Civilization has been sewing together rich historical experiences for the best part of thirty years now, with both best-selling games and a dozen or more influenced spin-offs meshing into one admirable kingdom of strategy gaming. And now, with the turn of a new era for the turn-based series, we’re able to cast our eye on another ten glorious years with Firaxis Games at the helm.
The question that remains after all these years, of course, is whether or not the 1991 entry to the world of Civilization was ever knocked from its throne. And to answer that, I suppose it was, what with the number of games its developers flushed into its timeline. But which of the many turned out to be the best of the best? Well, let’s run it from the top. Here are the five best Civilization games of all time, ranked.
Looking back at how far Civ has come since its inception, seeing its earliest chapter which launched back in 1991 is almost laughable. It’s laughable because of how basic it is compared to its later instalments. And while it did feature a relatively complex system for its time, the series itself did go on to inspire countless technical advancements, leaving the debut to look like an absolute cakewalk compared to its superior siblings.
With that said, for the sake of nostalgia, the debut chapter in the Civilization nexus was still one of the best turn-based strategy games ever made. Its iconic bird’s-eye view set the stage for a new generation of characters and historical plays, all of which knotted together to greenlight some of the most memorable journeys ever told. Sure, it was somewhat lacking in visuals — but it definitely made up for it in character development and unpredictable storytelling.
4. Civilization 3
Right around the time Civilization 3 popped its head up in 2001, fresh-faced developer Firaxis Games was able to find a new direction for the franchise to roll in, bringing the series into a more 3D-focused environment with even more polished mechanics. And while some would argue that the first two games were generally well-received, many would say that the series never really found its feet until the launch of Civ 3 in 2001.
Introducing new things such as national wonders, which was basically a flash way of saying Wall Street for your city, as well as national identity and culture, Civ 3 really pushed the boat out and narrowed in on elements that would later become staples on the whole series. Like I said, the turning point for Civilization. A staple that, in all honesty, many tried to replicate in later years.
3. Civilization IV
After Firaxis shifted the path for Civilization and made it more operational for players of all backgrounds, it was only a general incline moving forward, with plenty of room for manoeuvre when branching out to new ideas. And to be fair, Civ 4 did exactly that: it blossomed, removing the thorns that many would have once questioned along the way and effectively replacing them with petals of pure gold.
On top of all the general improvements, Civ 4 also introduced a new game engine, which of course gave players a more in-depth view of the world’s they’d build. It also explored religion even further than previous games, using its seven associated paths as a way to onboard more perks and bolster in-game happiness. So, definitely a step in the right direction for Civilization. An even bigger one for Firaxis, for sure.
2. Civilization VI
Following on from their ground-breaking success after Civ 5 in 2010, Firaxis entered a lengthy six year development phase for the follow-up chapter, Civilization VI. Come 2016, the sixth instalment launched worldwide, stringing together new concepts as well as stacking on old ones in order to bring a fuller gameplay experience. Lo and behold, Civ 6 stormed to the top of the charts with nothing but praise backing its axis.
Although not a huge amount changed with the next leg of the conquest, Civ 6 did boast some pretty great cosmetics. Visuals were through the roof, the game’s DLC was engrossing enough to fork out top dollar for, and its multiplayer network was one of the most polished to date. Plus, with even more world leaders joining the roster and an bigger map to conquer, it definitely made its mark. But was it the best? Well, you know, it’s a close call, that’s for sure.
1. Civilization V
Okay, so it’s not the newest passage in the pamphlet, but it is best. And for the record, that’s the global population speaking — not just me. Civilization V, which launched back in 2010, was the perfect follow-up to a near-perfect prequel, with features that made it both challenging for seasoned pros, as well as a well-balanced starting point for newcomers to the turn-based strategy genre.
All in all, Civilization V boasted the most variety when it came to possible story outcomes and consequences. Thrown in with an enormous map with overhauled visuals to boot, the game went on to become the most ambitious chapter in the timeline to date. Bundled with touch support for handheld devices, Civilization V became an instant hit for both PC and console players alike, ultimately fortifying its place on the cross-platform sphere. Can it be beaten? Who knows. Roll on Civilization 7, I say.
So, how would you rank the Civilization games? Do you agree with our list? Which games are we missing? Let us know over on our socials here or down in the comments below.