Just a few weeks after the initial announcement, the first of six expansion packs – packaged under the ‘New Frontier Pass’ – has been added to Civilization VI. As a kick-off, this one includes two new civs and a new game mode. A handful of new natural wonders, city states and resources round out the offering. Priced at £7.39 for the pack on its own, or £32.99 for the entire season pass, is it worth the price tag?
After playing a few games, it’s instantly obvious that the new civs are certainly interesting additions to the game. The first – Gran Colombia – is a top tier civ that borders on the overpowered. Their bonuses make Domination victories almost comically easy. +1 movement speed to all land units makes rapid expansion easier than ever and allows you to really overwhelm the enemy. On top of that, you’ll be given a free Comandante General at the start of every era. They offer some pretty powerful bonuses and directly complement the civ’s other unique unit – the Llanero.
Gran Colombia’s last unique – the Hacienda – is not nearly as useful as its other abilities. The bonuses to production and gold it provides are good for helping maintain a standing army, but it comes too late on in the game to be truly effective. It only becomes available from the Renaissance Era, by which point you should be well on the way to a Domination victory already.
The Maya, on the other hand, are the complete opposite. Their bonuses favour playing tall. Cities within six tiles of the Capital receive +10% to all yields and friendly units within the same radius enjoy a +5 to their combat strength. Meanwhile, there are heavy penalties for expansion. Every city further than six tiles from the Capital suffers a -15% penalty to all yields.
Of course, this greatly hinders a Domination victory, because conquered cities will almost always be more than six tiles away and thus not worth taking. Instead, it’s Scientific victories where the Maya really shine, thanks to their unique district – the Observatory. 50% cheaper than a normal campus, it gains major adjacency bonuses from plantations (+2) and minor ones from farms (+1). As a result, it’s really easy to build observatories with a +4 science bonus.
With Gran Colombia, you can start the game wherever and find success. That’s not the case with the Maya. It requires a lot of planning to really succeed with this civ. A lot. They have one of the weakest starts in the game. The Capital only starts with two housing. In fact, starting on the coast is disastrous because they gain no housing from coastal or freshwater tiles, and it prevents any settling in that direction. Farms are the main source of Mayan housing, so settling in an area with plenty of plains or grassland is a priority. Of course, you also need enough space and the right tiles to settle and grow cities in a ring around your Capital. You also need enough time to produce builder units, which may not be given to you if an aggressive civ forward settles you or declares war. Similarly, the power of your Observatory district is heavily dependent on having the right resources around.
All these variables mean that it’s almost certain that you’ll need to restart a few times in order to get the right layout needed to succeed, especially on the higher difficulties. But when it comes together, it really comes together. The Maya can vastly outstrip any rival’s scientific output with just a few observatories and snowball towards victory.
There’s also a new game mode – Apocalypse – included in the pack, although you will need Gathering Storm to even enable it. As the name suggests, it allows you to experience the end of the world. From the beginning, disasters are more intense and common. Climate Change happens faster and when it reaches Phase VII the game enters the Apocalypse. Comets fall from the sky, destroying everything they hit, and Solar Flares begin to destroy the global power supply.
There’s also a new unit within the mode. The Soothsayer can be purchased with Faith and has the ability to trigger natural disasters. You can really ruin your enemy’s day if they make the mistake of settling on a river, near a volcano or next to a forest.
Apocalypse mode offers a fresh take on the usual Civ formula. And some people will have a lot of fun with the mode. I’ll admit though, this wasn’t for me. After the novelty wore off, I found the mode frustrating to play. Having to repair everything, only to see it destroyed just a few turns later, felt overly punishing. I didn’t feel there was much point in doing anything, knowing that all my work could be undone with just one disaster.
Overall, the Maya and Gran Colombia Pack is a strong showing. Both civs are fun to play and bring something unique to the table. And despite my misgivings, the Apocalypse Mode shakes up Civilization VI’s gameplay. Some players will appreciate the sheer challenge it brings. Still, I think that the standalone price is too steep. It’s hard to justify a £7.39 price tag for just two civs, a few city states and resources, and a game mode that you need the previous DLC to even access.
Whether the New Frontier Pass as a whole is worth the price is still up for debate. We’ll have to see what July brings us, when the next pack releases. The early signs are positive though.