Dual monitor support in Civ4!
We are all expecting the release of Civilization IV, anticipating the countless hours to spend on the game, the feeling of "one more turn" and the great power of ruling a mighty empire. I am thus happy to present to you my thoughts on the latest installment of this great series. I will mainly comment about the gameplay itself – for comments on the new interface and the overall game feel, check Markos' write-up.
1/3 Old, 1/3 Improved, and 1/3 New
I am very lucky to have been playing CivIV for some time now. We've heard the idea that CivIV would be 1/3 old, 1/3 improved and 1/3 new. The simple truth is that the outcome is better. While the core concepts in CivIV remain the same as always, there is hardly an element of gameplay that hasn’t changed since CivIII: how you build Settlers, improving tiles, the combat system, culture, diplomacy, resources, even the traditional spaceship victory. All of these concepts have changed, some more, some less.
The main concepts that are really new are: the combat system along with promotions, Great People (which are in no way the same as CivIII), religion, civics, flexible tech tree, modding capabilities (naturally), and, strange as it may sound, diplomacy. By that I mean that diplomacy is so different and exciting this time around that I really want to call it a new feature – but more on that later. The mentioned things are, however, not all that is newsworthy.
Before we move on, let me list some of the things I didn't like about CivIII: the 100 Workers problem, unimportant navies, bombard-until-1HP-and-conquer-with-no-casualties strategy, Artificial Intelligences (AIs) you could bribe at any time, technology whoring, spaceships that could be built very early in the Modern Age, and Infinite City Sprawl (ICS). Now, in CivIV, each of those problems has been given due attention and no longer exist.
Assault on York
The Death of ICS
This is a matter that many players want to know about, and there is even an extra reason for wanting Infinite City Sprawl (ICS) to be gone – the reason, of course, being the chance to see Yin eating cardboard pizza.
ICS is, simply put, dead. Expanding rapidly in the early game is hard to do by itself, thanks to how Settlers are now handled, and even if you managed to do that, you would find your empire collapsing because of too many cities too early. How does this work exactly?
A pretty radical change to how Settlers (and Workers, too) are built does a lot to put ICS in its grave. Now, your cities produce Settlers with both shields and food. That is, a city that has 5 food per turn and 3 shields will be producing a Settler at 8 shields per turn. At the same time, the city will not be growing as all excess food goes towards the Settler. Thus, you are either growing or building a Settler but not both at the same time.
While that makes ICS harder, it doesn't yet make it necessarily bad. However, the new maintenance system does. City improvement maintenance is gone – instead, there is city maintenance for which you need to start paying as soon as you build a new city. That maintenance cost is composed of two parts: distance from palace and total number of cities. The first one is, obviously, dependent on how far your city is from the capital, but the second one is more interesting. Number of cities maintenance costs goes up as you build more cities in all your cities. Thus, building a new city will, at some point, not only give you the maintenance expenses for it but also raise the maintenance costs of other cities.
With this system in place, attempting ICS is a fast way to suicide. You will, in the best case scenario, have more cities than your rivals but the cities will be smaller (thanks to not growing while those Settlers were being produced), and you will have to lower your research rate significantly to cover for maintenance costs. With that, you will simply fall far behind in technology by the Classical Age and become a non-entity. And no, you can't buy the techs without doing your own research. This will not be simply a domestic disadvantage for you. Falling behind in technology and ruining your economy will be a very likely reason for the aggressive enemies to turn their attention to you.
Finally, with regards to this subject, another significant change is that your Workers can't do anything when the game starts. You have to research techs to make them able to do anything. Researching The Wheel will allow them to build Roads, Agriculture to let them build Farms, and so on. Of course, if you want these technologies early, you are likely going to miss grabbing an early religion, which will be our next topic in this preview.
The War of the Faiths
The Religion Advisors screen informs you of the spread of various religions and the effects on your cities
Religion is indeed an important part of CivIV. How much attention you pay to it and how much you spread the word to other civs with your Missionaries is, ultimately, up to you, but you will gain greatly if you know how to use religion to your advantage.
As you probably know by now, you can establish a religion by being the first to discover a certain technology. The religions and their corresponding technologies are: Buddhism - Meditation, Hinduism - Polytheism, Judaism - Monotheism, Christianity - Theology, Confucianism - Code of Laws, Taoism - Philosophy and Islam - Divine Right. When someone is the first to discover one of these techs, a religion is established in what becomes the Holy City of that religion. The Holy City is chosen at random, but it is almost certain to be your capital for the early religions simply because you aren't going to have any more cities at that point.
So, how does religion actually work? First, there's your state religion. Each civilization can pick a state religion, which can be any religion that has been established until that time. Yes, you can also choose not to have a state religion but it is not a wise decision until the later game. Cities that have your state religion are going to be happier and produce more culture. Also, with a religion, you gain access to the religious civic options - two are available early, a third one comes somewhat later, and the fourth is in the second half of the game. There are also buildings that you can only build if you have a religion in that city. Each religion gets its own "themed" buildings (that have the same effects).
Rest assured, though, that is not all. Religion also has a considerable impact on your relations with other civilizations. Civilizations that share a religion are going to be friendlier, and if you are the founder of a religion which is also the state religion on another civ, it's going to be even more friendly towards you. Likewise, civs with different religions have a negative modifier in their relations, and the religion founder tends to dislike civs not sharing their religion even more.
In that way, I have found that religion sometimes determined my future relationships early on in the game. If I started close to a civ and we both founded different religions, it could well mean a war later; on the other hand, a civ without the religion would become a target for my Missionaries and a probable ally after conversion.
Spreading your religion has several advantages. First, you have line of sight in cities that have your state religion. Second, after you build a Shrine for your religion (think of it as a Wonder, but only buildable in Holy Cities and by Great Prophets), you will get money from each city that has the religion for which you have a Shrine. Third, if you spread your religion enough even in a civilization that has another religion, there's the chance you could get them to convert to your religion for a good relations boost.
Religion is likely to be more important in the early and middle game than in the late game. Later in the game, civs get the option to adopt the Free Religion civic, which essentially means no state religion but instead grants religious freedom, resulting in extra happiness from all religions and a research boost. So, you can have a city with Christians, Jews and Muslims in it that will be very happy because they live together in peace! The diplomatic impact of religion becomes smaller after Free Religion is adopted, but rest assured that some civs will stay religious for the entire game.
One of the small things I like about CivIV is the religion advisor. It shows you, among other information, influence in percentages of all religions in the world. Seeing your state religion surpass all others on that screen is a pleasant achievement.
They that take the sword...
Aztecs march on Munich
... shall enjoy the fight greatly". Combat in CivIV is, simply put, much more fun that in its predecessors. CivIV does not use a stack combat model such as the one found in Call to Power. So, could the old Civ combat model be revamped to be fun? The answer is yes, and a strong yes at that.
The first change of importance is that units no longer have attack/defense points, but rather a single strength rating. There have been concerns that this would oversimplify the game and make combat too straightforward. The result is exactly the opposite. This is because the strength rating is, in fact, only serves as the basis of a unit's actual strength during combat. A number of factors will influence the strength of both the attacker and the defender. The factors are promotions, terrain, unit special abilities (such as Axeman's bonus vs. melee units) and extra tile defense from forts or cities. This can make a great difference. I have seen a unit with a base strength of 5 have an actual strength of 15 in the right circumstances.
As a result, you will lose if you attempt to wage war with a large number of the same unit type... unless you maybe outnumber the enemy four to one. This isn't easy to achieve, and even if you can you deserve the win anyway. However, most times you will need mixed arms. Mounted units are fast and can sometimes retreat, melee units are slower but good vs. cities especially with the right promotions, and archery units are the best defenders. An early stack of Horse Archers would not take a city defended by a pair of Spearmen, whereas a mixed arms stack would do the job.
There are two more additions to the combat system. One is a new "first strike" system. This effectively simulates the advantages of ranged units, giving units such as archers the chance to make an extra strike before the "main" part of the combat begins. The second addition is with siege weapons, whose function is significantly different from previous games. They can cause collateral damage to units in the same tile, thus discouraging the Stack-of-Doom technique in many situations. They can also bombard cities to reduce their defenses. Given that city defenses can give a very considerable boost to the units inside the city, you will usually want to bombard the city before attacking it outright. Once the city defenses are taken down, however, your siege weapons can not bombard the units defending the city. You can choose to attack with your siege and inflict collateral damage on several of the city defenders, but you are likely to lose your siege unit in the process.
And then there are promotions, an entirely new concept in CivIV. This is indeed, I believe, the work of a genius. The idea is very simple: as your units earn points through battle, they can choose a promotion which improves them. The implementation of this is just awesome, as promotions bring a new element to the gameplay and make it more tactically engaging and more fun.
Promotions are many and varied. Not all units have access to all promotions, and for many promotions there are prerequisite promotions. For instance, a melee unit can for its first promotion choose Combat I or City Raider I (these are not all of the options, by the way). The latter will give a good bonus attacking cities. The former will give a small overall strength bonus, but at the same time enable access to a number of other good promotions. Gaining promotions is no easy task - it's not like a unit that wins 5 battles will gain 5 promotions. Each subsequent promotion is harder to get, and while the first three are somewhat easy to achieve, you will not likely have many units with five or six promotions around.
These promotions have a really big effect - in a way, they significantly increase the total number of units in the game. For example, a City Raider III Swordsman and a Combat II + Shock (bonus vs. melee) Swordsman both have three promotions, but are very different units. Also, promotions make it more important to capture cities quickly. If you attack a city but fail to capture it and have to wait for reinforcements, then the victorious defenders may gain enough experience (from their defensive wins) for promotions, making it even more difficult to take the city.
In previous Civ games, you would simply attack with a huge stack occupying one tile. In CivIV, that is a bad idea if your enemy has siege weapons because they will be able to weaken your stack significantly. However, spreading your attacking army out to occupy, say, 5 tiles can also be dangerous. If one of those tiles has, for example, no units that are good vs. mounted units, then some Knights might just take your units in that tile out. Be warned that the AI is competent in defending itself and does a good job at showing you just why one huge stack will not do you much good.
In the later eras, combat stays just as fun. There are still different types of units with their own strength and weaknesses; in a way, this is similar to the rock-paper-scissors combat system often used in Real-Time Strategy (RTS) games where there are also a wide variety of promotions to choose from. You also get new toys, such as better naval units that can bombard coastal cities, machine guns that can chew infantry up on defense, and so on. Finally, there are air units which can be potent on city bombardment and also attack ground units, but not without the danger of being intercepted or damaged by enemy fighters or ground units with SAM capabilities.
Navies are, by the way, actually important this time around. Of course, just how important exactly will depend on the map type you are playing. But even on land maps, navies are useful. First, there are water resources that you can harvest such as Fish, Whales or, late in the game, Oil. These resources need protection, and secondly, post-gunpowder naval units can bombard coastal cities.
Now, many likely want to know just how fair the combat system is. I should say that it is very fair. There is, as always, a small amount of randomness involved, so sometimes a unit might win against the odds, but certainly not against overwhelming odds. As far as the Tank vs. Spearman issue goes - assuming no modifiers from promotions or terrain, a Tank has an 87.5% chance to kill the Spearman with the first shot although, in reality, with modifiers the likelihood of this will be higher. Using a program that simulates CivIV combat, I ran fifteen thousand Tank vs. Spearman fights and the Tank won them all. Compare this for instance to a Knight vs. Pikeman fight. Without any modifiers except that Pikeman's bonus vs. mounted units, the Pikeman wins around 720 of 1000 battles. A significant advantage, but not a certain win.
Overall, I have had much more fun fighting wars in CivIV than in CivII or CivIII, owing to all of these changes. I have also not experienced the feeling of frustration when two of my superior units in a row die despite, theoretically, having much better odds.