One of the greatest turn-based strategy series of all time, Civilisation has been kicking about since the days of DOS, when every in-game continent looked like something that had imploded on your windshield. The game has become incrementally more polished with every passing sequel, but the series found a successful formula years ago and hasn't needed to make any drastic changes since.
Comparing Civ IV to Civ V, the game continues in the series' tradition of letting you micromanage a civilisation from prehistoric times right through to the future and take over other nations in the process, only you'll immediately see a few distinct but fairly superficial changes to the game.
World leaders now have more extensive animated cutscenes and speak to you in their native tongue, regardless of how obscure their language is. The development team has scoured remote areas, says Firaxis' Marketing Associate Pete Murray, to find the handfuls of people that spoke the archaic dialects that would be used in the game.
The other immediately visible change is to the GUI. Civ V has been stripped of its numbers and icons, and replacing those are sleeker and less space-hogging menus that will nest any significant information like your city's build menu, the technology tree or diplomacy standings. Look to the corner of your screen and you'll see the enhanced notification system. In case you've forgotten what you're doing while managing your cities, you now get an enhanced notification system that alerts you of any remotely significant events happening in-game, whether it's the finished construction of your city to discovering ruins, the game's new version of goodie huts. Want to make your life even easier? Good, because you're also going to see hints of Civ III and Revolution poking through, with advisors returning to the game to give tips on the next move you could take.
But the biggest change is to the tiles. Murray pointed at the wall to one of the promotional pictures for Civ V. They are cut hexagonally, you see. The primary change to Civ 5 has been to the terrain, changing it from a square to hexagonal grid. It seems like a ludicrously minor change, but Murray begins by pointing out how this affects the actual gameplay.
Choosing your next move is more strategic, and restrictive even, than it had been in previous iterations of the series. You're allowed just one unit per tile; a hell of a shift from the game's previous tendency of letting you stack units together in a clump in front of an enemy. Civ IV let you win battles based on the sheer number of units you could crank out of your city and then ship off across your border. You'd roll out a half dozen catapults and drop them next to an unsuspecting city then bombard their defences from the safety of a Hill tile. You'd set a half dozen War Elephants on enemy troupes from the safety on the one Jungle tile to the left.
The new limitations force you to devise a tactical system beyond churning out units by the dozen. Units in Civ V now take longer to produce than they had in any previous game, which means more value is placed on individual units, and players are more likely to go out of their way to protect them as a resource. It also gives some units a more powerful role on the map, with archers and other ranged units now able to fire on enemy units from more than one hex away, as opposed to the single grid-tile adjacent to their target as we saw in previous games.
The hexagonal system is technically one of the most overt changes to Civ's gameplay that has popped up in a few years, in the sense that it dramatically affects how it is possible to play the game. But generally speaking the Civ series functions on a "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" premise. It's formula for success has worked for years, and you're not about to see it stray too far from that. Civilization V, like any of the other games, features the same brilliantly moreish qualities you've seen before. Only hexagon-shaped.
Civilization V is due for release on PC on September 24.