Civilization VI PC
What is Frederick Barbarossa’s problem? Only a few turns earlier we made a trade deal that was supposed to see Roman silk and marble traded for German gold for decades to come. Suddenly Barbarossa declares a ‘surprise war’, as Civilization VI calls it, pitting his army against forces that are almost twice as powerful as his. The same mindless, hard-topredict risk-taking is displayed by the Empire of Kongo, which uses the fact we took one of its cities in an earlier defensive war to repeatedly start wars it has no hope of winning. We’re coasting toward a military victory, despite never having declared war on anyone.
Something’s amiss at the heart of Civilization VI. As with previous games, we’re placing cities on a hexagonal grid, climbing the tech tree and building infrastructure improvements to turn a tiny settlement into a global superpower. This gradual process is as enthralling as ever. Expertly timed overlapping objectives place decisions visibly within reach. A city improvement completes within a turn or two of another tech-tree decision, and between these small adjustments there are worker units to move around and farms to plant. You tend your empire like a garden, adding a few houses here, some extra amenities there, to keep the numbers happy and nurse each settlement into a towering metropolis.
A new district system adds intrigue to expansion management. Scientific, education, military, spiritual and entertainment improvements have been moved out of the core city hex, and must be planted as their own bespoke hexes within the city’s boundary of influence. You can develop each district further with such additions as universities, barracks and entertainment complexes. Districts gain bonuses from specific terrain features – mountains help scientific study, for example – which gives the procedurally generated map layouts greater significance than before. Natural wonders are another good addition. Setting up in the shade of Kilimanjaro gives nearby settlements stat improvements.
This slow-paced urban planning, and the moreish resource-management systems, are integral to the gentle yet passive pleasure of a Civ campaign. The series’ famed ‘one more turn’ mantra speaks to the game’s ability to entice you onwards with the prospect of incremental improvement, but few decisions genuinely matter in the grand scheme of a campaign. Civilization’s victory conditions are ultimately dependent on how fast can you suck points out of the map and pour them into research and production. Military and religious victories at least require you to marshal soldiers and missionaries around the map to convert those resources into capital captures and religious conversions. Speedy resource production even lets you pick up great artists, which you can then convert into great works in your entertainment districts. The artworks and artefacts of history are useful primarily as a means to boost your tourism figures – the statistic by which your civilization’s ultimate cultural worth is judged.
Civilization is always going to be reductive in this sense, but in Civ VI these statistical representations have drifted so far from the concepts they’re supposed to simulate that it’s become absurd. Jane Austen joined our cause, but couldn’t write Pride And Prejudice until we’d built a structure with a ‘Great Work Of Writing’ slot. Pride And Prejudice is now generating eight Culture and four Tourism points in an amphitheatre in Ravenna. In other areas Civ VI makes notional improvements without adding weight to your decisions. The policy system lets you slot cards into prearranged grids that allow for greater military or economic focus depending on the government you select. It could be a great way to set the strengths and weaknesses of your country, if the improvements on the cards weren’t all meagre trade boosts, military experience buffs and other fiddly improvements. You can switch governments as though you’re changing hats, enduring a turn or so of harmless anarchy for your trouble. Becoming a theocracy rather than a democracy ought to be a huge, defining decision, but instead it’s another way to oil the machine and improve your numerical productivity.
That’s why Barbarossa’s bizarre invasion is a relief. His units are a couple of technological rungs down from Rome’s, and he’s not helped by siege engines that meander aimlessly around, and units that seemingly refuse to attack undefended cities. It is at least fun to mop up his forces using Civ VI’s refined military game. At the start you’re limited to one unit per tile, but military research lets you band units together into powerful attacking formations that can sit on a single tile. This strikes a good balance between Civ IV and V, and is a satisfying example of research affecting what you do on the game board in a meaningful way. If you manage to entice great generals to your empire, you can sit them behind your forces so their aura can boost your troops’ effectiveness, or you can sacrifice them for a significant gain. This is one of Civ VI’s more interesting decisions, because you’re asked to accept some loss to specialise. When space on the map becomes scarce, similar cost-benefit decisions arise as you decide which improvements you really need.
Largely, though, Civilization VI offers up few of these difficult choices. At its lowest ebb, in the final third of a campaign, pressing ‘next turn’ repeatedly and watching numbers go up, the game feels like Cookie Clicker with a respectable veneer. On a surface level it’s still incredibly absorbing, but it lacks Endless Legend’s fascinating factions, Stellaris’s enticing exploration phase, and the intense politicking of Galactic Civilizations. Its latest entry is reliably gorgeous and comforting, but as a series, Civilization is being quietly surpassed.
Pride And Prejudice is now generating eight Culture and four Tourism points in an amphitheatre in Ravenna
Developer Firaxis Publisher 2K Games Format PC Release Out now