Review in Progress: Civilization VI


Gandhi is pleased

Many empires have risen and fallen throughout the history of mankind. What once stands as a towering achievement to human ingenuity and engineering soon becomes rubble, dust, and bones. The cycle repeats and history moves on; nothing demonstrates that formula so well as Civilization does with each new game.

I mentioned in my preview article that Civilization VI feels like a new beginning for the series. I still believe that is true, but I can’t say the final product hasn’t left me a tiny bit disappointed. This doesn’t have to do with how the game performs or even the changes made to the general design; it has to do with the exclusion of scenarios and a lackluster menu.

Sid Meier’s Civilization VI(PC) Developer: Firaxis Games Publisher: 2K Games Released: October 21, 2016 MSRP: $59.99

I’ll get most of my negative points out of the way from the start; there is a lot of good and I don’t want anyone to assume I’m being negative about the game. As I mentioned, there are no scenarios to speak of (apart from multiplayer mods). While I was never fond of these mini-campaigns, the amount added to Civ IV and V over the course of their development made me believe we would be getting at least a few with VI.

For that matter, the menu system is really barebones. Now, you don’t need some fully animated background (like in IV) or meticulously detailed borders (like in V) to convey all the pertinent information, but just a little bit of polish could have made the experience feel better. The lack of explanation in the main menu is also a pretty big bummer.

That being said, the options for customizing graphics are damned awesome. You can cap the frame rate, if you so wish, push the shadow resolutions well past 1080p, and turn off all manner of superfluous effects to smooth out the gameplay on lower-end systems.

I also need to mention Steam’s file compression system; while the base game occupies about 8 GB on your hard drive, you only need to download a paltry 3.9 GB to get the game running. It’s lightning fast to get up and running from hitting download to pressing play. I give kudos to Valve for introducing such a great solution to download caps.

As for how the game works while in play, I can’t say I’m really disappointed with any of the changes Firaxis has introduced. It can be jarring if you are a veteran of Civ V, but nearly everything is for the better. Almost every feature from Gods & Kings as well as Brave New World has made the transition and religion has become an actual way to end a game.

Military has seen a great improvement from V by allowing you to stack a few units. Once you research some of the mid-game technologies, you can create corps with two units and an army with three; it helps declutter the game world as you sprawl out to the farthest reaches of the land.

Speaking of which, districts have a dramatic impact on how you place your cities. You no longer can just plop a city down and expect to have it flourish; careful consideration must be taken with what surrounds the area where you plan on settling. If you place a tile near ocean, for instance, it pretty much becomes your de facto harbor district.

Having a holy site next to a natural wonder can boost its effectiveness, as does founding a city next to a natural forest. Seeing all of these districts get bigger adds an extra level of ownership and charm to the package, making you care about upgrades more than previous games. I can honestly say that seeing every individual wonder made me extremely happy.

The removal of persistent builder units is also pretty damn huge. Instead of having guys walk around the world and constantly improve tiles, you now need to create units and send them to specific sections to harvest any luxuries or crops to benefit your city. This may contribute to making Civ VI feel like you’re micromanaging, but it does produce a deeper experience in that you can no longer treat builders like a Crock Pot.

Trader units are also the only way to build roads between your cities, which are crucial for making anything that isn’t your capital produce structures in a reasonable amount of time. Heck, you can even have traders go to different civilizations (or city-states) and then send your armies down the roads to reduce travel penalties.

Actually, that is something I didn’t begin to notice until it was pointed out. Unit movement is dramatically slower in Civilization VI. Without putting roads down (or building scouts), your units will incur movement penalties that hamper their explorative potential. Certain military units can get upgrades that allow them to scale cliffs, but that still requires you to trudge through marshlands, jungles, and deserts as slow as possible.

There are now different forms of government available to players. Unlike how Civilization V had different policy trees, you now adopt different forms of government that introduce allotments for specialized stats. In the beginning, you are offered a single card slot for armies and production, but eventually you’ll unlock social policies and a wildcard slot (which can be filled with anything).

It allows you to customize exactly what bonuses you’ll be earning at any time. It feels a lot more flexible than the policy system from Civilization V, but it also doesn’t allow you to max out every tree and become completely unstoppable. It also makes me feel super smart to see Oligarchy and remember all of my studies from high school.

The final thing I’d like to mention in this piece is the boost system available to the technology and civics trees. Once you perform certain actions (similar to how achievements work), you can trigger a “eureka” moment for specific research projects. Improving three land tiles, for example, will give you a huge boost to the research for craftsmanship.

This makes basic actions like stalking early-game barbarians or tinkering with different forms of government a viable way to get a lead on rival civilizations. Honestly, I’m surprised with how great this works, especially since playing at higher difficulties tends to favor the AI by a tremendous margin.

If there was anything else I would say that I didn’t like, I guess I would have to go with the sluggishness of finishing a turn. This has always been an issue with the series, but I’m still baffled by how long it takes to just end a turn towards the later game. I feel like there should be some way to speed up the process (like skipping animations on rival civilizations in an offline match).

I also dislike the emphasis on DLC. While I actually like expansions to the core game, why are certain civilizations being sold as piecemeal purchases? Why not just hold off on expanding the game until you have a larger amount of content ready? For that matter, where is the Steam workshop integration that was present in V?

What is left for me to tackle for a final verdict is the online component. I’d also like to delve further into the differences between each civilization. I’m happy to say that Greece actually has two leaders, so my wish of seeing that choice return from Civ IV got granted. They both offer something distinct, as well, so that is wonderful.

If you’re wondering whether or not you should buy Civ VI, I’d say that if you are a die-hard fan, you won’t feel disappointed. Sure, some changes might annoy you and the early game can overwhelm, but all of these improvements combine to make a game that feels tremendously deeper than previous entries.

As for new comers, you may want to wait for a discount, but the game isn’t an insurmountable challenge. There is a lot to learn and so many simple choices can dramatically alter the course of your civilization, but the game does inform you of what each unit, development, and research project does. You won’t need to reference the Civilopedia too often to win.

So, yeah; Civilization VI isn’t perfect, but it looks primed to be the best entry in the series thus far. As a longtime fan, I’m very happy with what I’ve played. I look forward to seeing how the game grows over the years and I hope that Firaxis continues to support the community with mod support in the future. Maybe then I can finally get a Zelda mod that lets me conquer the world as Ganondorf.

[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]