I should probably preface this by saying it had been a while since I’d played a Civilization game. The last one to totally eat up my days and nights was Civilization IV, when I had the luxury of spare time. I left Civilization V untouched, mostly because I knew that if I did pick it up I would never finish university.
When I got the invitation to check out Civilization VI – Publisher 2K and developer Firaxis’ latest turn-based strategy game – I was intrigued: how would I fare jumping into this franchise after not having touched it for so long? Have the developers made changes to accommodate for that sort of player? Or would I be completely out of my depth?
As it turns out, they’ve found the best of both worlds: tweaking some existing mechanics that will appeal to long-time fans, and introducing new systems that make diving into the game that little bit easier.
“The big new features are unstacking the cities,” said associate producer Sarah Darney in an interview with us. “We took all of those buildings that were once in city centres, and now they’re in districts. As well as wonders, and you balance that with farms, mines, and so on.”
“Active research is another big part in the Tech and Civics tree,” she continued. “Every decision that you make can affect that. It changes my playstyle, but also my playstyle affects it. It’s a cool back-and-forth. The map is so much more important, it’s almost like its own character. You can play with, or against.”
The demo had us choose an empire on the incredibly dense continent of Pangea. Environments were randomly generated, and a large number of other empires were scattered around. Instead of falling back on a militaristic playstyle – as I often do in 4X games – I opted for a more social one this time, aiming for a cultural victory.
To accommodate, I chose France as my Civilization. Their leader, Catherine de Medici, came packed with appropriate passive bonuses helping in this endeavour too. Her first – called Grand Tour – gives her a boost for creating wonders in the midgame, as well as tourism bonuses for all wonders built.
Her other major ability also provides Gossip – a new mechanic, whereby you’re updated on the types of policies and stances other empires are taking. This was especially helpful in determining what my neighbouring civilization of Japan was planning, as they claimed to establish friendships with me, all whilst amassing troops on my border and adopting military policies.
As mentioned earlier, the game also features Civics, which replace Social Policies. As you progress down the Civics research tree – which requires cultural development – you’ll gain access to new styles of government. To make it more granular you can slot in Civics Cards to these styles of government, effectively mixing-and-matching different passive benefits, like reducing the cost of buying up plots of land.
Different styles of government lend themselves to different styles of play accordingly, and determine the types of cards you can equip (Military, Economic, or Diplomatic). The entire system was a lot of fun to tweak, and it rather elegantly captures the changing faces of government policy historically. It also made playing a diplomatically driven empire feel a little more viable than what I remember in the past.
I asked Darney if producing these new systems, while also trying to appeal to older players was a difficult hurdle for Firaxis.
“The way that we cater, is we take a third of what was old and solid foundation, and that’s what we’re building off of,” she replied. “We take a third of what we like – but we want to make changes and improvements. The other third is brand new stuff.”
“I think because there’s so many different opinions about what our favourite things are about this series, versus the things that we want to improve or change – that’s probably the biggest hurdle,” she added. “Just creating universal opinion.”
Civilization VI is set to release for PC on October 21.