Wot I Think: Civilization 6 – Rise And Fall

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Civilization is at its worst when you’re winning. Success breeds complacency as you click the end turn button and acknowledge the news of great accomplishments with the practiced apathy of a regent signing papers on behalf of an infant king. There is an inevitability about your empire’s march through history and it’s easy to feel like a passive pawn.

Rise and Fall, the first major expansion for Civ VI, attempts to address this by introducing global crises, dark ages and citizen loyalty. It gets about half of the job spot on; the fall is much better than the rise.

I’m always excited about Civilization expansions. The two major releases for Civ V transformed it from a stripped-down entry with one big idea (one unit per tile) into a fine alternative to its much-praised predecessor.

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Civ VI, I would argue, had more big ideas right out of the gate. The leader and nation you choose to play as has a greater influence on the game than ever before, cities now occupy areas of the map rather than single tiles in a much more convincing fashion, and progress through the trees of civics and science is marked with mini-objectives and interesting choices. This is a game that doesn’t need new features so much as it needs a concentrated effort to refine the features it already has.

In that sense, Rise and Fall is pulling in the right direction. The focus, as the title suggests, is on the overall flow of the game, introducing the possibility of ages both golden and dark, and preventing that familiar drift toward cultural inertia.

Ages now have their own dedicated screen, telling you roughly how many turns will pass before the world moves into a new era. The eras themselves haven’t changed – ancient, classical, medieval and so forth – but they’re now aligned more firmly with the game’s competitive nature. You’re not just racing toward victory, trying to stay ahead of your opponents, you’re directly rewarded for being at the top of the pile at the switch from one age to the next.

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I think Civ VI is the most competitive game in the series by some distance. Everything from the tech boosts that work like mini buffs and achievements to the focus on using the unique qualities of your chosen nation encourages a correct way of playing. There is so much feedback and positive reinforcement for ‘good’ choices that without even realising it, I’m sometimes locked into a specific way of playing that’s defined more by the map and the city states around me than it is by my own choices.

Rise and Fall has amplified that tendency. It’s a rare turn that doesn’t dangle some obvious rewards in front of me. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – it’s good to have direction – but I often feel like I’m following a trail of breadcrumbs toward the end of history.

And if that’s the case, the Golden Ages are the biggest breadcrumbs of the lot. They’re big, crusty golden loaves, straight out of the oven. As the countdown to a new age reaches single digits, you’ll have a good idea of how things are going to play out over the coming centuries.

The End Turn button now has a tracker running around it, keeping tabs on your achievements in the current age, which then determine your standing in the next age. As each new age begins, you decide what your civ’s focus will be, broadly concentrating on art, science, faith, expansion or some other target. Any successes in that particular field will provide a more substantial boost to your score, but every major stepping stone provides some points. Maybe you met a new civ, maybe you helped out a city state, or maybe you founded a religion. It all goes into the pot.

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Hit the first score threshold and you’ll avoid falling into a dark age, hit the second and you’ll rise into a golden age. And that’s where things get complicated, in a critical sense.

Simply put, golden ages aren’t very enjoyable. It’s like the game suddenly switches to easy mode and the reward for success is a few hundred years of minimal effort. What might sound like a welcome relief feels more like wasted time to me. Civ, like most strategy games, is at its best when there are meaningful decisions to be made, involving compromises and regrets. In a golden age, your people are so deliriously happy you don’t need to worry about them very much at all.

Dark ages are great though. I want an entire 4X game about civilizations collapsing rather than rising to greatness, where the only measure of success is how long you managed to hold off the inevitable.

I haven’t actually had a dark age finish me off in Civ VI but they do create interesting dilemmas. Loyalty, an important new feature that golden ages pretty much sideline by injecting happiness directly into your citizens, can become a serious concern during a dark age. It’s a fairly simple system, essentially allowing unhappy cities to free themselves from their original owner.

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There’s much more pressure on loyalty during dark ages and a smart ruler can target unhappy civs and help to nudge their cities toward freedom. Once free, they can be seized in a manner similar to the culture flipping of earlier Civ games. Be more attractive than the other nations in the vicinity and you’ll convince the city to join your ranks.

Combined with some great new civs to play as – particularly the Mapuche, who make great use of loyalty to allow terrifyingly swift misery-producing raids – and Governors who allow cities to specialise in even stranger and more interesting ways than before, Rise and Fall’s core features are welcome, even if they don’t change the game as dramatically as I’d hoped. This is still Civ VI.

What surprised me is that I’ve enjoyed returning to the game as much for the foundations as for the expansion. I’d passed into the stage I often do with Civ games where the attraction of the new is replaced by frustration at some of the old problems that have existed for as long as the series has. I think it’s an excellent game though, and the three playthroughs I’ve completed since I began playing with the expansion have had enough variety that I still want to go straight back for more.

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I conquered the world by amassing a fortune as a Dutch trading empire that owned an archipelago of weird islands, lacking in resources but rich in whale and fish. As Scotland, I built golf courses and attracted tourists from around the world. My Mapuche trampled all before them, with our good friends Georgia and Greece as close allies. There have been changes to alliances, which are now limited in number and focus on one specific aspect of the relationship – a cultural alliance, for example, helps with the sharing of cultural rewards. This means you can use alliances to bolster your weaknesses, or to focus on your existing strengths.

There are shorter term alliances as well, occurring whenever a crisis happens. These events could be the expansion’s strongest feature, upsetting the apple cart of history in an unprecedented fashion. Drop a nuke and you might find you’re the new bogeyman of the world, with a faction of the furious working to destroy you. I took the Mongol holy city after a brutal war and found myself black-listed by former friends and surrounded by new enemies.

As I said, crises could be the expansion’s strongest feature. They’re not though and the reason is simple. It’s not the economy. It’s the AI, stupid.

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Civ VI is mostly fine when it comes to the 4X basics but it has a habit of ignoring some of the complexities. And it struggles with wars, as a general rule.

That’s a problem when it comes to crises because what should be a dramatic unilateral response often becomes a damp squib. The peacekeepers of Civ VI talk big but for all the posturing, intervention seems rare. I’d like to think this is a political commentary of some sort but it’s not; it’s the AI playing Checkers while I try to play Chess.

Your tolerance of the flaws will depend, to a great extent, on your tolerance for Civ VI. Rise and Fall adds some great features and they have a knock-on effect that makes the journey as a whole more unpredictable, but it’s still a game in conflict with itself. There are, broadly speaking, correct ways to play each of the unique civs and I still find myself reacting to what is available in the world rather than deciding how I want to play, and how I want my empire to behave.

Rise and Fall adds, tweaks and expands, but it doesn’t address some of the underlying issues, particularly those related to the AI. We’re not quite in the new golden age yet.

Sid Meier’s Civilization 6: Rise And Fall is out now on Steam for Windows for £24.99 and requires the base game to play.

38 Comments

  1. MaxMcG says:

    I’m enjoying Civ VI a lot more with this expansion, I have to say. The additional depth just makes the game that bit more interesting. Also, I think they have improved the AI a bit.

  2. Gordon Shock says:

    Tried it during the free weekend on Steam and boy the UI and texts are so small I couldn’t play more than 15 minutes before my eyes would literally hurt unless I put my face right up to the screen.

    • Archonsod says:

      It does have an option for UI scaling …

      • cardigait says:

        yes, but on ultrawide having only 150% scaling is still very little, at least 200% should be available

  3. titanomaquis says:

    I understand the frustration with Civ’s AI. It seems like a problem that will never be fixed really. It doesn’t bother me that much though, because I am fortunate enough to have three brothers that love playing civ, so we always just play each other. The AI Civs become pawns in our games (to extend the author’s chess analogy)rather than posing real threats in and of themselves. playing solo is really not as fun.

    • Bridger says:

      The Vox Populi mod for Civ V has VASTLY improved the AI. I used to play on emperor, now I had to dial it back to Prince to play that mod. All this and the mod actually reduces the bonuses given to the AI at each difficulty level.

      • Sic says:

        Yeah, it’s not like it’s not possible to fix the AI.

        It is rumoured that the AI programmer (singular) was hired very late in the process for this iteration, and that simply isn’t good enough. The AI should be front and centre in a game like this. It’s what everything should be built upon.

      • Someoldguy says:

        It is frustrating that competent AI seems to be something that modders ccan deliver when paid contracted staff cannot. I’m sure some of it is the feeling that most casual players only want an AI that goes through the motions to make the player work a bit before their glorious triumph. Maybe that’s true on Settler level, but there really ought to be more to King+ than increasingly absurd levels of cheating to give the AI an edge and make you struggle.

        • Ragnar says:

          To be fair, it’s easier to create an AI that caters to a specific group – like Civ vets that want a challenge – than to create an AI that works for every group, including new and exciting players that want to feel like they’re challenged but still win every time.

          And also, to give credit where it’s due, many modders are incredibly talented.

          • brucethemoose says:

            Not really. If an AI is too strong, you just give them a penalty at lower difficulties. If you don’t want players to lose, rubberband them.

            The opposite works, but only if the bonus is somewhat close to the player. If an AI is so dumb that it needs 2x or 3x bonuses to be competitive (aka Civ AI), then you hit all kinds of balance issues in addition to the diplomatic ones. For example, Civ AI tends to race ahead at an absurd rate early game because their decisions matter less.

            Dyanmic bonuses would help, but Firaxis hasn’t thought of that yet.

  4. mattevansc3 says:

    I got a 25% off code from GMG so will give it a punt tonight but I’d wish they’d look at cutting features as well as adding them.

    I find that the builders, traders and archeologists add nothing to the game. It’s busy work that clogs up a production queue when they could just as easily come out of the city’s population. Automate that process so you can focus on more better things.

    • Wormerine says:

      clogs up production queue? Everything you build (aka. majority of game decisions) clogs up production queue. I do like change to builders a lot. In previews game they were ants that you produced and than they worked for centuries, even after they had nothing to do. Having 3 charges, make building improvements more satisfying and more precise. Works especially well, as you don’t want to upgrade blindely everything.

      • mattevansc3 says:

        Choosing whether to build a library and focus on research or build a temple and focus on faith is a major decision.

        Choosing whether to booster your army or build a wonder is a meaningful choice.

        Having to produce an archaeologist after already having made a museum is not a meaningful choice. The museum is useless without an archaeologist and the archaeologist has no purpose outside of the museum. So all the archaeologist does is add an additional unnecessary step to the process that stops you from producing other more meaningful units.

        In the same light the builders and traders aren’t meaningful build choices. They delay the build queues to perform tasks that aren’t entirely strategic.

        • Sic says:

          Your arguments work against you.

          Choosing to produce a builder instead of anything else is obviously a strategic choice.

  5. Premium User Badge

    Drib says:

    I know this is possibly a stupid nitpick, but that picture of Pingali up there reminds me of how much I despise the leader design in this game. What is wrong with that guy’s face? No one looks like that unless they have some major, probably terminal, medical condition. I recall a couple other leaders in the game with that same horrendous jaw problem.

    Ugh. Are they trying to make the game purposefully hideous?

    • napoleonic says:

      It is horrid-looking, isn’t it. I had to pause during reading the review to marvel at how hideous that picture is.

    • Sic says:

      It seems to be a big “fuck you” from the art team to all the people who didn’t fancy the new cartoon look.

      Petty and endlessly childish if so.

  6. Syt says:

    I notice the AI still likes to use Joint Wars as barter item amongst each other which will lead to 2 of them declaring war on you, regardless of whether they like you, trade with you, or have a chance against you. Meh.

    • Zorgulon says:

      Yeah the weighting of Joint Wars is peculiar.

      On the one hand, they are often a sensible choice. I often use them myself for selecting an AI to ally with – you don’t get warmonger penalties with your war partner. On the other, it’s often hard to judge why a distant AI with no intention of sending troops towards you elects to join. Maybe they were paid off – in which case fine, it’s a reasonable pay-off that I wouldn’t put past a human player. But in general it happens way too often, and they should reconsider how they weight it is a diplomatic item.

  7. napoleonic says:

    Is that first image from Civ I or Civ VI? Not played the latter, but the image looks like it’s about twenty years old.

    • Rainshine says:

      Civ VI. Looks like it’s zoomed way out from the map, and with Resource Icons turned on

      • Zorgulon says:

        It’s the rather lovely strategic view. An odd choice for the headline image, but it’s a neat feature (particularly if your PC isn’t up to graphical snuff).

        • napoleonic says:

          I love strategic view in Civ, even on my pretty good rig. I like to see all the info without clutter.

          But that is an ugly strategic view.

  8. InfiniteSubset says:

    There is an interesting conflict there, between the “Hey I want to play like this and I should be able to do that as any civilization”, which ultimately degrades the difference between them, and the opposite end of the spectrum of “This civilization only has one exact way to play with no choices”, which is boring. Resolving this in many games is fairly difficult, but Civilization has an additional problem. You are inherently playing an imaginary role as an awkward mix of extreme dictator, military leader, politician, and invisible economy hand, but the game also want to have some control over these so you share each of these roles. They are forced to give you full control, but then use systems to control how far you can go in any direction, to fit the themes.

  9. FranticPonE says:

    Hit the nail when saying there’s only one “correct” way to play. It’s why I stopped playing 6 after less than 40 hours and have no interest in trying again. Having only one obvious, optimal way to play is the opposite of interesting or challenging for a strategy game. Your supposed to sit there and have a hard time figuring out what’s best to do, not get locked into one course of action from the start and never swerve, talk about a repetitive and linear game.

    Hell 6 goes against Sid’s own advice “a good game is made of interesting choices.”The choice of do you want to win or lose?” Is not interesting, and probably why V regularly has more active players on steam than 6.

    • Dogahn says:

      Modern gaming era, 40hrs is solid for the price. Yeah people expect endless, but really 40-60 for a AAA title isn’t bad.

    • djtim says:

      On the highest difficulty level or two, sure, there’s only one optimal way to play but that’s the same in all Civ games. Otherwise I completely disagree with your comment. Some examples:

      Pre expansion I was playing as Russia and was ostensibly working towards a cultural victory. I had a religion and all my religious choices were focused inwards towards culture. I was also being bombarded by enemy religious units on two borders. Exploring the world, I came across a city-state whose bonus was the ability to choose religious promotions. I pumped out a few Apostles with extra combat ability, and was able to not only defend my borders, I flipped the religion on both of the Civs at my borders due to all the combat wins. A quick change to new Apostles with the promotion to remove influence of other religions and within a few dozen turns I had won a religious victory out of nowhere.

      Post expansion I was playing as Korea and working towards a science victory. Two AI’s on my continent declared war on me (as I didn’t have much of a military), but as a complete surprise, an allied city state on the rear border of one of the enemy Civ’s destroyed a city in their heartland. They still had a large army left over, so I quickly levied it, upgraded the troops to my tech level and suddenly had a powerful army that I used to take out the entire continent of AI’s in the time I had the levy for. The extra production enabled me to pivot to a quick domination victory.

  10. morganjah says:

    I bought it. I regret it.

    Civ VI is just….awful. It’s like they really don’t care. It’s a show up for work, go through the motions, long lunch, early exit kind of team.
    There is just so much that is wrong with it, and that they will never fix, because they don’t employ anyone who cares.
    It’s a shame to see a series like this deteriorate so badly over the years.
    But it sells. So why bother putting in any effort?

  11. Haradasun says:

    The problem with civ 6 is that is has introduced a bunch of cool sounding systems with very little synergy or interrelation between them.

    Fex emergencies arise in the new expansion but the ai wont check if you are in an alliance in deciding whether to help you or not, the joint war issue, ai cant take cities with walls, policies that are situational not strategic, with no reflection on your government or ai agenda, ais that hate you for being bankrupt but love you for being rich 1 turn later.

    Even the tech tree is flawed, its entirely possible to build modern research centres without knowing the fundamentals of construction or advanced infantry units without the knowledge of gunpowder (sorry guys your going in with slingshots). All in all if civ 6 were a modern enterprise it would be a government bureaucracy with multiple departments all with cool sounding names but ultimately not functioning as a whole.

  12. DonRumo says:

    “It´s the AI, stupid!”

    Yes, it´s always the quality of the AI, which effectively determines, how much fun you will get out of the game in the long run. EVERYTHING else is in a complex strategy game just additional bells and whistles – the greatest features and concepts are worthless, if the AI is simply too dumb to offer an interesting challenge.

    With regards to that Civ VI Vanilla compared to Civ V modded (Vox Populi) like Mr. Bean to Einstein.

    Therefore I turned away from Civ VI in horror as a waste of time, after I fpund out, that the diplomacy was broken and the AI dumb as a brick!

    Until you report a decisive upgrade of the AI-quality, I´ll happily stay with Civ V BNW Vox Populi for the rest of my days:-)

  13. Mikhalych says:

    The AI is still terrible. In fact, I think it started to behave even worse than before.

    Zulu declared war on me because I switched religion in one of his cities 600 years ago. On the next turn he proposed a trade agreement.

    Spain and Greece declared joint war on me 3 or 4 times. During entire game session I never encountered a single military unit from their side.

    Gilgamesh declared war on me and got his city destroyed by my allied city-state. A freaking city-state! I didn’t even managed to directly participate in this war. Didn’t killed or even injured a single sumerian unit during this war because everything escalated so quickly (captured his settler though, but that doesn’t count). Couple of turns later Gilgamesh begged for peace and I agreed. 10 or 15 turns later he denounced me as a warmonger.

    Spain trying to get Religious Victory, brought a incredible amount of apostles and started converting my allied city-states. I quickly converted them back but still losing this religious conflict, there’s just too many spanish apostles nearby. No doubt they convert my allies again in the next turn. Suddenly, Spain decided to declare a war because of my latest action. My allied city-states declared war back on Spain and removed all of his apostles in next 2 turns. Wow, spanish inquisition, I really did not expect that.

    Why AI is behaving so badly? It’s not a Civilization game anymore, now it’s some sort of “Warmonger Simulator: Monty Python edition”.

  14. AlienEyes says:

    In practice, the Mapuche’s ability to reduce loyalty by killing units seemed quite useless to me. You need to kill 5 units in the same turn to reduce the loyalty of a completely loyal city to zero, which doesn’t happen very often. It can also quicken the revolt of an already disloyal city, but then it’s not really a strong ability.

    As a side note – it’s very fashionable to blame everything we don’t like in 4X games on “The AI”, but maybe it’s time for you all to get a better understand of how it works and what “AI” really means for a video game?

    Generally complaints about the AI are in fact about design choices/problems.

    • DonRumo says:

      Sorry, I tend to disagree!

      I know games with a competent battle AI and Civ is not among them:-)

      This is a fact! And true for all Civs.

      Mix that with the “pythonesque” broken diplomacy AI in Civ VI and you have a wreck of a game!

      • Rwlyra says:

        Mind giving an example of such games? Everytime a Civ AI discussion comes up people bash it and mention games that are doing it’s AI way better, but they never provide any example of such a title.

  15. DonRumo says:

    AND I hate the Graphics style of Civ VI, starting with the childish Cartoon look and far too small available map sizes.

    But what I hate the most are the animated civilization leader screens in Diplomacy.

    They are supposed to be funny. Hahaha…….

    Civ has been many things since Civ 1 arrived on my Intel 286, 12 Mhz, back in 1990, but it was NEVER EVER supposed to be ridiculous!

    And those pseudo-funny Leader screens ARE ridiculous!

    Together with the cartoonish art style this destroys for me any hope of immersion in a complex historical simulation!

    • Zorgulon says:

      Somebody didn’t play Civ 2.

      • TheOx129 says:

        I know, right? That comment must have been made in jest. Do they not remember the Elvis impersonator as your Minister of Culture and Luxury in Civ 2?

        Also, a “complex historical simulation” Civ is not. Sure, you’ve had mods like Rhye’s and Fall attempt to push the game more in that direction, but it’s pretty much always been Whig History: The Digital Board Game at its core.

  16. Zorgulon says:

    I’m a good number of hours into my first play through post-expansion, and my initial reactions are quite positive. I broadly agree with the thrust of the article, and there’s a lot of fun, as ever when things go wrong.

    But I disagree with the sentiment here, and in the comments, that Civ VI leads to a narrowing of viable options. Whereas in Civ V you eventually just built everything in every city, Civ VI allows you to specialise quite strongly. With this expansion in particular, I think there are a lot more options. Between the powerful governor abilities, some insane Government District buildings and the Golden/Dark Age abilities, there are some wonderful new toys to play with.

    Got yourself into a Medieval Golden Age? Great! Take the Monumentality dedication and buy Settlers with faith, combine that with the Ancestral Hall to get a free builder in new cities, and you have a boom time in which to settle the map and overcome the frustration of getting a mid-game colony off the ground. Missed out on the era score and found yourself in a Dark Age? No problem – the Monasticism policy will massively boost your science output. Planning for whether you want a Golden/Dark/Heroic Age and when is quite a compelling mechanic.

    I’m sure a patch will come along in a few months and rebalance things, but Civ VI has some really powerful synergies, which when you figure them out, reward unconventional play more than ever.

    In general all the new mechanics they’ve added slot in quite nicely and expand your toolkit in interesting ways. There will aways be an “optimal” way to play, but most players don’t follow that. I’m looking forward to my next few playthroughs and trying out some different tacks, particularly with the more unique civs (Zulu’s corps-based strategy in particular, plus I want to revisit Spain and England’s transcontinental settling).

    As for the AI, yeah it’s not great. For what it’s worth it seems a modicum better than at the time of the previous patch. But there’s still a lot of unaccountable behaviour (I don’t agree with all the other comment’s observations – what might be the quoted reason for a denunciation is not necessarily the cause for the whole war. The AI, like a human player, is quite capable of invading you just because they can, even if they said they were angry about converting their city 600 years beforehand).