My first full day with Civilization VI, I started the game up around 7pm, intending to give the game a spin. When I looked up at the clock again, it was 4am.
Civilization VI still has that 4X magic.
For many veteran players reading this review, let's dispense with the question you want answered: Is Civilization VI better than Civilization V with all of its expansions. I'd say yes. It's a worthy upgrade for the franchise, with some new ideas and many of the returning mechanics. Are there features missing? Sure, but nothing as major as the jump from Civilization IV to Civilization V. Civ VI hits the ground running.
The biggest change is the easiest to see in screenshots and videos. Civilization VI has expanded cities outwards. Before, every city occupied a single tile with a border of influence that would slowly expand outward. Now, the city center is a single tile, but any enhancements are built within the border of influence. This includes tile improvements, World Wonders, and the new districts.
In older Civilization titles, you'd craft buildings that would improve a specific aspects of a city's production: a Market to improve Gold generation, a Monument to produce Culture, or Shrine to create Faith. Now, many of these buildings are separate districts, so you choose a tile within your city's border and build. Each district benefits from the terrain it is placed on and adjacent to. The Campus is the Science-improving district and it benefits from being placed adjacent to Mountains or Rainforests. You can build a district on any tile, but Civilization VI urges you to maximize those bonuses to win. This is kicked up a notch with World Wonders, many of which require specific tiles to be built at all.
This new method makes the placement of cities much more important than it was in previous Civilizations. In prior games, you cared where you placed your city to maximize food and production based on the tiles within your city borders. In Civ VI, city placement can and will determine what your city ultimately produces. If you build near the coast, you should probably plan to have a Harbor, which works very well with the Commercial Hub district. If you're near a mountain range, you probably want to build a Campus or Holy Site to take advantage of the bonuses.
Expanding the cities adds an additional layer of strategy to city placement that I found enjoyable when Endless Legend did it in 2014. The difference here is that Endless Legend's city and district system was far more rigid than what Civilization VI has here. There's more room to play around with city composition.
Another major change is splitting the tech tree. In Civilization VI, there's now a Technology tree and a Civics tree. The technology tree is still where you research new units, improvements, and abilities, while things related to government and religion have been moved into the Civics Tree.
Old Civilization V technologies like Drama and Poetry, Philosophy, and Theology? That's all in the Civics tree now. In previous games, focusing on these technologies would come at the expense of more concrete techs like Construction, Iron Working, or Education. It was also pretty hard to hit a Cultural Victory, as Science would tend to outpace culture. This change allows players to pursue changes to government and religion, while still making sure their infrastructure is sound.
Pound for pound, Civilization VI stacks up well against the launch versions of previous games. It's launching with a total of 20 leaders across 19 civilizations, putting it 2 leaders ahead of Civilization V. A number of these choices are pretty interesting, like the inclusion of Catherine de Medici for France, Queen Gorgo for Greece, or Trajan for Rome. Every leader retains a unique bonus and every Civilization has an unique ability, unit, and building.
There is a "new feature" in the form Leader agendas, with each leader having two codified goals. I put new feature in quotes because each leader had agendas and playstyles in previous Civilizations, they just weren't as visible as they are in Civ VI. Leaders lean hard into their agenda in this game, meaning how you play is largely a reaction to which leaders you're up against. Pedro II of Spain loves spreading his religion, so if he's on your board and you're aiming for a religious victory, he'll fight you very quickly. Likewise, Qin Shi Huang of China hates civilizations that build a ton of Wonders.
Most of the victory conditions from Civilization V make a return, with the full list including Science, Domination, Religious, Culture, and Score. Religion replaces the Diplomatic victory from Civilization V, marking one of the larger removals from that game: the World Congress. Trading, espionage, and diplomacy are still around, but Firaxis was unhappy with how the World Congress worked last time around, hence the replacement. I still find the Cultural victory condition to be somewhat obtuse compared to something like the Science or Domination victory, but that's a holdover from Civilization V, not anything new to this version.
Do I have other problems with the new Civilization? Sure, but they trend to be smaller niggling details here and there. You can't rename cities at all, which was part of the fun. I'm still missing Cultural Conversion, allowing players to annex cities via culture production, which has been absent since Civilization IV. The late game turns still seem to take a long time as the AI decides what to do.
Barbarians are far more ever-present in Civilization VI and they scale with each era. I recall running into a barbarian battleship in the Modern Era, long after I thought I had gotten rid of every barbarian. They're like G.I. Joe's COBRA, amassing infinite power and material from some undisclosed location. You can't let them go; if you see a Barbarian Scout, you need to clean it up, because if it returns back to its camp, it'll spawn a Barbarian army to raze your cities. I like that Barbarians remain a part of the game, but they take up a bit too much of early play in my opinion. Sadly, there's no way to tweak them; they're either on or off.
On certain resolutions, UI scaling doesn't work. The game was obviously made for the UI to be seen at 1080p, so anything above that has text that's too small. There's also certain bits of the UI that hide information that should be readily available.
I've spent just over a 1,000 words on Civilization VI in this review and I've yet to touch the overall presentation aspect of the game. It's a stunner in my opinion. Some have hit back on the game because it lacks the more realistic look of Civilization VI, but I find it works well. When you zoom in, the cities and improvements are impressively detailed. Birds fly, flags wave in the breeze, and donkeys haul ore out of mines. The game in full zoom in looks like a tiny diorama of a city. And when you zoom out, the new city expansion system gives you a good idea of what each city is producing without looking at menus.
The game's audio is equally up to snuff. Sean Bean does all of the voiceovers in the game and though some of the lines aren't great in delivery, his voice adds some gravitas to the game overall. The soundtrack is amazing. Sogno di Volare is no Baba Yetu, but it's a great, rousing theme for the entire game. Every civilization has their own unique theme that rings out while you're playing and that theme evolves as you transition across each era. The music also dynamically mixes as you meet new civilizations, giving each game its own aural fingerprint.
Civilization VI is a worthy follow-up to the name. Firaxis has crafted solid ground to build upon, marking what I feel is the best vanilla version in the franchise's history. I'm looking forward to seeing what the team will add to the game in the future, but for now, you can uninstall Civilization V and buy VI with confidence. This is every bit the game that will make you want to take one more turn.
Just watch out for Gandhi, I hear he might still be pretty nuke-happy.
The UI has a few issues here and there. UI scaling is off above 1080p and certain information is hidden behind menus.
It's Civilization. You'll pour hours into this game until the next Civilization launches.
Sogno di Volare is no Baba Yetu, but it's a great, rousing theme for the entire game.
The graphics might seem simpler at first glance, but that's because you're missing all the amazing little details the art team added.
Civilization VI is a worthy sequel for the franchise. Firaxis has crafted the best vanilla version in the franchise's history, with a host of leaders, a great soundtrack, some keen art direction, and new features like the city expansion. There's not much missing this time around and I look forward to seeing what Firaxis adds to an already amazing game.