The city-states in your pocket: first look at Civilization V

The city-states in your pocket: first look at Civilization VCivilization V is mere weeks away, but we’ve logged a few hours in some preview code manipulating history, fighting wars, wooing city states, and building World Wonders. While there is still a lot to explore and explain, here are some things that grabbed us in our brush with the newest version.

The first thing you notice about Civilization V is the streamlined interface. The HUD that normally took up a good portion of space most of the time has been pared down quite a bit, even when an active unit, like a worker or soldier, is awaiting your command. This mostly happens by way of much smaller buttons for each action, such as Build Road, Build Farm, and so on, and menu boxes that slide open and closed as needed. The edges are more rounded and the text is friendlier, as if he game has been influenced a bit by its cartoonish console relation, Civilization: Revolution.

The interface is also much better organized than previous versions. When something in the game happens—you finish researching a new technology, China has decided it doesn’t like you anymore and wants 500 gold in tribute—the game no longer hijacks your thought process by popping open a display you need to pay attention to right away.

Instead, little bubble alerts (again with the friendliness) and a mutable action button on the right side of the screen track the happenings in game, and you generally must sort through them all before you’re offered the “Next Turn” button. This way, if you were focused on picking whether a worker was going to build a farm or a water mill, the game doesn’t leap in with other issues vying for attention.

The tracked alerts make it much easier to do things in the order you think of them or want to do them, and if you forget anyone, the bubbles remind you. The change feels subtle, since it’s alerting you to all the same things that Civ has always been about, but it really becomes apparent how helpful it is as time passes and the game gets more complex.

The rise of the city-state

The city-states in your pocket: first look at Civilization V

In the actual game content, one of the most highly anticipated changes to Civ is the addition of city-states. City-states are small, single-city entities that have no desire to expand or compete to win the game. Instead, they are new proving grounds for diplomatic ability. A city-state can be befriended or eliminated, and each can offer help to a real civ trying to make it in the world, provided the civ has enough of a certain stat, called “influence,” with the city-state.

City-states award influence in a number of ways, including missions in their service. City-states are (or at least will act) sort of helpless, and will occasionally pop up in your bubble to-do list requesting that you aid them in some way, like eliminating an enemy city-state of theirs, or helping them defend against an attacking civ. You can also buy influence in city-states with cold hard cash, which improves their (continually declining) view of you.

An Iroquois city lines up a bombardment attack on a barbarian trireme.

City-states also give AI civs something to bicker over with you, and with each other. Helping a city state may cause, say, the Romans to approach you, so they can inform you that the city-state Geneva is their kept political entity, not yours. The number of city-states that appear on each map is tied to the number of civs; for example, a map that starts with 4 civs has 8 city-states, 6 civs start with 12, and so on.

Of course, the belligerent among us may be far less inclined to vie for a city-state’s attention than to just burn it to the ground, but felling any city is markedly more difficult in this version. Three major factors contribute to this: the new hexagonal tiles, the inability to stack units, and new city abilities.

Belligerence for fun and profit

Selecting a military unit, Civ V

The lack of unit stacking, aside from making it harder to concentrate a large attack, magnifies the importance of defensible terrain around a city. For example, until some civ goes all out on a navy, putting a city next to the ocean is not a bad option, as that limits the surrounding tiles an enemy can attack from, and the number of units they can attack with at once, to four.

This setup makes the use of ranged units more important, but the inability to pile up units into a tower of death right next to a city is really helpful to cities under fire. For a would-be conquerer, it also makes attacking a city a serious exercise in choreography.

If all tile and stacking difficulties weren’t enough, cities can also now defend themselves at a distance, even without units stationed in them, using a bombardment attack. A city can bombard units that are a couple of tiles away, meaning that before a melee unit can even really arrive to attack a city, it may be worn down to half its strength or even less. Cities also have built-in strength to defend themselves, so an attack on an undefended city will not be an immediate victory.

The research window pops up when it's time to pick a new tech, Civ V

This is all probably meant to mitigate the other side of the no-stacking coin: each city can only be defended by a single unit at most. All these factors together are more than effective, though—my inept siege on a city-state lasted a few hundred years as I tried to arrange units around my intended target to attack before it could level them with its bombardments and finish them off with a stationed unit.

Combat between units, like the interface, has been streamlined a bit. Instead of showing you a percentage chance of your unit’s victory over an enemy as in Civ 4, the game will tell you, in plain English, how it expects your attack to go—safely, major victory, major loss, and so forth.

This may annoy numbers-junkies, but does a 5 percent change in either directly really impact whether or not you’ll attack? The new system gives you a much clearer idea of how things are likely to go.

This all barely scratches the surface of a few hours of play of Civilization V, and there are still huge chunks of meaty stuff to talk about, including multiplayer, the civs, the units, resources, social policies, the tech tree, and a lot more. Civilization V drops September 21, and we’ll have a full review very soon.

Source: ars technica



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