Civilization VI, is the latest in a long line of 4X strategy games that have we’ve spent countless hours (or days) playing. What can we say when we reach this far in the series? Sure, there can always be changes or improvements, but these games remain pretty much the same. Settle, build, learn, convert or attack, etc. What is it that makes VI different from its predecessors and are these good changes?
The first thing you’ll notice is the standard visuals and layout. The hexagonal maps of continents with resource symbols all around show that not much has changed. The UI might have had some tweaks and the graphics increased to current levels, but the board remains full of simplistic cities, units, icons, and environmental features. Even the leaders remain cartoonish caricatures of their historical counterparts, with nothing new there.
As you play, however, you begin to notice minor changes in visual experience. The building of Wonders is more like the intro movies from earlier series. The map shifts slowly from day to night as the years pass, showing how cities light up over different eras. Even the military units show a little more livelihood (did he just impale his enemy and body slam him into the ground?).
Of course, not everything is gorgeous, as the color palette can be a little too harsh at times. Dusk and dawn make everything that dim orange that makes you squint. Activate a settler and the color-coded tiles make Alice in Wonderland look like a calm, pastel landscape. It may be possible to fiddle with the settings, but the baseline is occasionally painful to the eyes (and fashion sense).
Similar to graphics, at first the gameplay is a bit too familiar, but then you realize you’re playing something different. The biggest change is how strategic the map is – particularly for cities. No more cities of every single improvement or Wonder; Buildings require Districts, which use up your tiles. Want Trading Posts and Banks? Gotta have a Commercial District. Arenas and Theaters? Get started on that Entertainment District. This usage is in addition to tile improvements (i.e. Farms, Mines, etc.) and Wonders… many of which can only be built on mountains, along rivers, near jungles, etc.
Of course, your leader requires a government and so you look to Social Policies, or “Civics” as they’re called now. That’s when you notice how different running your civilization is from Civ V. You learn Policies through Culture, which unlocks Governments, which determine how many (and what types) of Polices you can enact. The big bonus? No more being locked into your stupid early choices! You can change those Policies and Governments throughout the game, adapting to new situations.
So, you’re getting into this new(er) game and having fun when suddenly you get a notice. Eureka! You did something random in the game, and suddenly you’ve made progress toward a new Technology or Civic. Kill someone with a Slinger? Get a headstart on learning Archery. Build a Mine? Get a boost toward Iron Working. Found a Pantheon? Develop more of the Mysticism Civic. All those usual things you’d do in the game? They help you progress down the road!
These differences are in addition to many minor changes you will learn as the game goes on. Better build things that increase the new Housing stat, or else your homeless and overcrowded will limit growth! Builders have limited uses, roads appear because of Trade Routes, and Religion is a seriously convoluted mess (that also relies on the strategic use of the map). Overall, the sheer depth and intricacy of this game mean players may discover new approaches or strategies long after the release (and this review).
AI and Functionality
The AI is… interesting at times. Each civilization has its own Agenda, but they pursue those goals with little common sense. You’ll see peaceful leaders just building up their small territory without expanding, and war-like leaders spending so much on units you can outpace them at everything else. The one area that is not an improvement is the Barbarians, who are just as annoying as the last series. They’re like yellowjackets in the summer; no matter how many times you try to take out their nest, they just keep popping up.
One nice difference is how much easier it is to deal with City-States. No longer do you have to keep sending Caravans and offer them Gifts, while they constantly get pissed at you. Now, you just dedicate Envoys (collected through time and certain in-game bonuses) to each one, with more making them dedicated to you. No, you can ignore them and make them dote on you with the gifts and rewards.
The UI itself remains as functional as previous games but getting used to it will take time. Overall the controls and key bindings remain the same as its predecessors. Sometimes the added quick menus (for access through multiple routes) can be confusing, and you end up clicking the wrong button. Other times, the program snaps back to a particular city or unit just as you’re attempting to perform an action, causing you to miss-click and waste movement or resources. Still, these are minor annoyances at worst and will probably be ignored as you become more familiar with the new game.
I’d say this game is a notable improvement over Civ V, even though it’s just another logical step in the evolution of the series. It’s prettier than the peak of the series (Civ IV), but it’s too early to tell if it will surpass its grandparent. Still, given the new adaptability of governments, strategic use of maps, and multiple approaches to winning… it’s got a shot. Time will tell, and you better believe there will be a lot of time invested by players. Get out your muscle rub and neck pillow, adjust your computer glasses and make sure your snacks are within reach. It’s time to spend what feels like a millennium at the keyboard, finally blasting off into space… or just nuking everyone in the end.