When at the Penny Arcade Expo East this year there were many games to see, but none of them seemed to fill me with a greater sense of anticipation than Civilazation 5. The Civ 5 screening was nicely tucked into the back of the 2K Games booth; one could easily miss it while being overwhelmed with the large displays of Mafia 2 and Bioshock 2. An usher welcomes and escorts me to a door in the back of the booth that holds a small movie theater-ish room with two gentlemen who are helping Sid Meier realize his newest vision. It doesn't take long for me to realize that this latest installment in the series is something special…
First off, the entire game has been rebuilt from the ground up which is immediately apparent in the absolutely gorgeous graphics. Tile sets for each continent are dramatically realistic and smooth and the switch to a hex layout gives the world a much more believable look to it. The User Interface has taken cues from the development of Civilization Revolution with smoother and less obtrusive icons in the lower left of the screen. Your advisers make a return to give new players guidance, and opposing leaders now use a specific plan for success, but depending on your tactics may try alternate approaches to victory. Each leader in Civilization 5 comes with fully rendered 3d cut scenes…no more pop-up windows with a list of choices, Bismark of Germany is seen full screen in a ornate library and gives a better sense that your really playing the leader of another civilization.
Some changes to gameplay were also put on display for us. Players now have the use of 'city states' for a more diplomatic approach in which they can befriend certain cities of other countries for benefits or to gain the trust of another leader. Gold can be used to help the spread of borders rather than having to wait for your culture to build. Agreements can also be made with other leaders for added research bonuses. In the combat department there will no longer be the 'Stack of Doom' (as the PR put it). Players must work very strategically as they are now limited to one unit per tile. Defensive units are now allowed ranged attacks and cities can now defend themselves. Our guide at one point showed us how the use of the terrain for bonuses, veteran units, and a smart use of tactics can decimate a larger army if planned well. They also informed me that the combat in Civ 5 will not be absolute in that when attacking an enemy, the two armies will not attack until one is destroyed, at times they will withdraw and allow for retreat.
The game will boast the same awesome support for the mod community and allows the uploading of scenarios to a central repository for everyone to enjoy your maps and games. With a PC release date of Fall 2010, Civilization 5 does not look like a polishing and packaging of the last iteration. This next release looks to improve on an already stellar series, and be another home run for the Sid Meier franchise.