Now Civ V is out for roughly 5 months and a lot of people have stated their opinion about the game. Some have expressed that they are content with the game, and that they have a lot of fun with it. Others - and seemingly the majority of players - have stated that the game is a failure in most aspects, and that they have put it aside after a few months or weeks even. I'm not going to give judgement on who is right on this matter, I'll just describe my own view on the game in general and most of all in regards to an aspect I have deeply loved with Civ IV - the Multiplayer side of the game.
1. Civ V - the game in general
Unlike other players - notably most players of the clan I was in when playing Civ IV Multiplayer on a competitive basis - I still play Civ V occasionally. I like about the game that the graphics look and feel new, and that's always a good thing in comparison to something you are used to because you played it for 4 years. A new girlfriend is always interesting just because there is so much new to discover. Sadly, in the case of Civ V, even the shiny looks cannot make up the shortcomings in other areas for me. I wish the design team had read the epilogue in the manual of Civ IV, written by Soren Johnson. The lead programmer of Civ IV gives some brilliant insights on designing a game, and most notably Civ, there. A simple example:
Soren writes that they took a look at Civ III and the things that most people complained about. One thing that struck him that there were so few choices to be made, starting with the civics, and ending with the workers. So he added a slew of new options in the civic screen - replacing the one-sided use of narrow forms of rule (e.g. Republic and so on) with real choices for the player. The same with workers - he writes that there was just not much more to do than farming and mining in Civ III. So they added cottages, windmills, watermills, and the like. Workers became so important that the correct use of worker turns is a measure of how good a player really is in Civ IV.
And Civ V? Well, we are back to the monolithic days. Other than farming and mining, and some trading posts - not really a whole lot to do. Not even roading, as the roads cost maintenance now. This is just a little example of how it could have been done better - and those little examples add up to Civ IV being the better game for me. Another statement of Soren's was that you should stick to the concepts proven to be well-received and try to avoid too many dramatic and fundamental changes at once.
I give the design team credit for trying something new, and coming up with those ideas. The Social Policies and City States are nice attempts at creating a new Civ atmosphere, but the way they were implemented is rather poor. They simply lack balance. The UN Victory is too easy as you simply buy your way to it, and some of the Policies are just clearly stronger than others (Liberty anyone?). To me Civ V is a game where not really much happens because all you do is click "end turn". Even the wonders - one of my favourite aspects in Civ IV - are not all that thrilling because they are not really powerful, at least not compared to the Civ IV ones. Losing out on a wonder race hardly annoys anyone.
To me it would have been better if the design team had just used what was there - and implementing only one or two dramatic changes, such as hexes and social policies for example. Changing every area of the game dramatically - from the layout of the map (hexes) to combat (1 UPT) and core game mechanics (social policies and happiness system) was just too much. If you change only one area balance is easier. If you change most of them you are almost sure to screw up. The game is "easier" in every aspect - though that's not really an advantage for a strategy game.
It has been stated as well that the AI is incompetent, and it's true. Sure, the patches have improved the AI here and there, but still - any solid player will win any game up to Emperor if he is not completely screwed by the map because of lack of resources. The good players will beat Deity any day - at ease. Even if they have to play the weakest leaders and are constantly attacked and dogpiled by the AI - as RB3 - Daring Deity with Ottomans has shown. The game simply doesn't hold much of a challenge either, which is a major setback in combination with the general boredom of the game. Not much to do and not being challenged simply isn't a good formula for a strategy game.
2. Civ V and Multiplayer
I've been playing competetive Multiplayer for almost 3 years at Civplayers. It was a lot of fun as it presented the challenge the AI simply could not give. I had the great luck to be allowed to join PPP, a clan which emerged to be one of the best there ever was in Civ IV MP gaming. We were all eager to continue that story with Civ V, but it was a story that couldn't be continued. Civ V Multiplayer is dead. Well, actually that's not true - it was born dead with Civ V. While Firaxis never really listened to the Civ Multiplayer community the way Blizzard does, at least with Civ IV they did a fair amount of patching to address the issues that arose. They even released patch 3.19 when the game was older than old. With Civ V though they have done not only a horrendous job in the actual game as it plays, but also in design. 8 seconds delay? There is none. A game without lag, drops, crashes or freezes? Very unlikely. A game lobby where you can talk to other players and organize games? Nonexistent. Seeing any game available at the moment? No, as there are separated servers for different local areas. Add to that the experience that moving first is more important than ever, and you are into a very frustrating time.
And there simply isn't done anything to change that. Firaxis tries to fix the most blatant single player bugs while leaving the MP crowd - or what is left of it - hanging out to dry. Actually, there is hardly something that could be called a MP crowd anymore. You all know we have tried to set up our own league here at Apolyton - the Apolyton MP Arena. It never got off the ground, with only a couple of games having been played over months. Some of the code is still unfinished, and most likely will always be. Unless Firaxis creates a game of Civ again that can be played online competitively again. Not to say that the folks at Civplayers did any better. They had the advantage of being there for almost ten years, and still there is only 25 players or so that play the game nowadays. We would have liked to compete with them, to see if our concepts are better or not. But for that we would have needed a good game of Civ to begin with.
I have coded most of the Apolyton Arena alone, spending hundreds of hours on the project. After all, we have started from scratch and built it from zero. I do not grudge that time, although it was never successful in the end. I have learned a lot about PHP and MySQL, about security issues, code design, and so on. It was time well spent, and I personally am still happy I had the chance to work with Robert Plomp and Jeroen Schweitzer. Both very professional guys, and Robert sure is the most patient guy I have ever talked to. My apologies to them as well - we wanted to make a worthy contribution to Apolyton, and in the end we failed - not least because Firaxis failed. Although Firaxis has succeeded in one thing - diminishing the Civ MP crowd to the point that it is neglectable for future iterations of the series, and seeing the performance the design team made with Civ V MP I doubt MP will be included in Civ VI.
There are two main indicators that show that Civ V MP obviously is dead - clan play in the leagues and succession games. The Clans were the organizations which provided for most of the serious - and most active - players in the Civ IV days. They would meet on a weekend and play the game the whole time, eventually crowning a winner of a grinding two day contest called the Clan Championship Cup (or short: the CCC). Clan play never was existant at any point in Civ V history. As the good players were all in a clan the game killed the clans first - a good player won't waste time with a game that isn't challenging and that can't be played properly against humans. Most of my clan has stopped playing Civ entirely, with some odd exceptions, and so it is with other clans as well. Succession games too were a source of great fun. 5 or 6 players would gather to play against the AI, passing on saves and writing reports - often with great story telling. But a look on CFC's Civ V Succession Games area is nothing but a sad experience. There a hardly any games played.
That's the only sadness I feel - that Firaxis destroyed something that I was very fond of. Sure, Civ IV MP wasn't golden all the time, and GameSpy in particular wasn't great too. But most MP players would take up with that if they could have at least the gaming experience it provided back then. So, farewell Civ MP - it was a great time with you! I'll fondly cherish the nice memories I have of the past days!
3. The future
My belief is that Civ V is a game beyond cure, and that no patch will bring the game to a level Civ IV was. Especially for MP I'm sure that nothing substantial will happen, not even in possible expansion packs. Civ V MP is dead by design. Personally I will just wait for the expansion packs and read the reviews from the players, as of now I'm not sure I will even buy them. There is always hope for Civ VI in a few years, but that's too far away to be a reasonable alternative. Now I hear you say: Go play Civ IV if you don't like Civ V! True, and that's what I'm going to do. My clan has scheduled a Civ IV nostalgia game night next Friday. We'll bask in old memories and have a good time. A toast to a game series we loved!