Civilization VI: Gathering Storm should be the expansion that truly defines the most recent and advanced of the Civilization series. Do the added levels of complexity and the greater number of decisions to be made make all the difference?
Civilization VI: Gathering Storm is the second expansion for Civilization VI, and in the lore of Civ players, the second expansion is the one that always counts. We're grateful to 2K UK for giving us press access to the new game.
It's all in the title really. Gathering Storm. A foreboding of bad things to come, probably survivable, but certainly bad. Gathering Storm is all about the environment, both natural and as affected by humankind.
Consequently, as well as bringing nine new leaders and eight new civilizations into the game, Gathering Storm introduces a whole new layer of player experience with environmental effects: volcanos, floods, storms, droughts and hurricanes - later bringing in rising sea levels due to human activity. It also brings in a much wider scope of engineering projects - many of which are some form of counter to the environmental effects, as well as the concept of consumable and therefore limited Strategic Resources. Linked to such consumable resources is the new concept of Power - power for buildings and some units. The World Congress - beloved of many Civilization veterans - is also introduced into Civ VI, as well as an entire new 21st Century Era, with associated new technologies, civics and government types. And there are great touches - such as the Rock Band cultural unit.
It must be stated that, in our view, there is no single Civ game to review. We all play different varieties of Civilization VI. Different difficulty settings, different map sizes, different speeds. Some players like the Scenarios, some players never touch them. Some people play multiplayer, some people carefully select which AI Civs they'll be up against. Some go Random Leader, some have a limited selection of Civs they like to play. We all like different Victories too. Gathering Storm adds yet further variety with the Environmental Effects Slider - which can be set from 1 to 4, depending on how much you enjoy your chaos and consequences. All these factors mean that there's a wide array of player experiences, even given we're all trying to eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate.
Of course, we are all bound by the same mechanics to a greater or lesser degree and even while clocking up 1200 hours in Civilization VI, vanilla and R&F, we've suffered the same annoyances you all have. So does Gathering Storm truly bring Civilization VI to perfection?
After playing ten full games, we can say we'll be coming back for more. A lot more. The new Civs are great fun - particularly the Inca and Mali for us. The game has been optimised as a whole, running a lot more smoothly and quickly even given the processing required in a hectic endgame. The music added for the new Civs is of the quality we've come to expect from Civilization - and it's worth reflecting on just how high that quality is.
The new wonders, both Natural and World, add more and welcome variety, and a greater chance to leverage your play in interesting ways.
Some things don't change of course. The location of your starting city matters every bit as much as it ever did in Civ VI. Or Civ V. Or Civ ... well you get the idea. And we, like many, many other Civ players will happily press the Restart button three, four, or even more times to get a good location that can be reached within a maximum of two moves, and preferably none. That's not a game fault as such but the fact is, and especially at higher levels of difficulty, that you can't afford your first city to be a dud.
There does appear to be a little more production available generally on maps in Gathering Storm. We can't prove that empirically yet, but that's our impression. Food heavy but production light cities aren't good in general, as we all know, and were a bane of our R&F experience. And there are of course, more ways of working water tiles in Gathering Storm.
We still don't see the benefit in putting your population into buildings as opposed to working resources. We did hope that might be fixed in Gathering Storm. We do need to experiment a little more though.
The World Congress is good. We'd say the ability to influence the voting of others is a little lacking - other than by reducing the amount of Diplomatic Favor points they have to spend in the Congress. We experimented with that, with fairly satisfactory results. However, it's not quite the same as having your best mates vote with you, and manipulate the game that way. But in general, it's a welcome addition to Civ VI, especially in the later game, when the AI does produce some unexpected results and can partly derail your plans. The various world projects - World Games, World's Fair, Climate Change Accords, International Space Station - also add depth and lead to more varied decision-making on the part of the players. You need to work out your priorities and be aware of the risk of spreading yourself too thinly in an attempt to hoover up all the bonuses you can for that Diplomatic Victory. Or to prevent another Civ winning that way. And yes, as most of you will know the Diplomatic Victory is back in Gathering Storm.
Meeting every 30 turns, starting in the Medieval Era, Special Sessions are also called when there is an Emergency - and Emergencies can now involve helping other Civs, an event that results in improving your own status.
We'd also say AI spying activities seem to be more prolific in Gathering Storm. And counter-spying maybe less effective. Again, we can't prove this for certain, however the aforementioned 1200 hours in the game gives us a pretty good expectation of what is "normal" and we don't recall having this level of subterfuge directed at us previously. As an aside, the Breach Dam spy mission is great addition to the game. But good lord, do think about what that means! It's a pretty evil thing to do. And we love it.
The end of the Warmongering system is a delight to us. An utter delight. Its replacement, the Grievance system, has a great deal more logic to it. Essentially a plus/minus tally in your relationship with other Civs depending on what they've done or promised to you and visa versa, and their allies and your allies, it really does make you think about your relationships more. And when you're in trouble - at least you know why. We don't want to be too grateful though. The Warmongering system was so bad, that anything less than a boot to the face is an improvement.
Consumable strategic resources are another feature of Gathering Storm. In general, we found this an improvement- you accumulate resources over turns, to be spent on units, and in the later game, also on power. It makes trades with other Civs more interesting too - they will request a specific amount of a resource, and you must decide whether the trade makes sense in that turn or not. Some strategic resources can be burned for fuel to power your cities and increase their worth - Coal, Uranium, Oil - but using them will have an effect on CO2 levels. Some units - such as tanks - also use such resources for power. So be careful not to end up like the Germans in the Ardennes offensive. Out Of Gas.
This brings us to the centrepiece of Civilization VI: Gathering Storm. Environmental Effects. We've played exclusively with them cranked up to max - level 4. And well, we're a touch underwhelmed. They do introduce a randomness into the game which is most welcome, that Drought can suddenly set your growth plans back, that Catastrophic Flood cause a lot of damage to your city. The possibility of such effects do cause you to think during the stage you're setting up your civ, and finding the best places to settle. Obviously, post-catastrophe, there are benefits - the boost to post-volcanic eruption tiles being the most obvious. They do also lead to opportunities. As aggressive Hungary next to our Ottomans suffered a flood that damaged the units it was preparing to attack us with. So we took that advantage to attack them first.
The later game Climate Change is interesting. In short, rising CO2 levels lead to ice caps melting, sea levels rising and land being flooded. This situation is monitored via a new button in the top right row. However, what remains unclear to us is how to avoid becoming the chief polluter in a game, given you're likely to be in the lead technologically, and therefore the first to utilise coal etc. The excellent PotatoMcWhiskey has been attempting such "green" play in some of his playthroughs, which are worth a watch.
We've already written about the politics inherent in such a design decision from project lead Ed Beach and his team, so we won't touch on them here. However, what we are saying is that's uncertain at the time of writing how an average player can deviate from the historical path of human development - particularly into the era where industrial technologies become available - to avoid becoming that climate change villain.
The fact is of course this Gathering Storm mechanic ignores climate change brought about by events in the natural world. As far as we can tell, massive volcanic eruptions have indeed altered our planet's climate - and in the not-so-distant past. Equally, pollution from cooking fires in India, for example, have been shown to have a palpable effect on some level, as have massive forest fires.
Still, it's just a game right? And including climate change in Civilization VI was always going to cause at some controversy.
We started playing Civilization VI: Gathering Storm with a couple of burning questions to answer - is the endgame finally interesting and fun? And how many paths to victory are available?
By this later question, we have long felt that Civ VI offered limited choices. You need to do the same things in every game in order to win, with some slight variations. As for the first question, we felt that the endgame in Civ VI too easily become a Next Turn button pressing ordeal, as you knew you'd won long before you did.
For us, this is the most important point our review can make: the endgame is better in Gathering Storm. The new Era introduces an interesting extra scope to the game with its technologies, governments and civics. The World Congress adds both foreseeable and unforeseeable variations. The addition of the Diplomatic Victory means, that even if you aren't chasing it, you need to be super aware of other Civs are up to. And the Climate Change mechanic means that even if its a case of trying to maximise your winning margin, you need to be on your game. Not just dutifully pressing "Next Turn".
Lastly, but not least, the Hall of Fame is back in a proper form. You are able to compare your performance with previous games, and chart your improvement. Or maybe just chart why you shouldn't play drunk.
We're going to be putting a lot of hours into Gathering Storm, and that ultimately is the best praise we can give it. It gets a 9/10 from AltChar.