Well, it’s probably about time I got a review out for Civ VI, huh? It has been out for three weeks now, after all. I could just say “great game!” and be done with it, but that wouldn’t be very interesting. And honestly not all the surprising either, as a whole the Civilization series is a lot of fun, even games like Beyond Earth. Now, that’s not to say Civ VI is without its problems, but they are by and large fixable. And honestly, some of the “problems” may go away as I play more of the game and get used to it, when you play hundreds of hours of Civ V, changes can be new and scary.
Let’s start out with the early game, which I have to say I really like. There are a few important changes here, the first being the eureka moments for technologies (and the inspiration moments for civics), and the fact that the barbarians are actually difficult, rather than being a nuisance. Eureka moments give you 50% of a technology’s cost when you trigger them, which can help to change the path you take in the early game. Sailing, for example, can be boosted by settling a city on the coast. This means that if you’re a landlocked empire, you can put off researching sailing until you actually need it, or maybe research it to 50% completion and then have it immediately completed when you settle a coastal city. It’s a nice change from researching techs in pretty much the exact same order every time in Civ V. The difficulty of barbarians can play into your build order as well, as can the lessened diplomacy of the early game, and the fact that early game wars can actually be advantageous sometimes. In Civilization V, the early game was all about growth. Build order was extremely rigid, and unless you had an aggressive neighbour, you could out off building any military units until you wanted to get a worker or settler out. Now though, everyone’s pretty aggressive early game, especially barbarians. If you’re not getting some slingers out fairly early, you’re going to be in trouble. I’m finding it a very nice change from going scout > 1/2 monument > shrine > finish monument > granary every. Single. Time.
Now I want to talk about some of the things I don’t like. Movement is the big one, and to a lesser extent combat. Going anywhere in Civ VI takes absolutely forever due to the new movement rules, and it’s probably not something that I’ll be getting used to. If you’ve played Civ V, you’ll know that different tiles use a different number of movement points when moved into. A flat tile with take one movement point, a hilled or forested tile will take two. A hilled and forested tile will take three. However, that’s just how many movement points will be subtracted from a unit when that tile is moved into, a unit with one movement point left can move into any tile it wants. With the Civ VI system however, you actually need enough points to move into a tile, unless you’re at full movement points. In the screenshot below, for example, I can’t move into the forest tile in one turn, even though it’s two tiles away and I have two movement points. It’s a lot more frustrating than it sounds, not only does it mean that movement can be slow, but it can make combat awkward too. I spent about twenty dozen turns chasing a barbarian scout around once, because it kept dancing around rough terrain in such a way that I couldn’t catch up in one turn. It was alone and nearly dead, and trapping it with a second unit was a waste when that unit could have been doing better things, but in the end that’s what I had to do. However, that’s far from the most frustrating part about combat. As I’ve mentioned before, Civ‘s AI is kind of dumb, and difficulty comes from outright cheating by the computer players. The AI isn’t any better than it was, and Firaxis made it “better” at combat in about the worst way possible: by giving AI units combat bonuses on higher difficulties. If you don’t play Civ, this might sound like another “not a big deal” type of thing, but it’s a huge pain. In Civ V you could pretty much win any defensive war, just because you could hold back and let the computer suicide its armies into a small number of units while you went about your normal business. Offensive wars were harder, largely due to the big bonuses of high-level AI, but also because going on the offensive is just harder, period. That’s not a video game thing, even in real life defending is much easier than attacking. Civ VI‘s wars move into annoyingly difficult however, as the extra combat strength the AI gets forces you to invest more heavily into military than you might want to, because you’ll need lots of units to combat a few. This of course means that your infrastructure is going to fall behind, and could cause you a lot of trouble in the long run. Making enemies more difficult is great, but doing it in such a way that it inadvertently handicaps the player isn’t enjoyable.
One change I do like though, is attacking cities. In older games, cities were defenceless, and you’d have to stick a unit in there if you wanted it defended. In Civ V things were changed up, cities had a ranged attack that they could use to defend themselves. It wasn’t enough on its own to stop an invading army, but it was enough protection against a couple of units, or to keep the pesky, squishy ranged units at bay. In Civ VI it’s a bit of a mix of the two. At the start of the game, a city is completely defenceless, once again emphasising the need for some early game military. Once a city builds walls however, it can attack invading units, as can an encampment district. It scrambles up the fairly passive defence found in V, but unlike the the bonus combat strength it does it in a good way. Furthermore, when you’re on the offensive, you’re not forced to hang back as much, or shuffle in and out units that are being pelted by the city. Once you destroy a city’s walls, it can’t attack back, and any low-health ranged units that would normally get one-shotted by a city barrage can move in. Additionally, a city that’s been flanked by two or more melee units will be under siege and stop healing, so even low, steady damage can win a fight. Support units like siege towers and battering rams can help get around those pesky walls too, leading to more strategy than the “pelt the city with arrows unit it’s weak enough to take” that was present in Civ V. There are some pretty great changes to the combat in Civ VI, and if the annoying parts can be ironed out, it could be a big step up.
As I mentioned earlier, the AI is not that smart, especially on the negotiating table. It is a bit more flexible, which is a nice change from Civ V, where you had to memorize what you got for each item because it was the same ever time. Having the ability to sway things to your advantage is certainly nice, but if a computer player says no to you, they’ll probably say no to everything, even the original deal that they proposed. Exiting the trade screen and coming back usually fixes the problem, but it’s still a hassle. You can also cheese the AI into giving you everything they’ve got pretty easily. If a war’s going in your favour, it’s pretty simple to get all their gold, gold per turn, luxuries, and even great works in a peace deal. It’s definitely a cheese, but one I’d be lying if I said I don’t use. Both of these are certainly bugs and will be dealt with in the future, but with diplomacy being such a big part of Civ, they’re annoying bugs to see.
Now, I told a bit of a lie there. Diplomacy is certainly a huge part of the Civilization series, and that’s no different in Civ VI. However, in Civ VI, prepare to be hated and ignored. I might just need to get used to the new mechanics, but I’m finding it really hard to make friends in the game. The agenda system, which was supposed to make leaders less random, turns AI players into petulant children ready to hate you if you don’t behave exactly how they think you should. For those unaware, the agenda system gives AI leaders two agendas that dictate how they behave. One is a historical agenda, based on how that leader actually was in real life. Victoria for example, likes expanding, and likes civs she shares a continent with. If you don’t share a continent with her, it will be tough to get on her good side. A leader’s hidden agenda is random every game, and is supposed to help change up games so they feel different every time, however the AI’s historical agenda is so overpowering this doesn’t really feel like the case. Heck, I’ve even heard of an AI’s historical and hidden agendas being complete opposites of one another, which is ludicrous.
I think it’s time to be positive, because I’m way too good at complaining. Civ VI‘s new city system is a great. The first thing you’ll notice is that cities are unstacked, no longer do you build everything in every city. Instead, you use districts, which are basically extensions of the city centre, to specialize your cities. Districts take up tiles and are specialized to a certain yield, the campus for example gives you science, while the encampment helps you produce military units. This makes city placement much more strategic, as some places on the map can be helpful or detrimental to certain districts. Additionally, the fact that districts take up tiles (and can start to take a long time to build), means that it’s impossible to get every one in every city, and you have to work to figure out which of your cities is going to do what, in contrast to the jack-of-all-trades present in older games. Wonders take up a tile too, and some have very restrictive building criteria. This means that not only is it impossible to get a huge number of wonders in a city to make a super-city as the Civ V AI so likes to do, it’s also actually feasible to go for some wonders that higher-level AI would get 100% of the time before. It’s very possible that the AI simply cannot build what you’re trying to build. Finally, wonder movies are gorgeous, and the fact that you can see your cities and districts around them (since they’re actually on the map), is pretty cool.
I also really like the change in great people and city-states, to a certain extent. Great people now come from a shared pool, meaning that if you get one, the other players in the game won’t get them. They also have unique bonuses, meaning you might want to grab Galileo because he’s going to help you, but ignore Edison because he’s not, and save your great scientist points for someone else. It’s good that all great scientist and all great musicians aren’t giving you the same bonuses like they used to, but it is a pain that you’re getting the same people with the same bonuses every game. Similarly, city-states no longer swear their allegiance to the highest bidder. Instead you accumulate envoys throughout the game, both by completing quests and passive points per turn. Envoys are then sent to city-states, and whoever has the most envoys gets a significant bonus, as well as smaller bonuses for set number of envoys that everyone gets. It can be really exciting competing for a powerful city-state bonus, and knowing you actually have a chance, even against high-level AI. However, these bonuses are exactly the same for a particular city-state, kind of like great people bonuses. Both make sense, great people and city-state bonuses reflect what that person or city did in history, it just irks me a bit that there’s not a lot a variety. The city-state one isn’t a big deal, I just wish there were a larger number of great people so the battle for them could be different each game.
Before we end, I think I should complain about just one more thing: strategic resources. At first glance, the new strategic resource system is a nice change from Civ V. No longer do you need one copy of a resource for every single unit that uses that resource. Instead you just need two copies to produce a unit, or one if you have an encampment district in the city you’re building the unit. It’s a nice change, especially after the hassle it could be in Civ V to get an army of swordsman when you only had three iron in your entire empire. However, to balance this change out a bit, the scarcity of strategic resources was turned up to 11. It’s not uncommon, even for the cheating, land-grabbing AI, to have units multiple eras behind, because there’s nothing to upgrade them with. I’m not suggesting a lot of resources all over the map, but some kind of middle ground will need to be found.
Civilization VI is an excellent game. It has a lot right out of the gate, especially compared to the pretty bare-bones Civ V. In fact, it has nearly everything contained in Civ V‘s two expansions in vanilla. There are bugs and gameplay problems, sure. But keep in mind we have patches and expansions coming in the future. Firaxis has been great in the past about fixing issues in Civ games, and I have no reason to believe that Civ VI will be any different. It’s a bit more complex than Civ V, and newcomers to the series may have a bit of trouble with it, but it’s not something that will completely baffle those not used to the gameplay. For those who enjoy the series and strategy games as a whole, it’s definitely a great one to try out.
+ Lots of gameplay features out of the gate
+ Good city combat and enjoyable early game
+ Districts are an excellent edition, as are tile-occupying wonders
– Lacklustre diplomacy, atrocious new movement system