Civilization V Review

Written by Puching Zhang

Our Fegelein Puching Zhang reviews Firaxis’ Civilization V. The game redefines the RTS genre with clever AI, great graphics and endless customization. — When I first contemplated reviewing Firaxis’ Civilization series, I was skeptical. The first Civilization game I ever played was Civilization Revolution, a prior release, on my friend’s DS. It was a disappointment, to say the least. The concept of taking a civilization and building it — from puny village to a grand empire — sounded like the greatest game ever, but the execution of Revolution was just terrible. Repetitive gameplay, cookie-cutter personalities and a whole host of bugs and glitches marred my first experience with this awesome series.

Civilization V

Image credit: Firaxis

However, Firaxis’ recent edition of Civilization, titled simply V, is one of the best strategy games I’ve ever played. It’s diverse, intricate and incredibly addicting. I would recommend it to every strategy gamer out there.

Civilization Basics

The premise of this game, and roughly all the Civilization games, is simple and straight forward. You have a civilization, and you attempt to gain victory through diplomatic, cultural and/or military means. This latest game further enhances that simple idea, giving the player a grand total of 43 civilizations to choose from, including DLCs and two expansion packs — Brave New World and Rise of Kings.

Each civilization has its own unique units, buildings, and bonuses which allow the player a plethora of options to suit his/her gaming style. For example, if you’re like me and enjoy obliterating your puny enemies under the powerful might of conquering armies, pick a civilization like Germany or the Zulus, where the bonuses are geared towards a domination victory. If you’re more of a pacifist player and would rather build up your own civilization or conquer others through superior culture, you can select nations like Siam that are more diplomatic. That being said, there is no obligation to choose one path over another.

The game’s campaign is essentially a sandbox. Players select their own map, what age they start from, and how many other civilizations they’re facing in the game. There is no story-based campaign — rather players create their own story through the decisions they make during the course of their development. Because of the sheer excellence of Firaxis’ game research, I prefer to play historically-inspired campaigns where the decisions I make reflect the nation’s character in real life. For history fans like me, there’s no greater feeling than marching German panzers through the city of Paris or playing as the Celts and sacking Rome a second time.

Civilization V Map

Image credit: Firaxis

Artificial Intelligence

Unlike other famous RTS series such as Total War, Civilization‘s famous for its smart and interactive AI. Every civilization has a leader, which gives the game personality. Players don’t simply feel like they’re just steamrolling over faceless nations on a map. Those leaders come alive on the diplomacy screen and include famous historical leaders, such as Bismark, Washington and Napoleon.

I can tell you firsthand — dealing with the AI is hilarious, satisfying and sometimes downright frustrating. Sometimes I just want to digitally slap those leaders upside the head when they build their settlements right next to my capital, then have the audacity to march to my palace and complain that my capital is too close to their settlement. Not exactly logical. There is a fine line between being a genius and being a scumbag, and the boots of my conquering army are ready to kick your AI avatars into the ground. (As you can see, I still get a little carried away.)

Civilization V Venice

Image credit: Firaxis

Even with those antics, the AI in Civilization V has more honor than in games such as Total War: Shogun II. By that I mean your AI allies will actually help you in wars, often amassing their troops along the front, which forces your enemies to divert their troops to fight your ally. Also, rulers can publicly denounce other rulers in front of their allies, causing tensions to rise between two rival nations a la a geek version of Mean Girls.

However, no matter how much flipping-over-a-table anger the AI makes you feel, I can guarantee this AI is semi-human. They will amass their armies on your borders whenever they want to declare war and vice versa; if you attempt to play an underhanded trick on them (stealing their tech for example), they will notice and will be visibly upset. Just remember that no AI is perfect. The Civilization V AI still makes some unreasonable and stupid decisions at times. Players can have trade embargoes imposed on them for no reason. Also, the player can rampage his/her armies into an AI’s lands, which will coerce the AI into calling an unequal treaty for peace and basically get rewarded for murder.


The graphics in this game are surprisingly good. I’ve never expected Civilization to be a high-res series. After playing Civilization Revolution, I thought those cheap graphics were the norm for Firaxis. Turns out I was dead wrong. The graphics boast almost Total War quality, with miniature people doing the tasks they are assigned in real time. For example, I assigned my workers to create a new tile of farmland; they proceeded to take out their hoes and till the land.

The game also has cool features throughout the entire timeframe, starting from ancient days as a small village. Initially the player faces hordes of barbarian scum, except in Civilization V they aren’t just pushovers one attacks to get free stuff. This time they are a real threat and if left alone will sack your cities. This carries on to the post-modern age of a nuclear apocalypse. One of my favorite late-game features is the classic nuking of my enemies, which as a bonus is done through an impressive graphics sequence that involves a giant mushroom cloud rising over the designated target and the victims’ land being covered in a desolate layer of ash.

Civilization V Washington

Image credit: Firaxis

If that’s not enough, Civilization V introduces the feature of city-states, minor factions that play a key role in turning the tide of a war through their cooperation with the major in-game civilizations. Now, as a veteran of the Total War series, I have to say that whenever I see minor factions I picture my epic armies crushing the tiny insignificant scum. However, in Civilization V this is not the case. Veteran players will tell you that allying with a city-state, much less defeating one, is a difficult challenge that must be mastered.

Overall, Civilization V gets a 9/10 in my book. The game features a rich exploration of civilizations and customizations, and the concept of taking a nation through the trials of time is absolutely groundbreaking. Civilization V breaks the trend of strategy gaming by delivering a challenging campaign that couples with real-time diplomacy, both of which suck the player right into the game. While the game’s AI still makes a few mistakes, it’s still one of the best AI’s in the entire RTS genre. I would not recommend Civilization V for beginners in the RTS genre, but rather as a fresh challenge available to veterans of this series looking for a change from Starcraft and Total War.

Until next time this is Fegelein Puching Zhang signing off for

Based in Chicago, Fegelein Puching Zhang is our gaming scribe at Read more of his work here or contact Fegelein at