Oh, where to begin, where to begin. There's lots of chatter on the Internet about how dreadful Civilisation V is, just the same as there always is when a new version of everybody's favourite history-spanning strategy game comes out. Major complaints from the hardcore elites seem to be the simplified happiness system and a few game-balance issues that, among others, favour the warmonger and players on small maps.
Other less vocal complaints are aimed at the hex-based map, the specialised civilisation unique attributes, even the lack of movie clips when a new wonder is built.
BUT - and it's a big but, and I cannot lie - for every complaint, you can find someone else who likes the changes. The new happiness system looks at the big picture of empire rulership, with unhappiness and happiness being kingdom-wide rather than focused on individual cities, which is hailed by some as what Civ is supposed to be all about anyway. The new hex-based maps and one-unit-per-tile conventions are generally regarded by most of the most vocal online communities as excellent additions - or at least, they would be if the AI could handle the intricacies. Specialised Civ abilities, even some of the least immediately useful ones, are slowly being regarded as quite handy in certain situations.
All this said, Firaxis have stuck their neck out a bit with Civ V. It is quite different to Civ IV in some fundamental ways, and that's meant re-jigging many of the things that made number 4 so perfectly balanced. ‘Simplified' and ‘Dumbed down' are, after all, different ways of looking at the same thing, and while it's true that solving happiness problems in Civ IV could be handled in a whole host of different ways depending on the complex combinations of your current Civics, religious situation, Wonders, tech level and so on and so on, in Civ V it usually boils down to building a couple more circuses.
Which leaves newbies with a gentle, easy-to-handle learning curve. But the weak AI and lower complexity leave the game feeling like a bit of a pushover for hardened vets. It's worth noting that at this point, Civ V has only been out for a short while, and while players new to the series are busy learning the ropes, the hard-core Civ players have already got what they believe to be a full grasp on things and are on the forums spouting their anger. Some even say things like "If it was just like Civ IV but with updated graphics I'd be happy". But like I said, that's not been Sid Meier's plan for Civ V. It's something new, different enough from the previous iterations that we're having to go back to the drawing board a bit - I am certain that the things that are getting a blasting on the boards at the moment will be getting praise in a few months once everyone works out a few optimal strategies.
So I've said a lot about public opinion. But what's MY opinion? Well, the AI is dumb as a barrel of badgers, and I feel that a few of my favourite tactics are missing (such as the missionary rush - there's no religion in the new Civ at all, aside from a social policy tree), oh, and load times are a little on the long side, but I've got to laud them for not taking the safe and easy road. Many of the problems, such as AI and slow load times will inevitably get patched away in no time, and due to unprecedented modding support, anything else I take issue with will be crowdsourced to my pleasure in a couple of months anyway. Seriously, if my complaint about this game is that it wasn't set in Hell, and I couldn't build torture pits and naked lady monsters, it'll all be a short DL away in about six months, trust me.
Sid giveth, and Sid taketh away. And this time round he's taketh away the religious dynamic, commerce allocation sliders, civics and the real time clock. Meanwhile, he's giveth us city states and social policies. City states are like small, one-city civilisations which can be courted by the bigger, main civilisations for small bonuses including military aid and extra food. They're also really useful for fighting ‘Cold Wars' with - if Montezuma is picking on your pet city-state, you can smile indulgently and allow him to carry on (in order to avoid any diplomatic fallout), then quietly gift a few regiments of paratroopers to the city states - let's call them ‘military advisors' - to give the Aztec spearmen something to think about. While diplomacy with city-states rarely stretches beyond giving them the occasional cash bribe and building arbitrary wonders at their request, it is at least another element to the game. And, like in any good system, changes to the city-states can have repercussions that flow through the rest of the game.
Social policies replace civics, and while they rarely make any sense at all, they provide some juicy and interesting bonuses. Rather than being unlocked through science, they're acquired through a build-up of culture. And instead of being tweakable depending on the situation, switching between democracy and police state in times of war, for example, you now just keep on adding new ones.
And this is where the confusion arises. For example, Free Religion gives the bonus of two free social policies. It's entirely possible that one of these could be used to buy theocracy. Whaaa? In terms of game balance, this system works just fine, but in terms of logic, it's sometimes a little hard to envision just what daily life is like for your citizens. As for the removal of the real time clock, I can only think that it's cruelty, and has already no doubt been responsible for days off work and missed appointments worldwide.
Civilisation games are, by their very nature, slow boilers. My views now, after a couple of playthroughs, may well be dramatically different from my views in two years' time, after countless experiments. I'm a Civilisation lover, so I will play this game to death, but whether it's better than Civilisation IV or not is a difficult and personal question, with as many different answers as there are players. It's fair to say, though, that the ‘feel' of playing Civilisation remains.