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Archive for the ‘Civilization 5’ Category

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I’m now playing my 4th game of Civilization 5:  Brave New World, so I think I’m finally in a position to at least comment on the new features.  However, there is no doubt that Brave New World has substantially increased the complexity of the game, at least on the higher end difficulties; in a good way, I think for me at least, but in a way possibly not everyone will love.  I’m gonna try to break down the new changes as I have in my previous articles and give my thoughts on how they actually play out.  Knowing that 2K is paying attention and has planned for at least one major balance patch, I’ll also point out which features I think still need some work.

Trade Routes and New Gold Economy

My opinion:  Big hit, probably my favorite addition to the game.

Probably the largest change right up front when you start playing is the new gold economy.  You no longer get gold from river and coast tiles; your cities can still produce gold from luxury tiles but overall the amount of gold coming from your cities is much reduced.  In place of this lost income you now get trade routes which you can connect to other civilization or city-state cities to make additional gold per turn.  The actual amount per trade route varies but when you have the chance to create one you can see all values up front so it’s pretty easy to decide which city to trade with, and generally you want the most lucrative trade routes possible that you can protect.  Naval trade routes earn significantly more which makes naval trade very important, even on Pangaea maps.

In practice, this system takes some getting used to; the trade units are quite expensive to build early on and balancing your income to expenses seems more difficult if you aren’t careful.  Later, as more trade routes become available, it becomes more a problem of setting up trade routes that won’t be broken by enemies or lost when you go to war unexpectedly.  I find that while trade routes only make up a third or less of my income, using them wisely is absolutely necessary to succeed in the game.  Tying religion and technology boosts to the trade routes was brilliant, but the tech portion seems underpowered later in the game as the small fixed bonus becomes too miniscule to have any effect.  My main complaint with the balance of the system though is the ease at which you can simply trade with city-states.  Trading with city-states is less lucrative but often much safer and less interesting than trading with other civilizations and I would like to see trade with city-states nerfed a bit further as I think it detracts from the depth of the system and how it interplays with diplomacy.  I haven’t used the interior trade routes much, boosting food or production in my own cities, but that seems like a very powerful ability for pro players to use at key moments, especially if you are short on trading partners or can spare the gold.

Culture Victory Overhaul

My Opinion:  A needed and fun improvement once you grasp how it works

The Culture Victory is now substantially altered; it is still a primarily passive system of waiting to have enough tourism for the victory to occur, but actually acquiring that tourism is definitely more involved than (more…)

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2K has finally broken radio silence about their new expansion, which saavy Steam users had discovered a while back and determined would be called “One World”.  It turns out the actual name is “Brave New World”, so pretty close (I actually think I prefer One World though).  My previous post on this expansion took some guesses on what would be the likely features and it turns out I did pretty well.  The emphasis of the expansion is solidly on diplomacy and culture alongside the normal mix of new game elements expected from any civ expansion.  So let’s look at what we have here, starting with the more mundane:

– 9 New Civilizations

Poland has already been officially revealed along with their unique ability and a unique unit, so that is confirmed.  Also the released screenshot shows a very Assyrian looking siege tower so they are a very likely addition as well.  As for clues of some of the others, we know trade and exploration are strong features of the expansion so I expect Portugal for sure.  The African scenario indicates we are likely to see at least 1 and possibly 2 African civilizations.  I am going to guess Zulu for sure and possibly Kongo or Swahili as the other.  Lastly, one of the new wonders is Indonesian so that hints strongly that we will see some sort of new Indonesian civilization.  Beyond those 6 there are still 3 more and I expect some possible surprises here.  Not much material left for European civs beyond adding Portugal and Poland so I expect these others will be American and Asian.  Please no more lame, abstract civs like the Holy Roman Empire from Civ 4.

– 8 New Wonders

New wonders are always one of my least favorite additions, I already have such a hard time keeping track of the wonders already in the game.  Also, the number of wonders in the game is fixed and not related to the number of players so the more wonders in the game the more overall impact they have.  Since wonders tend to be built by the most powerful and advanced nations and tend to provide global bonuses they also tend to further increase the chances of runaway players.  6 of the new wonders are already revealed: The Parthenon, Uffizi Museum, Globe Theater, Broadway, The Motherland Calls, Borobudur.  Nearly all of these are heavily culturally focused and will likely play into the new culture system.

– New Scenarios

While I enjoy seeing what scenarios they come up with, I find myself never actually playing them.  However, it is important to study the scenarios added when examining new features because often the scenarios are designed to make the maximum use of the new features if possible and so can give important (more…)

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Well it looks like some diligent geeks have discovered some references buried in Steam to an as-yet unreleased Civilization 5 product titled “One World”.  The assumption being made by the community is that this is the name of an as-yet unannounced Civilization 5 expansion.  2K itself is refusing to comment on “rumors and speculation” and so literally all we have to go off of is the title itself.

To see the Steam entries for yourself go here and scroll down till you see entries for “Expansion – One World Content” and “Expansion – One World EXE”.  Since the wording for the entries is identical to that for the already released Gods and Kings expansion I think its pretty safe to say we are indeed looking at the next expansion for Civ 5.

The community is awash in speculation of what this expansion might include.  Feel free to read them yourself, there is a thread at the official 2K forums and another at Civ fanatics that are both very active.  GameSpy has the first official media article on the news that I have been able to find though I’m sure other gaming media outlets will follow.

I’ll try to summarize a list of what I consider to be the more likely features of the expansion:

– Improved/Expanded diplomacy system (this would be my top pick provided the AI was likewise improved)

– Improved/Expanded trade system, perhaps more use for redundant luxury or strategic resources

– Focus on globalization late-game, including perhaps an improved or revamped United Nations

– Emphasis on colonization with expanded features, not sure what this would look like but there are some ideas.

Also of course any new Civ 5 expansion will have to include:

– New Civilizations, though they can probably get away with only 5 or so for this next expansion.  Zulu and Portuguese are both highly anticipated, and the Portuguese might make sense especially if there is a colonial focus to the game.

– Probably at least 1 new City-state type.  I’m surprised we don’t have one yet that focuses on science, but there are certainly other possibilities.

– New units, wonders, buildings.  Probably a very small amount of each, only 2-3, but each one can change the game substantially.

– New map scripts

– At least 2-3 new scenarios, I don’t care much for these personally but 2K really likes to focus on them in their marketing.

So we’ll see how long it takes for 2K to actually announce anything but the initial announcement will probably give us an idea of the direction they are taking this.  As I was just posting a few days ago, I really think Civ 5 has matured splendidly from it’s initial release into a game that is much more playable and enjoyable now; another well executed expansion could take the game even further.  I understand that Civ 5 is still one of the top-played games on Steam so 2K certainly has the market, and hopefully they can retain as much of the excellent design team from Gods and Kings as possible.

 

 

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I don’t intend this to be a long or detailed post, but I feel like I owe it to Civ 5 to post my more recent impressions of the game in its current state.  My original coverage of the game after release was somewhat negative as I focused on issues that many veteran players had with the game, particularly the legendary Sulla who pretty harshly criticized several elements of the basic design that he believed left the game permanently flawed.  Due a mix of frustrations, some of them primarily technical, I ended up playing very little of Civilization 5 after release.

So here we are, a dozen DLC, several major patches, and an expansion later.  How does the game measure up now?  I think that despite some remaining issues, Civilization 5 has made it to a fully playable and enjoyable state that is worthy of extended play sessions, engagement in the story of your game, and, yes, the “one more turn” addiction.

My technical problems have been solved by a mix of my own substantial system upgrades and optimizations 2K has made to the game engine itself, particularly in the most recent major patch.  Playing standard sized games, which is my normal game setup, I now have smooth frame-rates and no graphical glitches.  In fact with these issues out of the way I can finally appreciate the quality of the game art which really is quite high.  Late-game turn times can still be somewhat slow but this is forgivable given the sheer amount of stuff going on late game.

The core of the gameplay experience comes down to three pillars:  Civ development, Combat, and Diplomacy.

Civ development (i.e. developing cities, improving terrain, researching technologies) was never a serious problem for Civ 5 other than some balancing issues and those have largely been addressed by patches and the expansion.  Building up your civilization is at least as fun as in prior games, and I enjoy the hexagonal map and don’t miss for a minute the concept of “health” from Civ 4 (though I do miss the cottages from Civ 4 just a bit).  I especially like how roads and buildings are in general much more optional now and you actually do need to think about each road and building in terms of it’s cost/benefit analysis.  Decoupling gold from science was also a great move in my opinion, though tying science to population instead has had it’s share of balance issues.  The addition of religion was a nice touch and while it’s not a massive addition to the game it does add to overall depth.

It’s in combat and diplomacy that most of the complaints have centered around and it’s very obvious that 2K has worked to address player demands, albeit not as quickly as players would have liked.

The combat AI has been improved somewhat and some really bad behavior has been corrected.  It’s still terribly weak and exploitable, but I’m not sure how much more improvement players can expect given the vast array of scenarios the tactical AI can be put into by different map situations, etc.   The strategic AI has gotten better about planning and then launching large offensives and, again, while still deeply flawed it’s a huge improvement over the game’s release state and can at times be quite enjoyable to observe.

The diplomatic AI has also seen a lot of development and is, again, much improved over the original version.  However this is perhaps where it is the easiest for players to be the most critical; after all, people want a diplomatic AI that functions like a human player and this is simply impossible.  I think the fixed AI personalities for the various characters are a nice touch and to me they add to the game, though fortunately they can be randomized if players desire.  Espionage has added a slightly amount more depth to diplomacy also.  All in all, diplomacy still needs a LOT of work.

I still feel like the game is one more large patch or expansion away from good place but the combination of all the improvements put into place so far as put Civilization 5: Gods and Kings back on my “Nice” list and I’ve gone (according to Steam) from about 16 hours played up to about 90 hours played now; and honestly I would probably play more if I had more time and fewer other competing games.  I especially like how I can play Civ one handed while holding a baby in the other (gaming fathers, yo).

As for Sulla, he’s moved on to a slew of new games including Diablo III and League of Legends and I wish him well.  Perhaps some day he will return to Civ 5 and offer his thoughts on the improvements but I suspect that in some ways Civ 5 just wasn’t the game he wanted and he was just too burned out on Civ in general.

Don’t let his opinion (or mine) decide for you though.  Lately Steam has been selling Civ 5 and it’s DLC and expansion at incredibly low prices (50-75% off) so my recommendation is if you’ve been holding off on Civ 5 due to trepidation about the quality of the game and/or it’s price, hold off no longer.  This is finally a game worthy of taking the time to try out.

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It looks like Firaxis recently sent out a pre-release demo to most of the major computer gaming news websites and then gave them a date and time to post previews, since at least 5 websites all posted new previews at right around the same time today.  Unfortunately the demo looks like it was pretty limited to just the early game, so there wasn’t a whole lot of discussion about combat changes, espionage, or how the new diplomacy system feels.  It does look like the previewers got to play with the early portion of religion a bit though.

Of course the Civ 5 fan community is rabidly tearing these previews apart and closely examining the screenshots looking for scraps of new information.  It looks like at least a few of the screenshots are canned because they appear across multiple previews.

Gamespy preview:  Probably the best structured.  Goes through each major feature and compares how the features play to what was promised by Firaxis.  In this reviewers experience the AI was extremely docile, so who knows what that means.  Other reviewers apparently didn’t have this problem.

Gamespot Walkthrough:  Great walkthrough of the press demo, playing as the Celts.  Not a ton of detail, and a bunch of new screenshots that are absolutely tiny.  Hilarious writing worth many a chuckle.

1Up.com Preview:  Sheesh, cynical much?  Some more thoughts on the inclusion of religion.

Kotaku preview:  Covers a single game experience, a little description about what the early religion game is like but not much.  The reviwer pretty much gets annihilated by another Civ, so the docile AI problem noted by Gamespy apparently isn’t universal…

Destructoid preview:  Nothing that new, really.

Venture Beat preview:  Kind of awkwardly written but a lot of discussion.

We are still missing a LOT of information pertaining to how the overall game now plays with the new features.  The tactical combat AI is supposedly improved, but no mention yet as to what that actually looks like (I’m not getting my hopes too high on that one).  Diplomacy is now supposed to factor in religion and, later, ideology, but no idea what that is like in practice.   Letting players view the AI’s near-term plans via espionage sounds cool, but in practice it might end up making the AI even less of a challenge to the human player, so I’m curious to hear more about how that works.  And of course we are still missing info on the new tech tree, units, etc.  So the previews are nice but Firaxis is still holding a LOT of information back and it’s gonna take a lot more than a few shallow previews for me to feel satisfied.

UPDATE

IGN and PC Gamer now both have articles up also.  More importantly, IGN has a page of new high resolution screenshots and also a 4 minute hi-def youtube video.  The video is especially worth watching.

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It’s looking more and more like the changes coming in Gods and Kings are going to impact Civilization much more so than simply adding a little bit of content normally would.  After reading this incredibly interesting article from theverge.com about Ed Beach, the lead designer for Gods and Kings, it’s starting to become clear why.  Ed Beach literally is setting out to fix Civilization 5, which he seems to agree was a promising but ultimately deeply flawed design.

Check out the article, it’s worth reading it entirely if you have any interest in Gods and Kings and the future of Civilization 5.

By revamping the diplomacy and combat systems, improving the AI, and introducing new complex religion and espionage systems, Ed is directly targeting nearly every single major complaint by veteran players that the game is too random, too simplistic, too shallow, and too easily exploited.  It turns out that Ed is highly qualified for this type of development since he is actually a board wargame designer.  In fact he designed the popular GMT board wargame “Here I Stand”, which is a card-driven game covering the Reformation and is considered an excellent design.  The article goes into some depth on how he came to be the designer of “Here I Stand” and it should be clear why he is the right person at the right time to develop Gods and Kings.  In fact, he is really a dream come true for anyone wanting to see Civilization 5 go back to the strategy game roots of the series.

It’s clear to me that we should be expecting a “Beyond the Sword” type expansion here rather than a “Warlords” type expansion.  It’s hard not to be optimistic.  As many people have pointed out on the forums, the DLC for Civilization 5 basically amount to a “Warlords” type expansion anyways with minor content additions and scenarios.  Civilization 5 needs some major work more along the lines of what “Beyond the Sword” did for Civilization 5 and it looks like it’s going to get it.

It’s also clear after reading the article why there is a Reformation period scenario in Gods and Kings, it’s hard to imagine someone better qualified to design such a scenario than the actual designer of “Here I Stand”.

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It’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything about Civ 5 and, frankly, it’s been a long time since I’ve played Civ 5.  However, at long last a Civ 5 expansion has finally been announced.  Civilization 5: Gods and Kings.  A rather catchy title, actually.

The official announcement post is HERE.  A forum thread collecting all known information and links to a bunch of previews is HERE.  I suggest you check both of those out.

The crux of the expansion are two large new features:  Religion and enhanced diplomacy which will include espionage.

Religion

Religion was probably the most complained about omission from the original release of Civilization 5, especially after players discovered some unused religious art assets that showed the developers had at least been tinkering with it.  Holding religion back as a major selling point of the expansion was probably a good business decision though it did cost 2K a lot of criticism.  In any case, religion is back in a whole new way.  Once again 2K is avoiding using historical differentiation of religions, instead choosing to more or less offend all religions equally by turning them into one more tool for backstabbing, power-hungry players.

Still, from a gameplay perspective the actual implementation of religions looks really, really cool.  Religions in Civ 4 were all nearly identical, effecting the game only by their spread and distribution.  Religions in Civ 5 are going to be drastically different from each other, in ways determined entirely by the civilization which founds them.  Religions will use an advancement and customization system which unlocks different bonuses (called “beliefs”) tied to that religion, all of which will be unique.  The earlier religions will get first pick, basically.  Check out the links above for more information and the single screenshot.  Essentially religions are fully customizable, even down to their name; while the “historical” religions will be there as defaults and will retain their icons, it looks like you can found Christianity, rename it to “Jedi”, and then choose a bunch of combat focused beliefs to turn it into some weird martial arts religion.  If you wanted to.  There will be the traditional missionaries to spread religions around, and it seems like in this game religions might be an exclusive, only one-per-city thing.

Religion is going to have some sort of faith resource which will probably be generated by various new or re-purposed buildings and ideas and will also have a secondary use of “rushing” great people, meaning it will be universally useful.  There is even mention in one article of units and buildings that can be purchased only with faith.  Cool idea.  The new resource is going to result in a lot of new and re-done buildings and technologies which will probably affect the overall flow of the game quite a bit.  I gotta say though that from looking at screenshots the resource row in the upper left of the UI is getting pretty crowded…

I’m really, really glad religion is back and I’m also glad Civ 5 is taking it to a whole new interesting place.  It’s also a new opportunity for City-States to shine as spreading your religion and influence to city-states might end up being a big deal for some Civs.  In addition, some beliefs will effect all civs that practice that religion so there will actually be strategic reasons to change religions and religious blocs will have more in common than just an icon.  There are many levels of cool to this and tremendous potential.

Improved Diplomacy and Espionage

Civ 5 was supposed to have a more interesting, dynamic, and unpredictable diplomacy model in comparison to Civ 4.  The focus on the opposing leader as an avatar of their civilization through impressive full-screen graphics, along with the hiding of all the number crunching, would supposedly make diplomacy feel more “realistic”.  Instead the AI just turned out to be insane, replacing the sometimes stupid but at least predictable diplomacy of the Civ 4 AI with a series of seemingly unrelated complaints, statements, and actions that often felt like they came out of nowhere.  2K applied a few changes via patches to improve the visibility of the AI’s actions but that didn’t go too far to fixing the issue.

So Gods and Kings is planning to improve this by returning religion back to a key component of early- and mid-game diplomacy.  Once again we should see blocs of friendly religions forming in the game which will perhaps return a little bit of the predictability, though certain AI personalities will of course be less influenced by these factors.  Not a lot has been said on this so we’ll have to wait and see how much of an improvement there is, I suppose.

Late-game diplomacy is supposedly going to rely much less on religion and much more on ideology, with the 3 key ideologies all forming their own blocs; Freedom, Order, and Autocracy.  Interestingly, this seems to correspond to the ideology pyramid from the Hearts of Iron series of games used to define the three major power blocs in the WWII period.  There are some interesting possibilities here and certainly some historical precedent.  Again, we’ll have to see how it’s implemented.

Espionage was a late addition to Civ 4 and, frankly, a poor one.  It’s one of those features that players are always clamoring for but which in reality proves kind of difficult to implement.  Civ 4 espionage was terribly clunky and required an enormous amount of repetitive micromanagement and bombarded the player with annoying messages.  I quickly turned it off and just stopped playing with it as it caused an already slow late-game to drag even further.  So far from what has been revealed Civ 5 may be cleaning this up considerably.  There are no spy units, per se, spies are dispatched on missions via a window and then work away on their mission until it is complete.  Failure may result in the spy’s elimination after which you have to wait for a replacement.  Technologies and probably some wonders or buildings will unlock new spy “slots” so certain civs will have more spies active than others.  Spies even have names and levels so if you lose a high level spy you will be back to a low level replacement.  This seems to offer a lot of interesting gameplay choices while at the same time minimizing the annoying micromanagement.  I’m cautiously optimistic.

Once again, it offers yet another area for City-states to shine as they can be a major target for spies, with options to “rig elections” which apparently increases your influence while decreasing others and “coup” which does… something that we don’t know yet.  It’s one more way for players to interact with city-states and engage with other players for their favor.

City-States

I’ve already mentioned that city-states should be improved and made more dynamic by the inclusion of religions and espionage.  It’s also worth mentioning that there will be two new types of city-states, mercantile which offer unique resources and religious which will provide the faith resource.

The main new feature for city-states is a redone version of the quest system, moving them away from simply mercenaries who are bought with gold as they basically are currently.  The new quest system will supposedly make gold less influential and make interacting with city-states to gain their favor more interesting.  This is all well and good, my main concern is that city-states don’t spam players with messages anymore than they already do.  I would rather interact with city-states less and have the interactions mean more than to get spammed with yet another slew of “come do this menial task for me” messages.  I also think the UI for keeping track of city-states needs a lot of improvement so fingers crossed for that also.

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence in strategy games matters a LOT to me.  Game developers that actually talk about their AI and treat it as an important feature score a LOT of points with me.  As Brad Wardell of Stardock says, 90+% of strategy gamers are playing games against the AI pretty much all the time and a poor AI can really ruin the long-term interest in a game.  Civilization 5 was knocked down considerably by a lot of hardcore players on release for having a poor AI, particularly when it came to diplomacy and combat.  Though a number of patches have been released, there hasn’t been a large amount of improvement in the AI play.  I have wondered if the AI was essentally at a dead end.  Well, according to the new info on Gods and Kings, that’s not the case.

In fact, the AI has been specifically mentioned quite a bit in connection with both diplomacy and combat… the two points at which it is currently the weakest.  More than that, there has even been talk that espionage will be tied in to the AI behavior and planning… if the AI decides to attack someone it will start planning 15 turns in advance and your espionage might be able to discover this and even give you the option to warn the intended victim.  Conceptually this sounds really cool, though its hard to imagine what the actual implementation will look like.

In any case, the fact that the AI is getting focused development is perhaps the best news out of the entire expansion for me and is the thing most likely to have me back playing the game again.  Ok maybe it’s tied with religion…

Other Stuff, i.e. The Usual

Of course any Civ expansion comes with the usual bunch of new civilizations, new units, new buildings, new wonders, new technologies, etc.  The difference with Civ 5 is that all of these (except technologies)  have been released already in small packets via DLC so that raises the bar somewhat for what the expansion will provide.  The numbers are pretty impressive… 9 new civilizations, 27 new units, 13 new buildings, and 9 new wonders.  Though of course many of the new units and buildings will be specific to the new civilizations.

In addition to the new units combat is getting a bit of a balancing overhaul, units will have 100 health now and there will be new naval units that can melee and even attack coastal cities.  I’m not sure what the point of the increase to 100 health is, though it’s been suggested it will reduce rounding and make combats more predictable.  I’m not even sure that’s a good thing but I’ll withhold judgement till I find more out.  The increased emphasis on naval combat is a good thing and having naval units that can project more power against coastal civilizations sounds excellent.  The Civilization games have always struggled to make naval trade and control as important as it was historically so hopefully this will be a step in the right direction.

There was also a mention of changing the “pacing” of combat in the game, not sure what that means.  New early air units have been announced and probably some other units that will fill in gaps but we’ll have to wait to find out more.

In Conclusion

All in all a lot of potentially very, very exciting additions to the game.  Just about every major criticism is being addressed by the expansion from religion and diplomacy to the AI.  Everything will depend on implementation and whether or not 2K can deliver an actual polished, balanced expansion.  It’s pretty hard not to be incredibly excited though.

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