After the Review: The Frustration of Civilization VI's Diplomacy

After the Review: The Frustration of Civilization VI's Diplomacy

What do you do when your AI neighbors seem to hate you no matter what?

"After the Review" follows up on games shortly after their release. Did they make the right decisions? How are the fans reacting? We examine those questions and more. You can read our full review of Civilization VI here.

No matter what I seem to do, I just can't seem to placate Philip II. He's been denouncing me every chance he's had, nipping at my leg like a manic labradoodle despite being two full eras behind me in technology. And my other neighbors haven't been much better.

Such is diplomacy in Civilization VI, where there's seemingly no rhyme nor reason to how AI leaders will react to you on a given turn. Put a foot wrong, and there's a good chance they will hate you forever, no matter how much you try to make nice with them. And heaven help you if you do anything to upset their individual agendas.

Suffice it to say, diplomacy has proven to be a contentious issue in this otherwise successful update to Civilization. The community has been trying to puzzle out the various factors that impact diplomacy since launch, with varying degrees of success. No one seems sure how to reliably get in the AI's good graces.

The confusion is exacerbated by a murky UI that only provides some information. As current constructed, Civilization VI shows you a little bar depicting where your relationship stands, as well as items that are helping or hurting your standing. But that's only a small part of the story.

One user on CivFanatics explains, "What appears to be the case is there is a hidden number that represents your relationship with the civ. Any + - you see on screen is the change per turn. So if it's -16 that means you are losing 16 influence per turn. This is totally different from Civ 4 or Civ 5 and it was only after a ton of scratching my head that I figured it out. The diplo screen offers no clues that this is how it works."

In other words, positive and negative actions have a continuous impact on your relationships. Not only that, but negative actions like going to war seem to be weighted much more heavily than positive moves like giving gifts. What this all boils down to is that going to war through normal channels won't help much, if at all. If you declare war, you have to be prepared for other Civs to hate you.

This is frustrating in instances where you're clearly being provoked, but the cost of going to war is too high. It dramatically limits your options and makes going to war almost a non-starter if you're pursuing strong relationships with your neighbors. Unfortunately, anyone who has ever played Civilization knows that sometimes you have to go to war, especially in the early part of the game.

But even if you take care not to go to war, you can still find yourself in the bad graces of your rivals. Friendly relationships can go sour quickly as the AI grouses about everything from your cities being too close to their borders to your lack of religious faith. And if they get upset, seemingly nothing will make them happy. Sometimes they'll praise you for your piousness one turn, then complain that you're a heretic just a few turns later.

Some of the blame rests with Civilization VI's complicated new systems, which gives AI leaders agendas that they will pursue relentlessly. Sandwiched between Philip II and Tomyris, I was constantly harangued for not being religious enough, then praised for being pious, then harrassed again. In the meantime, Frederick Barbarossa was upset with me because I was dealing with the nearby city states, and because I had a different system of government. All three spent the bulk of my game hovering between being unfriendly and outright hostile.

In some ways, this is fine. After all, the AI is meant to be a rival, and there's a long and bloody history of warfare between neighboring powers with opposing agendas. But after all of Firaxis's talk about mitigating the cost of going to war, Civilization VI's warmongering penalties seem to be worse than ever. There are just too many ways to anger your neighbors, and not enough ways to make them happy. Even outright bribery with money and other gifts isn't enough. Obviously, some conflict is inevitable, but that doesn't make Civilization VI's lack of diplomatic feedback any less frustrating.

Thankfully, these issues probably don't need a full-blown expansion to address. A patch should be suficient to rebalance the impact of the negative diplomatic penalties, as well as the agendas. It won't fix the confusing interface, but it'll be a start.

In the meantime, don't get too comfortable with your neighbors. Even if they seem nice enough, you never know when they're going to turn on you.

Does diplomacy ruin Civilization VI?

Ultimately, this is nothing new for Civilization, which tends to need an expansion or two to really get up to speed. Civilization V veterans will happily tell you what a hot mess that game was before the Brave New World expansion arrived. Thankfully, Civilization VI is in much better shape.

Diplomacy aside, Civilization VI introduces a lot of really interesting wrinkles to the classic formula, reimagining everything from the way builders work to the balance of the tech tree. Districts are fanastic in the way they force you to take into account how you use the map, and the policies are a neat way to build up your government. I started a new game over the weekend and found myself completely hooked as I raced to colonize Mars while fending off my jealous opponents.

For Civilization VI, the complicated systems that make it so appealing are also its biggest achilles heel. Ultimately, it can be difficult to impossible to get everything balanced from the outset, and even the best games usually need a few patches to get everything clicking. Thankfully, Civilization VI's issues with diplomacy are only irritating, not game-breaking, and can mostly be played around if you know what you're doing. Mostly, you just have to worry about the odd declaration of war, which will become inevitable as you get closer to the endgame.

As Mike wrote in his review, Civilization VI is on pretty solid ground this time around, which is a relief after the issues that faced Civilization V, but that doesn't mean there's no room for improvement. When Firaxis starts in on their next round of content, diplomacy should definitely be their number one priority.

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Kat Bailey

Editor in Chief

Kat Bailey is a former freelance writer and contributor to publications including 1UP, IGN, GameSpot, GamesRadar, and EGM. Her fondest memories as a journalist are at GamePro, where she hosted RolePlayer's Realm and had legal access to the term "Protip." She is USgamer's resident mecha enthusiast, Pokemon Master, and Minnesota Vikings nut (skol).

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