10 March 2013

#2LR Civilization Retrospective Gala - Civilization IV

Hello again to everybody!  It's week one of the new Chicago experience, and while moving I finally found my copy of Civilization IV.  I wanted to find my copy of Civ IV before giving a full review because Civ IV was the hardest nut for me to crack.

As you can tell from my previous reviews, I have played all of the Civilization games through the years (though I have skipped a couple of the expansion packs), and I have been a fan for ages.  When Civ IV came out, I was still busy playing Civ III and content to either let the price come down or wait for the bundled expansion that inevitably comes out with the game.  Considering how much of a change Civ III was over Civ II, I still felt like I was on the cutting edge even if I wasn't strictly there still.

I bought Civ IV after the expansion pack came out, and I installed it immediately.  When I started a game of Civ IV, I noticed that the gameplay was different almost immediately.  There were health meters in the city now, there were government types that were completely unknown from the "despotism-monarchy-republic-democracy" forms from the previous game as well, and there's religion.  The military was different as well, as Civ IV returned to the Civ II model of siege units (catapults/trebuchets/cannons) having to try to enter the city and outright dying from trying to attack the inhabitants.

Of all of the concepts, I was a fan of the health meters.  In the previous Civ games, you absolutely had to have the aqueduct in order to grow your city past a certain size.  This time around, the "health meter" can tell you if your city is either healthy or unhealthy.  The health meter is based on either providing different types of foods to your citizens, or having buildings promoting health such as the aqueduct.  But, you can still grow your city if it's unhealthy, it'll just take longer.

The government type selection screen was pulled from the archives of Alpha Centauri.  For me, this is a good thing yet a bad thing, because the designers of Civ IV missed a crucial step.  The Alpha Centauri government types all had a box showing the benefits and pitfalls of governmental change which allowed you to figure out roughly what would happen to your country depending on the government.  However, there was no real impact summary going on with your governmental changes in Civ IV, and you have to try to keep your details straight.  Additionally, there's not really an "overall" effect happening with your government changes, there's very specific effects with some of the selections -- such as cities of a certain religion being able to complete buildings quicker, or build units with enhancements, and you have to keep all the specific effects straight.  Lastly, especially with the religion-based government types, it was difficult to figure out if all of your cities would qualify unless you made note of it prior to going into the screen.

Which brings me into the discussion of religion.  In this game, religion is tied directly to technology -- the first Civ to discover a certain technology gets to "found" the religion related to the technology, such as Monotheism for Judaism or Code of Laws for Christianity.  This means that you have to be extremely quick discovering out of the gate in order to obtain founder status for any religion.  Founding a religion gives you the ability to send missionaries out to convert other cities, and having all cities as one religion gives benefits in the beginning.  (Collecting religions in the end also gives you benefits).

All of those are not killers, but I think that the last change really dampened my enthusiasm for the game.  This game subscribes to the "stack of soldiers" formula that all previous Civ games subscribed to, but changing the siege capabilities from the previous game really changes the impact of the game.  This means that the defensive units get an amazing advantage, they can stay within their hidey-holes and not have to come out to try to get rid of the mass of siege units outside their city.  Additionally, siege units literally die when they fail to win an attack.  This makes the decision to go forward militarily very difficult at best, especially since a city with two units can easily withstand a stack of six units.

One of my least favorite Civ games happened on Civ IV, and I think that this was the reason that I stopped playing Civ IV.  As a prologue, I don't like losing, which I hope is understandable.  While playing, I got to the 'close-to-end' of a Civ IV game where I was in a solid and absolute second-place position.  At the same time, first-place was already in the process of building their spaceship.  I was faced with a couple of different options:

1. Defeat first-place militarily
2. Kill one of the smaller civs nearby in order to establish a beachhead
3. Ally with one or more of the smaller civs against the larger civ.

With the way that the siege engines work in Civ IV, number 2 is not an option.  You can burn your whole military taking out a less technologically-advanced country, which leaves you no chance for keeping your pieces intact to defeat a larger foe.  Much to my absolute amazement and surprise, number 3 was not an option either.  This issue made me maddest, because when I'm on the edge of winning a Civ game all the computer players hate my guts and try to attack my lands on the slightest provocation, yet not one nation would stand with me to prevent first place from winning.

So, number 1 was the only option.  I'd land a set of six or even seven units, and I would be lucky to keep three of those units by the next turn.  I understand that it was really close to the end of the game, and that I probably just ran out of turns to be able to influence the end of a game, but I felt rather annoyed that there wasn't even the ghost of a chance for me to be able to change the ending of the game.

I suppose that this story illustrates my failure within the specific game, but I honestly feel that the military option in Civ IV was so bad that it was utterly useless.  At the very least, there's really not a whole lot of strategy you can do past making sure that swords are used for city assault and axes used for killing units (as they have innate strengths in those situations), and other than that you're just throwing units at a city and hoping for the random number god to answer your prayers.  (I've also been burned a few too many times when the percentages were 75%-25%, though mostly because bad beats are far more memorable than hitting luck on the river).

So, for the first time in the series, I was willing to loan out a Civ game even if it meant that I would not be able to play the game while it was lent out.  Through the years of 2006 to 2010, I barely played Civ games whatsoever, though I still played Colonization and Alpha Centauri occasionally.  It did allow me to get caught up on other games, such as the excellent Dark Cloud series, as well as Final Fantasy updates (10, 12), Dragon Age, and Kingdom Hearts.

From what I gather online, this will be one of the few negative reviews of Civ IV.  I would like to think that the developers knew that there were a few issues with Civ IV, because Civ V attended to quite a few of the issues of complexity (government / religion) as well as military strategics.

I have a few shows and movies to go through in the next little while, including Bucket List, Wreck-it Ralph, and Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, as well as the conclusion of the Civilization Retrospective Gala, so please stay tuned to this space for more articles and content in the future!

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