Civilization is one of the longest-running series that still enjoys a wide audience amongst PC gamers. It’s a staple for the platform, and any new release is going to face high expectations and a lot of scrutiny. Honestly, it would not be an exaggeration to say that 1991’s Civilization set the groundwork for future strategy games. Age of EmpiresCommand and Conquer, Dawn of War, all of them have that one game to thank. Civilization: Beyond Earth, the last game released in the acclaimed series, was a good game, but it just could not beat what Civilization V had to offer. Now, the question is this: how does Civilization VI fare? Is it as good, or better, than what came before it? Yes…and no.

 

Let’s start with how it looks. Civilization games aren’t known for looking great, because they don’t need to be. Imagine how surprising it is, then, when you first step into Civ VI and are confronted by its sharply colourful, cartography-styled graphics. Even on my modestly powerful laptop, it looks damned good. When first announced, a lot of criticism was levelled at the cartoonish art style, but it really does look great, especially when contrasted with the generally serious tone of the game. It’s crisp and clean, full of charm, and it works. It shouldn’t, but it does.

 

13559126_10153707419300418_3831454099353656981_o

 

When I first read about the changes to how cities and buildings work, I’ll admit I wasn’t enthusiastic. Why change something that works so well? During my first game of Civilization VI, I really struggled to grasp how it worked. There’s just so much depth there, so much that you could maybe call it “overcomplicated”. Even now, after 100+ hours of play, I still don’t completely understand how the new district system works, but it definitely adds an extra level of strategy to an area of the game. You see, instead of all your buildings now being built within the confines of your cities, they now spread out across your civilization’s tiles. You’ll have to carefully plan the settling and development of your cities, as some wonders can only be built on a specific type of tile eg; the Pyramids can only be built on a desert tile. This also balances the game out more, as you can no longer use a single high-production city to hoard all the wonders, because there’s no way you’ll have enough suitable tiles to fit them all.

 

One change that could be polarising is the replacement of the civilization-wide happiness system that dictated the global happiness of your citizens. Here, it has been replaced by “amenities”, which effectively signifies how happy each of your cities is individually. For example, having +5 amenities in your capital means that city’s population is very happy and so will be more productive, but that won’t affect your other cities, so if one of your other cities has -5 amenities, then that city is unhappy, unproductive and has a chance of producing barbarian units that will attack you. Amenities are gained via luxury resources and building things like stadiums, which only adds to the micro-managing you have to do.

 

civilizationvi_rome_legion

 

Obviously, you’re going to want to keep your amenities in the positive, which I found to be a big challenge as the game progressed. It’s an interesting change, maybe even a welcome one, if you remember how irritating the global happiness system was in Civilization V, but it’ll take a while to get used to, for sure. It changes how the game works in ways you might not notice in the early game, but if you play like you did in the last game (only building a few cities, keeping things conservative to maintain happiness), you’ll realise in the mid-game that your meagre 3-4 cities are outnumbered by the 5-6 cities the AI Civs are wont to build. This means you’re more likely to fall behind on tech as you just won’t have the science output your rivals have, so in the late-game you might find yourself stuck pitting your Horseman units against enemy Infantry. That was the case for me, and it’s a nasty shock when you think you’ve played the game perfectly up to that point. There’s a steep learning curve in Civ VI, but long time players will initially struggle, but within a few games you’ll be right back in the swing of things.

 

One of the best changes are the new “Eureka” moments, which serve to give you a boost to your scientific and policy research. Meeting certain criteria and achieving specific goals can shave off a few turns from how long it takes to gain a new technology or set of policy. This can give you an important edge when it comes to getting ahead of the competition, so it absolutely pays to at least make an attempt at getting a Eureka moment. It’s a novel idea that is incredibly simple, yet makes a huge difference, particularly in the early game. For example, settling a city on the coast means you’ll research naval technologies at a swifter pace, meaning you’ll have the advantage against other Civs if you end up in a naval battle.

 

Victory conditions have undergone a significant overhaul too, with the replacement of Diplomatic victory with a Religious victory. Everything else works largely the same as before, but this a huge exception. Diplomacy always felt like the easy option, when you could win just by garnering enough votes in the World Congress. Now, you can fight a religious war against the other Civs, using the three religious units (Missionary, Apostle and Inquisitor) to make your own religion dominant in each civilization. This can get annoying, admittedly, such as when I suddenly lost a game when the Norwegian Civ managed to convert my cities to his religion without my noticing. Generally, though, it’s a big improvement over Civilization V’s relatively lacklustre religion system, but it does have its faults. Fighting off wave after wave of enemy missionaries around your capital can be time-consuming, and can distract you from the rest of the game. Religion works in Civilization VI, but it’s far from perfect.

 

civilization-vi-great-wall

 

As per usual, the game’s soundtrack is phenomenal. There hasn’t been a bad-sounding Civilization game as far back as I can remember (I started with Civ III), and the sweeping scores of this latest iteration are amongst the series’ best. The game is filled with warm music that only adds to the overall atmosphere, giving your world-building experience an epic-sounding ambience that is generally unrivalled in today’s games. There are some games out there with great soundtracks, yes, but very few come close to this. If there is one complaint, there’s the replacement of the late, great Leonard Nimoy with Sean Bean. Where Nimoy’s soothing tones added gravitas to the game’s lore, Bean just doesn’t seem to fit in the same way. His voice-overs aren’t unpleasant, but they just don’t hold a candle to his predecessor. The loss of Nimoy is like the loss of an old friend.

 

As it stands, Civilization VI has more to offer in its base game than its predecessor did. That’s not to say it matches Civ V when you take its expansions into account. Gods and Kings and Brave New World are what made Civ V the game it currently is; without them, it was still enjoyable, but it felt incomplete. Civilization VI has the same feeling. You know there’s more to come, which makes it difficult to criticise it for not being as good as what’s come before. It’s better than Civ V was at release, so it stands to reason that, after a few expansions, it will easily match its predecessor. If this review hasn’t sold you on it, then just wait a year or so, and the game will likely be even better than it is now.

 



Author

Rhys Evans

I've been a gamer for as long as I can remember. My first console was a Sega Megadrive, and my first game was Streets of Rage. I've recently graduated with a degree in English Literature and Creative Writing at Cardiff Met University. I'm a fan of role-playing games and first-person shooters, but these days you can usually find me building cities in Minecraft. My favourite games are The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker and Bioshock.