If you read last week’s installment, you won’t be surprised when I say I love Civilization V to pieces. As a strategy game it is pure bliss. Detailed, yet digestible. Powerful, yet light. You can pick up and put down each game with ease, and each time you play means a different saga exactly as you want. I love the Gods and Kings and Brave New World expansions, and I even loved the often beleaguered Vanilla version. It’s the rare game that actually manages to get get more fun the more plays you give it, and where there is very little barrier to separate the veterans from the newcomers. But there is also a glaring fact to contend with: Civilization V is now 6 years old. Though three of those years have been spent building on the game through DLC and expansions, the fact remains: any successful series needs to keep moving forward. So let’s examine the next steps: both Civilization: Beyond Earth and what we’ve heard so far about the next installment, the hotly anticipated Civilization 6.
Beyond Earth was a new direction for the franchise. Its unique future setting signifies a spiritual successor to another Sid Meier title, Alpha Centauri from 1999, but it most certainly stands alone. Because it is built from the Civilization V engine, its base concepts will be familiar. Co-lead designer David McDonough described the relationship between the two games by saying, “The bones of the experience are very much recognizably Civ. The idea of the cities, city-based progression, leaders, the passage of time, tiles, turns, building improvements, technologies. A lot of them are very familiar themes to the Civ player.”
The big differences, though, are immediately apparent. The game takes place not during the history of Earth, but on an alien planet years after human colonizers/refugees left our planet in the wake of “The Great Mistake”. As such, you don’t assume the role of an historic leader, but a fictional one of a futuristic superstate. In a way, it is almost like build-your-own civ: You chose which ship you take as well as who and what you bring with you, each decision coming with its own benefits and limitations.
Once you land on the planet you choose, there is more marvel at. The music and artistic direction is extremely well-developed and ambient, and the different alien creatures (who fill the “barbarians” role from V) are sure to intrigue and intimidate on at least your first play-through. Possibly the biggest departure gameplay-wise from V though is the transition from a semi-linear “tech tree” to a widely branching “tech web”. In my opinion, while the tech web doesn’t take away from the overall game, it isn’t really an improvement on the formula either. While it adds customizability, it is just really complex and makes it difficult to figure out your priorities in advance.
Most other things will be familiar. You still build civilian and military units, and trading, espionage, diplomacy, and most other features of V are present in Beyond Earth. Culture is now grouped into Affinities, which are overarching ideologies which push your civilization in a certain direction throughout the game. Victory can be attained by building the final project of the affinity you chose, or by the classic “Domination” victory, by crushing the other colonies and being the last civilization standing. Also, there is the “Rising Tide” expansion for the game, which among other small improvements added floating cities and hybrid affinities. So, the verdict all of this exposition? I enjoyed Beyond Earth, but it just doesn’t have the replayability of V.
There is hope on the horizon – the very long awaited Civilization VI comes out this October. The true successor is finally here. So what do we know so far? The two biggest departures that we have seen are the art style, which the developers said their hope was to look as good up close as it does far way as compared to V, and the new “unstacking of the cities”. Whereas every building in V existed inside cities, now certain buildings can be spun off into districts, which exist just outside of the city center and provide certain bonuses for their position. For instance, one of your cities could be science-focused, it can host the “academy” district (which would contain a university, public school, observatory, etc). In addition to this, we know religion and cultural policies are returning, we will have new diplomatic tools, overland trade units can now build roads between the cities they serve, and there will be a new religious victory in addition to all of the familiar ones. Instead of workers taking a certain amount of turns to construct an improvement, now they can construct it instantly but can only build so many before disbanding. As well, Wonders are now also built outside of city limits and the developers are bringing back the much-loved short wonder-construction films as well as a brand new day-night cycle. Is seems the only feature that will not be present in VI that was present in V is the “World Congress”, which will likely be replaced by something similar in DLC or Expansions.
I love what we’ve seen from VI so far. From the trailers to the individual civilization reveals to the gameplay demos, everything seems in order to make for a great installment in the Civilization series. At this point, I can only ask one thing: Please keep Mod and Multi-player support an integral part of the game. The developers have already said some very encouraging things about Multi-Player in VI, stating that in addition to standard games, you may now be able to play shorter historical scenarios, meaning that you won’t have to commit hours upon hours to a single game. And as for Mods, the developers have stated that they are very aware of the dedicated Civilization community and want to keep it easy for modders to add content to the Steam Workshop.