Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Video Game Review: Civilization VI

Ready to play just one...more...turn? It's time for Civilization VI!

I've been a fan of the Civilization franchise for a loooong time. As in, I bought the first version as a youngish teenager are Radio Shack. Civ is one of the few games/books/media where I'm willing to pay full price for it when it comes out; there's not a whole lot out there that can claim that from me.

As always, it appears to be worth it this time, as usual.


I've been blogging long enough that I reviewed the previous version of this game, Civ V. Civ V has always been a mixed bag for fans of the franchise; it did some much-needed cleanup of the format, but sacrificed a lot, made a lot of weird decisions, and it took a long time to get it right--the first six months of the game's release was not great, and gaps didn't finally get addressed until the third expansion. I did end up liking it, and logged a lot of hours on it, but ultimately by the time the game was done with development I was only playing custom maps.

Thankfully, it appears that Civ VI has avoided almost all of those mistakes.

For those who are unaware of the game, the game traces a player who starts from the dawn of civilization in 4000 BC until 2050, settling new cities, warring with neighbors, discovering new technologies, and building magnificent wonders. The games are long--they tend to take days--and are turn-based, which means you can play then go get a sandwich and come back from when you left off. This used to be standard in PC gaming fifteen years ago, but not so much anymore.

If you're not familiar with the previous games, the below may not mean much to you; civ games tend to be very similar in style, with each new version making updates and additions (like espionage and religion).

(Note: There was also a patch that fixed a lot of minor details. None of it was game-changing, but some of the early complaints have already been addressed.)

Here's what I like so far about Civ VI:
  • The new district system is pretty awesome. Unlike previous games, there are two new factors dealing with city management. First, Districts are "buildings" you must establish first before constructing actual buildings. For example, you must first built a Commercial District before you can build a Market or Bank. These Districts are actual tiles in your city range, and there are certain bonuses or restrictions based on where you place it--and those tiles can't produce food, production, or gold. And you can only build so many Districts based on your population. Now, you have several different choices to make--what Districts to build in each city, and what natural features are you willing to give up? You can no longer build every building in every city as you used to. They have tried this before, but this time I think they have it right.
  • The Wonders all now have restrictions--some of them pretty exacting. Wonders are actually built on specific tiles, much like districts. Pyramids can only be built in a non-hill desert, for example. You can no longer simply build every single Wonder every game.
  • Splitting up Science and Culture in two different tech trees is pretty good. It was always a little weird that scientists would discover Democracy because you built a bunch of Laboratories. Now it makes sens--culture contributes to those sorts of things, while pure science contributes to more practical things. 
  • The Tech trees also have a pretty neat "Eureka" system, where a specific tech has its cost halved when you do a specific thing. For example, if you settle a city on a coast, it halves the cost to discover Sailing. This makes thematic sense, but it also encourages players to do things that they may not normally do.
  • The new government system is great. In fact, I'd say it's probably the best part of the new game. You still have several government types to choose from, and each one grants some sort of benefit. (For example, a Merchant Republic increases your trade route capacity.) But you also accrue a "legacy" from your government type, so even if you later switch to a new type of government, you still retain some small bonus (for example, the Merchant Republic reduces gold cost for purchasing items) long after you've had that government. 
  • In addition, each government has "slots" for various cards; these "cards" grant some sort of bonus and new ones are gained via techs. There are four different types of cards (Military, Economic, Diplomatic, and Wildcard) and each can go in a certain slot. Monarchy, for instance, has more Military slots, while Merchant Republic has more Economic slots. That way, you have your overall government, and then can customize your government from there. It's very easy, very intuitive, and very awesome.
  • The envoy system is pretty interesting. Unlike the previous city-state system, you gain influence in city-states primarily by Envoys, which you earn in various ways. These Envoys can then be allocated as you wish amongst the city-states you've encounters. Like Civ V, there are certain types of city-states (like commercial or cultural) that will grant bonuses depending on the level of Envoys you have. If you have a certain number of them, and more than anyone else, you can also gain a special bonus unique to that city-state. As before, there are also missions that award you bonus envoys as well, which encourages diverse gameplay.
Here's what I don't like about it:
  • The amenity (i.e., happiness) system is unnecessarily confusing. It does it automatically, which is good, but it makes it sometimes hard to determine if a trade is fair or if it's worth improving a luxury as a priority.  
  • Religion is a bit of a letdown. it's not bad, but it is almost functionally identical to Civ V, which is fine. I liked the way religions are formed, but I was never a fan of how it spread--I prefer Civ IV's approach, where multiple religions existed more or less equally and it wasn't a mini game to min-max religious followers in each city.
  • There's some user interface decisions that are...poor choices. For example, it's impossible, when looking at trade routes, to sort by, say, highest gold. Or sort your city list by highest production. (At least I can't find any way to do it.) Thankfully, these are pretty easy to fix, and in the past have been fixed pretty quickly. 
  • Like almost every other version of Civ, production can drag a lot. There's a pretty noticeable gap between the time when units/buildings start becoming expensive and you have access to newer production buildings, so it's not unusual to spend about 50 turns crawling along at a snail's pace. Again, in the past, this has been fixed by adding new production sources, but it's frustrating that this happens every time.
  • The AI, as always, is batshit crazy. 
  • The Civilipedia is bad. Really, really bad. And since that is effectively the instruction manual, it took a lot of searching by random people on the internet to understand how to play the game. That's unacceptable. 
  • The game still suffers from what all Civ games seem to suffer from--the end game drags on with few interesting decisions. You are no longer exploring or settling, and nearly all of the late techs either are modest improvements on existing concepts or directly relate to a victory condition--three of the four of which you're probably not going for. Civ V's Council system alleviated this and made the endgame interesting, which is suspiciously lacking in this game. (Add to this that the game takes up to a minute between turns, and it makes it hard to finish games.)
I was apprehensive about some of the things I had heard about Civ VI while it was being released--I was mostly concerned that the district system would be a lot of detail and there would be a "correct" way to plop them down. Happily, this isn't the case. Even the "bad" things above aren't really all that bad; they're pretty minor.

If you are a fan of the series, I highly recommend it. If you are the sort of person who enjoys history or enjoys a leisurely-paced game, it may be worth checking some YouTube videos to see if they are up your alley. 




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