One of my most played games of all time is Sid Meier’s Civilization V. Wednesday’s announcement that the next entry in the franchise will be launching on October 21 of this year means that after Uncharted 4 launched on Tuesday, Persona 5 got to spend only a little more than 24 hours at the top of my most anticipated games list. But more importantly it means that the seminal turn based strategy franchise is getting a new numbered entry this year, the first one since 2010. The Civilization franchise has seen its ups and downs over this time period. Civilization V was a great but admittedly flawed game at launch. Two expansion packs, Gods & Kings and Brave New World, turned the tide for this game and elevated it to the level of Civilization IV: Beyond the Sword. Then the spin-off entry, Civilization: Beyond Earth, failed to create its own identity and just felt like a worse version of Civ V. It’s expansion pack, Rising Tide, made the game better, but not good enough to make me and a lot of other people move on from Brave New World. This means that Civilization VI has something to prove. It needs to convince people that they shouldn’t just wait for the complete edition four years from now. They need to provide a launch experience that is better than the current state of Civ V. Polygon interviewed lead designer Ed Beach, and it appears that Civ VI might finally be the Civ game to nail it at launch.
There is an elephant in the room when discussing Civilization VI, and that is the art style. I have to admit, I don’t love it. But I don’t hate it either. It looks a little too much like a free to play mobile game and in no way looks like a step up from Civ V. However, we have only seen super zoomed in screenshots, the cartoony art style might help the game run on lower powered PCs, and the art style is the last thing I care about in a Civ game. Plus, we have no idea what the UI or the leader screens look like. If the game ends up looking like the next version of Civ Rev I won’t be thrilled, but I’m fine with what we’ve seen so far.
In terms of content at release, I hope that Civ VI doesn’t fall into the same trap that V did. Ed Beach is working as the the lead designer on the game after he did a fantastic job with both of Civ V’s expansions. I have faith in him to realize what worked in that game and what didn’t and how to improve upon that formula without going back to basics the way Civ V did. We know that trade, religion, and espionage will be in the game at launch. These were the primary focuses of the expansions last time around, so it is nice to know that these systems will be in the game from day one this time. This also means that the inevitable expansions can hopefully build upon the game instead of just bringing it back to level of its predecessor.
The main system being added to Civilization VI is districts. The idea is that you can place 12 districts around your city which focus on things such as research, military, industry, etc. You then place buildings on these hexes as opposed to them just being in your city. I like the added city management aspects this brings, as well as the additional usefulness it adds to pillaging opponents lands. There is also a heavy focus on geographical locations tied into this. You can only build certain buildings in certain environments, and this extends to wonders. I’m not sure how crazy I am about the wonder restrictions because of how powerful some wonders can be in Civ V, but it can work if they balance it correctly.
This focus on geographical location transitions over to research instead. You can perform certain tasks in the world based on your location in order to speed up research of certain technologies. The example given in the Polygon article is that you find stone, build a quarry, and then get 50% of the science needed to research masonry.
On the AI side, different civilizations will have “historical agendas”. If you let them proceed with their agendas, then they will be friendly towards you. If you try to get in the way of their agenda, then they will be less friendly towards you. Assuming that all of this information is clearly presented, it sounds like a more dynamic version of Civ V diplomacy.
All of these systems seem to fit into a larger theme of adaptability. Based on your starting locations or the civs you go up against, you will have to change your strategy. This stops you from getting into a set rhythm with each game you play. This could do a great job of making each game more unique and causing you to think on your toes a bit more. However, they have to do a good job of balancing all of this. They need to make every starting location viable so you don’t end up just re-rolling to get the perfect start. Of course, we won’t know whether or not they can pull this off, but consider me cautiously optimistic about these changes.
Another change they are making is to the combat. Civ V removed the unit stacking mechanic that previous entries had in order to make the combat more tactical. It worked, but it wasn’t a perfect system. It often led to a lot of micromanaging as well as the infamous carpet of doom. Civ VI allows limited and specialized unit stacking, such as the combination of multiple infantry units or the placement of an anti-tank gun with an infantry unit. This seems to be the best of both worlds, removing the micromanaging of Civ V without removing the strategy. It also might give more use to units such as the anti-tank gun which were fairly irrelevant in Civ V.
Despite any fears that I may have about the final product, I am super excited that there’s a new Civ game coming out this year. I look forward to obsessing over every screenshot and video released over the next few months, trying to figure out which civs are in the game, what the UI looks like, etc. Civ has a history of being mediocre at launch and great a few years later. Here’s to hoping that Civ VI bucks this trend.