Civilization VI review

The Civilization games have been the pinnacle of 4x strategy games for a quarter of a century. Civilization VI continues that strong tradition while striking a good balance between innovation and continuity. For a seasoned player it feels familiar enough that you will feel comfortable in many of its systems but still have plenty to discover.

A great addition to the game is city districts. These take up physical space on the map which differentiates them from earlier Civ games where everything was built within a city. Depending on the placement of each district you will receive bonuses to their output. For example, if a holy site is adjacent to a mountain it provides additional faith. This means that early planning is key. A holy site in the early game might slightly boost your religion but might have been better used for an industrial district later in the game. Furthermore, when a district is placed it takes away the yield of the tile it’s built on. This makes placement even more complex as a commercial district might boost gold output but remove food and production from a tile. This produces some frustration in the first couple of play throughs but once you get used to what districts you like and what placements seem to work it feels more rewarding than standard Civ V city building.

The game also seems to have more consistent purpose throughout with the addition of city-state quests as well as eureka and inspiration moments. City-states will grant you envoys if you satisfy certain requirements throughout the game. As you acquire more envoys the city-states will grant you resource bonuses and, if you have the controlling share of envoys in the city-state, a unique bonus. Similarly, technologies and civics can be boosted by accomplishing minor tasks. These bonuses are usually worthwhile enough to actively pursue. This is a great addition as it gives small milestones for players to strive for. Even in the late game, there are always minor tasks to complete on your way to your larger end game goal which kept me interested longer than I would have been in Civ V.

One potential weakness to the city-state envoy system is that it is often slightly unfair. If you’re the first player to find a city-state then you are automatically granted their first tier bonus. This means that spawn location can hugely benefit some players while disadvantaging others. For example, if a player spawns geographically closer to a city-state that grants +2 faith per turn, then they will have an unreasonably large advantage in religion over other players. It could put them 10–15 turns in front in the religious part of the game through no planning or skill of their own. This is a concerning balance issue and one that I think needs to be addressed in upcoming patches.

The new great person system is easier to understand and track but the great people themselves are often underpowered and seldom worth the effort to actively pursue barring a few standouts. There is now an excellent panel which tells you exactly how close you are to acquiring every great person and how many points per turn you are earning towards them. This is a big step up from having to individually click on each city in Civ V to see if it was close to producing one. However, often the benefits of each great person are mediocre. It’s common to find a great person that simply offers a single eureka moment for a technology that you weren’t all that interested in anyway. Better great people will provide flat boosts to wonder production or science and I found myself looking out for them much more frequently. Great people are often only useful as side effects of other buildings which often reduces their importance and detracts from their significance.

A good addition to the game is the new civics system which replaces Civ 5’s social policies. Although I liked Civ 5’s social policy system it was unbalanced; liberty, tradition and rationalism were almost always the best trees to fill out. In Civ VI, you’re now able to change bonuses periodically according to the needs of your empire with more slots unlocking as you progress through the game and adopt new forms of government. This allows you to adapt to situations more easily and is a good balance to the district system which makes cities more rigid. While I don’t think it’s better than the old social policies system I do think it’s balancing of the district system makes it a smart addition.

Unfortunately for Civ VI the AI has not improved and in some ways is worse than the current version of Civ 5. At any difficulty beyond Prince, I found that the AI would almost always choose to rush me with hordes of cheap military units before turn 50 or 60. This is even more annoying as their forces are very rarely threatening enough to actually destroy you (particularly since you almost always know it’s coming). As such, all they really achieve is forcing you to turn your focus away from science, culture and religion and towards war just as you’re finding momentum. Inevitably you will repel the AI’s attack at which point the only way to stay in the game is to counter attack and take their cities to make your new military units worth the sacrifice of other resources. This made the early game play out very similarly in most games I played. The AI is never smarter than you and always relies on either superior numbers or their boosts to tech and production to keep up with you. I acknowledge that Civ is an extremely complex game that would be incredibly difficult to program a great AI for. This does not change the fact that the AI are usually a huge pain in the ass though.

Civilization VI is not a perfect game and in its current state is no better than Civ V. It does offer variety and interesting takes on old systems that definitely make it worth playing. It’s also great value for money, with almost infinite replay value coming from its random map generation and variety of civilizations and leaders. I can highly recommend it to any fan of strategy games. My advice is, find a friend and play hot seat mode together. That way the AI seems less annoying as you can focus on each other. I’m giving Civ VI a 9/10 and fully expect to still be playing it by the time Civ VII comes out.