Anyone familiar with my reviews thus far, namely my two-part retrospective on Sid Meier’s Civilization V, will know my expectations going into Civilization VI were sky-high. Many traditionalist game reviewers will say that having such expectations is bad form, that to best report on the true essence and value of a game, one must approach it as though it were a totally blank slate, devoid of any prior conceptions or opinions. But such a robotic approach will alienate more people than it attracts – and sometimes it’s impossible to review a game without going heavy on prior opinions. Yes, I am a fan of the Civilization series, and I especially cherish that milestone in strategy gaming known as Civilization V. And I’m very happy to report that even if all of that wasn’t true, Civilization VI is a joy from beginning to end.
I was as skeptical as anyone when it came to the new art design. I was willing to give Firaxis the benefit of the doubt, but it certainly did feel like the development team was chasing after style at the expense of realism. Once I got in the game though, it didn’t feel distracting at all, and it becomes clear that the mission of making the game look as good in the micro as it did in the macro was certainly accomplished. The core gameplay will feel very familiar to the seasoned Civilization players – with cities as the foundation of your empire, you progress through the game using science and culture, facing off against other civilizations to expand, conquer and achieve victory. However, the new mechanics – while some may take some getting used to – add a new layer of depth to the game, and give the inner workings of your empire a feeling of interconnectedness as yet unachieved by previous installments.
The biggest of these departures has to of course be the “unstacking” of cities, with new specialized districts and wonders taking up their own tile, and receiving boosts based on their placement. This is the first time in the Civilization series where the city is no longer fully self-contained, merely surrounded by a patchwork of farms and mines. Now, cities become highly specialized – as it is difficult to have any one city contain all of the available districts, plus any wonders you may wish to build. Campuses contain universities, libraries, etc. and provide science, Encampments hold armories, barracks, etc. and serve as military centers, and the list goes on. Now, building a city becomes a puzzle of matching districts to where they will be most productive as well as tending to the ever-present needs for food, production, luxuries, and all of the other usual necessities of life. With Civilization 6 already carrying over the much-loved features like trade routes, great works of art, and religion from Civilization V’s two expansions, the new district system feels like a logical progression to an already polished formula. Now, city planning is a real consideration and challenge, adding a layer to the game that greatly enhances the strategic elements of the game.
Speaking of the city, districts are not the only change to be found in Civilization VI. Instead of outright happiness – an important element to the gameplay of Civilization VI, now the rate at which your cities grow and your population increases is determined by two factors – amenities and housing. Amenities are accumulated through both having luxuries inside your borders and the buildings inside your Entertainment Complex districts. Housing, on the other hand, can only be gained two ways – by settling your city on a tile with high “appeal” (a measure of its attractiveness, from breathtaking to disgusting”), and, starting the Industrial Era, building neighborhoods, effectively acting as suburbs for your crowded and bustling cities. This means that the level of success your city can possibly achieve is in part determined before it is ever even settled, and giving the phrase “location, location, location” a new meaning in this series.
The game is also littered with small new features that make the game more accessible and interesting, such as the ability to drop pins on the map – marking the locations of things you may want to build in the future. There are also plenty of different menus to view every useful metric and statistic, as well as Eureka moments that boost your scientific research, a separate tech and culture tree, roads being automatically generated by trade routes and plenty more. Going back to only 20 civilizations to choose from may feel a bit jarring after playing Civilization V, which at the end of its lifespan had about 40. However, with leaders now having different agendas and a much-revamped government system, the reduction of civilizations themselves is deftly made up for with all there is to do with the Civilizations that are present.
In usual Firaxis fashion, the attention to detail in Civilization VI is impressive. The new theme music is a worthy successor to the much beloved Civilization IV theme “Babba Yetu,” and the music for the civilizations themselves is well composed and memorable – with the tunes growing and evolving with the ages, instead of staying static throughout the game. The graphics are crisp and sharp, and any newcomer to the series wouldn’t have too difficult of a time learning the ropes. Of the new features, from the new district system to the revamped policy/government system to the ability to do something as simple as combine individual military units into larger armies – everything is well adapted into the game and don’t feel like the jarring new additions they easily could have.
So, in the end it seems Civilization 6 is poised to reach the same heights as its esteemed predecessors. The old maxim among Civilization fans, “just one more turn”, you will be repeating a lot as Civilization VI continues to mature and grow into something even greater than it is now.