I’m 99% sure that I’ll have to repeat a semester, and it’s all thanks to Civilization. Again.
Anybody who’s ever owned a PC knows this feeling more than they know a woman’s touch. The series is well-renowned for its addictive nature, and the latest in the series – Civilization VI – is no exception. In the series’ 25th anniversary, Firaxis have made significant changes to the new Civilization formula that they established with the fifth game six years ago. But are these changes enough to distinguish the sixth game from the last one?
The most obvious change is the drastic shift in aesthetic. Whereas Civ V went for a more photo-realistic outlook on the world inside it, Civ VI moves to a more exaggerated style. The world map, for example, looks like…well, a world map. The fog of war is represented by a sketched version of the world’s objects, various ‘here be dragons’ drawings reminiscent of the Age of Exploration litter uncharted areas, and the unit highlighter is the shape of a compass. It’s visually interesting, and makes the game look less dull. The units and leaders themselves are more ‘cartoony’ versions of themselves than Civ V, which was a choice about as controversial as your granddad’s views on the Night of Broken Glass at Christmas dinner. I, for one, enjoyed the style change because it helped distinguish units from each other and made the game look more visually brilliant. I’m a big sucker for lots of colours, just like how your granddad is a sucker for the works of David Irving. I’m also a sucker for good music in video games, and Civ VI gets a big thumbs up. Each civilization has a musical melody unique to their society’s history, and the instruments used get more sophisticated with each new age. It gives a genuine sense of evolution throughout the game, something that many soundtracks fail to deliver on.
Ayyy, I got that joke.
Everything the light touches is my kingdom.
Speaking of the game’s leaders, there’s some truly baffling introductions this time around. Series regulars like Ghandi, Cleopatra and Pedro II are still here but newcomers include Catherine de Medici of France, Tomyris of Scythia and Hojo Tokimune of Japan. While these historical figures were badass in their own right, their inclusion ruffled more than a few feathers pre-release. However, much like your granddad being awkwardly shut down by your family’s Jewish friend, their gameplay factors provided a lot of explanation about why we were all wrong. These leaders – and every other leader – has a new diplomatic feature called ‘Agendas’. These provide some context and prerequisites for a leader’s actions and attitude to you in-game. While Napoleon is a Tarrasque-like figure in French history, he wouldn’t really fit in Civ VI‘s France that emphasises a cultural victory. The inclusion of these controversial leaders (and two Greek civs – one for Sparta and another for Athens) allows for a greater variety of gameplay styles and opponents. One of the biggest complaints I had about Civ V was the lack of real variety in the AI’s attitudes to you, so this is a major improvement.
Indeed, Diplomacy has received the largest overhaul in Civilization VI. Not all of it works properly right now, but it’s a huge step in the right direction. You can now lower – or even eliminate – your warmonger penalty through the ‘Casus Belli’ (Cause for War) system which allows you to declare all kinds of war: Holy Wars, Border Wars, Formal and Informal Wars, the works! As mentioned before, each leader has varying Agendas that determines their AI’s playstyle and attitude toward your actions. City-states still provide passive bonuses, but influence with them is now earned with envoys that you send via Influence Points. The Diplomatic Victory from Civ V is gone, too, which takes out the ezpz way to win the game. It’s replaced with the Religious Victory, achieved by having the majority of each civ’s cities following your religion. While the Religious Victory is incredibly difficult to achieve at the moment, it’s definitely a positive addition to the series. Another big change to the formula established with Civ V and its excellent expansions is the addition of limited unit stacking. Now, military support units and regular military units can occupy the same space. Units of the same type can merge into a Corps or an Army as well, making the single unit much more powerful at the cost of land presence.
Another huge change is the split of the Technology Tree. Science still advances physical technologies, but Culture now advances the Civic Tree. This is reserved for philosophical ideas such as government and the social implications of the scientific tree. This split makes the game much more interesting, and allows for a much more micromanagement-friendly approach to each game’s long-term consequences. Your empire’s government, for example, is interchangeable as it always was but individual policies are put into the form of cards that you collect with each advancement on the Civic tree. Each form of government allows a different quality and quantity of cards, and also specific passive benefits that carry over when you change government (the longer you stay with it, the bigger your passive is). The selection of said cards is pretty solid in the current version, and I can’t wait to see what they have in store for the expansions. Or what Uncle Terry has to say about the ins and outs of Nazi economics. Which suck. I mean seriously, Uncle Terry, you’re telling me that Germany needed the Nazis to get the out of the Depression? What a goof.
The sun never sets on the British Empire, though.
You gotta know when to hold ’em…
“Next year in Jerusalem!”
Modding support is intact, albeit without Steam Workshop (for now). I’ve already installed a full world map, and there’ll be more to come. Multiplayer modding has been promised for a later date. Multiplayer’s received its own game speed as well, to make one-day games a genuine reality. For a game that’s mostly known for its single-player experiences, this focus on multi-player is interesting and should result in a more well-rounded game. As for performance, my mid-tier system ran the game on medium graphical settings just fine at a constant 40fps.
Not that Civilization VI is a perfect game at the moment, mind you. As I said before, the Religious Victory is difficult to attain in the current build because the AI simply pumps out religious units faster than you. There aren’t as many bugs as I was expecting, but they’re still there. Not game-breaking bugs, but bugs nonetheless. The lack of civilizations will be fixed in expansions – as is tradition – but it’s still a bummer to have civs repeat themselves each game. The lack of Steam Workshop support on launch is also disappointing, but I trust Firaxis to deliver on it soon.
Civilization VI does many, many things right. From the presentation and historical in-jokes to the gameplay improvements and multi-player, the series has never been better. The current build may be somewhat lackluster in terms of polish, but give it two or so patches and it’ll be a fantastic game in its own right. Add some expansions, and we’ll have a downright classic on our hands.