Civilization IV Hands-On Preview


Let’s face it: this is not just another Civilization title in the franchise. It is so much more than that. The key aspect accredited to this is the enormous amount of focus on innovation and attention to detail. This is such an immense game that I really do find it difficult to pick any single game-play concept and start talking about it. That said, I find it appropriate to start where most of the people who are reading this will be starting: at the very beginning of the game.

You have read dozens upon dozens of times that Civilization IV will be the first 3D Civilization. So, why has so much focus been given to this aspect by virtually everybody? If you say it’s only in the eye-candy, you would be making an enormous mistake. The basic reason for this is the enormous amount of accessibility it gives the game. Since the game is such a huge step forward, it not only helps people who are playing a Civilization game for the first time (and also experiencing the Just One More Turn Syndrome for the first time, which, by the way, is much stronger here in the new game), but it will also help previous Civ veterans.


Before Starting

Hints in the CivilopediaSpeaking of previous Civ veterans, I was extremely lucky to have my first experience with the game in May of this year (while there were lots of other testers who were there for a lot longer). Just as my first game went, I suspect most of you will have a similar experience. From the screenshots you have all seen, you only get a fraction of an idea of how the game really feels and plays. It isn’t until you have the game at full screen and start moving units, opening screens, pushing buttons, and scrolling through the beautiful (and improved) terrain that you get the true new experience. However, before you start the game, you have to set it up. Among noticing the beautiful animated main-menu, you’ll also notice the “Play Now!” option if you want to get into the game ASAP. Something I must also mention is that the Civilopedia (this basically provides information for all the aspects in the game) is conveniently placed on the main-menu, to make for easy access. This is a very nice addition because it’s no longer necessary to start the game just to access the Civilopedia.

Now, back to choosing a game: I personally like to choose the "Custom Game" option. There you find yourself in a wealth of combinations and possibilities. For one thing, there are many new map scripts. One of my favorites is the “Custom Continents” option where you even get to choose how many continents are on the map. You would also find the “ Highlands” script where options span from the density of mountains to the size of the lakes. If you like truly random games, there are always the classic “Archipelago,” “Pangaea,” and the basic “Continent” settings. You might have also heard about the nifty little feature which randomizes the personalities of AIs (for an even more random experience). That, combined with the aggressive AI option (in that mode, the AI favors war more rather than diplomacy) will make for some pretty unexpected personalities from some leaders. Loading the game, once no more than staring at a progress bar, now gives you helpful tips and hints from some hotkey commands, to tips you should take into consideration during war-time.

Quickly after the game finishes loading, you get an intro screen (which is nice to see that the general style of it has not changed much since Civ3 ) of your leader, his/her traits, Unique Unit, etc. Click “Continue” and that’s where it all starts. At first it is as if you are actually on the terrain. You are surrounded with the gentle sound of waves crashing into the shore, birds chirping into the forests and exotic animals in the jungles…

When starting your first game, you will immediately notice that you no longer start with a Worker unit (unlike in Civ3). You have to build these at a time of your own choosing after you have founded your first city. It should also be noted that Settlers and Workers use both hammers and excess food to build instead of just hammers, and the city does not actually grow when building these units. So if you have a city producing 6 hammers and 4 excess food, it would take 10 turns to build a Settler (need 100 total). In Civ3, your city’s population actually shrinks after building of a Settler or a Worker is complete, this is no longer true in Civilization IV.

Generally, taking into account the helpful pop-up info and tool-tip help, players should find it simple to quickly get into the game. Nothing is left to confuse the player (remember the accessibility I talked about a few paragraphs up?). Furthermore, with each tool-tip help, the game also displays Sid Meier’s tips for things such as technologies, units and more. There are, of course, options which enable you to turn off these if you do not wish them to be displayed (in fact, most players will find the options menu quite convenient as it also allows you to display single-unit graphics, instead of the multi-unit graphics we’ve seen in most screenshots). I also have to be honest about the interface of the game. It is one of my most favorite new features of Civ4. The main interface is everything that a top-quality interface should be: Simple and productive. There is no information on it that you do not need (again, if you do not need something to be displayed like what I mentioned above, you can turn it off). If you choose to control the game only with the mouse or keyboard, that will not be a problem either. It is your preference.


Early on…

Your first turn is also about deciding which way to explore. Unlike in Civilization III, in this game you will have to use clues such as terrain types in order to decide where exactly on the map you are. Remember that when you first start the game the map is zoomed in and you are in the center of it. This is a feature which I find to be very enjoyable. It makes exploring much more about tactic and using what you have in order to determine where to send your unit. Gradually, as you explore more, your mini-map will expand. Building a wonder early such as Stonehenge might help with finding where exactly on the map you are, as it centers the mini-map for you automatically once accomplished.

How you start off can also determine how well you do further down the road. Balancing out your priorities is truly the key here. Even more than that (something which should help you to survive longer), you need to balance out how you expand. A steady expansion strategy (while not too slow, but not rushed) can determine your success. In the world view, you can use the line drawing feature or the tile sign feature to help you with this strategy specifically (although these can be used for a variety of reasons). In Civilization III, it was pretty common to have specialized cities which produce settlers every few turns. In Civilization IV, the danger lies within just that. While (if you choose to do so) you may expand as fast as you like, you will find it very tough to maintain a steady technology research pace, as well as a strong army which is ready to defend your cities from other Civilizations, and even roaming barbarians. Hitting that sweet-spot of expanding will ensure your empire flourishes (unless some greater power decides to burry you) as well as ensuring that everything else flows real well. If you don’t have a strategy of balancing things out, you’ll find it difficult to compete.

If you do expand quickly and have few units to protect your cities, barbarians will take advantage of this and take your cities as if they were sitting ducks (which is really what they are, unless you have selected the option for there to be no barbarians in the game). Barbarians not only are able to capture your cities and control them, but they may also pillage improvements. This can be extremely costly especially if they are pillaging your Cottages (which will grow over time to Hamlet, Village, and Town providing you more commerce. Building Cottages at first is a great investment!). Speaking of barbarians, it is also very important to have your own roaming military units to scout for newly-developed barbarian cities. It is much easier for you to prevent the rise of strong barbarian cities than it is to take resources away from your empire later on just to defeat that annoyance. It is a strategy I often use myself.

In the early game, founding a religion is also something to focus on. Being the first to discover a technology with a religion attached to it not only makes it your state religion (if you decide to adopt it), but it also means that you will have the potential to take the step which enables you to make your citizens more happy, and thus making your empire more productive, since unhappy citizens consume food, but don’t really produce anything. Building your religious Temples and Shrines strengthens the religion in your nation which means that it is easier for you to maintain that religion. If you have Open Borders, the AI can always send in missionaries and convert your cities to a different religion, thus making some of your citizens unhappy (unhappiness can be caused by overcrowding, war weariness, not enough troops in a city for protection, and of course; religious issues). If founding a religion early on in the game is not a priority, or the AI simply beat you to all the early religions, you can still throw your focus at the later religions such as Islam and Christianity. These religions come with a free missionary unit in order to help you spread that religion faster. By using a Missionary to promote its specific religion in a well developed city with a religion, you will also often see cities with more than one religion.

The fact that city expansion is generally slower, as well as the fact that map trading is enabled by Paper, which requires Civil Service & Theology means that unlike in Civ3, the world will not be mostly explored by years as early as 400 AD (or even earlier!). Civ4 has struck a balance when it comes to the amount of time passed relative to explored territory. By 1200 AD, it is very common to have as little as your own continent explored. And just to note, a Quick game speed may be quick, but it does not mean that the ratio of explored land to years will change.


Development & Diplomacy  

Once you have solidified your borders, and assuming are still at peace, it is time to make your empire more productive. There are various ways that you can do that. As mentioned above, religion is one way. Civics, of course are also a great way to fine-tune your government. The beauty of this system is that you don’t need to focus only on the later Civics choices to make your empire as productive in certain circumstances. Under the Labor section, Serfdom (which comes at Feudalism) may be a better choice than Emancipation (which comes at Democracy) if you like more productive workers. Civics such as Police state and Nationhood (which allows you to draft one unit per turn, and get +2 happiness from Barracks) are excellent choices during war-time. The Pyramid wonder enables all government civics, but it doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to immediately switch to Universal Suffrage (+1 shield per Town; Can spend Gold to finish productions), since you most likely will have very few towns and not much Gold at this early stage of the game. Another thing to note is, unless your leader’s trait is Spiritual, you might not want to change up your Civics choices too much, as that leads to a period of Anarchy.

Trade with other Civilizations via diplomacy is also very important to your development and developing your relationship with foreign Civilizations in general. There is no more confusion of why a Civilization is angry or happy with you anymore. Everything is very clearly laid out in front of you. All you really have to do is move your mouse over the Civilization’s leaderhead in the diplomacy screen and you see detailed points of why that Civilizations feels the way it does (either friendly, pleased, cautious, annoyed, or furious). The relationship with a civilizations will prove very beneficial for you with time, because as the turns go on and accumulate, so do the positive or negative points strengthening or weakening your bond. If you are at good terms with an AI, chances are you’ll have open borders. Your units can literally go to every single tile in that Civilization’s territory – Yes, even in cities.

Since the technology tree is so flexible, it is very common that other Civilizations will have technologies to trade you even if you do consider yourself an advanced Civilization. Now that all resources are also tradable, you will find it much more common for such deals and proposals. Note that food resources (when traded) only increase the health status of your Civilization. The AI will also contact you for various reasons, depending on its interests. It may ask for things ranging from trade deals, to forceful pushing for you to change your religion. In general, it is very nice to know that diplomacy in the new game is much more interactive, and you get the satisfaction of feeling that you have actually accomplished something due to the addition of more features to the diplomatic aspect of the game. Urging another Civilization to declare war on someone else, brokering peace, forcing your policies upon foreign leaders, and a wealth of UN Resolution options are aspects which expand diplomacy tremendously.



Sometimes leaders simply dislike you from the get go. This not only depends on that specific leader’s personality, but it also depends on how you choose to run your Civilization (Religious and Civics choices, etc). This may lead to the eventual declaration of war. I’m always impressed to see how the AI attacks in each game. No longer do you see a huge stack of doom coming out of foreign borders. What you could see is even scarier. The AI attacks in steady waves of units that just keep coming. Depending on your military status, this can be devastating. The aspect of war in general, thanks to the improved combat system as well as a simpler model (no attack or defense – just a single base strength), is much more interesting. In Civ4, wars will be tougher to win, but at the same time, a hell of a lot more fun. They are much more balanced, thanks also to the new unit promotion system. In the wars I’ve participated in, I really didn’t get the feeling that the odds were for or against me in terms of which unit I felt should win or lose. Combat finally feels right! Pillaging your enemy’s lands has an obvious negative affect on their production, but it also has a positive benefit for you. Each pillaged improvement earns you gold. Focusing on pillaging improvements such as Cottages (which may have grown to towns) will earn you the most gold. As you progress through a war, you may choose to manually promote your units, or do so automatically. I prefer to do it manually in order to set them up for the specific circumstances I’m facing… Even with all these promotions you still might be losing a war. When I was speaking of a more interactive AI further above, I also meant this: it will be more sensitive to your situation. It does not only focus to get fair deals with you when you aren’t in war, but if a friendly AI feels you are losing one, it might offer you a gift. A gift is nice, but in that situation you should never forget that you can ask it to join you in the war. Similarly on your part, you can choose to gift an AI a unit or two by simply moving them into their territory and clicking the “Gift” button which automatically makes that unit theirs.

Perhaps something very favorite to me is the fact that virtually all the aspects of Civilization IV are linked together in a very considerate manner. Culture, for example, can help you tremendously during war. This benefit is much more obvious when dropping the “Culture Bomb” on a recently captured city. The Culture Bomb is basically putting a Great Artist and making him create a Great Work. These give that city an instant culture boost of 4,000. And just as a note, not all Great People are equally common. The Great Prophet is much more common than the Great Artist, for example. This can be leveled out by building certain Wonders.


World Builder/Editor & Modding

How much control does the world builder actually provide the average player? You’ve probably heard many times that it can be opened during any game. Since it is a very, very detailed system, it is natural to think that it provides the player lots of different options (and this is very true). Just open the editor and you’ll see the ability for you to tweak and change everything from Cities, Technologies, Units, and Diplomacy. For cities, you are able to add a specific population number (as the screenshot to the left illustrates), culture points, gold amounts and even change that city’s religion. Adding technologies to the ones you already have is also possible. For units, you are able to change the level and promotion type of any available unit as well. Changing the terrain type is also another distinct possibility. Just like you are able to edit Technologies, Cities, and Units for your own Civilization, you are given the option to change these same aspects for the other available Civilizations in the game just as easily. The World Builder even goes as far as letting you change diplomatic options and relations.

As you can see, this also opens the doorway for you to cheat in-game. While that may not be as fun as playing the game as it should be played, I’m in no way saying that the Editor is not fun… I have to admit that it really is a marvel.

Regarding the other ways of modifying the game, most of you have probably heard the remaining three levels: The Flexible XML Files, Python, and the SDK (available in early 2006). Looking at the last paragraph and realizing how many possibilities the World Editor alone has to offer for the casual gamer, it is hard for me to imagine what our modding community can do with the more advanced levels of modding. It will certainly be very interesting to see (since I’m not a modder myself)!



I have to admit that while I have played multiplayer games, my main focus is on playing purely random games. From what I’ve seen, multiplayer, has without a doubt been innovated in its own way, and let it be clear now: Both the Single-Player and Multiplayer have gotten the amount of attention which will undoubtedly satisfy players who have interest either in MP or SP. If you want to read more about MP, I believe Chieftess will be writing up an MP preview also.



In the end, everyone has to remember the people that made this game possible. Their determination got the game to the level it is at now, and its innovation will stand the test of time. I have no doubt in it. In the big picture, calling the game complex doesn’t really do it justice. And in my opinion, that word does not suit it. Extremely deep is what I would call it. After all, have you guys heard of the new game called Complexity? Doesn’t sound fun to me!

There is no question I may have forgotten to talk about some things, like I mentioned in the first paragraph, but I really hope this is enough for you all reading this preview (by an addicted Civver).

Watch for more previews here on CivFanatics in the next few days!

NEXT: Nuclear Weapons in Civ4 >>


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This page was last updated on March 3, 2006.