Review: Civilization VI

Game: Civilization VI
Made by: Firaxis
Published by: 2K
Available on: PC, Mac, iPad

A step forward for the series with a compelling (though divisive) art-style and a number of new gameplay features; buyer beware, the AI leaves something to be desired.

FEATURES

Turn-based Strategy: Civilization VI handles your movement and progress through bite-sized turns. Each turn, you’ll be able to make decisions on how your empire is run and how to move your units around the map. Progress is handled in turns, so deciding to train an archer may take six turns, and building the Great Pyramids may take twenty. Moving from one turn to the next simulates the passage of time, and after you’ve taken your turn, your AI opponents will take theirs.

“4X” Gameplay: “Explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate”. Civilization VI is all about acquiring and projecting power. Establish your civilization, expand its borders and influence, play against your opponents, and ultimately ensure their defeat.

Empire Building: Whether it’s standing dominant over all other civilizations through conquest, spreading your religion to the world, or building a nation on art and culture, the focus of Civilization is on establishing and expanding your empire. There are several ways to win in Civ, but they all involve the focused expansion of your power and influence.

Historical Theme: In Civ VI, you play as one of an expanding number of real historical leaders. You can decide to lead the Russian Empire as Peter the Great, the Americans as Theodore Roosevelt, the Kongo as Mvemba a Nzinga, or over twenty other civilizations as one of their real historical leaders. After choosing your leader and civilization, you move through history from the advent of civilization to the atomic age (or until you win the game). Units and buildings are themed appropriately, with classical-age civilizations fighting with archers and spearmen, and industrial-age civilizations battling with riflemen and cannons.

Single-player: The single-player component of Civilization VI throws you into a randomly-generated (unless you select the much-loved True Earth map) world populated by your civilization as well as those of a few opponents. As you command your empire, your AI neighbors will control theirs, and it’s a race to victory with a world that grows and changes as you do.

Multiplayer: Save for playing with other people, Civilization’s multiplayer is the exact same as its single-player. The game’s variability allows you to select how you’d like to play; you can get together with a few friends and each vie for world domination, work together against AI enemies, or put together a mixed-bag of human and AI opponents and play as you normally would, forging alliances and waging war as the game goes on.

Setup Choice: When starting a new game, the world is at your command. How big is the map? How many players, and how many AI? Is the map continents, archipelagic islands, or something else? Which resources spawn, and how many? Build the game you want to play to your own specifications; you’re going to be here a while.

Steam Workshop Support: With Civ VI comes not only Steam Workshop support, but also the game’s dedicated and talented modding community. Civ VI’s mods change everything from the maps available in-game, to enemy AI, to playable leaders and civilizations. The base game launches with twenty leaders, but the mods available on the Workshop offer to expand that number with such leaders as Ramkhamhaeng of Cambodia, Rome’s Hadrian, Hyrule’s Princess Zelda, and Santa of the North Pole Civilization.

A game on the Earth map-type as the Kongo.

WHAT I LIKED

Compelling & Addicting: “Just one more turn” has long been the mantra most closely associated with the Civilization series, and for good reason; each turn has you moving closer and closer toward expanding your empire and achieving your goals, and being able to play the game in these bite-sized pieces (somewhat ironically) often ends up extending my playtime by five or ten turns a session. As you move through history from the ancient era to the atomic era, each decision feels real, concrete, and productive, from building farms and roads to founding cities and declaring war.

New Art-style: This is a point of controversy; while some (myself included) find Civ VI’s artstyle an endearing and appealing improvement, others have criticized it, arguing it’s a shift from its predecessor’s realism to a more caricatured and cartoony approach. In defending my perspective, I’ll argue that I view the art style not as a turn away from realism, but instead as Firaxis attempting to bring together reality and good gameplay. For example, Theodore Roosevelt appears as a slightly-caricatured version of himself in game, but this caricature allows the developers to infuse him with a very visual sort of emotion that players see and feel when Roosevelt declares war or friendship. Likewise, the new world design utilizes vivid colors and animations that allow wonders and units to stand out and make the world feel more dynamic and real.

Historical Setting: If you’re at all interested in history, it’s a fun experience to put yourself in its path and take part in constructing world wonders, dealing with historical world leaders, and leading your civilization through history. Prospective players should note, though, that Civ isn’t a simulator. In the world of Civilization, American Knights, Aztec Fighter Planes, and Germany building the pyramids are all relatively commonplace. History doesn’t run the game, but it does provide a compelling coat of paint.

Variety of Leaders & Civilizations: In Civilization, each leader and civilization has a unique ability, and most have a unique unit, building, or both. A game played as Catherine de Medici of France is going to be an entirely different experience when compared to the same game played as Hojo Tokimune and Japan. With each game of Civilization lasting at least a few hours, the incentive to try out different leaders and playstyles adds a real layer of replayability to the game.

CONCERNS

AI: Civilization VI’s AI is problematic. In attempting to create a challenging environment, Firaxis has built a game where AI opponents end up acting particularly strange. A leader who two turns ago declared you his friend may now abruptly declare war on you. Another who just recently denounced you as despicable may now, without reason, find your civilization admirable. These sort of diplomatic shifts are to be expected when you declare war or drastically change your playstyle, but in Civ VI, they seem to happen randomly, making altering your technique to weather seemingly-random AI tantrums a core component of the game.

New Art-style: Above, I wrote a lengthy paragraph explaining my favorability toward Civ VI’s new art style. For the same reasons I find the new style endearing and engaging, though, many returning (and new) fans found it a gimmicky departure from the series’ former realism. Take a look at the screenshots and trailer footage; your mileage may vary.

Lengthy Games: Again, the length of Civilization games is something I personally take no issue with, and marathon-length sessions can be considered a draw to the series. Games can be paused, saved, and continued at any time, and it’s easy to both put down and pick up a match, provided you can get past the urge to play one more turn. With all of this in mind, if you’re not looking for a title that may ask you to sink an hour or two (or more, with the game’s game length settings) into each match, you may want to consider looking elsewhere.

MY EXPERIENCE

Starting a new game of Civ VI doesn’t set the tone for the night, but for the week. When I finally decide I’ll be going for a scientific victory as Saladin and Arabia or a religious victory as Tomyris and Scythia, I fully expect the coming days to be punctuated with my experience of moving through the ages, building madrasas or missionaries and deflecting incursions from India and Norway.

While the game’s AI leaves a lot of humanity and sensibility to be desired, the dynamic empire-building and expansion of Civ VI keeps me coming back without fail. Every new decision is a step forward and a historic moment for your ever-expanding empire, and watching the Pyramids, the Colosseum, and Broadway, pop up beside your picturesque cities and countrysides provides the feeling of real reward for the struggle you and your people have gone through in pursuit of victory.

WHO’S IT FOR?

If you’re a patient gamer looking for a compelling and engaging, but easily understandable, strategy game, or if you’re a history buff looking for a game that puts you in the hot seat alongside some of history’s greatest and most legendary leaders, Civ VI is worth checking out.

If you’re looking for something more fast-paced, complicated, or with more competent AI, consider giving Civ VI a pass, at least for now.

STATISTICS

From Steamspy unless otherwise noted.

Average Playtime*: 90 hours
Average Cost per Hour**: $0.67

Median Playtime*: 30.5 hours
Median Cost per Hour**: $1.97

* Playtime rounded to the nearest half-hour
**Costs calculated using a price of $59.99

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