As is tradition, early access codes for Civilization VI went out to the press last week. Mike and I both received access, and we've been playing it as much as possible.
After a week of gameplay and a bunch of restarts, Mike and I have some thoughts on the strategy game Firaxis hopes will dominate PC for the next five years.
Changing The Game
Kat Bailey, Senior Editor: Firaxis has a tough task ahead of them: Update a classic formula without alienating the fans who play the series religiously. Most studios would be pretty conservative about this; but after six entries, it seems like Firaxis wants to get experimental. Having now spent a bunch of time with Civilization VI, would do you think of these additions, Mike?
Mike Williams, News Editor: I'm big fan of expanding the cities outwards from the tight hubs they used to be on the world map. It's a great idea implemented in other 4X titles that I feel fits in Civilization quite well. I was looking forward to it from a tactical perspective: being able to pillage certain areas of a city's production directly without attacking the city center and planning out your city's focus based on location.
I was surprised to find that I really enjoy it from a visual perspective as well. There's something amazing about seeing your city slowly expand outward. Before, amenities and luxuries would fill the space around your city center, a farm here or a mine there, but you're only real visual connection to your growth was the outline of influence and the density of your city center. Here, every tile can be filled with something. Perhaps it's still a mine or farm, but more likely, you're city tiles will be filled with a special district or city wonder.
It gives you a bird's eye view of what a city is doing, without having to necessarily dive into a menu. Does it lack granular detail from a data perspective? Sure, but you can get the gist and frankly, the city art is amazingly detailed. It's like a tiny city diorama playing out in front of you. Did you twig to the expanded cities like I did, Kat?
Kat: Yeah, I like them. They make you think strategically about your tile improvements so that you're not wasting valuable builders. And like you said, they make for a visually vibrant map. Your mention of pillaging a city a district at a time reminds me of how much nastier barbarians are in this game. They're everywhere! I suppose that makes sense in the historical context; but without the ability to attack with your city, you have to be really vigilant about building guard units. Recon units and slingers make for a good one-two punch in that regard.
Mike: I agree. The barbarians are not only rather strong, they're ever-present. I thought I had cleaned up the locals, only to find they had settled in a different spot. This happened again and again. I think my culmination was when barbarians attacked a city I had recently conquered in a battleship. I boxed them in and bombed them to hell. Never found out where they were coming from that time.
On The Art Style
Kat: On the subject of visual fidelity, I'm curious what you think of the new art style? I can see how it comes off as overly cartoony in screenshots—one reader likened it to a free-to-play mobile game—but in motion it has a vibrant and painterly quality that really stands out to me. I'm an especially big fan of the fog of war that looks like an ancient map, complete with old "Here be Dragons" illustrations." What do you think, Mike?
Mike: I like it. It's a bit less realistic than previous titles, but I'll be damned if there isn't an amazing amount of detail present in the animations. Seeing two tiny knights jousting in my entertainment district, a pack mule pulling ore from a mine, or the flags ruffling in the breeze over an amphitheatre, you can't really look at this in motion and say Firaxis' art team isn't putting in the work. I expect they were aiming at the diorama feel I was talking about earlier. You may prefer the older art style, but I'm really digging the more vibrant art and animation in Civilization VI.
My mental jury is still out on the Civ leaders though. They're impressively detailed, but I still find myself missing the visual changes between eras. Of course, that hasn't factored into the game since Civilization III, so that's one of the ideas I just have to leave behind. It's just odd breaking bread with Frederick Barbarossa in the modern era and having him sitting there in full plate armor.
Speaking of Civ leaders, I have a few questions. Who did you choose for your first game and what do you think about Firaxis' leader choices overall? And what interesting interactions did you have with the new, more driven Civs?