In terms of playtime to cost ratio, the Civilization series has to be one of the best value titles out there. Civilization V remains a more widely played game than Civilization VI. Civ VI's Rise & Fall DLC aims to change that.
Civilization VI launched in 2016, which in terms of gaming history may make Civilization V’s September 2010 launch seem as far back as the building of the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus . But make no mistake - every iteration of Civilization packs a punch, it’s just the type of punch that sets them apart. After all, it was Civilization V that introduced hexes, city states, the revamped policy system, removed the Stacks of Doom and brought many more staples of today’s Civilization.
Once the initial hoopla around Civ V cosmetics cleared though, veteran players were left with somewhat of a lacklustre game. Not that it felt incomplete - it’s just that the awesome new features were undermined by what was basically a dumbed down version of their favourite game.
Decreased complexity helped reviewers and newbies eat it up, but veteran Civ players quietly grumbled and patiently waited on an expansion. This had nothing to do with elitism though, it’s just that they had faithfully weathered the post Civ II experimental period and the reward was a newbie-centric reminder of what could have been.
It took another two expansions to get it right - Gods and Kings rehashed some pre-hex concepts with mixed success but it’s the Brave New World DLC that hit the sweet spot and really turned Civ V into a game where the pros dwarfed the cons.
Civilization VI launched to favourable reviews. It looked great - the attention to detail on units, Great Wonders and Natural Wonders was breathtaking. Possibly the only minor visual flaw was the way fog of war was handled when compared to Civ V. The music, always a strong part of the Civilization offering, was superb and Sean Bean - while no Leonard Nimoy - was a good enough narrator.
In single player terms it turned out to be the usual Civilization fare. The game felt incomplete - or at least not complete enough to entice a majority of Civ fans to commit to the new title just yet.
Some civs, such as Norway, felt lacklustre. The AI was rubbish at attacking on land, pathetic at sea and non-existent in the air. Ancient Walls and an archer pretty much guaranteed the safety of your cities in the all-important early game as the AI witlessly trundled yet another unguarded catapult towards you. Barbarians were improved at least, but the City State mechanics were flawed simply by the fact it was nearly impossible to declare war on AIs attacking cities you were suzerain of. You couldn't look after your mates, and overpowered Horseman units made things even worse.
Tall play was extremely difficult to pull off - tall being fewer, but larger cities. Wide play was pretty much the only way to go - lots of cities, less population in them. This was simply a matter of fundamental game structure, especially in the early game.
The use of newly-introduced religious units was confusing simply because of how they were represented on screen initially. A patch-applied filter (or lens) improved this, however many players still felt religion mechanics and systems tedious and inconsequential unless you were going for that specific victory type. Dozens of god botherers moving around the map didn't for happy players make.
Then there was diplomacy. It worked like this - anyone could attack you but if you so much as took a piss against the walls of one of their cities - that was it, Warmonger penalties eternal. Essentially, you had to accept being tagged as a warmonger by AI civs even if one forward settled a city so close to your borders you could hear them snoring at night and you dared decide to do something about it.
Frustrating and entirely unacquainted with subtlety.
We're actually in favour of the Leader Agendas. It makes the AI behave in sometimes unexpected ways at least, and that is surely better than the reverse if you are looking for challenging games. Still, some people don't like them.
In summary of all things pleasing - the visuals, the music, the improved Great People system, the vastly superior trading mechanics, the civics system, tech boosts, housing, amenities - the whole thoughtful process of city planning and placing new districts, not to mention Casus Belli and other concepts, weren't enough for many Civilization players.
As a consequence of these flaws and a strong element of players liking what they know, as of the end of 2017, Civ V still ranked above Civ VI on Steam's Most Played charts.
So, with the launch of the Rise & Fall DLC for Civ VI on the 8th February, is now the time to buy into the latest iteration?
On the strength of what we've seen about Rise & Fall so far, the answer is an advised "yes".
This is based on all the new features coming in Rise & Fall. Make no mistake, they're exciting and add depth and complexity to Civilization VI. The slight reluctance we have is that - from what we've seen so far - some of the issues that annoy players might still be in there.
Rise & Fall brings three key new gameplay features - the concept of Ages, a Loyalty system and the idea of Emergencies.
Depending on how well your civ is doing, you can enter a Dark, Golden or Heroic Age. These last for an entire Era. Interestingly, the Dark Age offers unique policies that give you a chance of entering a Golden Age, or even a Heroic Age. Each of these ages brings options the player must choose to take for their civ by way of Dedications.
The Age mechanic is also tied into the Loyalty system. The better things are going, the more loyal your citizens are, curse their fickle ways. This approach to progression gives games an appearance similar to that of chapters in a book, and will almost certainly increase the number of fully completed games. Ed Beach, the game's lead designer has called this feature a favourite of his because it should bring a lot of variety with it for each new session.
Interestingly, the cost of researching tech advances ahead of the Era you are currently in has gone up - and the cost from an Era behind has gone down. Verisimilitude was rarely a strength for Civ games, but the change makes perfect sense on multiple levels. This may throttle civs that have a huge science advantage over others and offer the opportunity for comeback games. The most satisfying kind.
The Loyalty mechanic beings a new lens to Civilization VI, similar to the one religion uses. In it, you can see the push and pull on individual cities - and City States - as various issues cause the citizenry to ebb and flow in their regard for the various civs. This re-opens up the possibility of city flipping - beloved of many longtime Civ players. It can also bring Free Cities that have broken away from their previously controlling influence and are going it alone. Ripe for the plucking then.
Feeding into this mechanic are Governors. Primarily earned through the Civics tree, up to seven governors can be used by one civ. You may also choose to use your Governor Titles, a fancy word for points, on upgrading a smaller number of governors through a system of promotions. This can lead to more Tall play - a smaller number of maxed governors running your high-pop cities. Each governor will also have a unique set of starter traits. One of the govenors even has the ability to be sent into a city state to bend it your will. They in turn - of course - influence a city's loyalty to your benefit.
How about putting Spies into city states? You can in Rise & Fall. The delicious Fabricate Scandal option is available to them once in place - meaning rival states could lose envoys after rumours are placed in the right ears. "See that Alexander the Great? His guys here dress up as pigs and slather themselves in clotted cream. Every Tuesday night. And that's not all they do." Winks.
All of these new elements are what swings the balance in favour of Civ VI over Civ V. Cumulatively, they'll go a long way to breaking the curse of all civ series titles - you don't finish a game because you know you can't win, or because you know you've already won. That's a pretty major improvement, if it all does indeed work well.
Plus there's all the new civs, luxuries, buildings, units and even districts such as the important Government Plaza. There's even a War of Retribution option in the Casus Belli, meaning you can punish those civs who broken their promises to you and finally, if another civ completes a World Wonder before your civ, some production is returned to you under the new "Production Salvaged" feature.
Leading up to the release of Rise & Fall, Civilization V still enjoys higher average player counts than its successor, but the distance is closing. Firaxis have developed a habit of saving up the innovation part of their three step formula for DLCs and expansions, and Rise & Fall will be a substantial one.
The heap of changes coming 8 February are bound to cause some initial confusion, and many veterans along with the odd chieftain will be ripping and tearing through the new content looking to wreck balance and poke holes. Whatever remains after that will be a temporary resolution to the question of which Civilization game reigns supreme.