Moments of Inertia by Rachel Crawford

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The Next Civilization Game Sounds Okay

I tend to complain about the Civilization games whenever they come up. I really want to love them (and other 4X games), but every installment has some elements that just feel wrong, making the overall experience long, boring, frustrating and unfulfilling.

Civilization VI was just revealed by Firaxis and pegged for an October release, and the way the designers say they’re shaking up the formula has really piqued my interest: every change mentioned in Rock, Paper, Shotgun’s details splurge and PC Gamer’s addresses a problem I have with Civilization V (and, by extension, the others).

I’m not getting hyped, or anything sticky like that, but I think about strategy games a lot - particularly the elusive and mysterious creature that is the 4X-I-Find-Enjoyable - so I am getting intrigued.

Civ 6 screenshot 1

The revised way that city improvements work, to begin with, places an emphasis on the terrain and on bringing information into the main playing-space of the game, the map, where it should be. In previous installments cities work like Bags of Holding for libraries, factories and other buildings, while the countryside surrounding them transforms from a wilderness into an ugly mash of tile improvements. Every city ends up looking more of less the same: a one-hex blob of buildings (sprouting the occasional world wonder) in a field of farms, plantations and mines. The Civ VI system, in which city tile improvements are ‘districts’ (e.g. campus) in which buildings of that district’s type (e.g. library, university, research lab) are built, ought to be more pleasant to look at, more readable and more strategically engaging. Win, win, win.

From the screenshots it still looks like regular tile improvements like farmland are in, although they seem less densely-clustered. How the district system plays with invasion and pillaging going on also hasn’t been explained.

Civ 6 screenshot 1

Technology is the next big thing on my list. I haven’t really pinned down what I want from a Civilization technology system yet, but the Civ I through V’s ‘You put the Science Points in and get the Gunpowder out’ approach definitely isn’t it. In my experience I just end up researching everything on the tree one-by-one and there’s never any real reason to do anything more nuanced, like prioritizing specific branches, trading tech with other players or stealing it from them.

Civ VI’s system biases civilizations towards learning certain technologies through their environment and what they do. Y’know, like real civilizations. Examples given: Coastal cities give a bonus to research speed for sailing tech, and having a quarry or two will provide a boost to learning masonry. This is cool and how it should be.

I like the sound of faster and more focused game modes for both singleplayer and multiplayer. Games of Civ just take too damn long, and it’s nice to have specific objectives sometimes, especially for multiplayer.

They’ve also said they’re overhauling diplomacy but haven’t given any details. In my opinion they’d have to try pretty hard to make it worse, so I’m looking forward to positive changes in that area, too.

There are other details but I’ve less strong thoughts about them, like overhauls to the way the military works. I like that they’re sticking to the one-unit-per-hex system, and stuff like embedded units and formations are probably going to be welcome additions/changes.

Civ 6 screenshot 1

Finally, I dig the bright, colourful and simple art direction they’re going for this time around. For some reason Civ V makes my eyes hurt after even a short time playing. If VI is as easy on the eyes as the screenshots are, I might be inclined to judge it more fairly. (EDIT: This article on IGN about the art direction is very encouraging.)

I have so many questions I want answered, though: Will there be global warming and climate change1? Pollution, engaged with? The Internet, meaningfully included? A satisfying endgame to make everything preceding it fully worthwhile?

Will this be the Civ game I love?

(The screenshots were shamelessly poached from PC Gamer. Thanks, PC Gamer!)

  1. I wonder if you can eliminate yourself from the game through bad decisions this time around. Probably not, but how civilizations collapse is just as fascinating as how they rise, and one of these days I’de like to see a Civ or Civ-like game try to reflect that by not always being about the inexorable ascent. Sometimes a survival story is what you’re looking for, not a power fantasy. 

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