Like with all kinds of technology, we should expect video games to get better, more detailed, and more error-free with every iteration; this especially goes for series such as the Civilization games. However, practice has shown us time and time again that this isn’t true – the Civilization games developed by Firaxis are a perfect example for this phenomenon. We should expect each entry in the main “numbered” series to be better, learning from issues that appeared during the previous entry’s usual life-cycle. Each main Civilization game had a different lead designer – Sid Meier was the designer only of the first game, despite all entries in the series featuring his name in the title.
In an interview Eurogamer conducted with Sid Meier, he talked about the “rule of thirds” – the design principle that rules the creation of Civilization games. One-third of the game is always the same – the explore, expand, exploit, exterminate (also known as 4X) gameplay stays the same. The idea of starting small on randomized map also persists through the series.
The second part is building upon the ideas which were successful in the previous entries. We see this with religion, for example. It was introduced as a fairly minor, but new game mechanic in Civ IV, was expanded upon for Civ 5’s first expansion and a refined variant of the latter’s religion found its way to Civilization VI, where a victory condition was tied to spreading your religion.
The third part is where the lead designer tries out some of their own, potentially game-changing ideas – religion was such a mechanic for Civ IV, because it wasn’t present in any of the previous entries. For Civ 5, the “one military and civilian unit per tile” rule was a similar different mechanic – previously, many military units could occupy the same tile, forming an army. City-states, independent cities the player could befriend or destroy also appeared in the fifth game and were carried over to the 6th entry as per part 2.
For Civilization games, the usual lifecycle is as follows: the base game gets released and it starts getting fairly large update packs every few months. For Civilization 5 and 6, these include bug fixes, tweaks and one or more piece of additional, paid content. Since Civilization 3, each game had two major expansions, which usually add new civilizations and introduce new game mechanics. Then a “complete editions” gets released, including all DLC and expansions – in the case of the fifth, game, this happened about 3.5 years after the original’s release. In the rest of the article, I will examine Civ V, its two expansions (Gods & Kings and Brave New World), and the current base version of Civ VI. The question is – is Civ VI really a downgrade when compared to the previous game? The answer is surprisingly no – in some aspect it is worse, but overall, VI has very solid foundations on which Firaxis will hopefully build with future expansions.
Civilization V vs VI – is the newer game worse?
Back in 2010, almost the same thing happened to Civ 5 – the game was praised by the gaming press to be the best in the series, but fans of the series were mostly disappointed because the game lacked depth. The same can be said about Civ VI in late 2016 – praised by press, heavily criticized by fans. But this time, fans generally agree that game mechanics are pretty good in general, and the game is mostly fleshed out from the get-go. Religion is included by default, the city-state system was changed to make more sense and to discourage abusing them to passively win the game. I won’t say anything about the graphics, as it is entirely up to personal taste – some like the more realistic looks of Civ 5, others prefer the board game-like, more cartoony look of VI.
Gameplay-wise, VI took out many annoying aspects of its predecessor – you no longer have to build roads using Workers, for example. Instead, roads between cities are automatically created as Traders come and go along their routes – one less micromanaging thing to worry about. Instead of Workers who spend many turns constructing improvements, there are Builders with a set amount of uses (3 by default, can be improved via tech, abilities or civics). You just send them on a tile, and provided you have researched the necessary tech, spend one charge to instantly construct an improvement there.
There are 5 Victory Conditions – Domination, which was simplified to capturing the capital cities, Culture which mostly remains unchanged from Brave New World, Science which is also the exact same. Score/Time based victory at the end of 500 turns by default is obviously the same as in previous games. The new condition is Religion – found a religion and make it the majority in all remaining civilizations. The Diplomatic victory of Brave New World is completely absent, along with the World Congress and all associated elements. Diplomacy itself is also very bare-bones in VI, as it is impossible to ask your allies to help you against a third civilization you’re already at war with. Not that these matter – the AI is still hopelessly bad at both diplomacy and combat.
The change from global Happiness to a local, city-based version is a welcome change – now this mechanic no longer gets in the way of conquests by potentially making your entire empire rebel as you annex or raze enemy cities. The technology tree is a bit weird – different technologies aren’t intertwined as the ones in Civ 5 were. This results in being able to bee-line to later eras by focusing on the top line dealing with ships and the ocean. There are also fewer playable Civilizations for now – but remember, the expansions and DLCs added a substantial amount of them over time – VI already has one new civ added, Poland.
A disappointment with fans is the lack of proper modding tools and SDKs for VI, which is objectively bad for the game, but it might be Firaxis’ strategy. They want to sell more DLC and paid expansions before opening up the game to the community – this also happened with 5, but to a lesser extent.
All in all, Civ VI isn’t that bad as players make it out to be, it is a solid foundation for future improvements and expansions. We cannot expect AI to get much better until the players have access to the game’s source like they do now with 5. Those players who are disappointed with the current state should just give it a year or two to mature and for the first major expansion to be released. But as we saw, this was also true for all previous Civilization games since 3.