Initially, a disappointment moving from Civilization IV; a revisit after patching revealed a wonderful and deeper game
When I first got Civilization V only a couple days after the release date, I fired it up only to get disappointed. Many of the new or modified concepts were confusing, and the graphics looked nice but ran creakily slow. Having played Civilization IV since its release date, I was just flabbergasted by this game and went back to it for nearly 3 more years.
When I got a new laptop late this summer, I decided to give the game another shot. Firing up Steam and downloading a behemoth of patches after the install finished, I noticed a much smoother and much easier-to-comprehend game. Part of my enjoyment probably came from truly understanding and mastering the gameplay of Civilization IV in those 3 intervening years, but the game just makes so more sense today.
The graphics are certainly different compared to IV. The level of detail is astounding and the textures are good, but I have to say the units lost a touch of personality. The graphics in IV bordered on cartoonish; V goes for a more subdued and realistic look. It makes the game feel more mature but to me a little on the generic side for some reason. I'll be honest, the hex tiles make some stuff look better (rivers, mountains, forests) but makes some look awkward (namely the coastlines, which look weird having very few straight lines).
The sound effects are good enough, nothing particularly outstanding. The soundtrack is very interesting though; each civilization gets its own soundtrack, except for a few shared pieces between cultures in the later stages of the game (e.g. European vs. Asian). Part of what enticed me when I came back was the superb selection of music for the Japanese soundtrack. It made the game really cool and reminded me of good times playing Okami. In general, I found the Asian and Middle Eastern soundtracks more interesting than the American and European soundtracks, which trending more towards classical music sounded a bit too subdued for my tastes.
The tactical gameplay is a joy to use when you're actually fighting, but moving EVERY UNIT SEPARATELY is a pain in the butt and transporting units across oceans gets very tedious. The units are well-balanced, but I would have preferred cities to be a little bit weaker actually. It can take absurd amounts of units to take strong cities. Units work well together.
My biggest issues with the gameplay are the happiness and gold mechanics. These two form the backbone of managing the Empire, yet getting positive ratings for either is unnecessarily hard. There aren't enough buildings/policies to manage unhappiness; if you don't get wonders to manage them, then you are basically screwed. It gets frustrating because unhappiness drags down city growth, production AND unit fighting strength. The game basically punishes you for doing well conquering cities and growing. Managing the economy is another big issue; early on in the game you will very likely have a net loss because the costs rise way quicker than income. It is very hard to have a good economy with a small empire. These two mechanics run hard into each other, because a small empire will have high happiness but a poor economy, while a large empire will have a powerhouse economy but crippling unhappiness.
Any more and I'll tire you out, so I'll say that Civ V hits most of my marks for being a great game. The above mechanics sadly drain a point from the score because they are so integral, and the minor niggles which would take too long to all explain take off another half a point. Still a worthy game to spend HOURS playing