Civilization 6 is exactly what you’d expect, and that’s no bad thing.
“This is still a game where Ghandi can turn into a homicidal maniac in possession of a significant nuclear arsenal, and that’s something probably worth keeping in mind when worrying about a too-colourful art style.”
Civilization V is a weird little release. I wouldn’t go so far as to call such a still-great game a misstep, but there’s definitely areas where I found it far inferior to its predecessor, even if it was prettier and in a few key spots smarter. Expansion packs significantly improved Civ 5 over time, and in the end I went on to log over 265 hours on the game – which is really nothing at all to sniff at.
As a result, I was obviously hugely excited to go and see Civilization VI at E3 this year; after improving significantly through the course of Civ 5’s life and iterating a little on some ideas in Beyond Earth, last year’s good-but-not-great spin-off, the team at Firaxis is hopefully ready to return and deploy that in an all-new game. It’s exciting stuff.
A game like Civilization is always a whole lot more difficult to write a preview about than, say, Mafia 3, 2K’s other offering at E3. One has explosive scenes and gunfights to describe, the other is incredibly calm and relaxed, even when at war. With that said, there’s still plenty to talk about in how much I loved what Civ 6 appears to be bringing to the table – but we’re going to have to get nerdy.
How districts work in Civilization 6
The big tent pole change to Civ 6 comes in the form of ‘Districts’, areas within your empire that you’ll now use to build improvements and house many of the works each of your cities churns out.
Where previous Civ games for the most part had you build a city, churn out and automate a few workers (let’s be fair, whoever micromanaged their workers in Civ?) and be done with it, Civ 6 wants players to make better use of the land their cities (which start only truly occupying one hexagon) slowly expand to occupy. Rather than just have these areas’ function dictated by what resources are present on them, these blocks can now be made part of a ‘district’ which will then house buildings.
Here’s an example: where in prior games you’d build a Barracks in your city and not worry about its location, in Civ 6 a barracks will be placed inside a Military District, which will be placed within the city’s boundaries on the map. Another district I got to see was an Industrial District and a Religious District – each slotting into tropes that fit with the types of buildings and upgrades you’d commonly see throughout the Civ series.
The districts are an interesting additional wrinkle in your city-planning, and of course loading up a city to be a cultural powerhouse will mean focusing on those districts and sacrificing military might and so on. Under the hood this is the same game of Civ, but the addition of districts appears to be a clever idea designed to make players think about their choices more. It does seem like in the early-game of Civ 6, which our demo focused on, there’s more actual active decision-making on the part of the player than in any previous Civ.
District placement is important, and a major strategy may become placing early-game districts that might later become obsolete sparingly and carefully, as you’ll need space later in the game – though all this is supposition on my part until I can get a good old fashioned far-too-many-hours epic-length game under my belt when the game launches.
Districts are also reflected visually: whereas previously only the likes of Wonders would significantly alter the map view of your city, districts actually appear and grow throughout the ages. An Industrial district will over hundreds of years grow to be factories and smokestacks, for instance, and so the function you’ve decided for each block of land and more broadly each city will be more obvious.
One thing that’s caused some fan ire in the weeks since Civ 6’s announcement has been its art style, though after seeing the game for a more extended period up-close and personal, I’m honestly not sure what the problem is. Yes, it’s more colourful. But its brighter, peppier art style does appear to serve a purpose: to make everything stand out a little more. Civ 5 was a little brighter than 4, and this is brighter still, but I don’t think it hurts the core of what the game is at all, and further I actually think it looks very pretty.
I’m a particularly big fan of the new fog-of-war effect, which rather than taking the form of a literal grey mass of fog as it has in the past instead simply looks like parchment; it’s map, undiscovered and undrawn on as yet. It’s a lovely touch that somehow makes this videogame look a little less gamey, even for all its splashes of not-historically-accurate colour.
This is still a game where Ghandi can turn into a homicidal maniac in possession of a significant nuclear arsenal, and that’s something probably worth keeping in mind when worrying about a too-colourful art style. Some of the new gameplay additions such as districts seem to do a great job of adding a sense of variety to the map too, something that’s very welcome when you’re staring at it for such a long time.
Civ 6 appears to be the culmination of an intensely busy time for the series. Ideas are present from Civ 4, 5, Beyond Earth and even from Civilization Revolution, the much-more-simplified console version for Xbox 360 and PS3. All these ideas seem to coming together to create something special, and something that’ll no doubt mercilessly suck another couple of hundred hours from me. I can’t say I’m surprised though; that’s Civilization in a nutshell.
Civilization 6 is due for release October 21 on PC.