Civilizations rise and fall. Empires spread across the map. Despots grow and conquer, subduing others beneath their yoke. War machines grind into action while technology, the arts, and religion flourish. All this and more was at your fingertips in the grand-daddy of all god-games -- Civilization.
With the possible exception of Doom, Sid Meier’s original Civilization claimed more hours of gamers’ time than any PC game in history. The reasons were numerous: it was an elegant design; it was easy to learn, yet tough to win; and, most importantly, it encompassed the sweep of human endeavor. The challenge was impossible to pass up: rule the world. The day I bought Civilization, I played until dawn.
And ever since the original was released, Civ’s loyal fans have been waiting patiently for a sequel with new features, new challenges, and more of the same addictive gameplay. A new version was promised that would take the original into outer space, but as designer Brian Reynolds began work on the new Civilization II, he saw enough ways to improve gameplay without extending the timeline far into the future (and by that time, MicroProse’s own Master of Orion already had the space angle pretty well covered.) The artificial intelligence in Civ was good, but it needed to be better; the technology track had to be smoothed out; there were play-balance issues that needed to be addressed; diplomacy had to be more sophisticated; and new units were called for.
In short, Civilization needed an update and a facelift, not a complete overhaul. It wasn’t exactly broken, however, so there was always the danger of breaking it with too much meddling. Civilization II had to refine and improve on the original, not reinvent it. Reynolds has done exactly that, and the result (though some will cry "heresy!") is a much better game.
The fundamentals of the original game remain the same and are just as inviting: you start on a blank map with a single settler and the goal of exploring and developing the world before your adversaries beat you to it. Your settler can build cities, irrigate farmland, mine, and build roads. The cities can then build more settlers, military units, or buildings to improve happiness, health, or income. You spend that income on building new units for defense and conquest; supporting units and buildings; adding "luxuries" to keep your people happy; and researching new technologies. These new technologies in turn allow more advanced units and buildings, as well as Wonders of the World, which add special benefits to a civilization.
The original game was a web of interdependent elements, a careful balance of outward expansion and inward growth. Civ II takes this all a step further; new technologies have been added which lead to new units (Amphibious Warfare gives you Marines, for example) and new wonders. Technology now grows more logically, and the progression of new units is more realistic. Archers lead to Pikemen, Knights, Dragoons, Cavalry, Alpine Troops, and finally Marines.
The new Wonders are also a major component in developing your society or waging war. Leonardo’s Workshop automatically upgrades every unit free of charge once a new technology is discovered (Catapults become Cannon), while Sun Tzu’s War Academy makes every unit a veteran. To balance play, these Wonders now also expire when some new technology makes them obsolete.
Diplomacy is far more sophisticated in Civ II. Rather than simply being at peace or at war, you can now be make cease-fire agreements or strategic alliances. In cease-fire, you can’t attack the enemy, but there are no movement restrictions, either. In an alliance, you and another civilization join forces against a third party, and you’re able to move through the other civ’s territory and even have your units repaired inside their cities. You can also request another player’s units be removed from your territory if you’re at peace, and even expel those pesky Diplomats who skulk around cities stealing technology. Reputation means much more now, and even civilizations you haven’t contacted learn about you if you have a reputation for breaking treaties. Break too many, and you could find yourself a global pariah with every other government allied against you.
Once diplomacy fails to yield results, players will find a new, more complex combat system that makes warfare much more realistic. Each unit has a number of hit points (how much damage they can take) based on their tech level and strength, as well as a firepower factor (how much damage they can do). Combat consists of a number of instant rounds, and each unit may take some damage before one is killed. This is meant to eliminate those moments when a Chariot could conquer an entire territory alone, or when a Settler destroyed a battleship. Instances of this still crop up on rare occasions, but far less frequently than before, and the new combat model is sure to please any rabid Civ fan.
Of course, the most visible changes lie in the slick, new Windows interface, graphics, video, and sound. Video has been added in the form of silly advisers and neat, little mini-movies that herald the construction of each new Wonder of the World. Hard-core gamers will probably not be impressed, but they add a nice gloss to the finished game, as does the elaborate, scrolling city view and the way cities develop and grow over time. I still prefer the old "castle-building" screen, however, to the new throne room.
Although a few rough spots were present in the initial release, these have already been fixed (see the Extended Play column and this month’s CD for the patch), and they were minor, anyway. This is, in every way, a better game than the original, and one that will lure old fans and new users alike. Civilization challenged you to "Build a civilization to stand the test of time." In Civ II, MicroProse has built a game to stand the test of time.
--T. Liam McDonald