I wouldn’t say I am the biggest fan of the Civilization series, I had CIV2 on the PS1 (god that was chuggy), I had Revolutions which was a fairly decent stripped back version on the consoles, and I dabbled in Alpha Centauri a bit. So while no expert, I am fairly versed in the series. Which had me thinking, why does nobody talk about CIV3? My straw poll of one mate while on the train leads me to believe it is the ginger step-child of the family. So, is my market research valid? Is Civ3 a bad game, or a bad Civ game?Or either of those and a decent entry in the series?
CIV3 is a turn-based strategy game featuring the greatest civilizations to have existed, such as the Ancient Egyptians lead by the mighty Cleopatra, Alexander of Macedonia leading the Greeks, Caesar and the Romans, Lincoln and the Americans, Bismarck leading the mighty Germans. And then you get Shaka and the Zulus or Hiawatha’s Iroquois. Who let’s be fair, were never mighty civilizations. Plus a dozen more if you take into account the expansion pack.
Each Faction starts the game with slightly different areas of expertise in that they will have a combination of 2 of the 8 starter techs pre-learnt, at some point they gain a unique unit which may or may not give you an edge but they vary massively in quality with some such as the British Man-o-War being next to useless. And with these differences, in theory each faction will be suited to a different play style. However you can beat the game in anyway, with any factions if you try hard enough and don’t suck.
Learning the game can be a challenge as to me, the tool tips, and unit descriptions always feel like they are one or two clicks too far away. I often found myself tabbing out of the game to read Civilopedia to check out the wiki, as no matter how much I played it never felt clear to me what the bonuses or reasons for building a particular building. This might be my nostalgia goggles kicking in, but I felt CIV2’s tool tips, and benefits were much clearer. Certainly the later games in the series improved upon this. The same happens in combat. I can’t for the life of me figure out why my fortified Medieval Warriors are losing to a single ancient warrior attacking me. Why my bloody pikeman, the one designed for killing horses, can’t kill a horse. This happened all over the show, it wasn’t one offs and at times my 5 warriors lost back-to-back versus 1 enemy warrior (who was then promoted to god tied douche-fuckery to further annoy me). This happened on every single playthrough until I finally switched it to little child difficulty. It was only at that point did my 50/50 fights go 50/50, or my ass-raping units began the ass raping with this random god unit still happening, but much less frequently.
I am not a fan of the research tree in CIV3 as the tree is split into 4 distinct eras, with no overlap.
Most of my games ended in the Middle Ages as I kept getting steamrolled, I tried as Greeks, Iroqious, Eqyptians, the Hittites each getting a little further but all failing when suddenly my research couldn’t keep up.
It was only when deciding to be hyper aggressive Frenchies did my research work out. It seems the only way to get research done is to be at war. Pick on a nation, and then demand a peace treaty in exchange for technology. This works a treat, but I didn’t really want to win the game with domination I like the other victory states, the Space Race, Diplomatic, Cultural, all are much more interesting. But none of these seem possible without engaging in long wars. I would even make more money constantly at war, whereas my 30 city Hitties with immense commerce where only hitting 200g a turn by the 1900s, my French was 150ish by the 1600s with a world ending army.
The other problem comes in the turn order. It is fucking infuriating when you tell one guy to fortify and your turn ends when you expect to have 99 different soldiers to move. It happens frequently, the game will cut to you, you’ll sit there while it shows 75 Workers doing their business and then it’ll cut to one solider who is active. You fortify him, because he is in outer-Siberia and not really doing much, but I wanted to activate 17 armies, all poised ready to strike before I end the turn. But no the god damn turn ends and enemy just walks around and sacks empty cities that are only empty because the game decided to end a fucking turn without your say so. I can’t find a setting for this, I can’t find a reason for this. But the only way around it is to have a million soldiers sat around “waiting”.
In the games I don’t quit out of in the 1500, the game crawls to a halt in the 1900s. I don’t even get to future tech as if you’re on a larger map every turn starts to take 10 minutes. All the research is still 10-15 turns depending on your budget priorities but this means you are well over an hour away from the next upgrade, the next item in your tech tree. Suddenly you’re not planning a civilisation and thinking 10, 20, 100, even 1000 years into the future. You’re dealing with the dull every day of managing 100 cities. Sure this might be more realistic. But it is boring.
The best bet seems to be, play on a small map. Then nothing can get bogged down, you don’t need to worry that the Japanese have been sat on another planet building endless archers, you don’y need to worry about the Iroquois attacking your ally. Just defend your slice of cake and never yield. Anything more than small world with 4 enemies will turn the endgame into a joyless, boring slog.
I probably put 80 hours into Civilization 3 in the last 3 weeks and I enjoyed less than 20 hours of it. I like the start of the game, the land grabbing, choosing a specialism and early diplomacy. But the negotiating is none existent and you need to spend 5 hours researching to unlock anything interesting diplomatically. I can’t for the life of me figure out why one shitty enemy archer is able to beat 5 veteran Riflemen who are defending a city with walls and Civil Defence buildings. I can’t figure out why my cities suddenly turn on a dime from all happy to rioting and destroying my buildings within a turn.
But the final thing that grates my knackers, is the awful user interface. It is beyond clunky with all details you want always one or two clicks away from where they should be. Sure you’ll eventually learn it, and I did. But tabbing out and reading the wiki is the best bet. I don’t mind not having my handheld, I like discovering depth. But the UI is obtuse, and that might be my ultimate issue. Learning how to do things is not intuitive and frankly not fun.
As for the original question I posed, CIV3 isn’t the bastard child. It was well received, it has a dedicated following and it reviewed well. But if you are looking for a CIV game to play this is probably at the bottom of my list of recommendations. That isn’t to say you can’t have fun. Just remember to start small. Don’t do a 2v2 on giant map, or 8 way free-for-all on a giant map. Do a smallish map, and prepare to spend 50 hours failing before you finally realise all the hidden depth that is buried in the background.
Pros: Immense depth
Cons: Immense Depth that is a chore to learn
Back in the Day:
CIV3 reviewed well with scores in the mid to low 90s almost across the board.