My civilization should be a smoldering ruin by now. The Siamese, Polynesians, and the Indians have joined forces with their confederacy of city states to take me down. In Civilization IV, that would be a game ending scenario for me. Pillars of enemy units thirty deep would pile into my territory on multiple fronts to ransack my cities and I’d be writing this post from the boundless optimism of a 5000 B.C. restart.
But in Civilization V: Gods & Kings, I’m still holding my own.
It’s the best sign I can show to suggest the tactical AI is still subpar, mostly because I’m so notoriously terrible at waging war in these games. In previous editions, enemy scouts would correctly recognize that my honor guard of three wizened bowmen is no match for a battalion of mechanized infantry and act accordingly. What can I say? I’m a scientist, not a fighter.
In Civilization V, however, my perennial problem is solved by making cities much tougher targets. Throw up some walls and a castle, maybe station a detachment of trained pikemen to coach the civilians a bit, and even the smallest berg requires some heavy artillery fire to crack open. It’s a process the AI definitely seems to comprehend, and the way it rolls trebuchets and cannons in behind a wall of melee guardians is an unmistakable improvement over its original behavior. Luckily, between the movement penalties inflicted upon invaders by my Great Wall of America and the squads of experienced knights I can use as quick response teams, I’ve been able to repel their attacks so far.
Defensively, the AI still founders. It attempts to repair damage in place when common sense dictates wounded units retreat out of the line of fire. Ditto for ranged units stripped of their escorts. Sure, there are occasions when I’ll sacrifice a unit to hold the line, but the computer seems unaware of the fact that running away really does preserve your units to fight another day. I’m not sure the enemies in Civ IV were much better in this regard, but because Civ V warfare centers on a smaller number of more powerful units, every casualty counts for a lot more.
That said, I can’t seem to mount a successful counter-attack against any of their cities, either. Leonardo da Vinci’s sketches of a medieval tank would have borne a great resemblance to the Siamese war elephant if he’d seen how well they hold up against lance charges and cannon fire. My one strategic gain so far was wresting away control of a conquered city state, and that only succeeded because its fortifications had been pulverized in the original siege. There’s no cunning behind the AI’s successful defensive tactics: it drives me back through brute force rather than feints, ambushes, or clever flanking maneuvers, but it drives me back nonetheless.
If a lapsed peacenik like me can get locked in a stalemate against what should be an overwhelming alliance of computer players, I suspect that veteran war gamers let down with the tactical AI in Civilization V will only be marginally less disappointed by the Gods & Kings expansion. Things are certainly better, but compared to the situation at launch where opposing nations would position their fragile archers toe-to-toe with your long swordsmen, “better” simply means “less incompetent.” This AI will swarm you with soldiers, conquer your city state allies, maybe even bloody your nose a bit, but I’d be shocked if halfway decent commanders had trouble holding their own territory.
I’ve never enjoyed the military aspects of Civilization as much as the economic, scientific, and cultural systems. Civ V still does those better than any previous game in the series, combining each advancement into a mosaic of bonuses and abilities reminiscent of a good role-playing game. Still, it’s hard not to contemplate how much more impactful those systems would be if they fed into the party-based unit tactics the way they should.
Too Long; Didn’t Read Version
If I can hold my own against AI aggression in Civilization V: Gods & Kings, you can beat it senseless. Yes, it’s improved in a few important ways, but armchair generals will still be much happier with Civ IV.