Summed up, Civilization is a huge improvement over its many predecessors, but like those ancestors, is riddled with incredibly annoying flaws. The fact that no computer civilization will ever, ever choose to chase a diplomatic, cultural, or technological victory, for example, is just damn ridiculous. Even at high difficulties (and perhaps especially then), warmongering foreign leaders will choose to attack you, even if it means putting their brave but untested archers on a path against your nigh-invincible giant death robot (yup, you get those).

Still, those annoyances haven’t been enough to keep my household from logging a mind-boggling 190 hours of game time since Civ V’s release. One hundred and ninety. With that time you could learn Gaelic, or memorize War and Peace. It’s both disgusting and beautiful, and was achieved by a household which includes not only two Civilization veterans, but also a couple of neophytes who equally enjoyed letting the world of Civ veer them away from their personal and professional responsibilities (medical school, employment, writing this article, et cetera).

What I love most about Civ V is its huge amount of potential. Allow me to explain. For me, the best part of Civ has never been the actual game. Since the first time I installed Civilization II’s Fantastic Worlds expansion pack onto my IBM Aptiva’s archaic and asthmatic hard drive, the jewel of Civ in my eyes has been its customized scenarios and mods. Taking the Civilization template and morphing it into the world of Jules Verne, Arcanum, World War II, Midgard, or Atlantis, allows for countless hours of fun. Civilization V’s in-game mod support paves the way for an era of fantastic and addicting mods like these.

Unfortunately, mods take time, so until a wave of them gestate into beautiful gaming butterflies of awesomeness, the regular game will have to do.

If you are now, or ever have been a fan of history, strategy games, giant death robots, or laughing maniacally before a glowing computer screen in your lair as you crush your many enemies, grossly contorting the historical continuum, then stop reading, jog to the store, and buy this game immediately.

9/10 [?]

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- Greg Mengel

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