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One thing the Civilization series does well is kill time, in an epic way. Civilization IV is no different, having chewed up hours of my life. This incarnation of the series is the best to date, managing to streamline the game for new players, while keeping the in depth game play for veterans.
For those who haven’t played or heard of the Civilization series, they are 4X genre games. This means there are multiple ways to win and in Civilization IV that could be Military, Diplomatic, Cultural or Scientific. In fact there are many ways to win, which is one of the things that make the game great. Another important factor is that the game is turned based, choosing all your moves and then allowing your opponent to choose theirs. Finally, one of the biggest things about the game is that it’s EPICALLY LONG. To get an idea how long a game may last think about watching The Lord of the Rings…trilogy…back to back, yea it’s about that long.
Civilization IV has some new features which distinguish it from previous titles. One big improvement has been the AI. They remember what you have done in the past, and if you continually decline their offers they will add up to give you negative relations. The way they trade is much more realistic, with them offering viable exchanges, though if they start to dislike you this also means a quick offer of some cash won’t change how they feel like it did in previous titles. You also have more options to influence the AI, such as trying to convince them to make war or peace with other nations, something very helpful if you are losing a war or can’t afford to attack to help a friend. The AI now has beautiful animated portraits that react to their mood, with Cleopatra pouting and rolling her nose if she doesn’t get her way. The only problem with your opponents isn’t so much the AI but how the game tells you what they are up too. If a wonder is built you get a small easily ignored notice to the side which is slightly annoying.
The game play itself has had some changes. You can now choose from three speeds, with the quickest taking about 1-3 hours to play and the longest taking 1-3 epochs. Maybe that was a slight exaggeration but still pretty long. The difficulty levels seem to be well thought out too, the easiest being great for beginners and then quite a few levels before you get to the hardest gives a steady incline of difficulty rather than a jump.
When you get into the game you get to choose who will lead your nation and from this you will get two special traits, such as cultural or spiritual, which will give you a bonus in certain areas, which aren’t game breakers but do help to tailor your tactics. The new interface is fun and more streamlined, allowing you to develop your cities without having to go into a separate menu. You will also notice that when you scroll over a tile it will give you information about what is there, making decisions about what to put what where much easier. Workers have changed to being able to build many more improvements to the surrounding terrain such as cottages and windmills.
The game sees a change to combat from previous titles, trying to prevent the old spear-man killing the tank scenario. Units now have a strength value and earn experience. Artillery now does damage to cities as well, allowing you to soften up a city before you attack. One downside of the experience is that attacking a well defended city often makes the defenders stronger, so the longer it takes the harder it gets.
There is a new open borders system, meaning that opponents can’t freely walk across your nation without agreeing to open borders first. If they do they automatically declare war. This helps to prevent people from sneaking cities into that patch on unclaimed land in the middle of your empire, or massing units inside your nation before attacking.
A new addition is Great People. Every now and then your nation will create a great person, such as Galileo, Newton or Elvis. Depending on their specialty will depend on what they can do for you, either research a technology, improve trade routes or even paint a work of art.
The graphics have received a boost in this incarnation, with colourful 3D rendered worlds and animated units battling each other. It doesn’t make the game but it is fun to watch.
One of my personal favourites about this game is the audio. Each nation has specific audio and all of it is beautifully played orchestral pieces. It makes the hours of play slide by. Of course the audio can’t be mentioned without paying tribute to a great man. All the technologies now come with a quote which is read buy……Leonard Nimoy. That’s right Mr Spock himself is in the game, surely it’s worth buying just for that.
In conclusion this incarnation of the game is the best to date, being able to please both beginners and veterans of the series. On that note, after all this talk about Civ IV, I’m off to kill a few hours of my life and try to take over the world, again.