We've got 700 hours on vanilla Civilization VI, despite its flaws, so we were keen to try a couple of complete single player games of Rise & Fall immediately after launch. The verdict? It's a major improvement, particularly in the later stages of play - and the new mechanics give you plenty to think about.
Swimming against the prospect of clever diplomacy and careful use of traders and relationships that some of the civs introduced in Rise & Fall offer, we selected the Mongols to play, one of the new old civs brought in with the DLC. Possibly only the Zulu are more geared for war in Civilization VI now, but good old Genghis and his Horde provide plenty of potential for horsing around.
Rise & Fall hasn't reinvented the wheel of history. You start much as you would start pre-expansion Civ VI. That wonderful early game is still great fun, like a blank sheet of paper you must build your empire on. Scouting, finding resources, working out where to site those all important first cities. This was always a gratifying part of the game and it remains so.
The key new feature is the concept of Eras. With every Ancient, Medieval, etc. historical era your civ has the chance to enjoy a Normal, Golden, or Heroic age. The screen-dimming ordeal of a Dark Age is a constantly looming counterbalance to these more glorious epochs. At the start of each you may make a Dedication to give your civ various bonuses. Now, most of you will have already read about these - so how do they play?
Well, my experience of a Dark Age was actually pretty pleasant, taking advantage of the options if provides to catapult my Mongols into a Heroic Age in the next era. The developers said this should be possible. And possible it was. The key effect of Eras is adding depth to the game as you progress, the mechanic helps maintain your interest which has always been an issue for Civilization. I'd be surprised if more than 50% of Civ games of whatever version were ever finished. The Era concept helps put pressure and engagement into whatever stage of a game you are.
The new Loyalty mechanic performs a similar function. It's much harder to own far-flung cities now, and you must think about what influence they may come under. It also brings a layer of decision-making to the Governor system. The Governors themselves give powerful bonuses, but you are limited in the number of Governor Titles (or points) you can use and must utilise them wisely. Again, this brings engaging complexity and choice throughout the game.
Loyalty obviously brings the prospect of "City Flipping". And as any civ veteran knows, that's an extremely satisfying thing to achieve - even if you didn't mean to. Having a complete city from another civ join yours is so much easier than conquest, with its inherent penalties. However, we'd say the "Free Cities" themselves are flawed in their current state.
The best option in a number of circumstances seems to be to attack these cities and then return them to their previous owner, gaining a warmonger reduction from the AIs. In our experience, they'll revolt again in another 15 or less turns, and you repeat the process. The main benefit seems to be the number of promotions your combat units earn while doing this. This was almost certainly not the developers full intention. We'd like them to become city states after a certain number of turns of being "free".
Getting involved in multi-civ wars is now a real possibility. And City States get into the mix too. The revamped alliance system can see multiple civs defend their allies on both sides. We were unable to provoke a complete global conflict, even as bad old Genghis, but with a little nicey-nicey on one side, and some rubbing other civs up the wrong way on the other, it should be possible to start something really nasty. And interesting.
Emergencies bring another random element into the gameplay. Once again, they keep you interested at moments when vanilla Civilization VI might have gone a bit dull. We've only experienced two types so far - freeing a City State from the clutches of another civ, and a nuclear emergency right at the end of our Mongol game. The rewards for successful completion are considerable in gold terms alone. Be careful not to splurge that gold though! You might even get lucky and opt to be involved in an emergency that resolves itself.
The English took the Aztec capital in our example, and we started to amass an army to take it back. Happily, Montezuma sorted it out himself within six turns. And we still got the rewards. Unjustified? Well, it's a risk getting involved in an Emergency to start with, so in that respect it is a gamble. And like any gamble, it can bring unexpected consequences, good or bad. Which again, adds something to the flow of the game that wasn't there before.
It's little details too from Rise & Fall - such as ranged units not doing full damage when attacking a naval unit now. You'll need siege weapons in your coastal cities. A detail, for sure, but a nice one.
Wonders too seem more important. It became pretty much the rule among experienced Civ VI players that not many wonders were worth the bother. Everyone liked a nice Petra, and the bonuses from the Colosseum were great if you planned the spread of your cities well. Some would go for the Forbidden Palace with its extra policy. But most wonders weren't worth diverting yourself from well thought out district improvement - such were the power of adjacency bonuses along with certain policy choices.
It's not so cut and dried now. The Casa de Contratación with its governor title bonuses, or St. Basil's Cathedral with its religious tourism potential. The Statue of Liberty underwhelms us, mainly because it has to be built on the coast and because who really needs two settlers in the industrial era?
At the time of writing, there are a couple of bugs we know of. One is irritating - Trader units getting "stranded" and the player not being able to direct them to a new destination city. Deletion of the unit is the only solution, which is a costly thing to do, given their importance in the game. The other one is unfortunate as it affects one thing the Civ series is know for, excellent audio. In the late game, audio has bugged on us and completely shut down. We're not the only ones to experience both of these issues, as the bug report thread on Reddit confirms.
As a final thought, and a reflection on the variety of gameplay Rise & Fall brings, we started our Mongol fully set for a route one, hack 'em slash 'em Domination victory. Yeah, we took out Russia and Spain and smacked a few other civs around. Yet our victory was a Science win. And it was one that was not apparent as really possible into the final quarter of the game. That's the variety and unexpected change of path that this expansion was designed to bring.
It worked for me and Genghis.