Civ IV v. Civ V, II

by northernbeholder

The fourth and fifth entries in the Civilization series of games are very different beasts.  While the essence of the game remains unchanged – explore, expand, exploit and exterminate – the systems through which the player interacts with the game differ greatly, sometimes radically, from their predecessor.  This was enough to cause furor throughout the Civ community when the game was first released; but what was the shouting really about?

The Civics

“Civics” in Civ games are sort of in-game customization options for your civilization.  They unlock as you research various parts of the tech tree, and represent government policies, cultural traditions, societal norms and even religious practices.  Civ IV followed the classic forumla: Different civics have different benefits and drawbacks, and you can change between them at will once they’re discovered, at the cost of a few turns of ‘anarchy’ (no income, culture, research or production is generated while your society uproots itself), allowing for a certain flexibility to respond to changes in the game world.

Civ V takes the concept and goes off in an entirely different direction. Most civics still require research to unlock, but actually gaining the benefits of them comes differently. Now, certain tiers of ‘culture’ resources have to be reached, at which point you will be allowed to enact one policy from whichever civics you currently have available.  Each civic has multiple policies, and enacting all of them gives an additional bonus.  If anything, the depth of customization to your civilization is even deeper, and the same nation can play very differently if alternate civics are chosen.

I also appreciate more purpose being given to Culture, which previously served only to expand city borders and (potentially) unlock one of the many victory conditions.  However, there’s no option to change your mind or react to changing circumstances, due to both the inability to ‘take back’ a policy unlock and replace it with another, and the way in which philosophically competing civics are coded to be mutually exclusive; if you push through the Order policies, which primarily benefit large nations, then get cut down to a few cities in a devastating war, you can’t switch over to Freedom and its powerful bonuses for small states. You’re stuck with what you’ve already got.


Religion was first introduced in Civ IV, and it was an interesting feature. Being the first to reach certain technologies caused you to found whatever religion was chosen to associate with it – typically one that appeared around the same time as the technology did in real life. Religions would spread along trade routes or with the help of missionaries. Once at least one of your cities had a religion, you could adopt it as your official State Religion, which had diplomatic consequences (leaders who shared your religion liked you a little more, those who did not, liked you less; some AI personalities were written to weight religion heavily in their decision-making) and allowed you to make use of the religious civics, which provided some very useful bonuses but only affected cities that had the state religion present (with the exception of the aptly-named “free religion” civic).  If you controlled the city a religion had first appeared in (which, short of extensive conquest, typically required founding the religion yourself) you could turn it into a Holy City through the construction of a special building, the effect of which was to increase your income for every city that had adopted the religion in question – whether yours or foreign.

Civ V did not originally have religion, but it reappeared in the Gods & Kings expansion, almost unrecognizable from its previous incarnation.  Civ IV’s religions were all based on historical religions, of course, but in terms of gameplay they were all identical. In Civ V, if you manage to found a religion (the process for which is not tied to the tech tree, but the generation of the ‘faith’ resource) you get to choose from lists of bonuses said religion will provide, from increased income to greater happiness to improved production, food yield, faster spread or the ability to purchase pre-industrial units with faith. Some of the bonuses are reserved solely for the creator of the religion; others are shared with any foreign cities that adopt it.  However, there is a limit on how many religions can be founded in a single game, so those that are laggardly in developing Faith will find themselves praying for a foreign religion to reach them, and each potential bonus can only be selected once, meaning latecomers to the religious game have to pick and choose from the scraps left behind by those who got there first.  Religion is made far more interesting as a gameplay mechanic, but is so powerful that it’s potentially unbalancing for those who don’t manage to found one themselves.


This is the harsh one. Civ IV had absolutely the best, most transparent and most reactive diplomacy in the series. Every action you took that affected your relationship with another leader was visible if you asked for it, as well as precisely how much it affected them.  Relations were presented with a numerical value, with zero being exactly neutral.  This information made it clear exactly what you had done right, what you had done wrong and, with a little thought, what you could do to improve the situation – or make it worse, if you preferred.  Most importantly, diplomatic relations never changed without showing you why and how that had happened, with the overall effect being to make the AI personalities seem consistent and capable in diplomatic dealings.

Come to Civ V, and … it’s terrible.  All the openness and transparency that made Civ IV’s diplomacy so great is gone.  You can still see a list of some factors affecting your relationship, but aside from a binary good/bad indicator, you can’t see why, or how, or how much it’s causing an issue.  As if this weren’t enough, the AI personalities seem to be content to utterly ignore the list of factors in any case.  I’ve had leaders with nothing but positive history – at least, positive listed history – suddenly turn hostile and cancel all our treaties, then change their mind two turns later and offer to renew them, all smiles and sunshine.  Nations with which I’ve had a long-standing rivalry and constant sabre-rattling, maybe even a few wars, will quite out of nowhere offer me border treaties, an exchange of embassies and even trade agreements, acting like we’re the best friends in the world, then denounce me as an international pariah before the ink is even dry.  Quite apart from the steady, reliable, and sane leaders of Civ IV, Civ V’s AI personalities are ones I will generally just ignore, diplomatically speaking, since they can’t be counted on to be consistent for more than five minutes straight.

Is there more Civ to talk about? I think there is. Border mechanics, naval warfare, personal anecdotes, all that good stuff. Next time.