There are few games one can invest so much time in, win multiple matches of, and surprisingly, still not grasp all it has to offer – yet Civilization VI successfully does just that. After almost 50 hours with the latest 4X strategy game from developer Firaxis, despite thoroughly enjoying the experience, there are still many aspects of it that I barely understand… but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
The beauty of Civ6 is that it manages to capture the inviting, mass-market atmosphere of the Civilization Revolution games, while marrying it with a more streamlined, but still robust version of the deep systems the core titles are known for. The downside to this is that while the game looks great (if a little more cartoony than some of the more hardcore fans may prefer), it lacks the more detailed information and insights into what a player might want to do to win.
From the moment the game starts you’re in a race to the finish. What should you make, train, or research from the varied lists of units, districts, buildings, technologies, or civic policies that are available? The game doesn’t give much reasoning behind why the AI Advisor tells you to do these things either - often leaving such things to blind trust in the computer knowing the type of victory you are going for, guess work, or trial-and-error.
Disappointing up-front explanations aside, the game does still contain an in-depth encyclopedia that does go into what each of these things are, and how everything works. For most people (myself included), this felt more like studying for a history exam than playing a game, and the previous titles in the series did this part a little better. The other way to play is to jump straight into the tutorial, and work the minutia out as you play. Thankfully it’s a turn-based title, and during the single player campaigns there’s no time limit, giving you plenty of time to work out exactly what is best for your empire.
A graphical feature I immediately grew to love was the way the uncharted areas of the map, and then the fog-of-war (once an area had been visited) was put in place. At the start of the game, the unseen areas outside your immediate zone look like folded, worn parchment, with iconography depicting various mythological creatures that could be inhabiting those lands - like drawings shown on old maps.
Then, once you begin exploring, the areas you’ve been to turn from 3D images into a sketched version of those places, and only update to what is currently in those tiles once you send another unit in. I found it to be incredibly charming, and fit perfectly with the art style of the game.
After getting to know the systems a bit, one of the features I did really like was the ability to jump into both the Technology and Civic Trees to begin planning your end-game from the very first turn. Are you trying to win by overwhelming force? Become the most cultured society? Perhaps you want to create your own religion and spread it across the world? Or finally, there’s the scientific route, which ends in a win once you’ve managed to colonize Mars.
All are valid, and all work no matter the difficulty - although there were few matches I was able to result in a victory before the “time” runs out in the years 2050, which is where the winner is determined by the highest score - unless you opt for “One More Turn” that is (which I found lasted a lot longer than expected). I was also rather disappointed with the details available in the after action report upon completing a campaign – or should I say I was disappointed with the complete lack of one. The mid-game details you have access to are amazing, I only wish they were available post-match.
Moving onto gameplay itself, the biggest difference between 5 and 6 is the new way to go about City Planning. Now, rather than the different districts being contained within a single tile on the map, you get to see your city grow as you place the various districts, farms, and mines in the tiles surrounding each city.
A neat feature about this new city planning ability is that by choosing where each goes in a more strategic manner, the more food, production, or district specific benefits you’ll receive based on the nearby tiles. The downside is that sometimes it comes down to pure luck as to where you get to found your first city.
More than once I started on the coast, with nothing but desserts on one side, frozen tundras on another, and rocky mountains in the middle, with little room for expansion outside a a couple of purchasable tiles. This makes the early game all the more difficult, as you can’t as easily have builders lay down farms for food and housing, or construct mines for production, luxury, or strategic resources - all of which affect the growth of your cities and populations.
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