Sid Meier's Civilization V Hands-On - Exploration, Wonders, Culture, and Conquest

We get our greedy, land-grabbing hands on an early version of the next Civilization game, and we'll be right with you as soon as we just take one more turn.

The classic Civilization turn-based strategy series has been the pride and joy of Hunt Valley, Maryland-based Firaxis studio for years and is also apparently the pride and joy of the state of Maryland since that state's governor recently declared that the game's upcoming release date of September 21 will officially be "Civilization V day." The frighteningly habit-forming series has challenged armchair dictators for years to play as one of world history's greatest leaders (such as George Washington of America or Catherine II of Russia) and "build an empire to stand the test of time."

This wording sounds really dignified and impressive, but it really boils down to exploring a randomly generated land map, seizing resources, meeting new nations (and either allying with them or crushing them), and researching new technologies that will make your nation more powerful. And that really boils down to spending hour after hour in front of your computer, taking turn after turn to develop your nation's science, economy, military, culture, or borders until the morning sun starts peeking in through your window. We've finally gotten our filthy mitts on the fifth edition of Civ, and we have much to report, though to be honest, we'd rather be taking another turn.

Civ V looks strikingly different from previous games in the series for a number of reasons. While the most obvious (and initially, the most shocking) difference is the way that the game divides up the world map into wargame-style hexes rather than squares, the game's overall visual design is also really striking. While the previous game, Civ IV, was pretty to look at, there were times when it almost looked like it would burst at the seams by displaying so many informational notes and events onscreen at once. In contrast, Civ V looks like a very, very streamlined game that compresses important information and alerts down to a single line of updates in the lower-right corner of the screen and handily prompts you to take action whenever you have an idle unit, completed city production, or completed research advancement to which to attend. Also, the game's clean art deco look--a tip of the hat to 2K Games' BioShock--encompasses all its interfaces and menus and seems to work beautifully with the game's equally clean 3D maps and units, which are far more detailed and colorful than those of Civ IV and are much more visually distinct from each other.

Everybody wants to rule the world. Civ V has 18 world leaders, and each one arguably has the right stuff.

Aside from its cosmetic makeover, Civ V has a whole lot more new stuff to offer under the hood, such as combat, research, diplomacy, exploration, and expansion. For instance, while the basic first steps to building an empire are similar to previous games--root your settler in a good spot (ideally near precious resources and/or a life-sustaining river), build your first city, and send that first warrior or scout unit out to explore--even the early game has been changed in subtle (and not-so-subtle) ways.

As we found, scouting early and often is still crucially important to find ruins (Civ V's version of the goodie hut--a small cache that grants a random bonus of a free unit, technology, or money to whomever grabs it first), although the version we played had a more realistic, but occasionally inconvenient feature when setting units to automatically explore. Auto-exploring units will occasionally bumble right into the borders of an unmet city-state, immediately committing an act of trespassing that puts your at a diplomatic disadvantage with that city-state. Still, recon is now more important than ever, thanks to two brand new map features. For starters, Civ V introduces new natural wonders, such as the Old Faithful geyser or Lake Titicaca, which grant a permanent happiness bonus to the civilization that first discovers them (and also tend to produce more money and production resources than the average land tile).

And more importantly, there are the much talked-about city-states out there, which also take up a certain amount of real estate on the finite-sized map and offer a small gold bonus to the nation that discovers them first. Better still, the nation that forms an alliance by bribing with gold (or eventually takes bounties to clear out nearby barbarian hordes or to annihilate a rival city-state) can benefit from being on good terms with city-states by being granted trade resources, free units, and eventually, votes in the UN for the game's diplomatic victory condition. Oh, and take our word for it--you can also attack city-states, as well as plunder or annex them, which seems like easy money at first because unaffiliated city-states consist of only a single city and whatever defenses that one city has mustered.

Exploring is more important than ever. You may run across a natural wonder, like the Barringer Crater, for instance.

However, knocking out a bunch of these municipalities eventually marks you as a city-state destroying despot and puts you out of favor with the world's remaining city-states. It also triggers war with any rival nation that has granted its protection to that city-state, so unless you want to rumble with Chancellor Bismarck, you'll want to steer clear of the city-states under the protection of Germany, for instance.

Civ V has 18 different nations (America, Arabia, Aztec, China, Egypt, England, France, Germany, Greece, India, Iroquois, Japan, Ottoman, Persia, Rome, Russia, Siam, and Songhai). Each nation has two unique replacements to its standard technology progression; a nation has either two unique units that replace two standard units in the game (such as the Japanese samurai, which replaces the iron-age swordsman unit) or one unique unit and one unique city improvement that replaces a standard building (such as the Russian Krepost, which replaces a standard barracks).

Every leader needs to protect the homestead, and Civ V will let you use cities to bombard nearby enemies.

And of course, each nation has a glorious historical ruler (Washington, Harun al-Rashid, Montezuma, Empress Wu Zetian, Ramesses II, Queen Elizabeth, Napoleon Bonaparte, Bismarck, Alexander, Mahatma Gandhi, Hiawatha, Nobunaga, Suleiman, Darius I, Augustus Caesar, Catherine II, Ramkhamhaeng, and Askia), and each ruler has one carefully designed, highly specialized trait. In many cases, the ruler's trait sets him or her up beautifully for a very specific type of strategy. For instance, China's Wu Zetian tends to more frequently spawn more powerful great generals (a military version of the great person specialist type that will occasionally spawn within your domain and grant powerful bonuses), a clear-cut military advantage.

Civ V's larger gameplay seems to be built around letting players zero in on a certain strategic approach and fine-tune it by not only choosing the right leader to start off with a distinct advantage in one discipline or another, but also by researching the appropriate technologies and building the appropriate city improvements (as you'd expect), along with choosing an appropriate social policy. Social policies are a brand new concept in Civ V that essentially act as a second technology tree, powered not by research points, but by the amount of culture points your cities generate. As a matter of fact, the victory conditions for the culture victory have changed to require players to fully unlock each improvement in at least five different policies. There are 10 different social policy trees in all: tradition (which focuses on developing your capital city); liberty (best for fast expansion); honor (a set of military improvements); piety (which increases empire happiness and culture output); patronage (which improves relations with city-states); order (which reduces corruption, a handy ability for larger empires with many cities); autocracy (which makes maintaining a large army cheaper and more manageable); freedom (which benefits smaller nations, particularly those focused on culture); rationalism (which affects generations of technology research points); and commerce (which provides naval and trade bonuses).

While each policy has a handful of improvements that unlock in succession and provide powerful bonuses when purchased with successive payments of culture points, you can adopt only one social policy at one time, and some are mutually exclusive. If you hadn't already guessed, social policies greatly increase the importance of culture in Civ V and net-net, more closely tie in game concepts that were mostly unrelated in previous games. For instance, Napoleon's leader trait generates bonus culture points in each of all his cities until he discovers steam power. While this powerful trait most obviously lends itself to a race for a cultural victory, the increased generation of culture potentially also makes powerful social policies of all stripes more quickly available to him. This makes it so that he can either race for a cultural victory by grinding out as many culture points as possible and buying up policies left and right or choose to spend his policy points on specific paths that will set him up for scientific victory (winning the space race), diplomatic victory (being voted the head of the UN), point victory (by having the highest score by the year 2050), or even a domination victory (by destroying all the capital cities of other nations). In keeping with the more crowded overland maps of Civ V (which are now filled with city-states and natural wonders), the expansion victory condition (which let you win by controlling 75 percent of the map) of previous games has been scrapped.

Civ V will let you go medieval on your rivals in any number of ways.

As you've presumably heard, Civ V's battle system has been overhauled, due in no small part to designer Jon Shafer's in-depth research into historical battles and sentimental fondness for classic tactical games like Panzer General. In Civ V, while military and civilian units can occupy the same hex (you can still have a spearman escort your settlers in lockstep as they set up a new city), non-flying military units can't. This means that the old days of the killer stack--a grouped bunch of units on a single square--are over and that engagements are much more tactical and require smarter use of space and terrain. If nothing else, sacking small cities hidden in impassable mountain ranges or on narrow peninsulas is harder simply because there are fewer spaces for you to place additional forces. This means you need to be more mindful of how additional factors, such as terrain defensive bonuses, and whether the defenders are fortified (military units can still dig in to a single spot to receive defensive bonuses) come into play.

Fortunately, Civ V now has a handy pre-battle assessment system that lets you, as an attacker, mouse over a potential defender to see how a battle would stack up. If the comparison between your forces and the defenders suggests a decisive victory on your part, you may want to go full speed ahead. But, if you're looking at a potential stalemate or worse, you may instead want to hang back until you can bring in some support units.

Another day, another golden age. The enhanced production and civic happiness of the golden age is still something that all rulers really, really want.

In addition, invasions have become at least slightly tougher to pull off because cities now have automated defenses (regardless of whether they're garrisoned with stationed units inside). If any hostile units are in range of a city, that city has the option to open fire on the enemy, and the city's tech level, size, and garrison will affect how much firepower the city has to use. Mounting late-game invasions of heavily fortified cities will require a large, organized, powerful army that can sustain taking fire from whatever arrows, catapults, or cannon are installed at the target.

While we've already covered a great deal of what Civ V has to offer and how those features work in practice now that we've played the game, we'll also share some notes on one of our earliest play sessions with Ramesses II--the Egyptian pharaoh whose leader trait gives him +20 percent production speed on world wonders. Yes, world wonders are back in the form of standard world wonders (there can be only one world wonder in play at any time, so the first nation that builds it reaps the powerful benefits) and Civ IV's national wonders (which can be built up to two times within your empire). Ramesses' bonus gives him a sizeable advantage when it comes to building wonders, which ostensibly provide a powerful culture bonus (pretty much all wonders generate some bonus culture), but in some cases, they also provide powerful military, economic, scientific, and population-related bonuses.

If you're wondering whether it's possible and viable to rush to build as many wonders as possible in Civ V…it is possible. (Just don't expect to win too many wars.) As you might expect, our initial development was peaceful and focused on creating a worker to build up civic improvements. These included using roads to route to strategic resources like cows (which provide a food bonus that grows your population, as usual) and stone (which increases your nearest city's production once a quarry is installed, as usual) and then building as many farms as possible to speed up the population growth of our home city, so that as many workers as possible were available to build wonders. Yes, we kept our eyes on the prize, and by prize, we mean glittering monuments like The Pyramids (which, this time around, grant a very useful 50 percent production bonus), The Oracle (which, this time around, gives you a free social policy), and Chichen Itza (which, this time around, extends the length of a golden age by 50 percent).

Yes, golden ages are back and still triggered either by popular happiness or with the help of a great person (this time around, you need only one great person to get the party started), and they still provide the powerful production bonuses that wonder-obsessed nut jobs crave. We deviated from our single-minded focus on winning by way of culture through world wonders just long enough to accept an allied city-state's bounty to eliminate a rival city-state. And we found that our centuries of doing nothing but building monuments had left us too weak to capture the target with only our ragtag company of low-level cavalry and the odd catapult or two we'd built for kicks (while the rest of our cities continued to build wonder after wonder). Fortunately, after being humiliated for several turns, we quietly accepted a graciously offered truce by the tiny but tenacious burg and were grateful that no one would ever know what foppish dandies we were at heart, unless they were to, for instance, read this preview.

Natural wonders are just one of Civ V's new features. You'll be able to explore all of them this September.

Now that we've finally played Civilization V for ourselves, we won't lie: We came away with what you could call a positive impression. By all appearances, Civ V will be every bit as addictive as you'd expect from a game in this popular series, with a user-friendly, streamlined interface and a social policy system that lets you chisel out a more focused victory strategy that's closer to your personal preferences.

Written By

Want the latest news about Sid Meier's Civilization V?

Sid Meier's Civilization V

Sid Meier's Civilization V

Follow

Discussion

133 comments
crypa
crypa

stupid game, you try hard to build an army and all the necessary, but the army of the opponent even a small country grows like rabbits, they have no tech, no resources but they grow, stupid and without logic, i wonder how old are developers of this idiot game.

hrothgar99
hrothgar99

instead of dissing each other's homeland ....play the damn game ...its gonna be epic

hememi
hememi

It' s obvious that Usa,Great brittain,Spain and greece all belong there. They ve all had major impacts at some point

squidbilly22
squidbilly22

Europe would be ruled by Germany today if it not for the Brave men and women of the United States,Not once but twice ! WWI and WWII are proof enough you can't have a game like this without the USA.Also we are a superpower still today,all the fat jokes and bankruptcy/ disease mudslinging doesn't change anything but prove how ridiculous you sound yac-off.

yacbos
yacbos

@squidbilly22 you are absolutely correct america made the cheeseburger (cause of most of today's disease from fats and cholestrol) and the best in warfare tech(cause of destruction and human suffering) and the videogames and movies (that made ppl even more lazy then before) perfect and all of that wouldnt have been done without the so called thrid countries since they are full of raw materials, potential and people who actually wants to do something well yeah you are right what have america offered to the world in the last 300 years ? now you tell me btw CIV V will rock :)

yacbos
yacbos

@Fable_Lord thats why they are the biggest arms sellers to other countries to be controlling the flow of money and the loyalty of other countries ;)

Fable_Lord
Fable_Lord

@squidbilly22 , it aint difficult to have a country like america .. just loan a lot of money from other country's.. America has the biggest loan.. if all the country's, banks want their money back, america is bankrupt and really become's a third world.

squidbilly22
squidbilly22

Bottom line what has your country done in the last 3 hundred years ? America has reshaped global boundaries and provided the most technological improvements not to mention the best movies , Video games,amuzment parks ect... We are the global standard in Entertainment and warfare by far,not to mention we have really hot women and cheeseburgers too.What has your pathetic third world done lately other than ask for money from us ?

triandy21
triandy21

yet another great game that I will definitely buy

Zincki
Zincki

Uma das melhores sequências que eu ja joguei..!

Zincki
Zincki

8 more days.. come on.

Zincki
Zincki

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

key1001
key1001

10 more days.. come on.

freebeema
freebeema

WIRELESS NETWORKING WAS INVENTED BY CSIRO

Wolfhammer93
Wolfhammer93

When will Sid let us play as the most advanced, powerful and intelligent civilization to ever exist... Australia. I mean come on we progressed society so much with the invention of... ummm....

samissa79
samissa79

well, this debate actually reflects that the more the game is realistic the more we like it, I hope Sid will always take this idea into consideration... great game indeed by the way ... the land of all prophets and religions: judaism, chrisitianity and islam, and the land of the first alphabet in the world is Great Syria (Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine), historically known as Assyria.

freebeema
freebeema

Come on dudes. It's finished. You really think they are going to add civs now? But Alexander of Macedon was nothing compared to the Khans. Definitely not the greatest war leader in history. No debate to be entered into.

kuinkz
kuinkz

@Kabals If you really think you are good with history, you should know that the United States did more propaganda than fighting compared to the Russians. Btw, look at the map and check if Spain isn't really that important.

sale1982
sale1982

for once please put Macedonia. The greatest war leader in the world is Macedonian, not greek; he conquered the greeks... you have Macedonia in the Bible, first christian on the european territory was Macedonian...

manveer27
manveer27

America is a must for civ 5 and im not being biased I live in britain but there are civs that are less important than spain

Kabals
Kabals

Spain didn't discover the New World. Vikings had settlements in what is now Canada prior to William the Conqueror's invasion of the British Isles in 1066. I also find it highly amusing that non-Americans blast the game developers for including America but not countries like Spain or Bulgaria (on the Civ5 official forums)...they say things like the U.S. hasn't been around long enough...look at what these countries did for human history, blah blah blah. All I know is that if it had not been for the United States (TWICE!), the continent of Europe would be speaking German today.

jumalan75
jumalan75

I've played every Civ and replayed them up to the point of the next one coming out and I can honestly say it is probably in my top 3 games of all time as a franchise. Though I'm tired of a weak political and espionage aspect. I think they need to sack up and deal with the real world issues of today like religion, rogue governments, terrorist groups, dictators and nuclear power, and do a better job of tying it into a global economy. Also create those same scenarios when getting into the futuristic mods like Next War... Real world leaders would be nice too... an option to play as the world stands today with it's technology and issues. Will always play civ, but let's take it to the next level please.

xguild
xguild

"@Petch1984 Then why the f*** America is in? It's there just to please large consumers market." Short answer yes and probobly because Sid is an American had a play in that. I agree however that Spain most certainly belongs in a game about world history (real or otherwise). It is a game in which we replay history, albeit we create a new one, the big players should all be their and Spain most certainly belongs their if the US was important enough to include. Suffice to say I would imagine any future expansion will most definitly include Spain among other missing Civs. In either case looking forward to this game, their can never be too many Civ's!... Sid how about a science fiction (aka Master of Orion like) Space Civ game? The last good one was Alpha Centuri and that was what like a decade ago!

Cpl_Breton
Cpl_Breton

Just hope that this time around late game on huge maps will be playable without waiting 1 min between every turn for the AI to play.

Majin-Vegeta
Majin-Vegeta

Well I am happy, I get to play as Ottoman's and Arabia! woohoo!!

chocovanchoco
chocovanchoco

I hope they didn't not omit religion just to not offend anyone- Mind you, the Civ 4 Islamic conversion tune did have something of a radical tone to it.

chocovanchoco
chocovanchoco

At least their isn't going 2 b some kind of online store.

chocovanchoco
chocovanchoco

Why isn't Spain in Civ V????? Really annoys me. Spain's been hugely influential throughout history not to mention... Oh, let me see...DISCOVERING THE NEW WORLD!! Firaxis will probably be cheap and release it in some kind of colonisation expansion pack. I'm sure it'll get annoying after a while, Queen Elizabeth saying, 'We are pleased to meet you.' in exactly the same tone every time you negotiate with England. Anyway, looking forward to Civ V apart from disappointments.

BorgMercenary
BorgMercenary

I hope someone from Firaxis reads this thread. That way, I might get an answer to this question: What was Firaxis thinking when they removed the ability to stack units? Even once that gets answered, Civ V still seems too much like Civ IV to convince me to buy it. I'll just stick with Civ III, at least until Civ VI is released. (eta on Civ VI, 2014)

Petch1984
Petch1984

Ok The Romans gave us sewers and Poland gave us plumbers. I joke, I have nothing against Poland really they've done NOTHING to upset me.

Obidion
Obidion

@guys that claim that there was no Polish civilization in history I think Poland done much more than Mali or Songhai (civ5)- none of my friends even know the name and i can bet that there is a small chance for that, that anyone in US knows as a few of Americans know where Poland is. Poland was the biggest country in Europe when cololization begun and Copernicus was polish as well. It doesn't matter anyway- the thing is that thousands of polish fans that are a part of Civ society is waitng for that for ages and as a sign of appreciation they they could add it at least in some add on. But no- they prefer to add another exotic nation instead of listening of voices and hearts of fans. Sick of it. And price is not a subject as it would be the only game i play- it's just a sign of protest and i hope polish fans will join that. Bless ya lucky guys that can play your own civ- enjoy that as i cannot. Mike

khariss
khariss

at danielkennedy91 actually the Scottish invented most technology's not to mention the fried mars bar ;)

uberjannie
uberjannie

21 of September is my new birthday :) @danielkennedy91 : Civ is about making your own history, not replay this one.. Get another game.

danielkennedy91
danielkennedy91

England for me! we invented most technologies the world use today :D

Petch1984
Petch1984

@kasabkata Correct....and also (ironically) because USA helped create capitalism amongst other things. Anyway I'm from Britain and we offered theories and practises on gravity,maths,astronomy, physics,laws of motion,optics and evolution to the world...

burnettaj
burnettaj

Pre ordered and ready for play. I cannot wait till this comes out.

kasabkata
kasabkata

@Petch1984 Then why the f*** America is in? It's there just to please large consumers market.

OfficerTompkins
OfficerTompkins

@jccgold CIV games aren't about our history, it's about creating a new world with a different history

Humorguy_basic
Humorguy_basic

It's going to have to be pretty damn special for me to fork out for what seems practically the same game!

heveoc
heveoc

@jccgold Technically you could say that portugal was in Civ IV because they added it for BTS ^^

Analise
Analise

@jccgold Well said, its time that software designers for this kind of games know some history and don't left out one of the most important civilizations in the world... the portuguese.

jccgold
jccgold

Well i might ask why Portugal wasnt available in Civ IV when it was in Civ III. Portugal was the biggest country in the world around 1500s, is the older european country with the oldest borders, was the country to connect Asia with Europe with sea routes, colonized many lands from wich countrys appeared like Brazil, so i hope CIV V developers know a little more of history then CIV IV developers

feleas
feleas

@ Shinkaisin I'm surprised that he isn't, because in this game we all know it doesn't follow history on a dime, so not only was hitler a brilliant leader, but if he was in this game, then this would be the chance to speculate what would happen if he was a good leader and not a psychotic dictator.

Falmar
Falmar

@ Obidion I sense a plot agains the polish: @ Shinkaisin

Petch1984
Petch1984

@ Obidion You won't buy the game until Poland is represented??? I guess your nation has done nothing to progress civilization on this planet lol.

Slash_out
Slash_out

@Comment1 I hope so ^^. or there is going to be some pretty intense faction switching for some cities.