Review: Civilization VI: Rise and Fall09 Feb 2018 0
Review: Civilization VI: Rise and Fall
Released 08 Feb 2018
Unlike its predecessor, Civilization VI was an extremely dense game at launch. By no means perfect or complete, it still managed to present a very satisfying experience filled to the brim with new mechanics.
The first expansion, Rise and Fall, brings the customary boatload of new factions and wonders, and does its best to break new ground by changing the classic flow of a Civilization game. Gone are the easygoing playthroughs and worries, now every turn is filled with micromanagement, crisis, and considerations like 'era points' and 'loyalty' that may completely upend a game in a split second.
Due to the length of a normal Civilization VI game, I've only had a chance to test three out of eight new civs. The merchant-focused Cree can't come close to Venice's trade performance in Civ V, nor does Korea out-do itself as a science powerhouse. The Zulu however were the most useful faction, thanks to their reliance on military power and loyalty inducing garrisons which negates one of the worst main changes added in Rise and Fall.
The first of those changes is the much touted return of Golden Ages, and with them a new counterpart in ‘Dark’ Ages. Every turn, player actions will generate a set amount of Era Points which contribute to a pool. Go above a certain threshold and you trigger a Golden Age; fall below it and you enter the latter. Both offer multiple bonuses (with Dark Ages bringing good and bad things), and the game handily alters its tone and interface to reflect which age your civilization is currently going through.
If you trigger neither you stay in the ‘Normal’ Age, but if you go from a Dark era straight into a Golden one, you enter the so-called ‘Heroic Age’. This is a buffed up version of the Golden era with even better bonuses. The effects of each Age are meaningful enough to justify going after (or avoiding) them, yet not powerful enough to derail a game, which is a nice compromise. Better yet, it gives meaning to eras by adding a timeline of achievements.
The main problem with this system is that it changes Civ from a relaxing, sandbox experience into a race -- you feel constantly pushed towards making advancements, exploration, and changing your plans to avoid entering the Dark Ages or achieving a Golden Era. Player choice comes at odds with what the game considers worthy of “historical moments”, and you feel streamlined into a course of action you may not freely chose in other circumstances.
The second big change is the Governors: seven unique characters with distinct names and abilities which can be put in charge of specific cities. In order to assign or upgrade one, you need something called a “governor title”, which is obtainable through research and civics. I was a bit worried at first, but the game straight up showers you with them -- it’s quite possible you will have more governors than cities at the beginning of a session, like I did in a few of my games.
Governor bonuses range from the useful to the meaningless, but all of them are situational -- they can be immensely helpful at times, but the need to constantly transfer them around cities makes them less like governors and more like auditing consultants. Governors can also be temporarily put out of commission by enemy spies, so make sure you don’t rely on their perks too much.
The last change is the addition of ‘loyalty’ to cities, and it is without a doubt the most annoying. In an attempt to introduce something akin to Total War’s public order, Firaxis ruined one of Civ’s cornerstone features: the freedom to create your own nation. Cities can now rebel against you if they lack amenities or are close to a foreign border, meaning you must constantly keep an eye on their needs. Civilization VI’s very nature as a slow burn game creates an essential disconnect between rebellions that happen in 5 turns and buildings that take 15 to build, creating a very frustrating and insecure environment for play.
Nearby foreign cities generate a massive penalty, essentially curbing your freedom to place cities. Even worse, garrisons do jack all for loyalty, meaning you can’t even keep order with good ol’ martial law. Only the Zulus through their special ability get a massive loyalty bonus from garrisoned troops, making every other civilization powerless to fight rebellions by any other means than frantic purchase of buildings and governors.
The last meaningful addition to Rise and Fall are Emergencies: automatic crisis triggered when one empire becomes a bit too powerful. The idea behind them is that civs band together against a common foe and must capture a city in a set amount of turns, but Civilization's infamously bad AI means that virtually never happens.
More often than not, a single faction (or the player) attack the enemy target alone, usually resulting in a severe arse kicking with zero help from their allies. This is hardly a surprise -- after all, this is still a game where I’m attacked by Gilgamesh about 20 turns in for no reason whatsoever, and summarily sued for peace five turns later -- but it is definitely something that should have been addressed (or at the very least predicted).
In the end, Rise and Fall is a novel yet slightly disappointing expansion that accomplishes very little of worth. In fact, it often feels at odds with what Sid Meier’s Civilization is, changing the game’s flow into a senseless time intensive marathon. While past Firaxis expansions often gave you creative and interesting new tools to play with as you see fit, Rise and Fall instead seems hellbent on corralling the way you play, and the end result is a more restrictive game than what we had on launch.