Civilization IV (PC)
Intriguing new gameplay options plus even more-refined core gameplay; Great presentation with powerful new 3D engine and great new soundtrack; Much easier to fit into your schedule, but also offers many more strategic options; Leonard Nimoy; Warning: The highly addictive gameplay will make you lose sleep;
Endgames can sometimes still bog down, even though games are much faster to finish overall; Faster pace seems to de-emphasize historical context somewhat; Warning: The highly addictive gameplay will make you lose sleep;
If you have even a passing interest in strategy games, world history, or getting less sleep at night, you owe it to yourself to give Civilization IV a try.
If you're a fan of the incredibly addictive Civilization strategy series and haven't bought Civilization IV yet, you can probably stop reading now to go buy the game. Civ IV makes plenty of great changes and additions to just about every aspect of the hazardously habit-forming strategy blueprint that famed designer Sid Meier and his talented team have made famous the world over, from combat to diplomacy to research to production to winning the space race. And just like with previous games in the series, Civ IV's varied and addictive gameplay offers the same tantalizing siren's song that will tempt you to take "just one more turn." Fundamentally, this is a much-improved version of the same Civ games we've all been playing and desperately trying to put down for years. And that's far from a bad thing. In fact, it's an awesome thing.
If you're familiar with the Civilization series, then you're already well aware that they've traditionally been turn-based strategy games that let you play as the political leader of one of the world's nations (such as Gandhi of India or Julius Caesar of Rome) in a fictitious bid to take over the globe, starting from the Stone Age and continuing right on through to the Space Age by having a lone settler unit build your first city on the way to establishing whatever advanced society you choose to design over the course of dozens of turns. The series gives you plenty of ways to do this, such as conquering your neighbors, researching advanced technology, or, in Civilization III (and IV), creating the most cultured society on the planet. It's this great variety that helps give Civ IV the same alarmingly addictive quality its predecessors carried. And thanks to its many improvements, major and minor, and its greater emphasis on strategy over bean-counting, Civ IV isn't just as good as Civ has ever been...it's better.
Like in previous games, your political leader has two special traits that will influence his or her reign, though all the game's traits are new, such as "organized," which cuts down on maintenance costs, or "expansive," which generates bonus health in cities and helps hasten growth and expansion. And Civilization IV fundamentally offers the same goals, but in a much more evolved, more strategic, and ultimately more rewarding manner. And each of these goals comes with many more options, which should open the game up to players with busy schedules...even if it may still seem overwhelming to beginners.
The Civ series' gameplay has several components, and almost every single one of them is improved in Civ IV. For instance, the series' combat system, which pits different military units against one another based on relative unit strength and technology, has been changed to a "strength" system that seems more intuitive. Units that are greatly advanced will have a clear advantage over more-primitive ones (to avoid the commonly cited, though rare, case of a tribal spearman defeating a tank in previous games), and military units in general have many different upgrades they can earn as they receive experience points and gain power levels. In addition, artillery has been tweaked to be much more useful. It can bombard targets, such as enemy cities, to lower defenses and to deal collateral damage to large "stacks" of armies. These improvements don't make battles all that much more complicated , but they do add more depth to combat, since both attackers and defenders have more factors to consider.
Civ IV has also improved on the way diplomacy works. While you can still make nice with your neighbors (and you can even win the game with a diplomatic victory condition), you have more options than just trading goods, cities, technologies, and/or relations. You can attempt to influence your neighbors to make war or peace with other neighbors, and you can even fence everyone out of your backyard using the game's new "open borders" system. In previous games, neighboring nations could send their city-building settlers and their soldiers wandering across your nation, free to declare war on your vulnerable home cities and worker civilians unless you complained strenuously (which sometimes caused them to declare war anyway). In Civ IV, the new border system means that no units from any other country can enter yours unless you have agreed to open borders with that particular country...or unless you're at war with that particular country. This is a godsend for defensive players who prefer to hang back to develop an economic, scientific, or cultural infrastructure without fear of ambush. However, even this new addition is balanced, since keeping your borders locked up tightly and never coming to your neighbors' aid doesn't make many friends. Other nations actually remember your actions and are poorly disposed if you refuse them too many favors.
You can make neighboring cities more apt to like you by adopting the same religion. One of Civ IV's brand-new features is the religion system, which is an intriguing addition, even if it isn't crucial to your success. The game's new religion system adds seven new creeds to the game, each of which is tied to a specific technology and each of which can influence your cities' culture-producing temple structures and missionaries. However, aside from the facts that some religions become available earlier in the game than others (since they're tied to earlier technologies) and that different religions lead to a different unique building (more on that later), all religions are pretty similar. Your overriding goal, should you choose to pursue a religious path, is to have all your cities--and your rival nations' cities--subscribe to the same faith: yours. Religious buildings also produce a bonus to culture, which is helpful if you're pursuing a strategy of rapid expansion (since cities with high culture automatically expand to take up more of the map, just like in Civ III) or of cultural victory. But there's no religion-based victory condition, and aside from these bonuses, religion isn't a hugely influential addition to the game. And it doesn't actually need to be a part of your strategy.
By Andrew Park
Posted Oct 26, 2005 6:04 pm PT