Although the most diehard Civilization players refuse to acknowledge the console-based Civilization Revolution as a real entry in the franchise, Firaxis certainly took several lessons from the console game and quietly implemented them in Civ V. One such lesson is the user interface, designed by the same person who did Civ Rev's, that cuts or pushes everything it can to the sides of the screen, making the main screen the star, rather than a co-star to the menus.
The clean interface is at its most stunning during the leader negotiation screens. Instead of a pop-up of the leader like in the last few iterations of the game, this time each of the 18 factions' representative is presented in a full-screen portrait: Napoleon sits atop a horse in a field, Elizabeth on her thrown and Montezuma paces in a temple. Each leader using their own language and diplomacy feels more like an immersive experience than ever before. You aren't negotiating with a talking head.
Combat has long been a sticking point in the core Civ franchise. At some point it inevitably became a mathematical nightmare with "stacks of doom" and a domination victory never feeling like it was a worthwhile effort. Civ V gets around this by only allowing one unit per square, er, hex, and giving cities hit points (upgradable with walls and castles). Once a city is captured, it can be burned to the ground or annexed, which makes the citizens unhappy either way. While annexing will also drain resources, players can also now install a "puppet" government. Doing so prevents the player from having any choice of what the city does, but they continue to gain the benefits of a city with little unhappiness.
The game also features city-states, smaller civs that aren't represented as a main faction, but can be negotiated with and leveraged for several diplomatic purposes. It's still really difficult to get an idea of how these will play into the big picture of a Civ game.
Civ V's timeline ends in 2050 and players can win through domination, science, culture and diplomacy. We've also been told that a standard game should last about eight hours. During our presentation it was explained that domination will require capturing the other capitals in the game and culture involves taking six social policies to their limit and building "The Utopia Project."
Social policies are the civics (from Civ IV) of Civ V, but instead of bringing little bonuses like civics did in the last iteration, social policies implement massive changes. Each has a tech tree attached that you'll level up through the game.
Also, like Civ IV, modding will be a big part of Civ V (read more about this topic here). The big difference this time is the mods will be available directly from the game's main menu. Quality control will be implemented through a community-based star system.
Civilization V appears to be the next great iteration of the core franchise that fans expect, but with tweaks to balance combat and get those Revolution players interested. Prepare to stand the test of time when the game releases September 21, 2010. Now, seriously, when can we touch it?