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Civilization IV: a more game oriented review

Since I tend to rotate the subjects of my various blog posts an idea struck me many months ago to do double reviews of games. One of the problem with reviewing video games is that there is a discrepancy between how a game appears when it’s first played and how the game lasts over time. Halo 3 is a good example of this, my review of the game was based around two things: it being brand new thus better than previous installments and one of my first games on a new generation console. Looking back the game doesn’t hold up against its immediate predecessor in both campaign and online play. It’s good but not as great as almost all reviewers have rated it upon release.

With my first review of Civilization IV I played through three run throughs getting used to the new controls, features, and changes of the game. I concentrated most of the writing on the religious aspect as that was the newest feature. Would the game hold up against the years I have spent playing the previous two installments?

The good news is that it does. The bad news is that some of the problems in the previous games still carry over into this one.

The first major problem that I have found with the series is that progression through time is still too fast. The game should feel like you spend forever in the prehistoric, classical, and medieval ages. This is reflected in the games chronology as you do spend quite a number of years in these periods but that is not reflected in the number of turns. The turns in each age take a different number of years. So one turn in the pre-historic age may equal 50 years while in the modern age it only takes one year, even on the “epic setting” which promised a fix for what I am currently complaining about nothing changed.

The second problem unique to this game is that the AI for opposing civilizations is too easy to placate. In previous versions this was reversed. What they changed was giving you the numbers and specific instances of why they are pissed off at you. If an opponent is at minus 6, they are angry which can be moderated by just handing over something that they don’t have free of charge. This will raise them to a minus 5 which means that they won’t declare war. Previously, the war declarations seemed out of the blue and thus unfair, but that did keep a player on their toes to constantly ramp up the defense spending or at least keep the most modern units guarding the borders. Here i can faithfully predict what enemies will want to fight me, and often goad the weaker into making the mistake.

The biggest improvement has been the introduction of many more World Wonders. Previously each age only had about one or two wonders that needed to be built or else you were at a severe disadvantage. In Civilization II, not being the first to complete Leonardo’s Workshop meant having to pay for every unit upgrade while the civilization that had it did not. When that person discovered gunpowder all of their melee units just changed into musketmen, this was a huge advantage. The new version mitigates the importance of one wonder by adding almost one for every technological discovery, and scrapping the Workshop altogether.

My favorite world to play is a discovery world where every civilization starts on one or two super continents with a “new world” that exists on the other side of the planet. This changes the game as you have to both play against existing opponents while racing to develop the ability to traverse oceans in order to seek out and colonize the new area. It makes the game kind of easy, but only if you are the first one there. Plus the continent is developed by barbarian tribes. It took a couple of landings before I was able to actually put in place a permanent settlement, damn Skraelings*.

The game definitely holds up. It still allows for various creativity in how you want to win the game and the difficulty level is reduced on the lower settings. I’m still searching for that happy medium between impossible and easy. The game’s rating and recommendation hasn’t changed at all, so maybe this experiment was a failure but we will try again.

*Kudos if you get that reference, no wiki-cheating either.

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