Save for one feature, Rise and Fall is a safe add-on for the latest entry in the long-standing Civilization series. The host of new features and additions will surely be welcomed by new and veteran players alike, yet it doesn't manage to dig into and solve any of the biggest issues we have with the sixth iteration of Sid Meier's series.
Rise and Fall, the first major expansion to Civ VI, adds a lot, at least on the surface. Different eras, loyalty, and new civilizations perk up the formula somewhat and provide new and meaningful decisions throughout the lengthy campaigns. Some affect you quite a bit during early turns, while others span entire eras and how they flow from one to the other.
Golden Ages return to the series along with a couple of new friends, namely the Dark Age and the Heroic Age. To achieve these, specific conditions and outcomes are rewarded with points. Wiping barbarians off the map, discovering new civilizations, erecting Wonders of the World, and generally doing any of that kind of stuff doles out points towards reaching a higher level of prosperity and production bonuses. Fail, and you'll be shoved into the dark ages.
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There's a silver lining to this, though, as the gloomy era provides you with some unique benefits and gives you a chance to reach a Heroic Age for a proper bounce-back. A well-seasoned player might have trouble sinking down to the depths of darkness, so the mechanic is best served when fighting above your pay-grade in one way or another. These ages basically encourage to play well by dangling a concrete reward just within reach, even if they do railroad the gameplay a bit.
The loyalty of your citizens is a new feature as well, and it's arguably the biggest of the bunch. For Civilization V veterans, it plays a bit like Culture. The closer your cities are to each other, the stronger the loyalty their proximity inspires. Founding new cities next to established civilizations is markedly harder, especially early on. As a result, conquering cities or founding new ones on hostile territory can flip the fledgling towns first to neutral and then to your big neighbour as and when loyalty vanishes. Policies, buildings and civ-specific mechanics can counter this somewhat, but only in the mid to late game. If you're in a war, looking for a foothold, be prepared to take one city and burn three next to it to ensure your dominance.
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New civilizations and their leaders are a welcomed sight, as ever. Cree can become a massive economic power-house very early on with their trade routes. Korea and their leader Seondeok can dominate scientific discoveries if their starting area is full of hills, as their Seowon campus gives a huge bonus to research. Old favourites like Mongolia and Zulu make their militaristic comebacks, too. The former's ability to convert defeated cavalry to their cause is ripe for some exploitative farming...
The new loyalties, ages, governors, and civs are all well and good, but unfortunately, they fail to address the biggest bugbear in the Civilization VI closet: AI. Improvements to it should, of course, be included in the base game as well, but it's sad to see Firaxis unable to fix the often passive and sometimes irritably unpredictable computer opponents. And as before, on higher difficulty levels AI has to resort to blatant cheats via production bonuses and so forth. These new layers do freshen up the formula, but the issues underneath need some serious attention if Civilization VI is to rise to true greatness over its predecessors. That said, you'll still get plenty of bang (or hours) for your buck, and several just-one-more-turns.
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7 / 10
New civilizations feel refreshing, nice layers on top of existing gameplay.