Civilization VI: Leader Pass Q&A – Firaxis on Unique New Leaders, if Civ 6 is Winding Down

Nathan Birch
Civilization VI Leader Pass

Civilization VI isn’t done quite dominating fans’ time. While the game is over six years old at this point, Firaxis is continuing to support the game with the new Leader Pass, a collection of 19 additional rulers (or novel variations on existing ones) with the first pack of three leaders launching today. It’s certainly welcome to still be getting content this far into a game’s lifespan, but how much can new leaders change the Civ experience on their own? And where does the franchise go from here?

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Civilization VI designer Ed Beach and asked him about how they’re changing up the experience with Leader Pass, whether this is the swansong for the game, when we might see this new content on consoles, and more. Scroll on down for the full conversation…

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It’s been a while since we got any new content for Civilization VI. Why did Firaxis decide to return to the game once again with the Leader Pass?

Leader Pass is, to a large extent, sort of a thank you for the longstanding support that the game has received from our fans. We looked at the kind of content that they are interested in. We had touted, right from the beginning, when Civilization VI first shipped, that you were going to be able to have multiple leaders in charge of each civilization, but because we had wanted to bring so many civilizations into the game, we ended up sort of underutilizing that feature. There were only a handful of civs that had those multiple leader options. Fans saw that, and the mod community did a great job of filling in some gaps, but the fans really wanted more leaders. We’ve known that for quite a while.

So, with the Leader Pack, we’re actually boosting the number of leaders in the game by about 30 percent. Which is a strong number I’m excited about. That gives players tons of different options. For instance, there’s now four different ways you can play England, there are five different ways to play China. The variety is kind of off the hook.

Leaders are sometimes kind of an overlooked cog in Civilization with players often focusing more on the civs themselves. Why focus specifically on leaders? Is it possible to make Civ 6 feel different through leaders alone? What are some of the new abilities and agendas that really change the experience?

We have published the full list of all 19 leaders [while 18 leaders were initially announced, a 19th, Julius Caesar, is available for those who link a 2K account – ed.] We have all the names out there, but we can actually only really describe the abilities of the ones that are coming out in the first pack, which [launches today]. Those are Abraham Lincoln, Sultan Saladin, and Queen Nzinga of Congo.

Queen Nzinga is probably the best example, because Congo with Mvemba, who was the previous leader, had this weird limitation that was historically accurate, that he took a religion, basically Christianity that came to him through the Portuguese, and he became very important in spreading it and establishing it in his nation. We reflected that in the gameplay by making it so that Congo was not able to start their own religion and that they had interesting ways they could adopt other religions and get advantages from that. But what that meant was that if you were playing as Congo you could never win a religious victory. We knew that was something that fans wanted to be able to explore. That was sort of a minor irritant.

So, that’s kind of what we did with Queen Nzinga. She played an important historical role in fighting off colonization of Africa, so we have given her abilities related to that, and now she is able to start a religion. So, that path that was blocked for users is now open. If they play Congo the gameplay is really entirely different with her as a leader. You have to think of it as two things happening – you’re swapping out the abilities of the old leader and putting in the abilities and agenda of the new one. Even thought it may sound like that’s not going to change a lot, by the time you pull one thing off and add another thing it can end up feeling quite different.

In addition to all-new leaders, there are also some new personas for existing ones. What was the thinking behind those? New personas like Age of Steam Victoria and Qin Shi Huang the Unifier sound cool, but was that the main design motivation? Were you primarily thinking about what would grab players’ attention or was gameplay a bigger concern?

It’s a little bit of both. The two times we did personas previously – we did them as part of the New Frontier Pass for Teddy Roosevelt and Catherine de Medici – we really were diving on the history. Teddy Roosevelt for instance, he loved the American West, and he would go out there and spend time on his ranch and helped establish a bunch of national parks. So, that was a side of his personality we hadn’t really represented. The original Teddy Roosevelt had been more Presidential Teddy Roosevelt, and so we added the Roughrider Teddy Roosevelt. That was very much diving into, this person has two really intriguing sides to their personality, so let’s get both of them in the game. The same was true of Catherine de Medici who had this reputation for being this backstabbing, conniving ruler who knew where all the poisons were located so she could assassinate her political rivals, but she also brought an immense amount of culture to France. For both of those leaders, it was definitely to bring out two different sides of them.

Now, if you look at the ones we’re doing now, there are some that fall into that category, but then there’s some where we just wanted to double down on the gameplay. The Queen Victoria example that you mentioned, England is one of the civilizations that has been reworked a couple times and since we had so much interesting infrastructure which was being introduced with the Gathering Storm expansion, things like canals and geothermic fissures and how those things could turn you into an industrial powerhouse, we felt like if the Victoria that led Great Britain through that time of industrialization was given specific abilities in that direction, that would just make for a very intriguing collection of features to play with. So, in that instance, I think it was more about gameplay and trying to tell the broader story of the age of industrialization in the UK.

Aside from new leaders, are there any other new features we don’t know about? Perhaps new buildings, improvements, or wonders tied to certain leaders?

[All the Leader Pack additions are] all fully voiced and animated, like all of our leaders are. Definitely the new agendas change the game up a lot, because now there are things you normally would have done that these leaders are going to pick up on. But, we have not added new wonders or anything like that.

Maybe some of the leaders have their own unique systems or mechanics?

Definitely not game systems. We kind of felt by the time we were done with New Frontier we had built Civilization VI into as complicated a beast as we wanted to have players have to manage. Players had spent a lot of time learning the game and what we really needed now was just more ways for them to experience the game and new paths into the game through additional content, but we didn’t want to try to further complicate the systems.

You referred to Leader Pass as a thank you to fans earlier. Does that imply this is the final capper for Civilization VI content or could even more come in the future?

So… I thought we were at the end of Civ 6 content several times. Originally, Gathering Storm was supposed to be the end of our content and now we’ve had the New Frontier Pass and the Leader Pass added to it. There are no plans we can announce for anything coming up, I can tell you that, but I’ve been wrong about that before, so I don’t want to make a statement that’s going to look silly down the road.

Are there active plans for a new Civilization or has supporting Civ 6 remained your focus?

So, there’s nothing we can announce about any major new products or pushes or iterations in the franchise at this time. What we want to do is to make sure when we do have something like that to announce, that it’s an amazing product. That it’s going to be worthy of the franchise and is going to stand the test of time like the six iterations of Civ that we’ve put out previously. As soon as we have a major product announcement like that, we’re going to be getting back on the horn with everybody and telling you all about it. But there’s nothing to talk about at the moment.

When can we expect the Leader Pass to come to consoles?

It’s interesting with Civ 6 and consoles, because consoles have taken off for us. That is something where we didn’t have a track record. Through Civ 5, none of the mainstream Civ games were on consoles at all. So, consoles have been terrific for us, especially the Switch, which is our #1 console platform. Unfortunately, our ability to push content out across all platforms is not as smooth to consoles as it is to [PC and mobile], so at this point in time, we have nothing we can announce about Leader Pass on consoles.

Finally, for those looking forward to it, what’s the best way to get the most out of the Leader Pass? How should you go about setting up the most interesting games?

I think what is really cool, and that I want to make sure people realize, is that as we went through the New Frontier Pass, as well as the content and new game modes we were continuing to add free updates to the game and adding new setup options was one of the most popular things we did. One of the setup options that we included was the idea of leader pools. You can set up a hand-curated list of leaders that you want to include or exclude from your games. What’s cool about that, and this is how I’ve been playing with the Leader Pass, is I will set up games that have only the Leader Pass leaders. It feels like everybody in the game is new. That’s sort of my favorite new option.

Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions!

Civilization VI can be played on PC, Xbox One, PS4, Switch, mobile devices, and Xbox Series X/S and PS5 via backward compatibility. The first part of the Leader Pass, “The Great Negotiators Pack,” launches on PC and mobile today. The Leader Pass will cost you $20 or is available for free for those who own the Civ 6 Anthology bundle or have individually purchased all the DLC included in it (there are some issues with this being recognized at the moment, but Firaxis is working on a fix).

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