(Author's note: This review was for the initial release of Civilization VI; the game has since come out with many new additions, some of which have alleviated, at least slightly, the disagreements found herein.)
I’ve been playing Civilization VI (hereafter referred to as “Civ6”) pretty much every day since the game came out; I’d say it’s about time for a review.
This is not the original Civilization by a long shot; this isn’t even Civ5.1. In some ways, this is good; the franchise wanted to differentiate its new game from the old ones. As a result, the game has become a very difficult-to-play mess.
In addition to the advertised land usage management (which is incredibly difficult to do, as “districts” entirely remove production and food resources from those tiles [and even make resources like coal and oil difficult to obtain], and the game is unplayable without those districts), you also have large amounts of other management involved as well; you have to manage housing, food, “amenities” (items that will keep your citizens happy, which in past games would cause your overall happiness to dwindle, but in this game can actually lead to your cities rebelling against you), faith, culture, tourism, and money. Some of these are carried over from Civ5; however, none of them work the same way. You cannot just build a shrine or an aqueduct in this game; shrines must be built in Holy Site districts, and aqueducts are actually their own entirely separate district. (In some cities, it’s not actually necessary to build an aqueduct district, as all they do is provide fresh water to a city center tile if it isn’t adjacent to such.) You also must account for separate tiles for Wonders of the World, which can only be built on specific sets of tiles and necessarily removes all food, production, and money benefits of the selected tile as well. In essence, Wonders are fairly useless in this game; the detriments FAR outweigh the benefits of building them.
The game bitches at you about everything, and many times you can’t see why; it provides a small pop-up feed in the lower right-hand corner for certain “pressing matters”, like if a city is starving (or even just down to one food providing growth), has low amenities, is running out of housing; if you find a city-state, the city-state has a request for you, and if you lose suzerain for a given city-state to another player; if any city-states declare war on anyone, make peace with anyone; if a spy is killed; the list goes on. It’s actually kind of annoying, made more so by the fact that very rarely does the function actually work: You have to roll over an icon to see what the message is about, but about 9/10 of the time, the game doesn’t see the rollover and instead assumes you’re trying to find information on the tile immediately behind it.
Other items, things you might think are extremely important, like other civilizations denouncing each other, declaring war on each other, etc., are relegated to “headlines”, little snippets of text that appear over the game screen; these headlines appear for maybe five seconds before disappearing forever — there is no way to look back at these. For someone like me who does five other things while the game is processing other players’ turns, this is a major flaw.
The science tree has been completely revamped; now, you work with two trees, a science tree and a civics tree. This actually isn’t a bad idea at all; I really like it. You can also “boost” a given civic or technology by fulfilling certain requirements, all of which are given to you as the player. To balance this fact out, it is now much more difficult to “research” in either tree; items take much longer to research, scientists can only be generated with a Campus district (and still require buildings, such as a Library, a University, or a Research Lab), and I’m still not sure if there is such a thing as a “scientist” for the civics tree. I don’t believe there is.
In Civ5, you could “spend” culture points to obtain boosts to specific items, using lineages like “Tradition”, “Liberty”, or “Piety”; in Civ6, that has been completely removed. Civics gain you policy cards, which, depending on what government you choose (again, earned by Civics), you can have usually as many as four at a given time. Your starting government, which I think is something like “Chiefdom”, you only have two card slots, one for military and one for… I guess the only way I can describe it is “civics”, usually affecting the cost of items, either monetarily or production. As you gain new governments, the turn on which you gain a new Civic, you can change either the policies or government for free that turn, which is really about the only way you’d want to do it anyway.
This game is buggy as hell. I actually just found a bug (which prompted me to finally write this up) where, if you bring up the game menu, it doesn’t pause the game; this is a problem as, when other players (or AI, as is my case) bring up a dialog with you, it actually blocks the menu, and the menu itself blocks your ability to do anything with this player dialog. The game is essentially frozen, and you have to start from your last save. Some AI players, Catherine de Medici of France in particular, denounce you for not having things you can’t possibly have that early in the game, and neither can she; she literally denounces you for not having any espionage, something that doesn’t even factor into the game until the Renaissance era, as early as you meet her. Clicking on certain buttons in certain dialogs does not bring up a separate dialog based on that button, but rather completely closes out of all dialogs; this is a minor inconvenience at best, but it still represents a glaringly obvious bug. Barbarians are actually faster than any of your units, by exactly one move per turn; while this may have been intentional, it feels very much like a bug, because as a result you have to chase a freaking Settler, Builder, or Missionary down until you somehow manage to back them into a corner before you can reclaim them.
On a “Huge” map with a total of 12 civilizations (11 AI), once you’ve found everyone, turns take forever to finish. Like, literally, it can take upwards of two full minutes, playing fully single-player, before you can even touch anything again. (During this time is when the “headlines” pop up, which is why it’s so goddamn problematic that they disappear and can never be seen again. What’s really fucked up about this is, they have X buttons to close them out; why can’t they just stay!? Or at least provide a log I can access somewhere!) In Civ5, this time was more like 30 seconds (depending on if anyone was attacking you or your allied city-states); it still felt like a long time, but ultimately you could actually play the freaking game in a decent amount of time.
Builders have completely changed here as well. In the past, a given Builder could do just about anything with a given tile (assuming you had the Tech to do it), but it would take several turns to accomplish; in this game, the Builder finishes its task that turn, but as a result, to balance it out, each Builder only has three uses. In other words, once a Builder has been told to do three things, the unit disappears. As a result, much of the early game is spent producing Builders more than anything else, which makes early city development absolute hell.
It’s a decent game, and if they iron out all the major problems with it, it might actually be playable; at this time, I’m really only playing it to try to get used to the new massive management overhaul, which feels more like being held hostage than playing a video game.