The time that Civilization fans have been waiting for has finally arrived. 6 years after Civ V, Sid Meier’s Civilization VI is here. Beyond Earth helped fill the void, but in the end it was pretty similar to Civ V and didn’t quite live up to its promise as a successor to Alpha Centauri.
Solid from launch
Where Civilization V felt a bit lacking at launch (it eventually filled the gaps with its expansion packs), Civilization VI feels quite well-rounded. There are 19 civilizations and a total of 20 leaders to choose from. This installment in the series introduces a number of improvements over previous games, most notably the city district system. This works much the same way that cities in Endless Legend are improved: districts and wonders make use of hexes within the city’s borders, almost like terrain improvements built by your builders. This makes improving your city feel a lot more tangible, as you will see districts and wonders being built on the ground, and be able to admire them when they’re done, as opposed to trying to spot them amid the many buildings spilling out of your main city tile. The number of districts you can build will be limited not only by the physical space available to your city, but also by its population (which in turn is limited to how much housing you have available). This means you won’t be able to build every single available building in every city you own, forcing you to specialise individual cities, something I feel makes city planning a lot more interesting. It also makes city location choices really important. I played one game where my first city was stuck between a mountain range and a coastline… needless to say, I eventually gave up on that game!
The district feature may be one of the most visible additions to the game, but there are many other improvements as well. There is a new civic tree, which is pretty much a tech tree but for advances in your civilization’s government, using culture instead of science to unlock new civics. Major civics unlock new forms of government, each with a unique bonus, while the other civics in the tree make new civic ‘cards’ available. These cards have a wide range of effects, from improving combat experience for your units, increasing their strength against barbarians, increasing rewards from trade routes, reducing production costs for wonders, and many more. The government system you have in place determines how many card slots you have available to use. Plus, you can change cards for free every time you unlock a new civic, allowing you to shift policies to suit your current needs.
The culture system in the game has been further improved by adding a tourism mechanic (much like the one introduced in Civ V’s Brave New World), which makes your civilization more appealing to outsiders. Most tourism bonuses come from great works and artifacts that you can display in appropriate buildings or wonders in your cities. Many of these great works, such as paintings, sculptures, poems or musical compositions, are created by great people, which you can attract to your civilization over time, or purchase before another civilization gets their hands on them. These new mechanics make cultural victory a feasible option, especially with the right leader.
[pullquote_left]This means you won’t end up with dozens of builders in the late game, all roaming around desperately searching for a hex to improve.[/pullquote_left]Religion and faith is a major feature that’s been included in the game from the get-go. You’ll generate faith points over time, much like you generate gold. If you’re quick in the early game, you’ll be able to found and personalise your very own religion. Once you’ve established your pantheon, you’ll be able to buy missionaries and apostles with faith, and use them to spread the good word about your church of the Great Pineapple, or whatever you choose to name it. You can send your priests out into the world to convert the citizens of other civilizations (they may object to this!), or you can keep them near your cities to ensure your own people don’t stray from the path. If opposing priests meet, the result is spiritual combat. If your priests lose, your religion may start fading into obscurity. And yes, it is possible for other players to fully convert your people and your priests to another religion. In one of my early games, this led me to accidentally start an inquisition against my own religion and convert all my people to another player’s religion.
A new mechanic in the research system, both for tech and civics, is the eureka system. Almost all technologies and civics have a condition which, if met, will halve the time that it takes to research them. For instance, in the early game, founding a city on a coastline will give you knowledge towards the sailing technology. Later on, building certain military units will help you unlock military technologies faster.
There are 19 civilizations to choose from, with the Greeks having a choice of two different leaders, for a total of 20 leaders. There are also numerous city states which will appear in your games. Oddly, the advanced game setup currently doesn’t let you change the number of city states that will be present in your game.
Another change I quite liked is how builder units are handled. When they’re created, they have a set number of ‘charges’. Once these are used up, the unit disappears. Building an improvement on the map uses up a single charge, but builds that improvement instantly. The number of charges can be affected by things like wonders and your social policies. This means you won’t end up with dozens of builders in the late game, all roaming around desperately searching for a hex to improve.
The art style of the game is quite colourful, and the leaders remind me a bit of the Xbox 360 game, Civilization Revolution. The leaders and the game graphics look great, with a day/night cycle option and short animations when you complete wonders. The fog of war looks like an old hand-drawn map, which is a really nice touch.
Sean Bean masterfully narrates the game’s introductions and the snippets when you complete technologies and civics (and even better, some of these have more than one quote, so you won’t be listening to the same ones over and over.) The music is superb, with each civ having its own theme that evolves from simple themes in the early eras, to more advanced music in the later eras.
All in all, Civilization VI feels familiar enough that it’s comfortable to pick up and play for seasoned fans, yet fresh enough that it feels like there’s some new things to try out. I love the new district system and getting everything familiar enough to win is a nice learning curve with big rewards.