Tropico 6 Impressions – El Presidente Goes Global
Tropico as a series just can't seem to find a home. At least that's the case when it comes to developers. Tropico 6 sees a new developer taking over the reigns from Haemimont Games (Tropico 3, 4 & 5). Limbic Entertainment (Might & Magic Heroes VI & VII) are the developers behind the wheel this time and are the fourth developer of the series history.
From what I've seen, this change of developer hasn't damaged the game whatsoever. During Gamescom, I was able to have a meeting with Mark Mussler, the lead level designer of Tropico 6, see a hands-off gameplay session and talk about the game.
One of the most important aspects of Tropico 6 is that it is a completely fresh start with a brand new engine. Unreal Engine 4 has been brought in to replace the complex mess that was Tropico's 3 & 4, as well as the brand new start Haemimont made with Tropico 5. Limbic Entertainment hopes to use the power of Unreal to improve Tropico in a multitude of ways. Some of these are already clearly visible. Others, we'll genuinely not know how successful they are until release.
The clearest and most visible aspect of this change is, unsurprisingly, the visuals. Tropico has never been a series to sell itself on graphical fidelity, but it's never looked this good. Aesthetically, there's very little you could complain about here. The environments look great, with a brilliant amount of detail on trees, water and land that doesn't drop even when you zoom right in. The same applies to the multiple structures and vehicles within the game. Zooming in and following a wagon, transporting goods from one area to another, looks brilliant. The only slight issue comes with the people, which aren't perfect but more than suitable considering the type of game it is.
When it releases, there will be fifteen mission maps. In addition to this, there will be a number of sandbox maps, with the ability to play the mission maps in sandbox mode. There is a sort of story behind Tropico 6. From what I was told, there isn't actually a story that goes through the fifteen maps. Each of the maps are effectively self-contained stories. The overarching element is that it's just El Presidente and his advisor, Penultimo, reminiscing about past adventures.
As a way to link the game together, this seems like it could work. It also would make sense when explaining the rather disparate elements and locations from one map to another. For example, there was a significant difference between the two that were shown to me. The first was called Pirate King. This was a small island, almost completely surrounded by mountains with only one entrance to the outside world. It's a shame I don't have an image to rightly show how cramped and barren that island is. It was the perfect way to highlight some of the games new features.
The core new feature is raiding. Raiding allows you to send Tropicans away to steal resources from other lands. So, as an example I was shown on the Pirate King map, there is nowhere you can grow sugar. You need sugar to make Rum, so the only way was to send your people out to steal Sugar. Okay, you could trade, but where's the fun in that?
Heists are a special subset of these raids. With a heist, you actually have the ability to steal one of the worlds most famous landmarks. Maybe it's the Eiffel Tower, the Statue of Liberty or even the Pyramids. Every building will bring in tourism to view a famous landmark, but the buildings also have special abilities to offer fantastic boosts. The Hagia Sophia was the target of choice in this game. Its bonus is that it prevents your Tropicans from dying from bad healthcare.
Of course, this is essential in any city building game, though it may just be that much more important in Tropico. As with the other titles in the series, you are a tin-pot dictator. Or at least you can be. Your goal is to stay in power by whatever means necessary. Feared dictator, peace-loving statesman, it's your choice. What I loved in the demo I was shown is that El Presidente, for me, is a raving drunk. He was stumbling around like me on a good morning. It's quirky little features like that which can truly help make a game.
Strangely, that links well into the other key feature of Tropico 6. However, this is a feature that isn't instantly visible. Rather than balancing bars to meet needs across your whole island paradise, you now have to care more about placement than ever before. Everything in Tropico 6 is now simulated, from the Tropicans themselves to their places of work and even the visitors to your city.
Think of this as what SimCity (2013) wanted to have. Your Tropicans will want transport links to everywhere in your city, cutting travel time down. Nobody wants to have to travel hours to get to a place to drink or a park to sit down in. At the same time, if you don't have a car, you certainly don't want to have to walk for hours to get to work. Essentially, you need bus links, cable cars and more, to get your Tropicans around. It's essential as well, a factory no longer produces based on assigned workers, it works based on who's actually at work.
This also applies to tourism, where tourists will want hotels close to these links, and the ability to quickly travel to locations that appeal to their class (lower, middle or upper). Indeed, everything caters towards a different class system. You'll even want to build two airports if you have the money and space. One for economy airlines, the other for luxury. Other small features include the ability to build tunnels and bridges, as one island is no longer enough for El Presidente.
There are a host of other features I haven't covered, such as the customisation of El Presidente's mansion and the ability to move it. Also, you have the ability to research and change the function of some other buildings. One example, the prison, where you can actually import prisoners from other nations for money and set prisons to labour camps, which lower productivity but give free labour. All of these will be worth exploring in what looks to be the most expansive and detailed Tropico game yet.
I'm a fan of city building games. They always manage to scratch both the Strategy and Simulation game itches that torment me, sometimes more often than I wish they would. Tropico 6 looks like it will very easily scratch that it when released January next year. All I can hope is that the underlying simulations work considerably better than that of SimCity and it genuinely works and feels as realistic as they are hoping.
We'll find out just how it works in January 2019 for the PC. Later in the year, sometime during Summer 2019, the game will also release on consoles (PlayStation and Xbox). There are already plans for continued support of the game and DLC post-launch, but there's no timeframe regarding that.