One of the biggest challenges any long-running video game series is remaining relevant as the gaming industry evolves. There are numerous examples of series and franchises that were once dominant decades ago and are now struggling to innovate. While we look on those old games with nostalgia, we often lament about how few of them were able to make the transition to modern gaming. But there are a few examples of games that have been around for almost as long as gaming has existed that continue to set the bar for what video games aspire to be. One such franchise is Civilization. Each iteration builds upon itself and manages to stay true to its original roots while continuing to take risks and showcase new ideas. Over the course of five different games, Civilization has set the bar for 4X strategy games and is often considered the gold standard for games in its genre. But with the 25th-anniversary approaching and the sixth entry upon, can Civilization VI continue this incredible trend for Firaxis studios?
Yes, yes it can.
While each past iteration introduces new gameplay mechanics, a lot of the core functionality has remained the same over the years. You lead a civilization from the Bronze age through to the information age and will either win through scientific advancement, diplomacy, cultural dominance, or everyone’s favourite: world domination. You play on a tiled map, almost like a board game, moving your different units around the map to build cities, gather resources, discover new technologies, make allies, make enemies, and probably go to war one or two times depending on your play style. While each game has modified these mechanics in some shape or form, It’s safe to say that if you’ve played an early civ game, you’re set for all the others. That isn’t the case with Civ VI.
Civilization VI not only introduces several new gameplay mechanics, but it also makes drastic changes to features that have been around since the first game. For example, one of the biggest changes to the game is the introduction of Districts. Initially, when you built buildings or additions to a city, they would all stack on one tile. Now to build certain modifications, such as barracks or factories, you must now build a district on an adjacent tile for that city to gain those benefits. This significantly changes the way you not only build your cities but also changes how other players will interact with you. I didn’t realize how much I’d taken for granted building up my cities until I needed to decide which of cities were going to do which tasks.
This is also compounded by the fact that which civilization you choose to play as makes a huge difference in terms of how you can, and should, play. While every Civ game has given specific perks to specific civilizations, each civ now feels very different. For example, the French lead by Catherine de Medici (possibly my favourite civ in VI), gain access to espionage much earlier than other civilizations, allowing for some fantastic advantages in sabotage and undermining your enemies. Or there’s the Japanese, who are incredibly fun to play if you’re going for a military domination victory as their military and combat bonuses are only rivaled by a few other civilizations. Regardless of what civ you chose to play as, be prepared to change up how you like to play as it may work to your disadvantage.
Another overhauled gameplay mechanic is that you now have two research trees to manage, a tech tree and a civics tree. The tech tree is the same as you’d expect from previous games, but the civics tree is how you gain new policies to give your civ special bonuses. Also, if you complete certain objectives, say building a stable to learn horses, the horseback-riding tech will research faster.
While it’s easy to learn these changes if you’re a Civ veteran, playing a game of Civ VI feels very different compared to the transition of I to II, or VI to V. What Firaxis has managed to do is walk the fine of streamlining the game, whilst continuing to innovate and remain relevant in a gaming era when strategy games are not all that common these days. At first, I wasn’t sure if I’d like all these core mechanic tweaks. Turns out I like them a lot. Games feel much more challenging and require far more strategic thinking than before, allowing for some fantastic matches against not only other players but the series infamous AI.
Speaking of AI, if you chose to play against the computer, be prepared to face some tough opponents on higher difficulties. While it might have to do with my play style, I found that almost everything I did managed to piss everyone off at some point during my matches. Don’t expect to get many allies this time around. In all the matches I’ve played, I’ve had to exclude a diplomatic victory as everyone had either denounced me or was at war with me. But I’ve never been one for diplomacy in Civ, I tend to go for either scientific victories or cultural ones. Side note, the infamous glitch that made pacifist Gandhi into a nuke-happy tyrant is alluded to in his AI’s leader agenda where he is both a fan of peaceful diplomacy and depending on the game also fond of nuclear armaments. Totally works right?
And while it’s never been a strong selling point of the franchise, the art direction of Civ VI is worth highlighting. Similar to its console spin-off, Revolution, Civ Vi forgoes realism and instead represents both the map and the different Civ leaders as colorful caricatures of themselves. While some might not be a fan of the game’s aesthetics, I personally think it adds to the game’s many charms, rather than takes away from it.
All in all Civilization VI is an absolute blast to play. I used to say that Civ IV was my favourite Civ title, despite all the hours I’ve played with each Civilization game. Now I’m tempted to say that this sixth entry in the franchise might be my new favourite. I could go on and on about how every change made to the formula was flawlessly executed. But what it boils down to is that if you’re a fan of Civilization or have been curious about playing one, Civilization VI is a fantastic game for fans and first-timers. If you’re still not onboard or didn’t like that past games, this most likely won’t change your mind. While the streamlined nature of the game removes a lot of clutter that can come from Civ games, there’s still a lot to take in. Even I’ll admit that Civ is a bit of an acquired taste when compared to other big strategy franchises. But if you’re like me and are more than happy to let the hours slip away as you try and beat those blasted Greeks for expanding to close to your land, then this is the game for you.