The saying goes that art is never finished, only abandoned, and that holds true, to a certain extent, for videogames. Of course, we live in a day and age where even console gamers are bombarded by endless patches, content updates, and DLC, but there always comes a point in time where a game is left behind.
For Civilization VI, you might ask what could reasonably be added to such a beloved series, and yet that old adage comes to the fore once more. There’s always something that can be changed, some fan request that can be answered, or a particular behaviour that can be discouraged. The key is in finding those that make for a meaningful change compared to what went before.
Perhaps the most notable – or at least one of the most noticeable – change is to the cities. It’s been relaxed a little in VI, but Civilization V stopped you from stacking units on top of one another to create huge armies that could steamroll through your enemies, and now cities have been given a similar treatment, reaching out across multiple hexagons of terrain and spreading their influence further and further.
It makes finding the right spot for a new city quite important, and in addition to being near a source of water, you’ll also want to look for natural and luxury resources that the city can make use of – luxuries are fairly important for keeping each individual city’s populace happy. You also want to look to have room to build important buildings like libraries, universities, especially on tiles that prove advantageous to them, and space for farmers to till the land and give the people enough food to live off.
Cities also have a big effect on the way that wars are waged, giving sieges a much more realistic twist as your troops can now trample over the farms and infrastructure that surround the heart of the city. As the defender, you have choices to make over how to defend your city, whether you build military structures that could aid in staving off a siege, or if you decide to hole up in the city centre, while attackers can take the opportunity to raze structures and weaken a city’s productivity for many turns to come.
Waging wars and conquering all that stand in your way by force is still very much an option in this game, and probably the default strategy for many players, but it’s not the only way to win. Cultural victories have been made a much more plausible option in the face of military and scientific ones, with the new civics tree that lives alongside technology, splitting off many of the more philosophical and cultural ideas into something that stands on its own.
You can quickly get a leg up on your rivals if you focus your efforts to unlock more advanced forms of government and make use of the bonuses that they provide, letting you enact more or less of certain policies, depending on their outlook. New policy cards are unlocked as you research new civics policies, divided into military, economic and diplomatic categories, and giving you various advantages. It could be that you enact a policy that makes you 50% more effective against barbarians – a particularly useful bonus early in the game, as you know – or that, despite being weaker militarily, your units
There’s a kind of positive reinforcement throughout the game, that helps to encourage and ease your path down certain avenues. These bonuses, dubbed eureka moments and inspirations , can cut a chunk of time from researching related technologies through building certain structures or completing little objectives. Take out a barbarian encampment and you’ll take a step toward better military units, build a city next to the sea and you’re halfway to unlocking sailing technology. As you push in a certain direction, the game pushes alongside you, encouraging you to go further.
It’s a nice and positive system, without any associated negative impacts to heading down a particular path, and as I played through the early stages of a campaign, I found myself delving into the research trees to see what actions I could take to speed up my progress. With only a few hours and 150 turns to play with the demo, I wanted to get stuck in with a little war with someone – I was winning my war with Brazil when time ran out.
Civ VI has lost little of the quirky and amusing charm that previous games have enjoyed. There’s something quite inherently amusing about Teddy Roosevelt trying to gain Cleopatra or Queen Victoria’s favour by sending apple pies as gifts, and the charismatic animated cutscenes are something of a delight, with a friendly and inviting graphical style that matches the rest of the game.
As always, Firaxis have tinkered with the list of historical world leaders in the game, each bringing their own particular quirks, strengths and agendas to their growing empires. Catherine of Medici is France’s ruler, and a particularly interesting historical character who relies on a far reaching network of ladies-in-waiting to gain a diplomatic advantage. Pedro II of Brazil – much younger and spritelier than when he was added to Civ V – has adjacency bonuses for cities in jungle terrain, but is also more than a little sure of Brazil’s importance. When playing as Brazil, you can earn some of the points cost back of recruiting a great person, but as a rival, his opinion and attitude toward you can also hinge on whether you’re actively recruiting great persons, as well.
You might think that a decades old series like Civilization has few new places to explore, but there’s a lot of refreshing ideas in Civ VI. It builds on many of the ideas from Civ V, such as city states and unstacked units, but goes several steps beyond as it brings cultural victories out of the shadows, changes the flow of research, and broadens the reach and importance of cities in several interesting ways.