It’s been six long years since we’ve been treated to another installment of Sid Meier’s famous strategy franchise. With a plethora of new features and a few critical changes, Civilization VI promises to change the game for the better. But does it conquer with an iron fist, or fall prey to an onslaught of raging barbarians?
Knowledge Is Power
After my Gamescom preview, I was left feeling gleeful about how Firaxis had innovated on the series. Though my playtime was short, it was obvious that this was going to be a noticeable departure from the accessibility of Civilization V. The game felt tough, and that is something I welcomed with open arms when I got my hands on the full package. A few key changes to the game design are the culprits in this situation. Workers are now called Builders, who have a limited amount of uses and can no longer be automated. This forces you to be wary about improving certain tiles, and makes you consider what yields may be best for your civilization, something that was often left on the back burner in the previous game.
Districts also make their big debut and act as specialization tiles for your cities. If you want to focus on religion, science or culture, you can mark out a plot and get to work, but it feels much more like a risky decision and has an air of finality that the earlier titles didn’t quite capture. You can’t just build a university and a temple and an amphitheater and forget about it. Buildings and Wonders take up space, space that is often covered in resources that you will have to forfeit to get that extra great work spot or improve your religion. It’s tough love, executed with efficiency.
The Eureka Moment
Even though I’m dwelling on the increase in difficulty, don’t let that convince you that Civilization VI limits your ability to create a bespoke playstyle. This is the most customizable entry in the series, and though you initially pick from one of the gorgeously designed leaders, their abilities merely scratch the tip of this strategic iceberg. The freedom to pivot in this game is marvelous, and though you may start out thinking you’re going to crush your enemies with militaristic force, you may end up trading for archaeological relics by turn 250 when the competition starts to heat up.
This is made possible due to the new Civics tree, which runs alongside Science and lets you unlock cards to define your stance on government. It’s another strategic avenue you must ponder, but if considered, the rewards can be game changing. If your dictatorship is not performing on the battlefield, you’re at liberty to push a classical republic akin to Plato’s Academy on your people, focusing on Science and Culture.
This is another strategic avenue you must ponder, but if considered, the rewards can be game changing. If your dictatorship is not performing on the battlefield, you’re at liberty to push a classical republic akin to Plato’s Academy on your people, focusing on Science and Culture. The trees are now also narrated by Game Of Thrones star Sean Bean, who wraps each unlock in a dulcet blanket – and no, he doesn’t die in this one. There are also Eureka boosts which help your research prowess when you complete certain tasks. Founding a city on the coast will help you substantially when researching Shipbuilding, for example. It’s a genius way to make you seek out and try some of the forgotten features that are packed into this bustling title without feeling intrusive.
Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick
As if the gargantuan feature-set wasn’t enough to improve on its forefather, Civilization VI shines through as a worthy sequel in its A.I. Each leader has their own special world view that is reactive and dynamic to your choices. Roosevelt carries his fist in a velvet glove, but don’t you dare cross him. Tomyris of Scythia will NOT back down if you engage in war, and would rather fall on her sword than go down without an ardent fight. You can’t just forget about building units to focus on a wonder anymore. Pericles will jump you with his Hoplites faster than you can say “Nice Helmet”. This makes every situation feel cinematic, as they appear, beautifully animated to comment on your risky decisions.
Liberating a friendly city-state from Norway’s reign to return it back to its rightful owners was an international affair, creating furor between leaders who once may have thought they were friends. No longer can you just play the system in trade offers to get a good deal. These guys know what you’re trying to get away with, and trust me, you won’t. The barbarians and city-states have also had their A.I polished. They are both now seriously viable forces on the landmass. Barbarians will now scout your Civilization and find out the most efficient way to destroy you and are willing and able to take cities for their own. City-states can be excellent friends but war-changing foes too, with enough military power to turn the tide.
Cloaked Daggers and Smoky Mirrors
The Espionage system now takes a leaf out of Beyond Earth’s book, perhaps the only thing that game got right. It’s no longer a simple ‘Diplomat or Spy’ situation. You can now opt to steal research, money or even heist a great work from another civilization to take home to your museum. It’s another clever improvement that gives the game a means to create more anecdotal fun. When you’re caught you also have to choose your escape route and hope that it works, or risk being caught in their capital attempting to sow dissent. This brings me onto another excellent addition to the game, which is the Casus Belli system. If your spies are caught trying to steal the declaration of independence, Victoria now has a cause for war against you that she may willfully exercise.
In Civilization V, you could easily spy and steal from your best friends and not suffer any consequences, but now there’s an added risk. Being friends with the top of the table is a lot less lucrative if you’ve got a dagger behind your back. You have to consider how you would deal with their army knocking on your door when they catch you in their capital. No longer can you just spring surprise wars on the weaklings for their real-estate either. Warmongers face egregious penalties in Civilization VI and will see you sanctioned and ganged up upon by the rest of the world if you keep at it. You can walk the line or burn it at both ends, but each path is so different and fun that Civilization VI will keep you for more hours than you necessarily want it to, and you’ll be loving every second.
One More Turn
It’s this level of overall sheen that encapsulates Civilization VI as the most feature-complete, essential 4X game on the market. Being a thoughtful upgrade on its predecessors with a compelling approach to customizable gameplay, any strategy fan worth their salt needs this title in their arsenal.
What we liked:
- Dynamic, rewarding difficulty
- Incredibly cunning A.I.
- Bespoke gameplay
- Sean Bean’s silky narration
What we didn’t like:
- How much it is going to be consuming my life
This review was written using a PC review copy provided by 2K. Do you think Civilization VI improves upon its predecessors? Which leader will you pick? Tell us in the comments, on Facebook, or on Twitter!