Civilization games are one of a kind. All it takes it a glimpse of the main map, or of the tech tree, or of the city management screen and you know exactly what game you’re looking at. Civilization, one of the most complex but consistently user friendly turn based strategy games out there.
I’ve had the pleasure of playing Civilization VI for a few weeks, and I’d like to emphasise the word pleasure. The game is a true beauty and runs incredibly smoothly on my machine. No crashes, no frame rate drops, no jitters. This wasn’t true of Civilization V on launch, which required strategically fiddling with settings to get it running. It was messy.
None of that this time around. Civ VI feels polished and complete, if a little basic in places. Firaxis giveth, and then taketh away – Civ VI now has city districts, but we no longer have World Congress. Religion has been expanded, but you can no longer win diplomatically. Happiness has been cut out, but has been replaced with an amenities system. In some places this adds greater complexity (districts now drastically change the placement of cities and their development), but in others it’s the opposite.
Which compels me to write a little something about the fact that we are looking at a new Civilization game here, and we have to be careful when comparing this title to its DLC swollen predecessor, Civ V. We can safely assume that there will be a bucket load of DLC for Civ VI – DLC that will not only add new factions but also unique gameplay experiences, maps, or whole new mechanics – but that DLC is not currently available.
A New Civilisation Dawns: New Mechanics & Gameplay
With this in mind, I can confidently say that Civilization VI is an incredibly polished, well executed, finely tuned turn based strategy game that will keep you entertained for hundreds of hours. The new districts mechanic adds a layer of complexity unseen in any of the previous titles. This new mechanic allows the placement of a district focusing on culture, science, etc within the borders of your city, thereby boosting cultural, scientific etc output at the expense of the bonuses of the tile on which the district is placed.
This counters the tediousness of late game Civ V, where the production capabilities of cities were so high that it simply became an exercise in constructing every building available. The new districts ensure flexible city building even into the late game, which is made further complex by the specific needs and requirements of these districts. Some buildings can only be constructed in a city if you have already built specific districts, or can only be built adjacent to specific tiles.
This allows for the development of some very unique cities, as well as for greater variation between your own. One may specialise in generating science, whilst another – based next to a mountain range which boosts faith and science generation – will generate tons of faith. So placing a city is no longer as simple an operation, you now have to consider how the environment will affect district and wonder placement.
Other additions include a greater focus on religion and religious warfare. There are now more units available to those who found a religion, including units that can engage in religious combat. This is an improvement on Civ V, however, religion and religious combat is still lacking in Civ VI. There are very few religious units to choose from, and religious conflict becomes very repetitive. This is made further frustrating by some curious actions of the AI, which I will discuss later.
The civic technologies have now been pulled out of the tech tree and exist independently. This is a fantastic development, allowing greater flexibility and the ability to fine tune your civilisation though government types and selected policies. Put simply, unlocked policies appear as cards which can be placed into governmental structures. Further governments are unlocked through the civic tree, but others are available as a consequence of tech tree progression too. Shifting around government policies can really turn a game around – a peaceful civilisation may have policies that benefit amenities, wonder building and growth enacted, but when war is declared the following turn they can shift these policies to boost unit production and minimise unit maintenance cost. It’s a wonderfully thought out system that is both user friendly, and of incredible strategic value.
There are many other minor alterations to gameplay, which all serve to make Civ VI feel different than previous Civilization titles. These include alterations in the way that units move through the environment, to unit upgrades, to builders (who now have a number of uses, as opposed to building indefinitely), to technology bonuses.
However. Let’s talk about AI…
It’s good, mostly. The AI does a great job of improving cities and generating science, culture, faith and others so as to achieve victory. In battle, it can be a fierce opponent. However. However…
The AI can be very violent at the beginning of the game, building large numbers of basic units and often declaring war before the warmonger penalty kicks in. This isn’t too problematic in and of itself, but can make the starting turns very difficult. In contrast, the AI has a habit of declaring war in the mid to late game but sends out early game units. They will happily send large numbers of warrior units into battle against musketmen and, after their defeat, the AI will then offer peace along with a generous number of luxury resources. This happens infrequently, but it is an occurrence that does break your sense of immersion.
Another terrible AI habit is its constant spamming of settlers and builders, as well as the unusual decision to send them out into the wilderness without a guard. In fact, I have had civilisations send settlers through my borders unaccompanied whilst I was at war with said civilisation. Free cities for me, huzzah!
These AI issues are not game breaking, but I hope to see them addressed in further patches. There are additional points of infrequent hilarity, such as civilisations settling new cities near to the player, and then denouncing said player for settling cities close to them. The same is true of military unit placement. Again, not game breaking, but the negative consequences of these actions can easily cause war.
Yet, there is more reason than ever before to play a Civilization game against AI players. In Civ V AI civilisations lacked personal character, and their mathematical foundations could be exploited by an intelligent player. The civilisations had no motive other than to ‘win’, whereas in Civilization VI each AI civilisation has a leader with motives or desires. For example, Tomyris of Scythia dislikes any civilisation who makes a surprise act of war, whilst Frederick Barbarossa of Germany likes civilisations who do not associate with city-states. This makes for captivating tightrope walking between civilisations, and some very intense diplomatic juggling.
On the subject of visuals I have little to say, other than that it’s a beautiful game. The colours are soft on the eyes, and the units and cities exude a historical optimism which faithfully embodies the inherent message of Civilization titles; the wonder of humankind. I personally adore the quirky cartoon graphics, and actively embrace the visual change when it comes to the late game. The washy grey of roads and factories in late game Civ V have been replaced by colourful buildings and bubbly units, of which I’m most thankful.
The UI is very generous to the main map, and the information banners on the left and right sides move away frequently to give the player good vision over the main map. This is wonderful for the more casual Civ players, but more problematic for those looking for more details. Some aspects of the UI are unintuitive, such as accessing the unit list screen through clicking on the name of a unit, rather than through a dedicated lists screen. Other instances of befuddling UI include the inability to organise trade destinations by, say, the amount of gold you’d receive. Some information is confusingly tucked away within a few button clicks, and these are not initially clear.
These marvelous visuals are complemented with a fantastic soundtrack which develops through eras, varies according to civilisation, and alters according to the situation you find yourself in. I did not think the music of Civ V could be bested, but I have been proven wrong. The soundtrack is non-invasive and a treat for the ears.
The Future of ‘Civilization’ is Here
I’m going to spend hundreds of hours in Civilization VI, hundreds more than I have in Civ V. With it’s pleasant aesthetic, plentiful soundtrack, complex and flexible city management and smooth multiplayer experience (it doesn’t drop out nearly as much as Civ V did) I recommend it highly for 4x strategy players. It has a couple shaky issues which I hope to see patched soon, but otherwise I’m very optimistic about the future of Civilization VI and look forward to the mods and DLC that will become available in the coming months. I would love to see a greater variation in map options, as well as additional modes – similar to the raging barbarians of Civ V. Plus, more leaders, and more civilisations – but I’m greedy. Give me the DLC already, damnit.
Bully for you, Firaxis.