I love the Civilization series. There’s no doubting that. Over the years I played PC games there is no other series, except maybe XCOM, that I spent more time playing that Sid Meier’s epic quests of 4X world domination. However, the last Civilization experience I had did not end on a very high note, so it was a joy to jump into the newly-released Civilization VI.
Granted, I did like Civilization: Beyond Earth, as noted by my Four GiN Gem review when it was released. However, in the end, it felt less like a new Civilzation game and more like a total conversion of Civ V. In addition, I encouraged my readers to go pick up the far superior Alpha Centauri and its expansion, Alien Crossfire on GOG Galaxy if they wanted a true futuristic Civilization. I never even tried out the Rising Tide expansion, so I cannot give my take on it.
However, when I heard Civilization VI was announced, I was adamant to get my hands on the game. The early previews I saw looked very promising, as there were many new elements that I wanted to see come true and make this the game I wanted Beyond Earth to be. And let me say that, despite some issues with the game’s stability which I will get to later, my anticipation turned into sheer joy as Civilization VI turned into everything I wanted in a Civ game, as well as many new features that make it feel brand new.
Right from the gorgeous opening sequence (voiced by Sean Bean of all people,) and it’s equally gorgeous opening theme, a tradition in the series since Baba Yetu in Civ IV and written by the same composer, getting into a game is as simple as ever. Select one of the 19 available world leaders (20 if you include the Montezuma pre-order timed exclusive,) the type of land mass, temperature, starting time period, and even the victory conditions, and then we are in a hexagonal-tiled setting that at first will look similar to that of Civ V.
But over time, we notice the new changes start to take place. For one, cities are no longer based on one hex tile. Only the “City Center” takes up one tile. In addition to the usual resources needed to improve a city such as farms and mines, cities now can build additional “districts” that center on various amenity buildings. For instance, an “Encampment” district allows construction of barracks, stables, and military academies, while an “industrial hub” constructs workshops and factories. To add to the district spaces, now world wonders also take up a city hexagon. By doing this, the gameplay discourages making one city as “World Wonder Central” and requires other cities to build Wonders as well.
Great people are also heavily modified, as now they are named based on the time period they are based on. For instance, you would only see Carl Sagan in the Information Era, and as great people are now limited to their personal abilities, he can only be used on Spaceports to help improve its production, compared to the past where he would be used just to boost Science production.
But of course, other civilizations would look at all your progress in a negative light, and there’s always the chance they want to engage in war with you. Thankfully Civilization VI theoretically prevents AI players from declaring war on a whim. By doing what is first called a “Surprise War,” there also comes severe warmongering penalties that rival nations would look down upon. However as the game goes on, these penalties are reduced by “casus belli,” viable reasons of which a nation would go to war.
For instance, one of your cities was taken by a hostile civ, declare a “Reconquest War” which would result in no penalties at all. Other forms of Casus Belli include a “Formal War” against a nation you denounced within five turns, a “Liberation War” to recapture an allied/befriended city, a “Protectorate War” against a nation that attacked one of your city-states, or a “Holy War” against a nation who converted one of your cities to their religion.
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Notice I said theoretically about the terms of “Casus Belli,” because there was one game that I played in my 30 hours of pre-review gameplay that a nation immediately declared a “Surprise War” against me before even getting past the Ancient Era, because the warmongering penalties of that area are much more lenient. Though I was also able to go through another game where war was not even declared against me.
Many of my fellow reviewers complained about how units could no longer be stacked after Civilization V. Thankfully Firaxis listened to our complaints, and provided a small compromise. Taking a cue from the console based Civilization: Revolution, upon reaching a certain improvement, single units can now be combined to form corps (two units as one) and ultimately an army (three units,) which would feature all their strength as if it were a stack. This also helps remove clutter on the beautifully designed world (which now is designed in the form of an ancient navigational map which blends in and out based on fog of war.)
Technology and civics have also received a huge boost. We are all familiar with the tech tree from past Civ games, but now Civics have a tree of their own, and both of them can now have their improvements boosted by doing certain tasks, thereby cutting their research time in as much as a half of the duration!
Also with the new tech tree comes the way governments are based. New governments now have cards earned through new civics that can be mixed and matched to create the type of policy that suits you best. While there normally is a cost to make these changes, when a new civic is unlocked, the changes are free for that turn. Cards are based on Military, Economy, Diplomacy, and a fourth Wildcard slot that will take all three of these cards, as well as special cards that help build Great People. Even better, switching to a new government will not cause a turn of anarchy unless you regress to a previous government you once used.
Sadly, with the base game of Civlization VI, there is no World Congress, which eventually would become the United Nations. As a result, there is no Diplomatic Victory conditions. I’m hoping this will be added in a future expansion, in the same way Civ V added the World Congress via the Brave New World add-on.
However there are still five victory conditions. The first being a basic Score victory, which is earned to whoever has the highest score after 500 turns (which would be on 2080 AD.) Domination victory is the same, having control of all rival nations’ capitals. Culture victory is now centered on Tourism, where your nation must draw in a higher number of outside civilization tourists than another nation’s in home tourists. Science victory has a small change from past Civ games, and takes a more mission based condition similar to that in Beyond Earth. Three steps must be taken to win: first, a Spaceport must be built and a satellite must be launched. The second phase requires a landing to the Moon (as opposed to it being a World Wonder.) Lastly, phase three requires three modules to be delivered to a potential Mars colony: habitation, hydroponics, and a fusion reactor. Lastly there is the Religious Victory, which is earned either by making your founded religion the predominant religion in all other civilizations, or have it control over 50% of the world.
In the 30 hours I played, I was able to achieve both a Science Victory with Teddy Roosevelt (American Empire) and a Culture Victory with Trajan (Roman Empire.) I lost another game with Trajan because of Catherine DeMici (France) being a total warmonger when I wasn’t even prepared. Even after these victories I will gladly go back to play again. But be warned, especially those of you who are playing on Windows 10. A recent update is causing the game to be stuck at the opening loading screen. This is a common issue, and thanks to the Steam community I found out the way to fix this is to add the Civ VI folder to your Windows Defender exclusion list, at least until 2K releases a patch.
I love the art style of Civ VI. As I mentioned earlier the game screen is set on a large navigational map, and seeing tiles blend in and out is just stunning. Also, leaving behind Civ V’s realistic looking world leaders, Civ VI returns to a cartoonish look that was previously used in Civ IV and Revolution. The leaders have a larger sense of emotion, though I will admit I will miss Montezuma’s creepy yet awesome flaming background, complete with crowd cheering.
As for the soundtrack, it is as beautiful as ever. The main theme ranks up there with Baba Yetu as the best theme ever to come from a Civ game. Ironic because it was done by the same composer. However I will admit I will always have a soft spot in my heart for the operatic opening score from Civ V: Gods & Kings. Sean Bean takes over the roles previously run by Leonard Nimoy and W. Morgan Sheppard as the main narrator, and I couldn’t find a better person to do so, especially considering he survives at the end!
Civilization VI more than makes up for my somewhat weak experience that was Beyond Earth. The staple of the 4X genre is back and better than ever and it might end up being on my Game of the Year list. Let’s just hope that the missing elements, such as the World Congress, will be added to future expansions, as well as more civilizations to play with. After all, if two civilizations took me 30 hours to play with, can you imagine how long I’ll be playing with everyone else?
Pros: Unit stacking returns! City planning now takes on a whole new meaning with districts. Addition of “Casus Belli” and warmongering penalties. Civics are now a separate tech tree. Sean Bean survives!
Cons: Very steep learning curve, even for Civ veterans. Lack of a World Congress/United Nations, for now. Critical “game loading” bug on Windows 10.