Serenissima's Quick and Dirty Civ VI Review
Okay, initial disclaimer: I suck at this game, and that's pretty sad for me when I got bored of Civ V because I was winning every time even at the hardest difficulties and had modded the game hugely to add new challenges. Your mileage may vary on these complaints if you're a city planning genius, a build order wizard, a god of Civilization warfare, etc. I've played three games of Civ VI so far (Egypt, Japan, England/Britain), and lost the first two of these.
However, this relates to a criticism of the game: it doesn't explain anything, and makes itself difficult by not giving you enough information, among other things. The tutorial and advisor only tell you general obvious principles, rather than giving you any kind of numbers, and the Civilopedia is the same way - actual hard numbers are hard to come by in this game, like the adjacency bonuses, and while there are third-party fan diagrams showing the relationships of adjacency bonuses and terrain and buildings, it's a little wrong that fan-made gameplay aids should be necessary to play the game effectively. The game needs to provide more information
, and what information there is in-game is mostly historical information (like a biography of the leader character) or general-terms marketing speak about the civilisations ripped from the promotional materials rather than gameplay info.
First, though, let's start with positives:
- The widening of cities with districts and wonders taking up physical tiles on the map is the biggest change - and it's a good change. You have to think a whole lot more carefully about where you're building things now - and megacities with tons of Wonders in one place are actually bad for you now, because every Wonder takes up a tile that would otherwise be producing food or Production. This encourages you to actually have Wonders spread around your empire, and to specialise cities for different purposes, rather than the old style 'every city ends up with maximum population and every building and your capital has all the wonders of the world build next to one another'.
- Changes to warfare are good, as the map-covering Civ units can now be stacked into combined arms forces of different kinds. Each unit feels more significant, now, with promotions and experience being much more valuable than in previous games. Warfare now feels more like warfare, flows faster, and is more decisive. The rock-paper-scissors has been increased, which is good or bad depending on your point of view. Strategic bombing is now possible due to the widened cities, as are proper, vicious city battles for control of different districts and parts of cities, which can get to be real meatgrinders.
- The Eureka system and Great People feel a lot more dynamic and interesting. The Eurekas really encourage you to play towards your goals, and somewhat prevent the 'science civilisation' sitting back and being hypothetically amazing at warfare while never having actually fought a war in their history, for example. Great People now do different things depending on who they are, rather than always having a predictable standard effect, and you can aim for individuals - and must compete with other states to bribe or attract them now, rather than just being generated equally and randomly for all civilisations by gaining points.
- The choice of leaders and themes for most civilisations has been shaken up, and most of their special abilities and foci have been changed from Civ V, which is refreshing. They've taken more risks and made each civilisation much more powerful at their own special focus, as well as giving each of them a more distinct personality. I found this made it more interesting, at least.
- The Civics 'tech tree' and the Policy Cards system, for forming your government, is miles better than the Policy track in Civ V, in my opinion - it lets you set goals less rigidly in the same way as when you advance tech, rather than just check-boxing through each social policy and ending up with a limited number of builds. There's a lot more variety now in governments you'll see and possible strategies, and changing up your goals and needs and the focuses of your government is now possible, rather than being stuck with whatever you started with in the Bronze Age forever.
- Spies as units on the map are back and can do a lot more than just steal tech.
- City-state diplomacy no longer revolves entirely around giving them cash.
- It's still a Civ game. I'm still staying up way too late playing to see my next wonder completed or next goal achieved.
Now... here come the negatives.
- The AI, even on the easiest difficulty settings, still blatantly doesn't have to follow the same rules as the player. It is pretty apparent that either the AI does not pay maintenance for its structures or military units, or can 'pop' them into existence on a timer which varies depending on game difficulty, rather than having to build and maintain them as normal. The same -might- apply to generating culture and science and faith, but it's less obvious, if so. Even the city-states with empty territories and single small cities can afford to maintain vast armies that move around the map in huge synchronised formations when a war is declared, while a player with several well-developed cities might struggle to even keep a single garrison unit in each one without going into negative income. This links in with the below problem about barbarians: the barbarians not only mostly ignore the AI, but the AI has big enough armies of its own to match the barbarians.
- The barbarians. YE GODS, the barbarians! Unlike its predecessors, Civ VI lacks a setting for the aggression and power of barbarians, only 'on' or 'off'. There are several problems with barbarians: for one thing, their free unit spawning is far too much, leading to barbarian camps shitting out vast armies in the time it takes the player to build one unit of spearmen. Now, these armies don't conquer your cities, or anything, but the 'sack of Rome' as all your districts are destroyed is constant and inevitable: made worse by the fact that the barbarians are now always on the technological cutting edge, and always possess the best units available. As soon as one civilisation discovers a technology, all barbarians will upgrade to it, globally. So if one civilisation rushed for knights, or something, on the other side of the world, but your civilisation is still using ancient-era spearmen and slingers... Gods help you, you're going to be steamrolled. They have more units than you, for free, and more advanced technology too. The first game I won, and the first game I actually enjoyed, was the one where I turned off the Barbarians.
- The tech tree has reintroduced problems in older Civ games that were mostly removed by Civ V. It's all too easy to leave a particular technology behind, especially if the Eureka requirement that halves the research time - which you're expected to chase to successfully research a tech - is unfeasible for you, or requires other technologies much more advanced than the one you're researching. So the old chestnut of older Civ games where you've got WWI fighter planes before you've even invented steam power and discovered coal (which happened to me in my England game), or lots of wheeled units before you even invented the wheel (which happened in my Japan game), is back - the most infamous, that even reviewers pointed out, is that you can be a spacefaring civilisation with a mission to Mars under construction, but you still have to go back and research a ton of technologies leading from the Castle centuries before to develop nuclear power plants...
- Speaking of the tech tree, the AI has some idiosyncrasies that can make it altogether too easy to beat in war in some circumstances. It rarely upgrades its units, preferring instead to only produce new ones and add to its ever-growing infinite maintenance-free swarms. My three units of British Redcoats mowed down horde after horde of Russian Heavy Chariots - well over 30 units - which attacked me when the Russians decided to invade, and I know the Russians weren't technologically behind, because they brought some more up-to-date cavalry, artillery and infantry with them. The AI loves chariots. It REALLY loves chariots. And it will only stop having chariots when you've killed all of their chariots and it only pops newer unit types instead.
- Diplomacy, in addition to the World Congress and diplomatic victories being removed, is... eh. It's very difficult to befriend anyone, because with the Agenda system, they'll pretty much always have a reason to hate you, especially as the AI largely hates you for being successful - though it might be scared of you - and will always opportunistically declare war if you are weak compared to them, to seize any Wonders you have built.
- There's also one glaring issue with this: government types. There are ten government types, nine of which are selectable, and broadly they split into the three autocracy/democracy/communism categories from Civ V. Trouble is: if another nation has any other government to your own, they have a significant relations penalty with you, instantly. So... eight times out of nine - and a standard game has 7 civilisations plus the player - you're not going to be able to make any deals or have friendship with other civs, because they have a different government type than yours, and this means they hate you. Expect to play this one going it alone - the game gives far too many reasons for other civs to dislike you and too few for them to like you.
- As mentioned above, the game doesn't give you enough information at all to base your decisions on. The interface is pretty, streamlined, and utterly lacking in actually giving you hard data on anything. It all seems designed to push you towards chasing victory conditions from turn 1, with the only national comparison info available merely telling you how your nation ranks in the race to the four victory conditions, without even explaining why.
- Minor niggle: getting a Religion is very tricky unless the fates align and you have the right resources next to your capital city or you're playing one of the Religious civilisations. It's very situational. But this might be a holdover from Civ V mentality where you -needed- a religion to succeed due to the buffs - my England didn't get one, and I won that game anyway.
- Roads are now made automatically by trade routes over time, which is nice. But it means roads can ONLY be made via trade routes between cities. You can't choose to build roads manually anymore, or choose the route of the road. I liked connecting up my empire for efficient warfare, or even building military roads to help invasions. No more.
- If I thought hard about it or played more I'd probably come up with more negatives, but these above are the ones that really bother me even after I stop playing and thus stick in my mind.
Overall: I feel the game has potential, but needs patching -badly-, and probably expansions. But currently, that potential isn't realised, and it is inferior to Civ V BNW, doubly so modded Civ V BNW. It IS however better and more complete than Civ V was on release, and in my opinion, anyone who tells you otherwise is conflating vanilla, release Civ V with their later G&K and BNW experiences.
I rate Civilization VI a 'C-
'. My recommendation? Wait for patches, wait for sales, or wait for the first expansion. It is currently a passable game, with some clear improvements over Civ V BNW, and feels like it could be so much more... but it isn't yet.