Civilization VI is a game about discovery. As such a revered series –– one that celebrates its 25th Anniversary this year –– change and evolution is always a risky prospect. And yet, developer Firaxis takes bold strides with every new release, refining existing features while always adding new ones, constantly looking for the best way to reach the next level. With Civilization VI it achieves superlative new heights.
Like its predecessors, Civ VI puts you to work establishing and expanding cities, building and recruiting units, and researching technologies to advance through history. There’s the odd war or two in there, too, if you fancy it. In a reductive sense, Civ VI will be very familiar to anyone that’s played the series before, but there are a multitude of changes to the intricate workings of it many systems to make your first few games feel like uncharted territory.
The biggest initial change is the art direction. Ditching the more realistic look of previous iterations, Civ VI is bold with colour and rich with stylised personality; the map is a constant flourish of rich hues, with intricate details that stretch down to the minutiae of your units –– a flock of doves swoop over your Holy Site, while farmers tend to their crops and cattle runs over untended grasslands. The leaders themselves are similarly bold, packed with personality and charisma, from the badassery of Sparta’s Gorgo to the quiet yet imposing serenity of India’s Gandhi.
The most fundamental mechanical change is the unstacking of cities. Rather than have all of your city’s buildings inhabit a single tile on the world map’s hexagonal grid, cities now sprawl out in all directions with the newly implemented Districts housing key improvements to increase your standing in the world. This is not only a visual overhaul, one that gives you the control to customise your own empires; it also increases the amount of decisions you have to make. From the beginning of a game you must consider where’s based to settle and where’s most useful for you to build new districts. It sustains the interest of campaign for far longer, and there’s no longer such a noticeable mid-late game lull as there’s always something to do.
Civ VI’s real stroke of genius is the splitting of the Technology tree (the research path which guides your empire from the ancient era into the space-age). By adding the Civics tree, which plots your cultural and political advancement, Firaxis transforms culture into a viable option for unique victories. To expand on this further and to add the clever cherry on the genius cake, the new Eureka! system ties single objective quests to every single research option on both of these trees. This establishes a logical set of world rules to any campaign, such as the fact that if you’re a civilisation that has discovered the ocean, you’ll research sailing faster; it also pushes you out of your comfort zone in order to discover interesting new methods of play.
This streamlined approach to complexity seeps into every part of the game. Diplomacy is now far better than it ever has been before, while trade routes, espionage and religion have all been overhauled to play more intuitively. The methods of war have been diversified, and so too have governments –– each governmental setup has a number of policy slots, and you fill them with policy cards that give you unique buffs and bonuses that best fit your civilisation’s needs. It’s like a mini card game within the strategy experience.
All of these changes, additions and refinements add up to a fabulously inventive and engrossing strategy experience; one that’s fun, colourful and charismatic despite its complex underpinnings. It’s not perfect, and there’s always a tendency for the game’s AI to throw up a couple of quirks as you progress, but the improvements are great across the board. After 25-years on screens everywhere, Civilization has become famous for the phrase “one more turn”. It’s a series renowned for lazy afternoon sessions that end up stretching long into the night as time gets the best of you, but Civilization VI’s diversity and unpredictable sense of adventure across multiple campaigns allows a new phrase to become coined: “one more game.”