Previous games in the long-running "Civilization" series have been, ironically, prisoners of the past — forced to improve the series via baby steps, for fear of upsetting an apple cart twenty years in the making.
"Civilization V" doesn't do baby steps.
Instead, for the first time in the series' long history, substantial and fundamental changes have been made to almost every aspect of the game, from its appearance to its core mechanics and everything in between.
It's as if the development team's brief went as follows: Retain the most treasured core of the game, cut everything else out, and replace it with stuff that works faster and makes more sense.
Let's Talk About Hex, Baby — The most immediate and welcome of the game's many changes, the hexagonal game map not only looks more natural, but the flexibility it allows during military manoeuvres turns tedious combat into "Civ V's" crowning achievement.
Gloria, Take Notes — There's been a host of changes made to the game's user interface, some of which speed things up, others which make sure you're kept better informed as to the state of your empire.
Minister For Good Times — Government types are gone. Religion is gone. In their place is "Civ's" own perks system, Policies, which are a masterstroke. Now customising your empire's traits is as easy customising the skills of your favourite RPG character.
Let Them Eat Happiness — Lots of "Civ V's" underlying cogs and gears, from culture to happiness to research, have been streamlined and now are run nationally instead of through individual cities. It sounds like a dumbing-down, but it's truly liberating.
Why, Hello — The "Civilization" series has always been a triumph of function over form. The product of engineers rather than artists. "Civ V," though, is very easy on the eyes, from its art deco menus to its glorious diplomacy screens.
All Natural — All of the above combine to leave us with a game that looks and feels...natural. More free-flowing. Less like a procession through an arcane series of checkpoints, more like you're simply riding the wave of history from beginning to end.
Multipass — "Civ V's" multiplayer operates on a weird system whereby everyone takes their turn at once. It sounds messy, but in most cases it works quite well, meaning a game that could have been about sitting around becomes bearably fast-paced.
Cannon Fodder — It'll take you a few hours to get your head around the new map system, and how to move your troops successfully during combat. The AI? It's been playing for months, and still hasn't got the hang of it.
It's a real shame that there's already a game called "Civilization Revolution," because while that console title was a brave attempt at something a little different for the franchise, it's this game that really, well, revolutionises the series.
With so many changes, tweaks, cuts and additions, it could all have gone so horribly wrong. Make too many changes and you infuriate one of the largest and most devout fanbases in all of gaming. Make too few changes and you risk releasing a game that's accused of being stale. Frumpy. Old-fashioned.
But it didn't, and we're thankfully left with a game that keeps the spirit of Civilization alive with one hand, while with the other, it casts aside twenty years of mechanical dead weight in favour of a faster, cleaner and more enjoyable game.
"Civilization V" was developed by Firaxis and published by 2K Games. Released on PC on September 21. Retails for $50. A copy of the game was given to us by the publishers. Played one epic campaign and one smaller one as the English, and some multiplayer as the Japanese.
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