civilization vi

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The Civilization series is nearly synonymous with the “strategy game,” and few video game franchises have managed the level of sustained success that Sid Meier and his crack team of armchair tyrants have had. They are some of the best in the business at constantly tweaking and improving their games, and even though many players have preferences towards certain iterations, each new Civilization feels closer to real life (or, at least, what I would assume it would be like to play God over an entire culture for thousands of years). CIVILIZATION VI maintains the franchise’s status as the cream of the PC strategy crop, combining the detail-heavy micro-management that civics nerds crave with the campy sense of accessibility and competitive spirit of board gaming, which all come together to provide a highly stimulating, addictive, and entertaining strategy experience that feels fresh with every playthrough.

While the basics of Civilization have pretty much stayed intact since the first game in 1991, a few important tweaks improve the game and its ability to put the player in control. Those tweaks are too numerous to cover in great detail, and will certainly continue to grow in coming months as the devs work out the game’s AI kinks. The big one here is the new “districts” mechanic, which takes the city improvements you know and love, like libraries, amphitheaters, and banks, and compartmentalizes them into single-tile areas. This change adds a lot of nuance and strategy to Civilization’s city building mechanic, as districts are permanent additions to cities that can only be used for their designated function. Whereas in past games the player did not really need to put much thought into the location of their city’s buildings, in CIVILIZATION VI, the ramifications for each choice must be accounted for millennia down the line. Districts are more effective based on their map placement, which forces the player to consider current conditions and natural benefits against the uncertainty of future needs.

civilization vi urban


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Additionally, engaging in either military defense or anti-espionage activities becomes more challenging, as your districts can easily be raided and pillaged by troops, or, later in the game, sabotaged by enemy spies. It can be frustrating, but that game of whack-a-mole is a lot more entertaining than being able to just stick a spy in your capital and be protected forever.

The world leaders that are available in CIVILIZATION VI, of which there are currently 20, thus far are much more entertaining than they have been in the past. Like previous installments, each leader has a special ability that gives them a leg up in certain areas of the game, as well as a unique building, unit, and agenda. The agenda system is very cleverly put together, and adds a lot of replayability to an already very replayable game. While each leader has a set agenda that they always follow, based on their real live governing styles (for example, Teddy Roosevelt always follows his “Big Stick” policy), they also have a hidden second agenda that is randomly generated and revealed by gaining access to the leaders through diplomacy. Even though Gandhi has a peaceful agenda that is more true to the real life person, there’s always a chance that he will also be just as nuke-happy as he was in the older games.

civilization vi cleo

Cleopatra, who constantly seems to be checking out what the player has packing, also has a Big Stick policy

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The one thing that was not an extremely clear improvement over past Civilization games is the visual style. CIVILIZATION VI adopts a more cartoonish style than its predecessor, more in line with Firaxis spinoffs like the console-based CIVILIZATION REVOLUTION and the XCOM series. While some will prefer the new style, perhaps out of nostalgia, it takes away from the game’s overall purpose. These games are about inspiring awe in the player, and if the games had a “message,” it would be to celebrate the human spirit, curiosity, ambition, and innovation. Instead, the map is a cheap looking, crayon-drawn mess. The world leader cutscenes make each character look like they came from a Pixar film, and while the sense of humor is certainly a part of what makes the Civilization franchise what it is, it just goes too far this time.

Even if it has become increasingly questionable ethically to release a game that is “incomplete” or “in progress” as developers take advantage of customers’ willingness to pay full price for a game that will see more content added later, the Civilization series has a rock-solid track record of releasing quality DLC and quickly and efficiently patching game issues. Previous “mainline” title CIVILIZATION V was vastly changed and, according to many, improved by its BRAVE NEW WORLD expansion. CIVILIZATION VI will hopefully follow suit, ideally with improvements to the culture/tourism victory mechanics, a less aggressive AI, and, of course, an expanded roster of civilizations to play with.

civilization vi sp

Or, Sid Meier can just send us all to SPACE!

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With such a highly established franchise as Civilization, there’s a sense that you know exactly what you’re getting into with every new iteration, and that makes it tough to review. This is certainly true for CIVILIZATION VI. You should already know, overall, what kind of experience you’re signing up for. You know that you’re going to waste away entire days, and possibly nights, whispering under your breath, like so many before you, “I’m going to bed after this turn. Just one more.” You already know, unless you’ve never played before, whether you are going to enjoy this game. If you like Civilization, you will like this overall experience just as much as past ones, if not more, and if you are new to the experience, CIVILIZATION VI is as good an introduction as any.

Verdict: Recommend

Adam Cash lives in the woods and grew up playing music in barns with other strange woods children. Fortunately, moving to California showed him that the rest of the world largely ignores Toby Keith, and thus, life is worth living. Adam also writes about video games on Top Shelf Gaming.

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