Civilization can rightfully be considered the grandfather of 4X strategy games. Only a handful ever came before it, such as Strategic Conquest, Incunabula (based on the original Civilization board game) and Warlords. Only Warlords survived to see its 14th birthday (but only with a game that had removed almost all of its strategy elements). 2016 marks the 25th birthday of Sid Meier’s Civilization and if Civilization VI is anything to go by, we can look forward to another excellent twenty-five years of gaming.
Over time we’ve seen a huge amount of expansion and eventually some re-invention in the series. Early days from I to IV saw the introduction of culture, religion, governmental acts and more. With Civilization V the map was finally given an even higher level of importance, the introduction of the hex-grid and the inability to stack units. This has been taken to its logical next level and the world, the map, is more important than it’s ever been.
Removing the stacks back in Civ V was arguably one of the best moves the series has ever made. It added more tactical depth to the game and also removed one of the most time-intensive aspects. The lack of huge stacks of units also made it so combat wasn’t inevitably the easy victory condition of the game. You’ve had options along the lines of science, culture, religion and diplomacy, of course, but due to the ability to steamroll huge stacks of units over an enemy, it was always the easiest way to win a game. The previous installment altered this and Civilization VI has taken it further by unfolding the cities in the same way they did units.
Cities now don’t take up just one tile as they did in the past, with both districts and wonders taking up a tile each. The introduction of districts is particularly important, as they allow you to direct a city’s growth. Even more key is the fact that cities simply can’t include every district, due to their population demands. It’ll be up to you to specialize cities and direct them. Will you focus a city on being a tourist trap for the cultural victory by building a number of wonders and a great cultural area that shows the great works of art and music generated by the great people of your nation? Of course, you’ll also come into conflict with other nations so a heavy industrial and military focused city would be perfect for this.
Naturally, where you actually settle your city counts as much as the districts. Grasslands with resources like cattle, rice and wheat are perfect for increasing food levels and therefore the population. Hilly terrain will net you iron and stone to mine, increasing productivity. The use of tiles for districts and wonders eats into the spare tiles your population can work, putting increased emphasis on every single tile. In previous games it was completely possible to create a city in the middle of the arctic tundra and make it large and successful; here, in Civilization VI, you’d be lucky to get little more than a small outpost.
If that was the only change, it would almost be enough. Other games have released a new iteration with even less adjustments. Firaxis haven’t settled for just reinventing the whole city system: they’ve also made sweeping changes to the research, government and religion systems.
Particularly linked into the new focus on the map and city development is the research tree. As with other 4X games, your science levels will invariably be the key aspect in research. However, Civilization VI now features inspiration mechanics which can boost both your research and civic (governmental policy) developments. For example, build a city next to the ocean and you’ve already halved the requirements to research sailing. If you’re focusing on production, build three industrial districts with workshops and you’re half way to the industrialization technology.
This linking between systems translates into a much more engaging and natural game. Completing a game and aiming for every victory condition will always be an incredibly difficult task. The way this system works is by directing your game by the very actions you are currently taking. Once you’ve started down a path, the momentum you gain makes it difficult to even want to turn back. Of course, later on researching the older technologies is a matter of only one or two turns due to inspirations gained and improved cities.
The civic tree works in the same way, only using culture rather than science to progress through it. As you progress through the culture tree you’ll unlock different policies and advanced government systems. Each government (there are nine in total) offer a varying range of policy slots. There are four types of policies available to you: Military, Economic, Diplomatic and Wildcard. The first three are self-explanatory while the latter focuses on gaining you points towards obtaining a great person.
As you would expect, different governments are suited for different aspects. A fascist state has four military policy slots while democracy has only one, though makes up for it with increased diplomatic and wildcard slots; the wildcard slots can be used for any policy though, not just wildcard ones. What makes this system all the more interesting is that it has its own cultural victory condition, and the buildings and areas unlocked are best for this, but also because of the options it allows you in adaptation and customization.
You can’t just research things and hope for the best, that’s the key aspect of this new system. As you encounter new areas, you’ll want to swap and change your policies. Are you preparing for war? Increase your production and experience for new units. Once you’re ready, move to happiness developing policies to counter the problems gained by war-weariness and military policies that increase experience gained through combat. Maybe you’re not, then choose the policies that will improve city growth and your relations with city states. It’s a system that rewards vigilance, adaptability and thought on how you can link it into other aspects of the game.
What surprised me is that it’s with the military, or rather the AI that I found Civilization VI let me down, even if only a little. The core strategy and tactics are there, practically unaltered. There’s a little improvement found with a new stacking system (unlocked later on, letting you stack up to three units of the same type together). Also introduced are military engineers, replacing the workers of previous games and used to build forts and roads. The only other way to build a road prior to these is through a trade route, which automatically builds the road on the way. Builders here are limited to terrain improvements and, to prevent over-use and them blocking your land. They are also limited in how many improvements they can make before they’re spent. This puts more importance on them and also works with the fact that support units like builders and settlers are also limited to one per tile.
But what about the AI? Well, frankly, for all the improvements it’s still incredibly dumb. I can’t fathom the number of times another nation has declared war against me, after denouncing me for ‘being weak’ when my military strength makes crushing them an inevitability. They also make strange and unreasonable demands after falling out with me. In one game I declared war on someone, which caused the others to see me as a warmonger and fall out with me. The very next turn, three of them asked for a handful of gold and some of my luxuries, in exchange for nothing. It’s perplexing that the game would even think this makes sense.
Not only that, but I have a slight issue with the new agendas system. Gilgamesh, for example, likes those who form long-term friendships and alliances. The only problem is he’ll get angry at me when he doesn’t accept my friendship, then gets angrier at me for retaliating against his friends. Queen Victoria is another. She has eyes on other continents, as was the English way, but gets angry at you for spreading onto the one she’s currently interested in. How do you know which one it is? Not a clue.
However, despite these slight misgivings the system is a huge improvement on previous games. It gives the leaders a bit of personality and also means that espionage, trade and simple diplomacy all play a larger role. You’ll either need to build a friendship or start spying on a nation to find out what other agendas their leader has but also what access you have to them, to find out their plans. As with everything else in Civilization VI, diplomacy and trade have both seen an overhaul and work in conjunction with the rest of the game to add yet another layer to look at, think about and manage.
When Civilization IV was released I fell in love with Baba Yetu by Christopher Tin, even the world took notice of the composition, it gaining a number of award nominations and mentions. Now, I genuinely couldn’t be happier or more impressed by Songo di Volare, it’s an outstanding theme that genuinely could top Baba Yetu. It’s no wonder that when I launch Civilization VI, half the time I’ll just sit back and watch that introduction. Building on from this is one of the most compelling soundtracks you’re likely to hear. Each nation has their own theme that evolves alongside your civilization as it progresses and advances, breathing extra life into the game.
Were it only the audio that made the game so appealing, but there’s also the dramatically improved visuals. Sogno di Volare literally translates to Dream of Flying and that is exactly what Civilization VI is about – The Age of Exploration. This is reflected by the cartography style maps of areas that you’ve uncovered, but can’t currently see, but even the areas you’ve never seen with quirky dragons, compasses and such there until uncovered.
What really impresses is the world itself. The detail that’s gone into everything from the roll of the tide, the reflection of the sun on a lake and of course the lovingly crafted units, buildings and land. You can see the Hanging Garden of Babylon in all it’s glory. Look at Mount Everest, a natural wonder, tower above the landscape. Maybe you just want to watch your city, lit up while the world around is dark. It’s colorful, beautiful and enhanced by a day-night system that will let you see the same thing in a whole new way.
Firaxis have done it, there’s little that can be said other than that. It’s so hard to completely reinvent a game, yet still have it feel like the series it’s come from. It’s a sheer feat of love, hard work and joy that makes Civilization VI the brilliant game that it is. Worth mentioning is that it’s had a near perfect launch, bar Windows Defender thinking it’s a threat. Such a smooth launch is practically unheard of nowadays.
I can’t stress enough just how well everything works together. Each aspect, from city building, to research and exploration, even the art and music of the game. Everything is just right, only slight AI issues mar what is otherwise an exceptional game. Civilization VI is the game of 2016 for me and the best 4X strategy game I have ever played.
Copy provided by publisher.
Civilization VI is the pinnacle of the series. It's featured huge, sweeping changes, and nothing was left out. Everything has found a purpose, they all work together in tandem but also have a reason to stand alone. Only slight AI issues can be found here, but nothing every other 4X or Grand Strategy game hasn't encountered on a worse level. Civilization VI is, frankly, the best 4X strategy game in the world.
- Outstanding visuals and audio
- Exceptionally well crafted systems. Everything works together in tandem and none feel like less priority was given
- City building has taken a whole new level with the unstacking. It adds tactical depth and thought, also makes each city feel unique in their purpose
- The world has never felt as alive. Your expansion, exploration and more has a direct impact on other systems
- The AI could still use some improvements