Sid Meier's Civilization V Updated Hands-On - Exclusive Multiplayer and Editing Tools Report

We get a close-up look at Civilization V's extensive editing tools, and then jump into multiplayer with the creators of the game itself and get horribly slaughtered.

Civilization V is the fifth chapter in the beloved turn-based strategy series, and it's one of the most highly anticipated games of the year. And it's going to be here soon. We recently had a chance to visit the home of developer Firaxis to get an in-depth look at the game's editing and modification-making tools, and then we hunkered down for a multiplayer session with Firaxis staffers who have played the game much more than we have, which is why they beat us so badly. That's what we keep telling ourselves, anyway.

Our visit to the studio space began with a tour of Civ V's worldbuilder and other editing tools, which were built on the core of Civ IV's scripting and code base but have been streamlined and made much, much more user-friendly. The tools let you create maps of all sizes in the game, up to the "huge" size of 128 by 80 tiles (which we can tell you from experience is really quite huge).

The worldbuilder itself is remarkably easy to use, since it can generate a new map in a matter of minutes. While you can painstakingly build a giant map tile by tile, you can also use the random map generator to create one of the game's basic map types (Pangaea, archipelago, and so on) and use a paintbrush tool to change any and all of the terrain on the map (so you can add a nice schmear of forest through your pregenerated desert with a single stroke of the mouse). The worldbuilder also has numerous "ploppers" that let you drop down resources, starting cities, city-states, initial units, ruins, barbarians, and whichever other features you prefer, with a single click. You can even adjust the starting fog-of-war level to clear however much, or little, fog from the map's starting state you like, essentially to create a scenario where the "known world" extends only so far.

And you can easily tweak your own custom maps after saving what you're working on and then exiting the tools, firing up the game, and loading up the map to play it immediately. You can also use the game's "tuner" tool in-game, which lets you change in-game values and units in real time over the course of an actual game (making it a powerful cheating tool as well…but who'd ever cheat in a game of Civ, right?). Of course, if you prefer to go more in-depth, you can dig into the game's mod tools, which are, like Civ IV's, based on LUA and XML scripting languages contained in configuration files that can be freely edited.

Civ V's powerful editing tools are based on Civ IV's toolset--but they're much more powerful and much easier to use.

Civ V's mods can take pretty much any form, from small-scale tweaks, like reskinning the user interface, to full-on total conversions, such as the test mod we saw in progress: "single large units," a tactical mod that starts all players with a preset handful of military units, which appear to be gigantic on the world map, and that plays less like a game of traditional Civ and more like a game of chess. As it turns out, you can set Civ V's mods to work directly with other mods (or to be exclusive of other mods), and as we've mentioned in our previous coverage, Civ V will let you search for mods using an in-game browser so that hopefully the work of diligent mod-makers can be found and played by more-casual users who might have otherwise been intimidated by having to search for them on the Internet, download them, and install them separately.

We then prepared ourselves to do battle in a four-man multiplayer match with several Firaxis staffers, including lead designer Jon Shafer, who, for the record, is a bloodthirsty monster and is not to be trusted in a Civ V multiplayer session. Civ V's multiplayer is powered by Steamworks, with all that software's accoutrements, such as Steam-based chat, friends lists, and support for voice chat that can be called up at any time. The actual in-game multiplayer interface is extremely clean and simple to use and resides entirely in the upper-right corner of the screen, where you can send chat messages to all players (or to a single player), keep track of each player's relative score, and even do a little wheeling and dealing to trade resources and other diplomatic goodies with each other. However, multiplayer is decidedly different from single-player, especially if you're up against aggressive opponents. While Civ V has many intriguing new strategic nuances, such as neutral city-states that can be joined as lucrative trading partners and a new cultural victory condition based on unlocking social policy trees, you're probably not going to want to spend all your time building peaceful wonders of the world if your buddies are breathing down your neck a dozen hexes away or so.

You can use the game's tools to tweak custom maps and mods to create some pretty far-out stuff.

Our first match took place in the ancient era, and our indecision and lack of focus led to a horrible death. We played as China, a warlike nation with the powerful Chu-Ko-Nu crossbowman (which can fire twice, instead of once, like the standard crossbowman) and a national leader who produces great general units more frequently than other nations do. Great generals are one of the game's great people (along with great engineers, scientists, merchants, and artists), and they provide combat power bonuses to any allied units standing within two tiles, and China's great generals provide a larger combat bonus than the generals of other nations. But like all of Civ V's great people, these legendary units can also be expended within your national borders to immediately trigger a prosperous golden age, in which your nation produces more gold and more production resources.

We originally had a vague idea that we'd focus on cavalry units (which in Civ V, like in previous games, have more land movement points than infantry units) and hopefully get a great general or two on our side to rush our opponents' capitals. What we ended up with was a starting location with a whole bunch of spices and cotton and some nearby grain fields, and by the time we'd finished researching animal husbandry to cause horses to appear on the map, the beasts were sadly nowhere near our fledgling empire.

We switched our focus to researching economic advancements, such as the pottery technology (a tech that, as usual, lets you build food-storing granaries in your cities), which leads directly to the calendar technology (which lets you use worker units to build money-producing plantations on top of luxury resources, like spices and cotton). But just a few turns into the game, we bumped into another Firaxis staffer's holdings. We maintained a polite distance and since luxury resources like spices and cotton still contribute to the overall happiness of your nation's population, we even swapped some of our luxury resources with our neighbor for the sole purpose of mutually promoting our respective nations' happiness level. Yes. Yes...that should stick.

We'd already trained a scout unit to check the lay of the land, and through blind luck, we found a set of ruins (Civ V's version of the "goodie hut," which grants you a random bonus when you walk over it) that granted us a settler unit to build a second city, which we settled next to some deer and more grain. Since we had a cordial relationship with our nearest neighbor, we decided to invest in our population in the short term, focusing on building out our city with granaries, game trapping camps, and farms.

We took advantage of the early gold windfall of having so many nearby resources by building a worker unit to build as many civic improvements as possible. We then switched back to military development, this time creating a barracks in each city (these structures grant 15 bonus experience points to new land units, advancing them a level as soon as they've been commissioned in that town), with the intention of unlocking iron working as soon as possible to reveal the iron resource on the map and unlock the swordsman, one of the most powerful military units of the ancient era. In the meantime, we'd fended off a handful of barbarians successfully and had also earned enough culture to start unlocking some social policies. We invested our first fistfuls of culture points in the "honor" social policy tree (an early-game military policy that initially gives you combat bonuses against roving barbarians and then unlocks other advantages, like bonus military experience and a free great general). This policy is an easy choice for China, given the nation's more-powerful great generals.

Competitive multiplayer can be a very different experience where military might becomes a lot more important.

We'd killed off all marauding barbarians nearby, had a great general in our retinue, and had even created our first swordsman when Mr. Shafer and his legions of Persian swordsmen showed up. He moved in on both us and our neighboring ally at the same time, ruthlessly deploying clusters of upgraded swordsmen to crush both our armies simultaneously, growing even more powerful with his initial conquests because his own battles caused Persia to produce a great general, which he immediately traded for a golden age. Persia's golden ages last 50 percent longer than other nations' and also grant military units +10 percent combat strength and an additional movement point, so our lone swordsman was no match for Shafer's battalion of golden-age-powered swordsmen, despite our great general's combat bonuses. Within a dozen or so bloody turns, it was all over, and since we'd played the game on a "tiny"-sized map, set to the speed of "quick" (which drastically reduces the number of turns it takes to produce units and structures and to research new techs), the entire match ended in about an hour. Of course, you can set multiplayer parameters to start at different time periods (such as the modern age, where all players can bring paratroopers and tanks into battle in just a few turns), so you can most likely shorten the duration of a multiplayer match to an even tighter time frame...though you still may not want to plan it around your lunch break. Just in case.

In our defense, we will again point out that Shafer is the lead designer of the game, and therefore he has memorized optimal building and research orders, regardless of any opening circumstances. After he slaughtered us, he allowed us a peek at his computer screen, which revealed that the designer had been building up a sizable nation of four cities of his own. Though none of his citizens were particularly happy with the choice of aggressively expanding, the sheer size of the designer's holdings made it more likely that he'd have iron nearby once he had researched the iron working technology (he had plenty of the stuff, in fact), and his ruthless warmongering meant that he had generated at least a great general or two, which would lead to lengthy golden ages that superseded the public unrest. Rest assured, this is not an easy thing to accomplish by any stretch of the imagination, but if you're Civ V's lead designer, you can apparently find a way. "My policy in multiplayer is simple," Shafer explained. "No mercy for anybody." Plus, we had a cold that day and our neighbor's cat had gotten sick a week ago, so we were still kind of sad about that, also. You can see we had a very plausible excuse for losing. Yes...very plausible.

Civ V will be released on September 21. That means many more sleepless nights.

Civilization V will arrive very soon in both a regular edition and in numerous different preorder editions, including a boxed collector's edition at retail stores and an online version on Steam. These two editions are largely similar; both will come with the game's soundtrack and an art book, except that the boxed collector's edition will have collectible figurines, while the Steam version will not have figurines but will instead have a scanned version of the art book, plus an exclusive new playable civ, Babylon. Maryland's official Civ V day is September 21. Many sleepless nights await.

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Discussion

99 comments
olobolo1000
olobolo1000

My belly tickles of the tought of playing Civ V. Cant wait until my download is finished!!!! :-)

spastikman
spastikman

I hope they take out the editor from the in-game... I cheated so much in civ 4 :-P

ToughCritic28
ToughCritic28

Really.... no review yet?...you did this with reach too. I like my reviews the day the game comes out.

IcedEarthaholic
IcedEarthaholic

Very very cool, this game looks to be a winner. I'm gonna wait to get it though so that way I can get a Complete edition with all the bells and whistles. Did that with Civ IV, and don't regret it at all.

dsp_connell
dsp_connell

I can't wait to have Waves of Doom since Stacks of Doom are no longer!

gix47
gix47

awsome awsome awsome!!!

BobTrivioni
BobTrivioni

Looking forward to seeing this game in my D Drive. I have no doubt that this will be a great game.

JJMikhail
JJMikhail

Sid Meier has never let us down in the Civ series, I have no doubts about this one...

nikrusty2
nikrusty2

yeah really looking forward for this!

menasure
menasure

one of the few new games i really want to buy immediately but the steam requirement really makes me doubt :( ... it's a relative 'light' drm according to today's standards but why should i risk having potential trouble in the future just because i payed for my game? so i might just buy a full package with all expansions in the bargain bin later on when all the best mods are out, maybe i'll have a pc which rocks also by then because i can not afford any new one for the moment :).

CaptainAhab13
CaptainAhab13

I'm seeing a 9.0 or 9.5. This game is gonna rock, please bring it to Mac soon. :D

Zincki
Zincki

O melhor jogo de estratégia baseado em turnos que já joguei..!

Rar05
Rar05

Cant wait for this one

Laveno
Laveno

Seems like a great game, looking forward to its release. Let's just hope it keeps to the expectations created around it!

Prometheus
Prometheus

I don't know how I feel about the lack of religion, espionage and many of the civilizations that were added in the Civ4 xpacs. Feels a bit like The Sims, we'll see xpacs that will add stuff we already had in Civ4. That's kind of worrisome, they should really try to make the game the best game possible on release day and come up with new ideas for expansions, not milk us. I'll probably still buy it anyway.

mber7560
mber7560

@danjyr Well, the Civilization series is a Turn-Based STRATEGY Game!!!!

chrizzie
chrizzie

@Humor_guy I can see where you're getting at and partialy agree. However, specifically oncerning Civ, I;ve been plaing computer games for 25 years and that includes all the civ games up to now. You can't say that civ II and IV (in particular IV) were just an "resoup" to the same concept just to make more money. Civ IV is competely different than II and has it's own merrits to, shall we say, stand the test of time. I hope part V will advance the gameplay concept to the same degree

NightStein
NightStein

Always loved Civ games and this isn't gonna be an exception :)

steve4123456789
steve4123456789

Why the thumbs down? A american civil war level would be cool for a multiplayer map

danyjr
danyjr

I never liked Civilization games. It was too strategic and not enough explosions in it! But I am going to give Civ V a try.

jjdomo
jjdomo

dude, buy a new computer, they are fairly inexpensive these days . . .

Mr_Intense
Mr_Intense

I really wish I had a computer that could run this. Ah well, there's still Civilization II to keep me happy for another 15 years.

thelegendlives5
thelegendlives5

Ah Civilization, we gotta prepare to lose some sleep when this game hits store shelves ....... Oh well that damned "one more turn" addiction :(

slimco
slimco

I do agree, Civilization 2 is the best one in my opinion and I still play that one from time to time. However, I've seen a gameplay of Civ 5 and I would really like to try out hexagon tiles with no more stacks of doom. So, you'll need to plan your attacks and movements of your units, I feel more tactics involved is this release.

BrianWil
BrianWil

I've had a civ game on every computer i've ever owned. I like the fact they try to keep improving the game. I don't think a new game every 4 to 5 years is excessive. As a old wargamer i look forward to the hex grid and unit stacking limitations. Its always been the one of those games I can play until something pulls me away. (hurricane, volcano, asteroid, etc) :)

Humorguy_basic
Humorguy_basic

I think the game is just being milked now. It's a marketing exercise. I stopped buying into it after Civilization II and even today many say that is the best version. It is the same with my Copy of Railroad Tycoon II Deluxe. Certainly the best version of that game and much better than what came afterwards. Same with Pirates Gold, much better than that disneyfied console version they came out with a couple years back! Is it any wonder we get so little innovation in games today, when so many of us jump on these marketing bandwagons buying the same game over and over!

liffi
liffi

the civ 4 has few good mods like fall from heaven and so on. If they make them on civ 5 I think it will rule. Still this is one of the games I just can't wait. Damn good old turn-based strategy game.

ParaBellum71
ParaBellum71

The only thing I am worried about is how the Steam version has the pre purchase reward of "Purchase now and get your next premium content for free." Are the features that made the previous versions modable still in the game? I hope they don't rip those out(Easy select a mod feature.) just so they can realease their crappy new nations,ect... that should have been in the game. Purchasble addons or a programmers way of selling you a chess set, one piece at a time.

Soviet1232
Soviet1232

Gonna be great, just 9 more days.

mbrown726
mbrown726

Civ 4 game helped me gain an A- in History. Cant wait.

invinciblesuman
invinciblesuman

Remember the sleepless nights over civilization. One more turn !

ISuPrEmAcY32I
ISuPrEmAcY32I

have they released minimum specs for this game yet? my laptop would take several minutes between turns towards the end of games on larger maps in civ 4 and it made it difficult to play.

rossguyy94
rossguyy94

I HATED TURN BASED STRATGEY, until I played this amazing series! :P I cannot wait!

key1001
key1001

It's Chu-Ko-Nu, not Chu-No-Ku, gamespot.

TierraFrost
TierraFrost

No more Civilization games until Alpha Centauri 2 please.

icebox98
icebox98

i like strategy games ..........................only when they look as interesting az this one.

Chaos_HL21
Chaos_HL21

I normally don't play multiplayer with Civ, but with Civ V it sounds good. Also the worldbuilder editor sounds like it will be tons of fun to play around with. ^_^ The can't wait to play the game.

MarcJL31
MarcJL31

I have never really going into the Turn Base Strategy games (I love RTS) but I might have to check this one out. I heard some many good things about this franchise so I think its time to give it a shot.

Xirmi
Xirmi

I want this game, but my PC can't run a flash game, let alone this. :(

volney81
volney81

One... more... turn. One... more... turn.

fzd88
fzd88

i haven't been this excited about a game release since....Civ IV :)

e1ysium
e1ysium

@Joesocwork ...I envy you if your mortgage is 60 bucks a month :)

Joesocwork
Joesocwork

Okay, wow, 9/21 is around the corner... mortgage or CivV, mortgage or CivV! :P

munchlax99
munchlax99

facebook civ. sounds cool especially since i dont have a gaming pc to run civ 5 :lol: