Civilization VI had a strong launch and reviewed very well, but in November 2017, Civilization V—a 2010 video game—is more popular on Steam than its more modern successor.
That’s as much a testament to Civ V’s excellence as any shortcomings to be found in Civ VI, but the fact remains that once the initial buzz from the new game’s release had died down, many fans preferred to stick with a seven year-old title rather than something new and supposedly improved.
There’s no problem with that! Civ V is an absolute masterpiece that has some big expansions under its belt, visuals that still look good today, a vibrant mod community and a fanbase with almost a decade of familiarity with its systems and UI.
And it’s not like Civ VI is a failure. For a turn-based strategy game to be sitting that high on Steam’s top games list is an achievement in this age of games as service and battles royale, and were Civ V not more popular I probably wouldn’t be here noticing anything at all.
But I am, because there’s been a lingering sense among Civ VI’s community that while the game introduced some very cool new features—like Districts, whose design is almost a game within a game—it was also sorely lacking in a number of areas that after hundreds of hours of play grew to frustrate and disappoint experienced players.
Those issues include things like the AI sucking. The game’s diplomacy is a step backwards from Civ V’s. Pacing feels off, the user interface is a mess, many of the endgames are hollow and unfulfilling and Civ VI’s communication (what it tells you about the world and how urgently it passes this along) is all over the place.
Basically, as was the case with Civ V, fans could see the promise in Civ VI, but knew it would take a few years of expansions and updates to really nail the experience.
Yesterday's announcement of Civ VI’s first major expansion, Rise & Fall, is Firaxis’ first attempt at addressing that. And it meets many of fans’ biggest complaints head-on.
Rise & Fall is a bit of a surprise because it revisits a number of older Civilization ideas, like Golden Ages and city loyalty, and reworks them into systems that seem far more important to the core of the game than simply being minor events taking place at the periphery.
Of the new stuff it’s adding, Governors have me most excited. The idea of assigning a specific unit to oversee a settlement’s theme and production is nothing new within the genre (Endless Space 2, for example, does them very well), but I’m excited to put them to work in Civ, especially since I’m someone who likes to theme their cities anyway (assigning very specific roles for each one).
I’m also keen to see how the more meaty alliances work. Diplomacy, both for its random nature and limited applications, is one of Civ VI’s weakest aspects, but the new alliance system—which grows stronger over time, grants perks and allows for specific bonds (like research alliance, military ties, etc)—will hopefully make friendship a thing actually worth pursuing in the game.
Other new stuff includes the introduction of something completely new, an “Emergency Situation”, global scenarios that kick off when something important happens. These are designed to target runaway leaders, and sound a lot like Total War’s various endgame ideas, reworked for Civ’s slower pace. Firaxis is also beefing up the story-telling aspect of every game with a timeline that’ll show stuff like illustrations of your achievements.
It’s only the idea of “loyalty” that has me concerned, because one of the most liberating aspects of Civilization VI was that city happiness, so long a dreary and morale-sapping part of the Civ experience, had been streamlined and made less important. Loyalty reads a lot like a new name for “hapiness”, especially with how it impacts your possession of unhappy cities, so I hope it’s implementation is a lot more forgiving (and less of a hassle) than those old city-specific smiley-faces.
But hey, Civ VI needed a shot in the arm. The slow roll-out of new leaders wasn’t doing much to give the game a shot in the arm, and it felt like many fans were simply waiting on the sidelines until the game became as feature-rich and well-rounded as its predecessor.
That process begins in February 2018, and having walked away from Civ VI many months ago, it’s one I’m excited to check out.