I sure do love me some 4X games. All 4X games are beautiful and strong, especially if they’re Civilization games. Last year’s Civilization VI was controversial upon release, but I rated it pretty highly. It was the most feature-packed vanilla build of Civilization in years, so the wriggle room for expansions was seemingly tight. Last week saw the release of Civ VI’s first expansion, Rise and Fall, and it came with a surprisingly robust set of new mechanics. Whether they work or not, though, is another thing entirely.
Rise and Fall’s new features are built with the intention of making the midgame less of a boring slog. This is an issue that almost every 4X game has, and Civilization VI was no exception. The first and most immediately obvious step in this direction is the introduction of the new Ages system. Advancing through history is still structured in the same way (Ancient Era, Classical Era, Medieval Era, etc.) but it’s now been split into two. Player Eras determine your own progress, whereas Game Eras begin and end at specific parts of the game and affect every player. The continued emphasis on personal progress is welcomed, but the spinoff into game eras is where Rise and Fall’s changes come into play.
A new meter is added to the Next Turn button detailing how many Era Points you’ve collected. Era Points determine what kind of Age you’ll be moving into when a new Global Age begins. You’ll be collecting them by going through historic moments like meeting your first city-state or building a wonder. Most of the time, you’ll be in Normal Ages where gameplay continues as normal. But if you work hard enough and get points for days, you’ll enter a Golden Age. Here, your empire is so mindlessly happy that all its outputs grow much stronger. You’ll also get to make a Dedication, which carry benefits to certain parts of your operations. Higher science yield, more lenient war declarations, that sort of thing.
Rise and Fall has a few new tricks up its sleeve
Listen, I loved you in that Michael Caine movie!
Dark Ages, on the other hand, result in a time of great misery. Happiness goes down, productivity and such go down the toilet, basically the opposite of a Golden Age. You still get to make a dedication, however, and certain policy cards will become available. The screen will darken or brighten depending on what kind of age you’re in, which is a nice touch. If you’re a bad enough dude to get to a Golden Age from a Dark one, however, you’ll get a Heroic Age. These powerhouses allow you to make three dedications instead of one, and your passive bonuses are increased.
These new Eras are a step in the right direction when it comes to giving the player more stuff to do, but I feel it doesn’t go quite far enough. Dark Ages aren’t harsh enough and can even come with some advantages if you play your cards right. The Era Points system has potential to really spice up the midgame and become a more prominent version of the city-state quest system. As they are, they’re a nifty system that makes Civilization VI a little more interesting. Luckily, Rise and Fall has a few new tricks up its sleeve.
Rise and Fall’s new Loyalty system is a godsend for non-aggressive players. Cities now carry a meter determining how loyal they are to their empire. The closer a city is to another nation, the less loyal they’ll be as the enemy’s culture seeps inside. This makes peaceful players much more viable, because if you attempt to capture an enemy city through military might, you’ll have a hard time keeping it under control before it rebels and becomes a free city – and then back in the enemy’s hands. In Dark Ages, your cities become less loyal and far more prominent to persuasion by others. I learned all about this new mechanic the hard way, as I set up a Scottish colony that was precariously close to Kongo’s warmongering ways. I tried in vain to keep the city under my control by force, but I’d been neglecting my cultural output for far too long. This continued for several decades before I eventually gave up on colonisation. Cities that are far from your empire can still be built, mind. You’ll just have to be very careful about whispers and rumours.
Trouble’s brewing in my newly-captured city
Loyalty makes for a great idea in both theory and practice. Aggression is no longer the go-to playstyle in most games, which works wonders in encouraging experimentation with Civilization VI’s already high variety of playstyles. The AI will likewise rely less upon aggression unless they’re a civilization built for it. Speaking of, the AI doesn’t suck quite as hard as it did in the base game. It’s still not perfect, but it’s absolutely been improved. No longer will they denounce you after a long-standing alliance without a bloody good reason.
Alliances, too, have been overhauled. Alliances are now split into five different types: Cultural, Military, Scientific, Economic, and Religious. Most of these give bonuses to trade routes between the allied civs, but Military alliances gives you more attack power against mutual enemies. The new Alliances are fantastic. Only allowing one of each per player forces you to contextualise your relationships, which does great things for the game’s micromanagement. Alliances now rank up depending on how long each one stands, which encourages consistency in playstyle and keeps the AI friendly.
That’s not to say that the AI will never, ever, ever dislike you if you get chummy early on. For example, say that it’s 1955. You’re the Cree. You’ve just detonated your first nuclear weapon on some pesky Australians, and you’re chuffed. Germany doesn’t like that. No, they don’t like that one bit. They gather the world’s leaders (including your allies) and declare an Emergency. Suddenly, your own allies have teamed up with your sworn enemies against your nuclear holocaust. Emergencies are another new feature. Co-operative events will appear sporadically when some real shit goes down, and the clock starts ticking. If you accept the call to arms, you’ll have a set number of turns to complete a certain objective (usually capturing a recently-annexed city). Whoever comes out victorious in the scenario gets a huge pot of gold and some passive bonus. But you can never rely on the AI to pull its weight, and you can’t declare emergencies yourself. Furthermore, the rewards are easily the most ‘game-y’ mechanic in the expansion. Rewards could stand to be a little more contextual.
One of my playthroughs comes to a bitter end
Governors are another of Rise and Fall’s new things. Throughout the game, you’ll earn Governor Titles which are used to hire new Governors or promote existing ones. To put it simply, Governors are tools that help to specialize a city. They can increase productivity towards certain buildings or districts, make them much easier to defend, or even put in a city state to increase your influence there. Governors add a small layer of micromanagement that makes cities more interesting to maintain and add identity to your empire. On the other hand, you’ll find yourself ignoring certain governors for most of your games because their abilities are almost completely useless to a wide variety of playstyles. But that’s fine; promotions are often more than adequate tradeoffs.
Civilization VI: Rise and Fall sets out to make the game’s midgame more interesting by playing to the base game’s strengths. For the most part, it succeeds. But when it flounders, it makes you yearn for the game’s second expansion. Historically, Civilization games become must-plays when their second expansion hits. It turned Civilization V from a ‘meh’ game with one good idea, to a damn fine title to rival its classic predecessor. While Rise and Fall is no slouch, it’s no Brave New World.
Reviewed on Windows | Review code supplied by publisher