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There are so many things that Civilization IV does to annoy me, that it's strange I've played over fifty hours worth of the game, what gives? I love big old strategy games, the Armchair General in me loves the strategy and thrill of commanding an entire nation, Civilization IV satisfies this passion. But that's the only reason I find myself playing, so it's funny that other games execute this grand strategy aspect far better than this game could ever hope to, yet I still play.
If you are a fan of turn based games, chances are, Civilization IV is already one of your favourite games of recent years. It has garnered significant praise from critics and players alike. I have issues with this game, true, but it definitely does more things right than it does wrong.
The level of complexity is something it does right. I’m not talking about this game being needlessly obtuse, to satisfy masochistic gamers, I mean that Civ IV can be as hard, or as easy, as you want. The complexity is there where and when you want it, from learning how to play to mastering and executing strategies. But further to this, Civ IV is simplistic, easy to get into and fun for beginners. Games don’t have to cater to one or the other, so it is nice to see that Civ IV takes the right approach, by appealing to long time gamers and newcomers alike.
Destroy all in your path with a convoy of elephants!
A lot of praise can also be levelled at the AI here. It is feeble and a near joke on easier difficulty settings, but massively challenging on the higher ones. If you are growing tired of easily outwitting the AI in games and want a refreshing challenge, then Civ IV can satisfy this desire. Your opponents think, plan and act around what you do. They will thwart you and, most important of all, act realistically, without seeming as if they are receiving ‘extra help’ through computer cheats.
It must be mentioned however, I hate the combat in Civ IV. I build a unit and a couple of turns later and it is immediately obsolete, not to mention the utterly infuriating way you can 'stack' your armies into one gluttonous, unbeatable blob, resulting in battles that are less about skill and strategy, and more about who has the largest group of armies in one area. So when I play Civ IV, I put a couple of units on my cities and just never bother to build an army, what's the point? Instead of building units I spend my time building culture upgrades, which is a far easier way to win. If I am attacked, it is a simple matter of repulsing their attacks on my cities, only occasionally have I ever had to have an army or face utter defeat. So yeah, I don't really like the combat aspect of the game. If I could, I would remove it entirely, it really wouldn't make a difference to me.
So, If I hate the combat and don't bother with it, surely the rest of the game must hold up enough on its own, why else would I play? Well, some of it does. The diplomacy (one of my favourite things to take part in when playing a strategy game), does not. It is overly simplified, basic and wholly disappointing. There is no deep intricacy to it; the level of interaction with your AI counterparts is distilled to the point of only having polite ways of saying 'No I don't want to kill you' and 'Yes I do want to kill you'. This is a shame when the AI, during gameplay, is so advanced; it feels as if more attention should have been put into how you interact with them.
When peace fails, bring out the nuclear warheads.
Other than those two things, I like the game, the 'one more turn' phenomenon is clear and the satisfaction of building up your own Civilization is certainly very entertaining. It looks nice, but it could be in 16-bit for all I care. Running a nation is a lovely little dream of mine, which tends to manifest itself in strategy games and for this, Civilization IV almost has no equals (Hearts of Iron 2 is just a better game Civilization, I'm sorry). Although the diplomacy is simplistic, it is still fun to co-inhabit a world full of Civilizations; one where Gandhi is capable of ruling for a millennia before blasting himself off into space, where Napoleon is actually quite a nice guy and the Aztecs are fielding a Navy mightier than the United States. It all comes together, despite its faults, into a nice package, which doesn't intend to bend you over and force a history lesson into you, nor take itself too seriously. It's undeniably fun.
Of course, the variety on offer helps me enjoy it. Not only are there a wealth of varied Civilizations to play as, each with their own abilities, but there are also a large variety of randomly generated maps to play on. Tactics on a mainly land based map will be far different to those on an island infested one, where your tactics would have to change to accommodate increased naval combat. As well as this, there are a whole load of options available to you before you start a game. From units available at the beginning, to diplomacy and barbarian options – Civ IV lets you customise your game to your hearts content, something I greatly approve of.
If I sound like I’m having mixed opinions on this game, that’s because whenever it comes up, I have an internal crisis over whether it is a great game or just an average one. So many fundamental design decisions here frustrate me, yet it is so addictive. Helping the latter along are colourful and vibrant graphics, even if everything is oddly square shaped. The game manages to look good and run very well, the perfect combination.
When you piss the AI off, their faces definitely show it.
Sound wise, Civ IV is above average. Brilliant narration by Leonard Nimoy contributes greatly to this. As well as that, background sound effects, such as the noise of the city and the sounds of nature, help immerse you in a world shaped by your own, and other, civilizations. Civ IV also has some of the best music I’ve heard in a video game.
I suppose a large amount of the appeal of this game, despite my gripes, stem from the fact that the team behind it, Fireaxis Games, are a dedicated bunch of fellows. They have delivered an unprecedented level of polish, consistently showing a streak of care and love in the games they produce.
Civilization IV is one of the quintessential games of our generation. It is clever, satisfying and, although not without faults, a real standout game in its genre. Produced with polish, it plays with great scope, complexity and is, most importantly, fun. You may find yourself questioning certain design choices, but then grin with glee as you experience the vast research tree and watch your civilization grow.
- Well rounded design: Brilliant sound and presentation, truly immersive and captivating.
- The Power is yours: Controlling a Civilization through thousands of years of history is straight up fun.
- Deep and Accessible: Complex and offers a whole lot of options, but not off putting.
- Frustrating Fights: Combat is not as complex as it could be.
- Weak Interaction: Diplomacy lets down the otherwise brilliant AI.