Before delving into the rich new experiences that await everyone with Civilization IV, let me pause for a moment by explaining how I came to reach the point where I am today. I can remember playing the original game of Civilization in the early 1990s when I was a little over ten years old. I had the Windows version (not the DOS version, thank God!) and ran it first on Windows 3.1, then ported it over to Windows 95 later. I enjoyed the game, but wasn't old enough to do much more than fool around on Chieftan and Warlord and cause mischief. When Civ2 came out, I tried it and didn't like it. For whatever reason, it never really drew me in as the original game had. Almost all of the crazy exploits from the first game were still present, and aside from the graphics and a vastly improved combat engine, the game felt almost exactly the same (to me, anyway). I know I'm in the minority here, but I feel that Civ2 was the worst game in the Civilization series, simply because it didn't innovate enough over its predecessor. I moved on to other things.
I was drawn back into the Civilization universe after my friend Scott received a copy of Civ3 as a gift for Christmas 2001, shortly after the game had been released. No sooner did I see Civ3 played in person before I felt compelled to rush out and buy a copy of my own. What was different this time around? Borders! Now I could SEE my empire's territory right there on the world map, and watch it expand over time as I built more cities. This, combined with the new culture system, drew me into the game and reinvigorated my interest in the franchise. But the ultimate reason why I kept playing Civ3 was that the AI has been VASTLY improved over the Civ2 AIs (which were barely more intelligent than the Civ1 AIs had been!) I vividly recall watching for the first time several AI civs gang up on a weaker AI nation and tear it to bits without any prompting from me. That was a very cool moment, the first time I had the feeling "wow, they're aren't all playing on a team against me!" Such a situation would have been inconceivable in Civ2 - or at the least, a very rare occurance.
In searching for more information online about Civ3, I came across the CivFanatics Center website (right when it was really taking off in terms of membership) and more importantly its Succession Games Forum. There, I began reading of the daring feats of the Realms Beyond Diablo crew, and eventually was able to take part in many of their games as well. After a number of us became dissatisfied with the existing tournament games available for Civ3, Sirian founded the Epics tournament that would be run at the new Realms Beyond Civ website. I played in many of these games, gaining in skill and meeting many new friends at the same time. In order to record the stories of what transpired in those games, I founded a small personal website, which has since greatly increased in size and scope.
When I heard that BreakAway games was planning to hold a public beta test in the summer of 2003 for the second expansion to Civ3 (the Conquests expansion), I threw my name into the applicant pool and directed them to take a look at my website. They must have liked what they saw, as I was one of the 300 people picked from over 10,000 applicants. While I was ultimately unhappy with the way that the Conquests expansion turned out (something that I've written at length about elsewhere), the beta experience was time well spent, giving me an opportunity to see more of how games are developed behind the scenes. With Civ3 burnout setting in, combined with a distaste for some of the gameplay changes in Conquests, I stopped playing Civ3 at the beginning of 2004 and moved on to other games.
About a year later, I started hearing rumors that a sequel to Civ3 was in development, the game that of course would turn out to be Civilization 4. Thanks to some connections that I had with people who were working on Civ4 (it never hurts to know someone on the inside), I was given the opportunity to take part in Pre-Alpha testing for Civ4 starting in April of 2005. The Firaxians were quite pleased with the work that I was doing for them, so much so that when my school year was over and the summer started, I was able to go and work on-site at Firaxis as my summer job (it also doesn't hurt to live in the state of Maryland!) This was indeed the ultimate summer job, getting paid to come and work all day on Civ4, and although game testing is not quite as much fun as you might think, it beats most anything else. I was able to meet and work in person with people such as Soren Johnson, Jesse Smith, Barry Caudill, and many others. Yes, I did meet "Sid" and have a chance to speak with him; I even played in some MP games with his son during the testing process. The Firaxians are a great group of people, I must say.
As a result of all this, I've spent the last six months playing and testing Civ4 in extensive detail. I've completed almost 20 full games from start to finish (and many more than that left undone), on all different sorts of map settings, game speeds, civilization types, difficulty levels, and so on. I've also played dozens upon dozens of Multi-Player games under various different conditions. And it's not just me either; there's been a core group of roughly 50 testers from all over the world working on this game for months and months now. Is it perfect? No. Will there be some bugs? Of course. But this game is in damned good shape for release, and it's due to the hard work put in by the combined efforts of the Firaxians and the Civ fans that have been in on the project. I'm not spilling any names or talking about what went on during testing, but a lot of big names in the Civilization community have been working on this for a long time. (You can check the credits if you're curious; I'm listed in there 3 times, twice under my real name [Michael Soracoe] and once as Sulla.)
That brings us back to the here and now, and the release of Civilization IV. This is not intended to be a review or a sales pitch. There's no way I can possibly be impartial about a game I spent so much time working on, so I won't even try to do a review. Nor is it worthwhile for me to sit here and try to tell you to go out and buy Civ4; that's something everyone should decided for him or herself. What I'm going to present here is a Walkthrough for Civ4. I will simply play through a game and explain everything that I do while illustrating it with screenshots. After reading through the walkthrough, you'll have a good idea of what a typical game of Civ4 looks like and can decide for yourself whether to get the game or not. Fair enough?
I warn you though - it may be hard to resist after reading through this.