29 September 2010

Waiting for Darius


It used to be that I was not a fan of 4X games. I liked real-time strategy, bro. I needed action, waves of zergs being chewed up by Terran gunfire, endless harvesting and endless rushes. Trouble is, I don't think I really like RTS games. The action-orientation, cultish community, and general mindlessness of it all left be bored and/or overwhelmed. In fact the only RTS games that I've played or owned in the last 10 years have been of the Dawn of War series, and that's mainly because I simply love the Warhammer 40,000 world. Even DOW2, which I thought would be my return to RTS greatness since I didn't have to play "sim base" any more, left me with little more than a great urge to run around my neighborhood yelling, "WAAAGH!!"

I really did like the single player campaign but multiplayer was too much of an e-peen grind. I didn't have the natural talent to compete, the time to get better, or the patience to lose with any sort of quiet dignity.

Part of the reason for my growing distaste for the genre is the fact that there has been little-to-no innovation. I know this is obscene coming from a professed MMO junky. But I just can't stand the endless war microcosm of building a base, harvesting resources, rushing units out, getting killed or retreating. The other reason is that I'm just plain no good at them. Even in my old age, I have the hardest time thinking things through and following a plan. It's a miracle when I can make even a close guess at my opponents plan and act accordingly. I am also a poor chess player.

But I'm coming back around to the 4X thing. I've always liked city-building games and I like the expansion aspect of RTS games. Basing things by turn gives the hamster in my brain a bit more time to turn the wheel and there are options for victory other than following a build order with bushido-like discipline, or watching replays and copying someone else's strategy rote.The dam has finally broken; I bought Civilization V (henceforth called 'Civ 5').

I'm still finding my footing; I'm not that good yet. In fact, I have no reference for what being a "good" Civ player means. All I know is what history has already proven and what Civ has successfully copied from world events: might makes right.

Before going further, I feel I should say that I've never played a Civ game. I am glad for this because, from many sources, I have heard that Civ 5 has the most intuitive interface, snappiest graphics, and is the only version with a fully animated "leader" screen by which George Washington can talk shit right to your face. If I'm not mistaken it's the only version to utilize a hex grid, which I like.

I am currently at the end of my first full game and defeat is nigh. The once mighty empire of Greece has been reduced to two small colonies and the Louvre (culture bomb much?). My only ally and presumed savior, Darius of Persia, is hitting me up for money, even though he has at least thrice the cities. What happened? Where did we go wrong?

Strike 1: The Cruel Hand of Fate
Basically, lady luck screwed me on this one. My starting position was on the coast of a small continent directly south of China. To my west was the rapidly expanding, no crap-taking America. By my very position I was forced into a place of conflict and opposition; another example of historical precedent as many countries are dead in the water by simple location. So, instead of building up my society in peace and harmony with my neighbors I was forced in a thousand year smear campaign and inevitable war.

On the other hand, the great Ramses of Egypt had an entire landmass to himself and thousands of years to grow and explore with no one in his way save the fledgling city-state of Dublin, whom he quickly allied with. More on that later.

Strike 2: The Fence
In no small part did I buy Civ 5 thanks to the impressive demo.The lads at Fraxis did a fine job of giving you just enough to want more and, as well know, Civ games are hopelessly addictive (and MMOs get all the bad press, sheesh!). So my first few games of the demo were a walk of cake and I had most of my opponent empires on the run in under 100 turns.

In my first full game, I flirted with the idea of the peace loving approach: keeping my neighbors appeased with my luxurious trade goods and bribes, free to let my resources and research flourish into the 21st century and beyond unopposed and unhindered. Very quickly reality set in as my first warrior unit was killed by barbarians and Wu Zetian made a fine barrage of snarky quips that drove me to the point of "You're about to get it, sister!"

Trouble was that I was expanding too late and had already begun investing in research that was going to benefit a sea-trade empire, much like the real Greece. Sitting on the fence between peace and war nearly resulted in my undoing. The decision must be made early on and the decision is almost stupidly obvious; the person with the most and biggest guns is going to win. Another sad fact of history painfully adopted into Civ.

Strike 3: Picking a Fight with the Bully
When Ramses, the current superpower of the known world, approaches you and says, "Sorry I attacked your ally. I didn't really want to so hopefully we can still be friends" you don't reply with, "*&^% you, bro! You are way out of line!". Vienna simply isn't worth the trouble. But that's what I did. I was cocksure and proud after a massive victory over America and had no thought of the furious vengeance the lord of Egypr was about to unleash from a continent away.

I spent the next 100+ turns getting abused by this pyramid building, sand sucking fiend until he finally gave me a respite (no peace negotiations would be held) after all of my cities were taken. Simply put, he was further along the technology line than I and pikemen don't stand much chance against warships. Even with my former and future enemy, George Washington, on my side all looked grim.

And then, like the archangel Gabriel coming in the night, Darius arrived with his glorious beard and spectacularly fine Persian accent.

His empire? Huge. His army? Fearless. His beard? Unmatched. He was to be my shining light, the cure to my three opponents here on the far side of the world. I got a little antsy as he deliberated and built his forces for the great and glorious sack of Thebes and I was tired of the trash talking China, so I swiftly and deftly took them down. 30 turns later, with all of China now firmly on my side with courthouses and all that a captured people could want, Egypt strikes again. Sweeping in with anti-tank guns and artillery he stole all of the hard work I had done in the former Chinese state, sending me reeling back to Athens to lick my wounds.

Okay, he would come after I promised to fight Washington. Even though he was breathing down my neck right alongside the Pharaoh, it would be okay: Darius would come, beard and all.

Suffice to say, I was disappointed when, less than 100 turns later, Egypt arrived with gunships and tanks. Athens burned, I was reduced to rubble; only Corinth and Argos, so far away, still stood. Technically I was still at war with America and Egypt as well. Darius turned out to be a paper tiger: if he had done any damage against my enemies it was not to be seen. My savior had failed and, to add insult to injury, he came up less than 10 turns later asking me for some gold. He's a real douche.

I mean keep Greece going, at least rushing through a few dozen turns or so just to see what happens. Egypt keeps proposing ridiculous peace treaties with me. I'd rather lose my land to tanks than give let him whittle me down to one sparse colony and some fishing boats.

As a final note, I really appreciate the historicity of the Civ game. For examples, my Athens fell to the Egyptians. Countless cities and settlements have fallen to empires over the years, oftentimes losing their cultural and historical identities in the process, resulting in new(ish) ethnic groups and nations. Former colonies are cut off and mingle with the indigenous folks, producing subsequent communities and breathing on the continuity of life and nationhood.

Next time, however, Ramses is going to me eating his stupid hat.

No comments: