If you didn't know it from previous reviews, you know now that Brian Ranzoni has played *Civilization* from the first game, in the MS-DOS days on a POS 386. Once I joined the Windows 95 revolution, I bought Sid Meier's Civilization II at the San Diego "dry side" Navy Exchange, and ruled the waves over every title in the main PC series since. Even pursued the Call to Power for a while (though no facebook, mobile, console, or Alpha Centauri, sorry to say).
Of all I've played, Civilization V is the best in the series in several respects. Yet isn't enough of an advance over number IV to make it a must-have for every fan. The GOTY edition collects all of the download content into one package--though there are expansion, performance and DRM issues to consider.
On the back of the box, in bold italic type, glares the Steam internet activation notice. For concerned gamers, here are some salient points:
> Once Civ 5 is activated and up to date, neither net nor disc is needed for single player. Steam has an off-line mode that, yes, can be activated off-line. > Steam saves your game to local disk by default, so don't worry about cloud access unless you've set the game to save there. > Civ 5 can launch from the desktop game icon to bypass the Steam browser. > You can also set the game to not update automatically. > Once activated, users may uninstall and reinstall the game as often as you wish, and even lose the disc and the code and Steam will still have a copy of the game for you.
Note that there are general catches to Steam. Also, some developers can force their own DRM on top (such as in Command & Conquer 4). That isn't the case here, yet you cannot resell or return the download version, and the same also applies to this DVD-ROM once you have activated the game.
Civ V is hardware intensive even in the low-end DX9 mode with graphic features turned off. I played it for months on an Intel dual core system, with a GTX 9600 graphics card, and 4 gigs of RAM. Then my brother played the game for several weeks on an AMD Athlon quad-core, with an ATI HD card, and also 4 gigs of RAM.
Both the regular and the GOTY editions of the game cause our GPU fans to accelerate up to 100% at all times, a problem known, yet with no known resolution. Especially in late game or on large maps, texture-popping and loading problems persist; sometimes accompanied by frame or unit stutter. Dialing down the video options will postpone but not prevent these issues. Otherwise, Civ V has not suffered from the memory leak problems of Civ IV, allowing me to play every campaign to its conclusion without a turn-limit crash. It does take some time to boot from a SATA II drive, while saved games take an even longer time.
Since then, I run the game on a custom Intel quad core with 8 GBs Corsair RAM, the Radeon HD 6850, and a WD Caviar Black drive. The first time up, I had to let the opening video play all the way through. Once I got in, futzed with the options, and rebooted it a few times for the cache: the game now runs beautifully, boots swiftly, and loads faster on DX 11. While I still got the GPU fan racing when the card was installed in the old machine, there is no problem when running the Radeon off an Intel DZ68BC mobo.
---The Main Event---
Check out my original Amazon review to learn about the core game. This section is a follow up, because both single and multiplayer have been patched in all areas from interface to engine to gameplay.
Diplomacy is one pumped example. Patches restored the ability to read each point of behavior that pleased or PO'd your rivals, and have also bumped up trade options. Each civ has the ability to denounce rivals and enter into or break various secret agreements; they can even choose to postpone their participation in a military coalition, and then renege on the deal when the deadline comes. The execution gets to be a bit nonsensical as the game progresses, with computer civs becoming so entangled in obligations that close friends become worst enemies in the course of four turns. To that end, patched games even include a "Backstabbing" feature, in which your own suddenly ex-allies will taunt you with their betrayal.
With updates and DLC, the game still retains fundamental gaps. Including the lack of wonder movies; the void of religions, corporations, espionage, vassalage; and the absence of sickness and corruption that made Civilization IV so delightful. V went further to nix the end game charts and replays (since returned by patch), and also to replace era-specific soundtrack with motifs for each civilization.
Some missing pieces are balanced by new things: such as Natural Wonder tiles and Great People tile improvements, the ability to build more than two National Wonders in a city, boosting the civilization cap from 18 to 20, boosted city defenses and offenses, the addition of influence wars over city-states, and the ability to reduce the cost of expansion by turning captured cities into puppets.
The greatest strength lies not in these moderations, but in modder nation--Civ 5 has a full suite of game-bending tools. Such as the in-game utility to browse, download, and manage almost 900 free mods as of this writing, many of them made by CivFanatic veterans and developers. Once installed, each file can be activated or deactivated with a click, and includes tooltip warnings to let you know when a mod is mutually exclusive with others.
Outside the main game, load up the most complete development kit in the series so far. Civs III and IV required a lot of tedious tinkering with text files. Civ V gathers the map, scenario, and civilization editing tools under a single interface.
---What You See is What You Get---
Now we gather to decide the singular money question. For the GOTY edition, you get the core plus all of the official downloadable content. Including the digital soundtrack from the original Deluxe edition. This does not count the Gods and Kings expansion pack. You can read my review on that pack; the salient point here is that G&K significantly improves the game in some areas, but some may balk at paying for features that should have been present in the core game to begin with.
Getting back to GOTY, I wouldn't call the existing DLCs essential. Especially compared to the Beyond the Sword mega-expansion for Civ IV, none of them push the abilities of the game engine, taking players into science fiction or fantasy scenarios to boot. However, if you've played out the original civs, scenarios, and maps, these DLC packs will give you fresh faces.
Wargamers and modders will get the best use of this edition because of the powerful tools and major military changes at their disposal. Historical scenarios ought to appeal to counterfactual gamers as well. On the other hand, the complete *Civilization IV* set with BTS is a plenty diverse outing--mixing old-school gameplay with the most content, backed by a robust library of mods from an active community. If more casual gamers have stayed by this previous title, either wait for the price to drop, or for a bundle deal with *Gods and Kings* before you make the upgrade to Civ V.
---This is the End---
I concluded my first review by saying "With years of fan mods and official DLC down the road, it is too early to say how this edition will turn out." After about two years, *Sid Meier's Civilization V* has turned out an entertaining tactical experience. The best of the franchise in graphics and wargaming. Yet fraught with the kind of quirks that come with odd-numbered entries in the series.
The GOTY edition does its part by collecting the official titles into one convenient package. No bonus content. And like a lot of games-of-the-year, it requires internet activation followed by a convoy of patches. This edition will work best for those who initially resisted the jump--and for wargamers, modders, and historical players--because the collection does not pose a complete advancement over Civ IV + BTS. With Gods and Kings coming this summer to restore some missed elements, customers may wish to wait even longer and see if another bundle comes out in 2013. Nevetheless, Civ 5 continues to be a compelling inclusion in the franchise.