Sid Meier’s Civilization VI: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Date: Thursday, 8 November 2018
Sid Meier’s Civilization is a franchise that I’ve adored since childhood. My first experience with the genre it inhabits was actually the legally-burdened Microprose release Civilization II: Test of Time (not a Sid Meier’s title), but I quickly moved on to the proper thing after the release of Sid Meier’s Civilization III. Since then, I’d never missed an expansion pack, new release or DLC until the release of Sid Meier’s Civilization VI, which for the remainder of this article I will refer to simply as Civ VI.
When Civ VI released, I was immediately turned off by its cartoonish art design and extraordinarily vibrant color palette. While the franchise had released games with a cartoonish art design before (see Civilization Revolution and its sequel), those games were never released for PC. Such an art design is more welcome on systems which have less graphical processing power, such as certain consoles and mobile devices, in my opinion. However, I decided to look past those graphics and give it a chance, beginning in September, thanks to a generous sale on Steam, picking up the deluxe edition of the base game and the Rise & Fall (R&F) DLC.
With over 150 hours of play now under my belt, I feel comfortable enough to review the game and give an informed opinion on its highlights, as well as its shortfalls. I’d like to begin by discussing how Civ VI differs from its immediate predecessor, which is often a foundation of criticisms for this latest installment in the franchise. Indeed, Firaxis has taken quite a new direction with Civ VI; however, it has also reshaped some old ideas too and I’ll explain what I mean over the course of this review.
One of the most noticeable new features of Civ VI when comparing it to its predecessors is districts. Districts are effectively tile improvements that can be built in a nearby tile by a city and some are required to build other buildings, such as libraries, universities, and many others, varying by the district’s type. In previous installments of Sid Meier’s Civilization, such buildings were instead built in the city itself.
Districts also have the potential to have adjacency bonuses, increasing their benefits proportional to the number of a specified tile feature surrounding them. For example, the campus district will produce extra science if it’s adjacent to rainforest and/or mountain tiles. This aspect of the districts mechanic, however, has been criticized by some players as making location too critical for the success of one’s civilization. While it’s certainly fair to say that a campus without such adjacency bonuses will produce less science, it doesn’t make them not worth building and I would argue that such critics are misunderstanding the point of the districts mechanic.
It is certainly true that location is more critical than ever in Civ VI for the success of one’s civilization. What those who criticize this don’t seem to realize is that this is intentional, it’s not a trap the developers have put themselves in by accident. Throughout history, location has decided the success and failure of countless settlements, and indeed, entire civilizations. Would Rome have seen its empire rise if not for its central location in the Mediterranean? Would Egypt have built such a glorious civilization if not for the Nile River?
Another new mechanic, which is related to this note, is housing. While other 4X games, notably Pandora: First Contact, have featured housing, this is its first appearance in Sid Meier’s Civilization. The early game doesn’t give the player many options for housing, which I feel might leave new players confused about where to build cities with their long-term game experience in mind. The catch twenty-two lies in settling next to a source of freshwater, such as a river, lake or oasis, or not. While settling next to freshwater will provide more housing in the early game than settling next to coastal water or worse, no water source, by not settling next to freshwater but rather one tile away from freshwater (or a mountain), the player can build an aqueduct district later on that will provide more housing than they would have received from settling next to the freshwater. Therefore, the most ideal city location, in terms of potential housing, will be at least one tile from a freshwater source (or mountain) and on the coast.
A fairer criticism in concern to this system is in relation to world wonders, a staple of Sid Meier’s Civilization. These super buildings are now effectively tile improvements, similar to districts, and some of them have some absurd building requirements. One of the most ridiculous is the Amundsen-Scott Research Station, which was added by R&F. This world wonder, which cannot be built until quite late into the game, must be built adjacent to a campus district with a research lab building and must also be built on a snow or snow hills tile. Furthermore, if the player who builds this wonder has at least 5 snow tiles within 3 tiles of any one of their cities, its benefits of +20% science and +10% production in all cities are doubled. While this is very powerful, the strict building requirements mean that any city capable of meeting said requirements will likely have a difficult time actually building the wonder due to its poor surroundings. Although I’ve been able to build it once in my playtime so far, I’ve yet to see any AI even attempt to do so.
R&F’s release also brought another new mechanic to Civ VI called loyalty, which I see as a spiritual successor to Civilization IV’s nationality mechanic. All cities have a loyalty value ranging from 0 to 100. There are a number of factors that impact loyalty but the gist of it is that this value represents how much the citizens of a city want to be a part of your civilization. With enough pressure or a lack of loyalty, a city can rebel and even eventually join another civilization without a single shot being fired. Border cities and far-flung colonies are much riskier, costlier endeavors than in previous iterations of the franchise as a result.
In another throwback to Sid Meier’s Civilization IV, Civ VI has a multitude of civilizations which have multiple leader options. Each leader has their own unique ability and each leader can benefit from different playstyles or more easily achieve specific victory conditions, even among those from the same civilization. For example, Greece has two leader choices, Gorgo and Pericles. Gorgo’s ability, Thermopylae, makes combat victories by Greek units provide culture points equal to 50% of the enemy’s combat strength, while Pericles’s ability, Surrounded by Glory, provides +5% culture per city-state Greece has suzerainty over. These abilities give the two Greek leaders their own unique flavor, as Gorgo will benefit greatly from military conflicts, while Pericles will easily mop up a cultural victory with enough city-states.
Leaders, at least as AI, also have their own agendas (in addition to their other personality factors) that govern their behavior and how they react to the player’s actions. While these add another level of depth and flavor to the game, some of them are also somewhat poorly implemented and can cause some irrational behavior on the part of the AI. A good example of this is the agenda of the French leader Catherine de Medici, Black Queen. Due to her Black Queen agenda, Catherine will always seek to gain as many spies as possible and as much diplomatic visibility as possible with her opponents, and likes those who do the same, as well as dislikes those who don’t participate in such activities. As spies aren’t available until what could be considered the early mid-game, this can be slightly frustrating as Catherine will always hold your lack of espionage against you despite that it’s impossible for you to do any such thing up to that point.
Another frustrating thing about Civ VI is how the mechanic of razing cities works. In one way, it’s a return to the past but in another, it’s also a new departure for the series. When capturing an enemy city, a player can raze the city to the ground, destroying it instantly. While this is a departure from Sid Meier’s Civilization V, in which cities require a number of turns proportionate to their size to be razed, it is in fact a return to the franchise’s earlier roots, as that game was the first to implement such a system. However, unlike in previous installments, players cannot (without the use of a mod) raze their own cities at will. In my opinion, both of these changes are bad decisions on the part of the developers and while I’d like to hope the system will be reworked in the future, I don’t have any reason to believe it will be at this time.
To wrap it up, overall, Civ VI isn’t a bad game. It needs some love, though, and Firaxis better deliver on that or the Civilization fandom is not going to respond kindly, particularly with the floppy taste of Beyond Earth still in their mouths. If you’re still on the fence about Civ VI or even new to the series, however, it’s definitely worth picking up if the game is on sale. Luckily enough, as of this writing, it is and you can pick it up on Steam right now at 67% off for the deluxe edition of the base game (which includes all leader DLCs), and 35% off for the Rise & Fall expansion. Normally valued at $79.99 and $29.99 respectively, for a limited time they can be picked up for the respective prices of $26.39 and $19.49 at this link.
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