Although it did not birth the genre, the Civilization franchise has always been the standard-bearer for "accessible" 4x games. The Civ series has tried -- and largely succeeded -- to serve the twin masters of casual strategy fans and hardcore number-crunchers with an obsession for detail. While fans may argue about the relative merits of one Civ over another, the series has never stumbled in a significant way and each new iteration is cause for excitement. Happily, Civilization VI may be the best of the bunch right out of the gate.
As colorful and friendly-looking as Civilization VI is -- and with a new art style that moves decidedly away from realism -- no one should be fooled into thinking the game is simple. While the game prompts and advises players as to their options and decisions, Civ VI is a constant reminder of the complex inter-relationships between commerce, religion, culture, exploration, expansion, and the exploitation of people and resources. There are two rather dry tutorials, one for veteran Civ players and one for those coming to the franchise for the first time. There is no single player campaign.
In fact, while at first glance Civilization VI looks and feels comfortingly familiar, there are a surprising number of additions, systems tweaks and game play changes. Cities now sprawl over many tiles in the form of districts, each of which must be dedicated to a specific activity or building, like a wonder or a library. This one change has a significant ripple effect, as those districts grant bonuses while taking away potentially valuable resources, adding yet another system to consider and balance. To add even more complexity, certain buildings must be on specific geographic tiles, like Big Ben requiring a riverfront. The upside to all this are cities that look far more unique and interesting, and there is need to found a series of cities that are each specializes in one thing or another. "Eureka moments" are new mini-missions that once complete, grant significant bonuses in production speed or access to new technologies.
Whether it is through science, religion, culture, tourism, or military might, there are many paths to victory in Civilization VI, but success in any one area still requires attention to all of them. While Civ VI games last hours, it would be no hyperbole to suggest that there is always something to do and something new to build, and experienced players will happily find surprising new ways of turning around a failing city. Leaders now have both revealed and randomized hidden agendas, and spies are now more powerful than ever in sussing out the opposition's intentions. In late game, enemy AI tends to take a decidedly military strategy and hundreds of turns in, the game tends to chug with the burden of crunching so much data. There are no doubt some balance tweaks coming down the pike, with civilizations like Rome being incredibly overpowered.
While some players may lament that Civilization VI pushes its visuals even farther away from realism, the colorful and stylized graphics are still full of small artistic touches and engaging unit animations. The series' scores have always been a high-water mark for video game music but this tine around there is disappointingly little to take note of. Even the usually stirring title music is pretty forgettable.
To even experience a minimal amount of satisfaction, Civilization VI requires an investment of time and patience, even for experienced players. Shooter or strategy fans habituated to a constant drip of dopamine and frenetic action will need to adjust their expectations and come to the game on its own terms. Although it does a great job of nudging the player along the way, Civilization VI is complex, deep, and endlessly replayable. Like every entry in the series, Civ VI will no doubt be followed by a number of rebalancing tweaks, small changes, and expansion packs but fresh out of the digital box, Civilization VI is simultaneously familiar, fresh and remarkably fun.