Civilization VI Review
Start your quest for world domination anew
Civilization is easily one of, if not the most well-known strategy game franchises of all time. With its brilliant and expansive concept of allowing players to take control of a nation and guide them through the centuries, this series has cemented itself in the minds of many since its early 1990s debut. Over the many years that followed, we've seen this franchise evolve, expand, and gain new features and mechanics, making for a deeper and more involving experience. Not every release was a bonafide success, but the series has carried on, thanks to its legion of fans that crave the addicting turn-based gameplay. It's a formula that has truly stood the test of time, and with the recent success of Civilization V and its good expansions, the time has come for the next iteration. Civilization VI brings with it a slew of big changes and a bit of streamlining, which many fans might appreciate, but some glaring problems prevent this latest entry from being a must-have.
The major objectives in Civilization VI remain the same - you select from one of the national leaders, each with their own unique unit, ability and building, and try to win the game. You will take your empire from the ancient days of bow and arrow to the ultra-modern space science, trying to compete for any number of victory conditions. Your way to victory can be reached by any of the classic methods, like space victory, domination victory, and so on. Players can still customize these aspects, as well as the type of map that will be randomly generated. Though your options for nations aren't as extensive as those in Civ V with its expansions, that's understandable; but there are also fewer choices for map types no option for random leader personalities and that's a bit disappointing to see.
Playing on a hex grid map, you will oversee most aspects of developing your nation - founding cities, constructing buildings and improvements, managing military and civilian units, performing research, looking after religion and society, and so on. The basics remain the same, and they are great as always; there is a reason this strategy game franchise has lasted for this long and remains relevant to this day. It's a gameplay formula so great that it hasn't gotten stale in the 25 years since its inception. If you're not familiar, Civ VI does include a vast in-game encyclopedia, with articles of varying usefulness. There is also a tutorial that offers two settings - new to Civilization, and new to Civ VI. Going with the latter option, it wasn't very helpful - the game only focuses on explaining entirely new mechanics, and doesn't offer insight into concepts that existed in Civ V (such as religion and spying) but had some major changes.
But of course, Civilization VI isn't just a revamp of the ideas that Civ V and its expansions accumulated. The new title features a number of new mechanics, and one of the earliest and most notable happens at the very foundation of your civilization - the workers. Rather than being a permanent unit, they are now expandable and can take three actions (more if you have a specific gov’t policy) before they disappear. Gone are the days of workers roaming the lands, automatically building you roads and improvements. Now, you must construct the Builder, manually lead them to wherever and pick their actions, and then they are gone. This change doesn't really work well - having to constantly build workers adds a delay to your progress, and manually ordering them around adds yet another layer of micromanagement. Sure, Civilization is already all about focusing on the most minute details and issuing orders to every single unit, but this is just mundane. Ordering another farm or quarry is hardly edge of your seat, strategically-deep gameplay. But it’s a change that makes sense in the grand scheme of things because of the way that your land must now also be manually managed.
Unlike in the past games, your cities aren’t just chock-full of buildings and structures all on the same tile, while being surrounded by fields. In Civ VI, managing your lands is extremely important due to introduction of district tiles. These tiles function as off-shoots that produce resources and also contain appropriate buildings. For example, in the past you’d build the granary, monument, airport, all within the city on the same tile. Now, you must first pick and build an appropriate district (cultural, scientific, military, and so on), and then further expand these tiles with the buildings that belong there. So as you might guess, placing your districts strategically is key, as they also receive bonuses depending if they are near other specific districts, or near natural landmarks. These districts take up tiles, which now feel much more crucial than before since you still need to keep your production and food supplies going, and replacing them with a district removes those resources. In times of war, enemies can also cripple you by destroying districts without ever approaching the city walls. The districts mechanic is an interesting addition that adds another layer of strategy to the game and makes managing your empire’s real estate much more important than before. And you can understand now why you can’t simply automate workers to build on tiles, since if you plan for a district to be there it’d be a waste of resources.
While a lot of the worker actions are mundane, at least players don’t have to manually build roads. This is now done automatically by trade routes. This mechanic makes it over from one of Civ V’s expansions relatively unchanged. You build a trade unit, and send it to whatever city you’d like. The game outlines clear benefits from each trade route, as well as what the other end will receive in return (if anything). Because of this, trading is highly advantageous as the rewards are mostly one-way, so getting a few trade routes going is a good source of supplemental resources. Also making its return is the religion mechanic, which was similarly introduced in a Civ V expansion. Players found their religion and then battle for control of their own and other cities by sending missionaries and other units to spread your faith. The system has been streamlined a bit, and the faith-purchased religion units can now sort of battle each other as military units. This aspect of the game remains easy to forget about and ignore (same with city state relationships, and even more so with tourism) unless you’re desperate to leverage every single aspect of your empire for however miniscule a reward, and to deny others the same. You can also still produce Spies and send them out to gather intel, influence or just outright steal gold. Unlike Civ V, the spies perform their actions rather quickly, and players can choose to spy on cities or individual districts, which can require quite a bit of micromanagement.
The happiness mechanic from Civ V has been replaced by Amenities, but it functions much the same. This gauge is now a local-one, rather than spanning your entire nation, so you must keep each city satisfied individually. Players will need to build entertainment buildings in the appropriate district in order to keep the growing populace satisfied, or mine rare resources. Housing is another new concept, but that's just expanded naturally as you build structures and tile upgrades. Wonders are still in the game, but their usefulness is much diminished. Because they often require their own tile (which are now more important than ever), and have marginal benefits, you won't see the race to construct these special buildings like in the past. You get a short cutscene showcasing your completed Wonder, but again it's unlikely to be worth it in the very long run, unless you're focusing on cultural/tourism type victory.
The tech tree and science research mechanics remain largely the same, although the game now offers opportunities to boost specific technologies with Eureka. For example, building a coal mine will speed up your research of steel (whether or not that's your current research target); or building three Musketmen will boost the replaceable parts technology, and so on. This is a neat way to make research not only faster, but also have an alternate way to speed things along, other than just focusing on earning science points. A similar mechanic applies to the civics research tree, which is progressed by earning culture. In this tree, players unlock social policy cards that carry various bonuses in three categories – military, economic and social. So you could get bonuses like increased district benefits, stronger attack and defense for your cities, and so on. There are tons of policy cards because they must adhere to every possible playstyle, but most feel like they aren’t overly useful. You also eventually research new forms of government – each with a single passive bonus, and a varying number of policy card slots. That’s where the policy cards are used, applying whatever effect you’ve selected; the 9 government options in the game offer a variety of social card slots of each type, so that’s another decision to consider. This new system of social policies and government is more flexible than the structure of Civ V, but it also feels a lot more linear as you’ll unlock tons of policies over the course of a game but typically only use a few.
As your empire grows, you're managing your lands, and all seems to be going well. But it won't be long before you encounter other civilizations, and their leaders. This is where Civilization VI's biggest and potentially experience-breaking flaw is revealed. The AI in this strategy franchise has always been a bit shallow and rough around the edges, so much so that it has become a running joke for many fans. But with time, and even over the course of Civilization V's expansions, things seemed to be getting better. With Civ VI, however, it seems we're back to square one. Regardless of difficulty level, the AI in Civ VI are some of the most broken you'll see in any strategy game. It's rude to call them dumb, because most of their actions simply defy basic programming logic, so we'll assume they are just extremely buggy. They will declare war on you even if you've not met them yet. They will ally with you, ask you to join their war, and denounce you the very next turn for joining their own war. They will demand trades that are only ever in their extreme favor. If you bargain with them, they will end up giving you a ton of gold and resources for little in return if you hassle long enough and swap around both ends of the deal enough times. The actions of other civilization leaders are nonsensical, blatantly broken, and it can ruin the entire Civilization VI experience, time after time.
So instead of bothering to interact with them, you'll probably either exploit their incompetency via trades or armed conflict. And even if you don't wish to, there seems to be a heavy bias to involve the player in a war as early as possible, even if you've literally had no interaction with most of the nations. That's perhaps due to the new Agenda system, where each nation actually has goals, and if you don't align or go against those goals, they will dislike you by default. For example, the US likes peaceful Civilizations that have a city on his home continent. Hates civilizations starting wars against a City-State or civilization based on his continent. Or Montezuma of Aztecs, who likes nations who have the same luxury resources, and dislikes those who have a new luxury resource he has not yet collected. This is a neat idea, but again rather poorly executed and just leads to more wars. There is a way to reduce your warmonger penalty with the new Causes Belli system, which allows you to have a specific reason for war declarations. But this mechanic is wasted - do you really care what the AI thinks of you? Their behavior is rarely justified or logical, so you might as well do what you want.
As mentioned above, the general AI aggressiveness and dumb actions will get you involved in a war sooner or later. In regards to military encounters, there aren't many changes. Still only one unit can occupy a tile, and the game's line of sight sometimes doesn't make sense so your ranged city attacks may not be possible from certain angles, even though the map is clear of hills and mountains. One new feature is the ability to combine the same units into corps and armies in later eras - this allows you to have very powerful units and still occupy a single hex. There's an annoying bit of design where if you select a unit, and scroll the view away to find a destination to click, it becomes deselected, causing you to find it again and click somewhere closer so it's still in view. Regardless of your military might, defeating the AI is usually very easy. They have serious problems managing their units, and rarely - if ever- attack cities directly even if they are completely surrounded. Despite sitting on piles of gold, the AI won't upgrade their military units to modern versions. AI military combat was never a particular strength of the franchise, but again, it seems to have taken a big step back from Civ V when the foes could at least be aggressive enough to inflict damage and take your cities by force. Heck, it even seems that even barbarian AI is better, as they are good at maneuvering around the map, attacking your lands and cities, and generally causing trouble.
If you're interested in multiplayer, those options are available. Players can partake in standard versus over the Internet or in a local hot-seat session. The game features a dedicated Online game speed in an effort to get things moving along, but with each player still taking their time with each turn, it takes hours to finish a game, so be sure that your friends are ready to stick around for the duration. There are seemingly a few folks online and playing together didn't produce any connectivity problems. One thing that's missing is the flexibility to form teams, though that can be addressed by agreeing to form specific alliances once the game starts. Still, the franchise remains highly focused on its solo experience, and Civ VI's multiplayer modes don't really do anything to bring more players into the online fold.
Civilization VI takes the opportunity to update the visuals of the franchise, with mixed results. The new art style will likely be divisive for fans, as it gives up the classic semi-realistic look for a more cartoonish one. The cities, units, and districts look fine though, with a variety of new but still rather basic animations. User interface has received a considerable amount of tweaks, with better information displays and more clearly outlined menus. The audio is quite fantastic, with great original music and a narration by Sean Bean.
The undiscovered map features a solid yellow coloring, which is fine, but it tends to clash with the color of the ground itself, especially on the minimap. Further, the fog of war (discovered areas that have none of your units) also features a yellow tint instead of the classic black, which can further cause some eye strain as you're trying to scope out the world. Some UI elements can be inconsistent, and there aren't nearly enough tooltips to get more information, without having to dive into the Civilopedia. When you're interacting with AI leaders, their design and animations are top notch, but there's often a delay or an awkward black screen between their speeches and the ability for the player to respond.
Civilization VI brings with it a number of changes that alter the very foundations of the gameplay. From the introduction of districts and manual tile management, to the streamlining in faith, religion, and other elements, there are plenty of new mechanics to discover. It's tough to say if many of these are changes for the sake of evolution, or just adding more micromanagement for players to concern themselves with. Regardless, at least the new additions work for the most part. Civ VI has plenty more content at launch than Civ V did, but its gameplay loop doesn't feel significantly improved, partly because the changes are thrown off-balance by the problems with AI and other bugs. With time, Civilization VI may become the next great entry in this long running franchise, but it seems that it will take a few patches and maybe an expansion to get there.