Just One More Turn: Checking in on Civilization VI
With the release of the New Frontier Season Pass, and following the latest Community Update, we've been checking back in on Civ 6.
I've been playing a lot of 4Xs recently. My return to the genre started with the early access release of Old World on Epic, which I enjoyed thanks to its more defined focus on ancient history. Then came Humankind, and I was blown away by Amplitude's work so far after spending an entire morning playing through one scenario as part of a press event. Then there's Civ. Civilization VI to be precise. I already owned the base game on Steam, but thanks to a generous sale on Epic I got the base game for nada, and I grabbed the Gathering Storm expansion for just over a fiver. That purchase rebooted my enthusiasm for Civ wholeheartedly, and before long I was taking "just one more turn" every night and immersing myself in the Firaxis-authored grand strategy game for the first time in years.
Then, thanks to the folks over at 2K, I got my hands on the New Frontier season pass, and I resolved to play some more, check out the first wave of new civs that have been added to the game, and then update y'all on the state of a game that since launch has seen a tremendous amount of revision with several updates, a number of new civs and scenarios, and two major expansions. The latest, a community update that tweaked a few things and expanded the Red Death multiplayer mode, has just landed, and while I've not played enough to say whether they've managed to fix the slightly broken diplomacy system with these latest changes, the fact that the studio has made changes in that area tells me that the team has its collective finger on the pulse.
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So let's unpack the new community update first, as that's the latest addition to the game. In the grand scheme of things, it's a relatively minor update, but it brings with it a number of tweaks, particularly around the diplomacy part of the game. This is good news because, in my humble opinion, diplomatic victories have felt hollow in the past. I previous games I've been aiming for one kind of victory (usually science) and I've inadvertently won diplomatically, or I've had to hold back on winning diplomatically, essentially ignoring that part of the game, so I could conclude my race to space and win as intended. In fact, looking back, the whole UN-allegory (the World Congress), with voting between leaders and diplomatic favour being shared around, feels just a little bit bolted on.
I do, however, like the other major systems added in Gathering Storm, with unstable volcanoes spewing out lava while rivers flood their banks, both disasters on the face of things but both offering bonuses to your civ after the fact in the form of more productive resources. In a tight game where every decision matters, increased crop yields can make a difference, even if it's only subtle. While sometimes it can feel like the volcano on your doorstep is too active, their addition has the overall effect of making the map itself feel more alive than ever before, and that's a positive in my book.
Anyway, back on topic. The new community update includes an update to Red Death, the Battle Royale inspired turn-based multiplayer mode. If you're unfamiliar, RD sees each player take a small cluster of units and make a dash for a transport off the planet, and this mode includes entirely new factions that aren't in the base game, with two new ones added, Aliens and Zombie Overlords. The Zombies don't heal automatically, rather their health refreshes when an enemy unit is destroyed (or when you explore certain tiles). Meanwhile, the aliens (which look like they were inspired by Xcom - it's almost as if the games were made by the same studio!) bring special camouflage skills to the wasteland.
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However, multiplayer modes are all well and good, but I'm here for the expansive single-player campaigns, building an empire over 500 turns while I manage my neighbours and expand my borders. On this front, there are two new civs added as the first entry in the New Frontier pass. The first content drop included Maya and Gran Colombia, and of the two, I've spent a lot of time building a Mayan empire, taking advantage of the faction's unique ability to increase farm production near the capital before eventually expanding into unclaimed territory in search of rare resources in the mid-to-late game. Once again, both factions have unique units at their disposal (I loved the upgraded archer unit called the Hul'che; two of them close together with a warrior unit is an extremely potent early-game combo) and using these little advantages is key.
Both new factions are a good fit and expand the roster. In fact, Civ 6 is overflowing with potential civs to choose from. Is it worth paying a premium price for the season pass to get new ones? That I have to leave up to you to decide because it's impossible to predict the quality of what's to come. A cursory glance over on Steam at the customer reviews reveals a divided fanbase who aren't sure about the post-launch content plan, and their complaints include accusations of recycled assets and a perceived lack of value. I doubt I'll persuade you either way, but generally speaking, all small DLC packs like this draw criticism and negative player reviews, so bear in mind that these content drops are not universally loved, and many prefer to wait for all content to land before making up their mind (if I hadn't been given access, this is probably how I'd have done it, especially considering the decent number of playable civs already available).
Finally, there's a new Apocalypse mode included as part of the first New Frontier update. If you've played a lot of Civ in the past and you just want to see how badly things can wrong, it's worth checking out, but I found the constant volcanic explosions and meteor strikes disrupted my plans too much and I was forced to play reactively much more than I typically like. This mode isn't one for me, however, I applaud the devs for offering a truly game-changing way to play that at least gives you a new option. With two civs, new modes (both paid and free), plus a bunch of new units, resources and city-states, Civilization VI continues to expand and evolve, and despite the fact that the game has been out for knocking on four years, constant developer support and fresh content to explore means that I'm not the only one who can't stop taking just one more turn.