Civilization Games Ranked: The Story of Decay and Progress

Anyone into strategy games (even a bit) should have heard about Sid Meier’s Civilization games, and maybe even played all or most of them. What impresses the most about the series is that it shows little changes in the gameplay, despite upgrades in visuals and writing. Compare the first and the last installments of GTA, Metal Gear Solid, Ultima, finally – the difference will be dramatic. But with Civilization, it is not the case. The games share the same principles, untouchable and unshakable.

That’s why for a player who wants to discover Civilization series games are to be ranged. Should one discover them in order of appearance? It may take too long to go through them all. Or start with the latest one and go back? Still not the optimal solution, because (Attention, spoilers!) the sixth installment is a step back. So what’s the best and the worst of the series? 

It would have taken too long to review all the expansions as well as primary titles, so there will only be the six of them. No Colonization, no matter how great it is. No Revolution. The official Civ games are great enough to focus on them.



It’s a classical standard for movies or books that the sequel tries to surpass the original but fails. This sequel was released in 1996, before the gaming industry established sequel supremacy as a rule. It did, indeed, feature lots of what a strategy should have had in 1990s: scenarios, isometric graphics, upgrade of obsolete units, advanced trade and diplomacy. Still, it lost some magic the original game had. Luckily, it was not beyond all recovery, as we’ll see later.

  • Pros: a big advance after the first installment
  • Cons: later it was indeed surpassed by successors



The thing about the first Civilization for old players may be just a baby duck syndrome. For others, it’s the mystery of touching the roots, amplified by pixel style fashion among indie developers today. Whatever it is, it works. It’s been ported, so it runs on platforms popular today.

Did you feel overexcited when watching Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai or The Hidden Fortress and feeling that’s where Star Wars began? If you are a fan of strategy as a genre, you’ll feel the same when playing the first Civilization. All these pixels, full-screen colorful pictures, and the turn-based gameplay that left you time to think – that’s all true. But the real civilization has advanced since, and that authenticity fleur is now the best about the Civilization of 1991.

  • Pros: the original flavor
  • Cons: the gameplay lacks a lot of later additions



You may call it a “sophomore slump,” but the third installment of Civilization really did it. Its release in 2001 required lots of visual improvement, plus it had to be compatible with new evolving Windows and MacOS versions. 

As for gameplay, it introduced national borders, religions, a great map editor, and – probably the most important innovation – various ways to win. There are various forms of supremacy: military, diplomatic, cultural, technological, or by overall domination. And, though we only list the primary games, Civ III received two important expansions.

  • Pros: available for modern platforms, has most of modern features
  • Cons: now it looks like a demo for further installments



Well, why is the latest installment of 2016 considered the worst of the “sequel trilogy”? Some might nominate it as the best of the entire franchise, taking the best of its ideas and crowning the series with all the power of today’s technologies. In some way, it does. But not all changes are for the better. For example, the reworked AI is quite more tolerant of player’s mistakes. It doesn’t play your nerves or surprise you with the elegance of its moves. It just does its job.

Not that it’s a step back and a total disappointment. Among all the Civilization games PS4, Switch, or Xbox One has only this one. So console owners have their reasons to prefer this installment due to newly introduced mechanics, like climate change, advanced diplomacy, roads, districts, and other innovations. Anyway, none of the Civs is bad. They just aren’t equally great.

  • Pros: it’s the latest, the most spectacular, and with new mechanics
  • Cons: the AI is dull, and on PC there are bugs and hardware compatibility issues


CIVILIZATION IV gameplayThis is the game that took the series to the new level in terms of visuals in 2005. The map finally got animated here, and the music was better than ever (including the successors). Leonard Nimoy was a great narrator, making it sound epic. There were also some combat system improvements.

No wonder it took too long for the next installment to appear. Civilization IV was considered one of the best civilization builder games of all times. In addition, it had two great expansions – just like the fourth one.

  • Pros: all the best elements of the previous games now on a new visual level
  • Cons: too few innovations



Not only is it the reviewer’s opinion, but also of those on Steam who rated it as “overwhelmingly positive,” and there is more than one reason for that. Released in 2010, it still looks quite modern (especially for this conservative genre), and the greatest innovation of it – forget what they taught you! – was hexagonal tile, changing absolutely everything. It also features improved visuals, simplified technology tree, new leader characteristics, and city-states as important elements of the world.

But what really changed the game was its expansion. Like the previous two, Civilization V received two major DLC packs, and each of them enriched the gameplay with new mechanics and missions. There were also smaller ones with new civilizations and scenarios.

Alas, this one was not released on consoles, and that’s a shame. As the latest installment shows, strategy games can be ported quite well. And that’s the only thing to regret about in Civilization V.

  • Pros: great gameplay, great visuals, great scenarios
  • Cons: not available on consoles

Your Fav Civ

And which is your favorite Civilization installment? Do you have enough time to play it now? Have you compared any two of them directly? Was it about your emotional reaction, or did you focus on the game quality? Share your opinion in comments, and we’ll appreciate that. Sharing is what built up civilization.

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