VI Months Of Civilization VI

By Marcello Perricone 21 Apr 2017 0

When Civilization V launched in September of 2010, Sid Meier’s fans were split apart. Half the fan base hailed it as the successor of the critically acclaimed Civilization series, while the other deemed it a heresy and clung tightly in the shadows to Civilization IV. Now, seven years later, history repeats itself.

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Exactly six months ago, Civilization VI was released upon the world. Once more developed by Firaxis and published by Take-Two, Sid Meier's newest entrant in the eponymous franchise was received with critical acclaim, yet shattered fan’s opinions again. One half of the player base saw it as a worthy sequel, while the other side considered it an abomination vastly inferior to Civilization V.

But what is it, really? How good Civilization VI actually is? Pretty damn good, actually.

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When Civ V hit stores, it brought along a number of changes to the established gameplay mechanics; the now classical hexagon grid, the inability to stack units in a single tile, and the inclusion of city-states changed the way the game was played. Those changes alone were enough to shake up opinions, but the state of Civilization V at launch was far from ideal: the balance was off, features present in previous games were simplified or entirely omitted, and the AI was even worse than it normally is. It would take Firaxis three years and two expansions to fix those problems, and at the end of 2013, with deeply overhauled political, religious, and trade systems under its belt, Civilization V finally became a classic.

Exactly six months from today, Civilization VI launched under similar conditions. It is a completely new approach to cities, where districts spill out into surrounding territories, shook the foundations on one of Civilization’s last remaining original characteristics. Cities were no longer restricted to one single hex, endlessly piling up building upon building onto one single tile -- they were now living, breathing things, requiring constant involvement and planning and changing the landscape around them forever. The music is a work of art, the new art style and cartography-inspired maps are unbelievably good, and gameplay is much more satisfying -- from placing districts with a zap of lightning from the sky or attacking a cavalry unit and watching the little horsies run away unharmed, Civilization VI's gameplay is a step forward in every way.

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At the same time, an expanded culture tree takes place of Civ V's civics cards, and the old worker units are done off with to make way for the new and improved builders, who place improvements instantly but have limited uses. War weariness is now a thing, dragging down people who’ve been at war for too long and adding greater tactical considerations before kicking someone’s messenger down a Spartan well. All those changes created a more dynamic and engaging experience, and Firaxis even acknowledge the changing of times by adding an “online” speed to the game, where the time to build things is cut in half, making things faster (and arguably more enjoyable).

However, not everything was smooth sailing. Civilization VI came out of the box with some pretty glaring issues, which have gone unfixed and tainted the entry’s reputation amongst its players. The AI -- historically never that strong in the franchise -- is even worse than usual, being extremely unforgiving and punitive and behaving more like bipolar androids than actual human beings. Diplomacy is -- also in classical Civ style -- not amazing, being shallow and restrictive and at the best of times, utterly unavoidable. The inability to reason with the AI allies to their abrupt decision making to create one extremely off-putting atmosphere, completely at odds with the relaxing “just one more turn” the entire game inspires towards. And since those are two essential aspects of gameplay interaction, their flaws are doubly apparent -- and completely unavoidable.

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Some of Civilization VI's best new features also are a source of its problems. For the first time in the series, religion is a bonafide victory condition; in order to win, at least half of every civilisation's followers must subscribe to a single belief, but the way you come about gathering those followers is botched. Firaxis lifted the religious system from Civ V and pasted it in Civ VI virtually unchanged, but due to the weight religion now has, it became much more important. Ideological wars are not fought like tourism and trade, via menus and decisions, but via units like regular armies. All hints of nuance and tactical thinking go out the window, as both players and AI stock up on dozens upon dozens of missionaries and inquisitors and send them en masse to cities in a bid to win the game. It is a bit unsavoury and inelegant.

The warmonger penalty, while a brilliant idea with it’s concept of casus belli, is terribly implemented, resulting in an unfair balance that completely ruins the game flow. While you can declare a holy war upon an enemy who converted one of your cities or engage an enemy that denounced you, the system works obscurely in other instances. Warmongering is supposed to be a punishment, penalising warring factions and threatening retaliation by other neutral nations, but it is currently so badly implemented that even allies that *ask* you to join a war by their side will look at you as a warmonger if you accept. And it is really widespread. Lost a city to an enemy and conquered it back? Warmonger. Got called by an ally to join a war? Warmonger. Attacked an enemy civilisation that declared war on you? You guessed it: Warmonger.

But it is not all bad, and it is certainly not lost. Civilization VI has set a strong foundation for an amazing game, and we can expect it to continue to improve in the upcoming years. It is already a brilliant title, completely worthy of its place as the true sequel of the Civilization series, and a tremendous amount of fan. It still manages to capture that amazing feeling of “just one more turn” that sees you sinking hours upon hours into it. Every aspect of game design is a clear step forward from previous games, and while some of the implementation is a clear step backwards, the future looks bright for Sid Meier’s latest effort. All of its flaws can be easily fixed and its damage mitigated, so long as the developers fix the flaws without resorting to ridiculous DLC paywalls. If XCOM and Civ V are anything to go by, Firaxis will fix the game’s most annoying problems while significantly expanding it via expansions, and I would not be surprised if in a couple of years, Civilization VI finally take its deserved spot as the next definitive classic of Sid Meier’s flagpole franchise.

How have you found Civ VI's first few months? Where do you want to see the developer focus their attention next? Are you still playing Civ V? Answers on a postcard, let us know in the comments!

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