Spare a thought for those of us on Xbox and PlayStation. We’ve never had a true Civilization experience. That is, until now. Three years after it released on PC, Sid Meier’s Civilization VI has come to consoles. And to say I’m hyped is an understatement. But does it live up to the expectations?
You bet it does. Civ VI is an absolutely fantastic game that is packed full of content. This is a game that you can pour hundreds of hours into, and still find rewarding gameplay and new strategies. Not to mention, it’s dangerously addictive. Clear your schedule for this one. Multi-hour gaming sessions have never gone by so fast.
The aim of Civilization VI is simple. Pick a world leader, then take a merry band of settlers and transform them into the greatest empire going, one turn at a time. You’ll win by meeting one of the five victory conditions. And every civ (civilization) comes with bonuses and unique units or buildings that make reaching one of these conditions easier to manage.
Winning is nice, but the real fun lies in the journey you’ll take in getting there. And this is where the real beauty of Civ VI lies. The avenues you can take to get to each victory are endless, and no two games are ever the same. With Civ VI, Firaxis simply hands you a box full of rich and wonderful systems and concepts, and then leaves it up to you as to how best to use them.
The tech and civic trees are brilliant examples of this. Both are set up in a way that means you can really choose specific paths based on what your end-game is. With the tech tree, you aren’t forced to research stuff that isn’t conducive to your end-game. So players looking to wreck their next door neighbour aren’t forced to research astrology or sailing right away, and can instead rush towards archery and bronze working.
Meanwhile, researching civics rewards you with powerful policy cards that you can drag and drop into a policy agenda. This allows you to create the perfect government for your empire, your goals or your present situation. And you can change them often enough that you never feel locked into one agenda. If someone decides to declare a surprise war on you, chances are you can change your agenda to suit a war economy within just a few turns. And as you work through the tree you’ll be able to research new government types, which contain even more policy slots.
Each tech or civic also comes with its own mini-quest (named Eurekas and Inspirations respectively) which, if completed, can be used to speed up its research. It’s another brilliant feature in a game full of them, because it means that there’s always something to do. Plus, both trees are narrated by THE Sean Bean, so what’s not to love?
Planning is another thing that is key to having any kind of success in Civ VI. And nowhere is this better seen than with the district system. In this game, cities are split out into separate areas, based on a specific function. They take up their own tile, removing the yield and any bonus resources that were originally on the tile in the process. There are 11 of these and the amount you can have in one city depends on its population. Wonders work the same way, but also carry other conditions such as having to be placed next to a river or on a desert tile.
It means you can’t shove everything into one mega-city and simply call it a day. And because each district comes with its own set of powerful adjacency bonuses, you’ll need to engage in a little bit of urban planning and consider building cities that are specialised for certain functions. After a few games, you’ll find yourself planning where districts will go before you’ve even unlocked them.
Not only does the district system make each city look and function uniquely, it forces real interactivity with the map. You’ll have to work with what you have to find real success, and it might even put you on a path towards a different type of victory than the one you were originally planning. Say you spawn next to mountains, the bonuses they provide to science and faith might push you in that direction. And it offers up some tough decisions too. Do you place a district on a tile with high food yields and lose them but gain added science/faith/gold, or do you place it somewhere else and lose out on the adjacency bonuses? It’s a brilliant mechanic, because it turns Civ VI into a game where every turn and decision feels like it matters.
And then there’s the diplomacy section of the game – like everything else with Civ VI, it’s an interesting and rewarding mechanic. Each leader is beautifully animated and speak in their native tongue. It’s a lovely touch, but it goes deeper than that. Each one you run into has a set of agendas, including a secret one that changes from game to game. These will colour their opinion of you, and you’ll quickly find that you can’t please everyone. Certain actions will win you a few allies, but end up alienating others. And you can strengthen any relationships you do make by sending delegations, forming trade routes or spying on them to find out what really makes them tick. That last one is definitely the best one, by the way.
It’s a complex system, but it really forces you to engage with those civs around you. You need to choose who to make friends with, and decide whether it’s worth sticking with them or trying to win some more powerful allies.
I haven’t even mentioned other elements such as Great People or espionage. Suffice to say that they are all systems that are just as brilliant as the three I’ve picked out. None of them feel tacked on and they all add to the gameplay in their own meaningful way.
Of course, it’s not just the strategy that Civ VI excels at. It looks great too. The game is bright and bold. Every tile is richly detailed, and little nuances like the way the sun glints off rivers and oceans makes Civ VI into a game that is both charming and beautiful. The game’s fog-of-war is masterfully done too, with areas you can’t directly see having a hand-drawn old map aesthetic.
And on top of that we are treated to a musical score that is downright brilliant. Tailored to who you’re playing as, it starts off as only a simple tune. But as you move through the ages and you build up your civilization, the music slowly builds with it and adds more layers until we have a score of epic proportions.
The only issue I can foresee with Civ VI is that it may be pretty overwhelming for new players. After all, this is a massive game with an eye-watering amount of depth and there is a learning curve involved. This is not a game that you can just pick up and play. It’ll take hours upon hours and multiple playthroughs to really get to grips with Civ VI, and even longer if you want to learn everything this game has to offer.
That shouldn’t put you off though, because Civ VI is an utterly compelling and deeply rewarding experience. There is so much variety in every facet of gameplay, and every turn is better than the last. Every game is different and the only thing that ever stays the same is how much fun it is to play. It doesn’t matter whether you’re declaring nuclear war or launching satellites into space, Civ VI remains just as gripping and addictive as ever. And all this is backed by an absolutely stunning presentation. Put simply, this is the best strategy game on the Xbox One.
The two expansions – Rise and Fall and Gathering Storm – have been ported over too and are available to buy as a bundle. It’s a hefty purchase without question. £32.99 isn’t cheap. But after giving the bundle a go, I’d consider it a must buy. There are hundreds of hours of gameplay here, with a whole array of new features, leaders, civs, buildings, units and wonders on offer.
The first part of the expansion, Rise and Fall, aims to emulate situations that mirror the rise and fall of empires in real life. It does this primarily through the new Era and Era Score system. Now, the world moves as one, with every civ entering a new era at the same time. Once that happens, they are judged through Era Score which is a running total of how they are doing and is based on completing certain Historic Moments. If they earn enough points they’ll enter a Golden Age. If they earn too little, a Dark Age awaits. There are also super-charged ‘Heroic’ Ages, which players get when they go directly from a Dark Age to a golden one. No matter which age players enter though, they can pick a dedication to try and follow as a way to either improve or sustain their position.
The other major addition is the concept of city loyalty. If a civ cannot exert enough influence on a city or keep it happy, that city may become ‘free’. Nearby civs can then exert their own influence onto (or conquer) it, and bring the city into their own empire. It’s a great mechanic, because it means that you can still create massive empires without the need for war. In one game, my massive culture output meant that I ended up with a chain of free cities asking to join my empire.
Rise and Fall also includes governors, which can help shore up city loyalty and offer some pretty nice perks, allow you to create alliances with other civs, and trigger emergencies when something major happens, like a city is conquered or a nuke is detonated.
Meanwhile, Gathering Storm introduces a new threat, and it’s one that is much bigger than any of your aggressive neighbours. You’ve built up your cities and your armies, expending tons of coal and oil and uranium in the process. Well now it’s time to pay the piper. Climate change is here, and no amount of culture or science is going to stop it.
Gathering Storm poses you with the challenge of natural disasters. Blizzards, droughts, floods, tornadoes and volcanic eruptions are regular occurrences, and they ratchet up in intensity and unpredictability as climate change takes hold. They tend to work on a high risk, high reward system. Settling near a volcano might seem like a bad idea, but it may be worth the risk as surrounding tiles tend to become more fertile every time it erupts.
Cities and certain buildings can now be powered, offering some useful boosts in the process – but it’s a fine balance. You can wait and go green by researching and then building dams, wind farms or solar panels or you can earn boosts much earlier by burning coal and oil at the risk of raising your carbon footprint. Of course, if you choose the latter option you risk all you have created as the polar ice caps will melt and sea levels will rise. It all feeds into the system of player choice and difficult decisions that makes Civ VI so special.
As with real life, climate change can’t be solved by one civ. And this is where the new World Council comes into. It’s Civ VI’s version of the UN, and it’s here where everyone comes to vote on important issues. You can request aid if a particularly bad natural disaster has occurred. You can ban certain units or resources. You can vote on the emergencies that were first introduced in Rise and Fall. And, if you win enough votes, you can earn a Diplomatic Victory.
It’s also a great way to screw over your neighbours. You can stack votes using the new diplomatic favour currency, and limit things that are essential to other civs and their goals. You can also give yourself some pretty powerful perks for a number of turns by stacking votes. And if you can consolidate enough, you can act with impunity by voting down emergencies and resolutions that are aimed against you. It’s a truly brilliant addition. It adds yet another layer onto international diplomacy, and makes it even more engaging and rewarding than ever.
In fact, that’s a central theme of this expansion bundle – making everything more engaging and rewarding than ever. And on that point, it thoroughly succeeds. Loyalty, Golden and Dark Ages, Natural Disasters and Climate Change all add extra layers to an already winning formula, and this bundle really elevates Civ VI on Xbox One into an even better game than it already is.