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Sid Meier's Civilization VI

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC
Genre: Strategy
Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: Firaxis Games
Release Date: Oct. 21, 2016


PC Review - 'Sid Meier's Civilization VI'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Nov. 10, 2016 @ 12:30 a.m. PST

Sid Meier's Civilization VI is a turn-based strategy that offers players new ways to interact with their world, expand their empire across the map, advance their culture, and compete against history’s greatest leaders to build a civilization to stand the test of time.

Buy Sid Meier's Civilization VI

History is written by the winners as they say, and that is never more true than in a game of Civilization. It's never been a realistic franchise, so you might have Leonardo Da Vinci helping with the creation of the atom bomb or Japan as a steampunk society that dominates the globe in the 1400s, all while struggling to keep that dastardly Gandhi from nuclear weapons. But that's part of the appeal of the franchise. There are dozens of 4x (short for eXplore, eXpand, eXploit and eXterminate) games on the market of various shapes and complexity, but Civilization has always stood out for its ease of play and hidden complexity. Civilization VI is the latest in the franchise and generally succeeds at providing a more fully featured experience than the last two games. Overall, it's a solid and enjoyable Civilization title.

If you've never played a Civilization game before, you guide a civilization from its very first collection of huts to a world-spanning empire. Civilization has always trended toward being quick and accessible rather than micro-managey, and Civilization VI is no exception. It may look complex, but once you get into the gameplay, you can see how it's easy to understand but difficult to master. Generally, you've given a lot of options and have to pick the best one for your nation at a time. There are multiple victory conditions ranging from conquering every other nation on the planet to creating a culture so strong that it dominates everyone else. Every game of Civilization lasts until one of the players achieves a victory condition or the year 2050, whichever comes first.

You start with a city and begin to build. You have a number of resources to keep track of, but most are rather abstract, such as Production or Science. Upgrading your civilization can be done in a few ways. With the classic Tech Tree, you get a list of available technologies and choose one to research, with the speed determined by how much Science your society outputs. Some actions can boost the speed at which you research, but once you're finished, you can either move on to the next step or to another branch of the Tech Tree. The boosts encourage you to consider when and where to upgrade, rewarding you for waiting until a specific time to research a proper tree.

What I favor more is the new Civic Tree, which is a governmental counterpart to the Tech Tree. Like Tech, it researches over time, but it unlocks Wonders and new options for your government, which can be customized by specialized cards that you can "equip" to your government for passive bonuses. Different governments have varying numbers of slots. A military-focused government lets you equip more military cards, but it may have fewer options for trade or diplomacy. It's a fun and customizable feature that lets you prioritize what your nation is focusing on without getting into nitpicky micromanagement. It also offers a lot of flexibility for play styles. You can have a military government focused on defensive actions only or a theocracy who favors open trade.

Perhaps the most significant change to the game are unstacked cities. A city you've created no longer functions as a single location but rather sprawls out across the map and must be upgraded with various features. If you want an aqueduct, you need to have the right land for it. A library can be built anywhere but will be more effective in certain locations. Everything from farms to Wonders requires you to do some city planning. This means that no two cities will inherently be identical, and you may quickly discover that a city can't excel at certain elements. It also means that with careful planning, you can min-max your cities in ways you never had to do before.

I'm slightly torn on this feature. On the one hand, it's exciting to figure out the best layout and positioning for your cities, and it means you have to think hard about what and where you build. On the other hand, it can sometimes turn what should be a fast segment into something tedious. It's also frustratingly vulnerable to bad starts giving you too severe a handicap. If you build in the wrong place (or begin without a good place to build), you may find your city severely crippled due to lack of proper materials. It decreases the overall downtime in gameplay, but it also means you get less breathing room between turns. It can become too micromanagey if you have a bunch of cities going. It's not bad if you enjoy that type of thing, but it's weird for Civilization's otherwise speedy interface.

Once you have a city or two, you have plenty of options for diplomacy. You can form trade alliances with other nations, which is a mixed bag in Civilization VI. Trade is good, but it also creates roads to those nations, offering them an easy path to your capital city if they choose to invade. You can also engage in espionage, which is more complex than in the previous Civilization titles, as you can send spies on specific missions.

Of course, Civilization is also about combat. You begin with club- and sling-using warriors and build up to tanks, explosives and other high-level weapons. Combat is simple on the surface but more complex within. You send units to attack (either melee or ranged), and various combinations of stats determine the outcome. Civilization VI limits you to a single unit per tile, but you can also attach support units. The longer your units survive, the more they can grow in power and you can spend money to enhance them to higher-tier units. Develop and maintain an army, and you can stomp anyone. Let it languish, and you risk become prey for more war-minded leaders.

By and large, Civilization VI's combat is about as "realistic" as you can get for something so abstracted. In equal situations, terrain advantages tend to determine the winner, and beyond that, technological advantages are almost everything. The good ol' days of a few spearmen holding off an army of tanks seem long gone. You can win with superior tactics but only if you have a small enough technological gap so you won't get steamrolled. It's a solid mix of allowing you to stretch your tactical muscles while still rewarding those who managed to push their military might ahead of the game.

The biggest flaw in Civilization VI is the AI of the enemy opponents. Sometimes, it responds well and seems more than capable of understanding the buildup to a war. Most of the time, however, it feels lackluster and random. It sometimes switches strategies without consideration for how much damage it does to itself, and it rarely feels capable of pushing back as hard as it should. Harder difficulty modes only pile on bonuses to the lackluster AI, which merely gives it more breathing room before making a critical mistake. The AIs have their own distinctive style and play patterns. If they were smarter, then things would be a lot more interesting. All Civilization games are more about multiplayer than single-player. Fortunately, Civilization VI offers online multiplayer, which gives it a near-infinite amount of replay value, as long as you have friends who can devote hours to a game.

Otherwise, its flaws are rather negligible. The interface is largely good, but there are a couple of places where I thought the number of button clicks could have been reduced, and the game's automation features are rather poor. I found myself having to micromanage scouts more often than is reasonable, considering how basic their actions are. The in-game Civpedia is not very well designed, and the tutorial, while useful, assumes prior knowledge of Civilization, leaving brand-new players in the cold. The flaws only stand out because otherwise, Civilization VI is a fully featured and well-designed game that you can pick up and play for minutes or hours at a time.

The graphics in Civilization VI are largely quite nice. Things are bright, clear and have some nice animations. I particularly enjoyed the charming colorful animations for the various world leaders, but there's some odd disparity in what does and doesn't get animations. Some major events are given little fanfare while other times, you get repetitive animations from world leaders over minor issues. It's a minor complaint, but it feels leaden at times. Ultimately, the music and sound work are quite good. I'm particularly fond of the voice work provided by Sean Bean as the narrator. The worst complaint I have is that the music can get repetitive, but that only stands out due to how much time you'll spend hearing it.

All in all, Civilization VI is a solid, fun and enjoyable 4x game. Its basic mechanics are simple enough that players of almost any age can learn to play, but the gameplay is complex enough that multiplayer games can be brutal challenges that force players to the limits of their tactical ability. It has its share of flaws but nothing does more than slightly detract from the game. Whether you're playing for a few minutes before work or glancing up to realize that it's 4 AM, Civilization VI is exactly the kind of game that gets its hooks deep into you and never lets go.

Score: 9.0/10

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