“I am your Empress! I have commanded you!”
“Eh, you have to tell us what improvements to make.”
“But…you can only build mines and farms on normal tiles, or a resource’s specialty improvement. There’s not a lot I need to tell you here. Well, alright: go forth and improve the resource tiles only!”
“Nah. Doesn’t feel special. Feels like you just want us to work in the background.”
“Well, yes, I’d love that, thanks.”
“But we want you to pay attention to us. We’re a non-renewable resource now.”
“Riiiiight…but you can’t build districts, wonders, or roads. And there’s never a reason that I wouldn’t want to improve a resource tile, so you actually have less strategic value than ever.”
“We knew it! You don’t love us!”
“Love has…nothing to do with this relationship.”
“We’re done! We’re not doing anything unless you’re there to watch us!”
“Yes! We want to feel special!”
“Uhh…could my ‘special’ little Builders construct roads for me?”
“No! Building roads isn’t special!”
(Here endeth the most absurd discussion an Empress has ever had with the basic fucking worker unit.)
I hadn’t imagined that I’d ever need to create a review for Civ: Beyond Earth (“Civ BE”). It’s a AAA title in a long-beloved series, and Sid Meier and 2K are probably doing just fine. So I let the general nay-saying and feelings of ‘meh’ from the creators whose content I consume drip cleanly off me like rain drops on the proverbial duck.
For the record: I love Civ BE. More on that later. It’s my favorite Civ game to-date, though I have yet to play Civ 6. Civ BE is not my favorite 4x game, although it can go toe-to-toe with the Civ-like 4x games (e.g. Gal Civ 2 and Pandora: First Contact). That in and of itself was something I never thought I’d say about a Civ game—when Pandora released in 2014, I had said that it was the Civ game I’ve always wanted.
Civ 6 has a lot of interesting, border-line original mechanics that has reinvigorated everyone’s interest in the franchise. Here are a few points which have been made by most/all of the reviewers I’ve watched:
* Districts! Yes, districts and wonders actually take up space around a city—the ‘sprawl’ if you will. Not quite the way that Endless Legend did it—and not necessarily better than EL’s sprawl—but a novel concept to the Civ series. Very promising! One builds research buildings in the Campus district, military buildings in the Encampment, commerce buildings in its special district, etc. Districts consume the tile upon which they are made, and benefit from adjacency bonuses, so one must make a strategic decision about where they go. Districts also become more expensive to build as one builds more of them; one must not only plan carefully the area around the city for future districts, but for which cities will have more districts than others.
Wonders, too, take up space around a city. And while districts and wonders can be damaged (and, therefore, repaired), they cannot be removed from their tiles. If you’d like to possess the Hanging Gardens, go find where it was built, and take the city. Done. Now you have the Gardens. Congrats. Optionally, you can go marauding and just break the Gardens. Now no one gets to use them.
-Pros: The size of a city finally matters; you must dedicate space and time to constructing certain buildings, instead of auto-building every possible structure in every city; invaders can strategically deny you access to certain buildings and Wonders by pillaging your districts.
-Cons: Even if stipulated that Wonders can’t be completely demolished for magical ‘historical’ reasons, why can’t districts be destroyed and/or moved? And why must the build penalty for building successive districts be empire-wide? Could it not just be city-wide? Wouldn’t that better encourage city specialization? The downfall of Detroit does not prevent the USA from producing more cars.
* Two tech trees! Well…not really. One ‘tech’ tree, and one civics tree. The latter is pretty cool, though: it completely dissociates sociopolitical factors from the technology tree. Which leads to…
* New Government System! Each government type allows you to slot some number of military, economy, diplomatic, and wild ‘social policy’ cards. More complex governments allow a higher number of these cards to be slotted simultaneously. The first government (‘Chiefdom’) allows just one military and one economic card to be active, while ‘Democracy’ has eight social policy card slots. Building certain wonders or performing other tasks increases the number of cards one can slot even further. Each card provides small, incremental bonuses (e.g. +1 production in all cities) in a game that is about small, incremental bonuses. When a civic is researched on the tree that provides a new government type, one can change out one’s selection of government civics for free—otherwise, it costs some amount of money (?) to switch policy cards. New policy cards are also unlocked via the Civics tree…
* Eureka and Inspiration Moments! All techs and civics have a particular feat that, when accomplished, will provide half the research points required for them. Half. As a certain YouTube/Twitch personality might say: “That’s Value!” Indeed, it makes research and civics more tactical: if one has no nearby hills, then completing the ‘build a mine’ task may be challenging. In this case, an Empress can put more research time into that tech, while relying upon another Eureka moment (e.g. ‘start a trade route’) to make another tech easier to research.
-Pros: Simultaneous research has been a mechanic that several 4X games (e.g. SoSE, Polaris Sector) have been toying with. I approve. I’ve also enjoyed non-linear tech trees (e.g. Star Ruler 2, Endless Space), so anything that breaks up the monotony of Civ’s traditional linear tech tree is a pro.
-Civ 5 had a changing governments mechanic, and I’m glad to see it’s been expanded in Civ 6. The Social Policies are also great strategic tools: to save the cost of switching them, one must be strategic in their selection; but if one has the money available, then rotate cards to achieve maximum value.
-The Moment mechanic is fantastic! I don’t know if I would’ve gone with a simple ‘half’ mechanic, but it shows promise and enables replayability with changing map conditions.
-Cons: Other than the tech/civic trees still being fixed and linear, none: these are all good changes/additions!
* Builders! No longer can an Empress build 12,000 Workers and simply automate them! One must build a Builder unit, and that unit only has 3 ‘builder charges’. Basically, it’s one charge per tile improvement, so plan wisely!
-Pros: Builds improvements instantly now; forces one to manage one’s improvements more strategically (which I consider a positive).
-Cons: Many Civ players prefer automated workers, though I am not counted among them. Even given that districts are permanent once placed, why can one’s Builders not be automated? Can districts not simply be built over Builder improvements? I suspect that Civ 6 players would be fine with a certain level of Builder automation, especially since (A) roads are no longer built by the player, and (B) districts cannot be constructed by Builders.
* Amenities and Housing! Gone is global happiness, and good riddance! Now each city’s happiness is its own. Gone also is unlimited population housing! (Unless you were Endless Space or Star Ruler 2 or Star Drive or….) A city’s maximum population and growth rate are dictated by its ‘Housing’. Some improvements (e.g. Farms = 0.5 Housing) and districts (e.g. Neighborhoods) provide housing, as well as some civics and some technologies. A city’s growth rate tanks when it reaches a population between n – 1 and n + 1, where n = maximum housing capacity.
The happiness system has been usurped for the Amenities system. Having more Amenities (e.g. certain resources) than necessary provides morale benefits to growth rate and production. Having too few does the opposite, and threatens revolt.
-Pros: Personally, Endless Space has done happiness the best, with both local and global happiness meters. But having happiness be local is more logical than global happiness, so kudos. Additionally, trade is now of far more importance, because it builds roads and allows the reallocation of amenities where needed.
-Cons: None, really: both systems are better than their Civ < 6 counterparts. Of course, Civ BE had a health system which made a ton of sense….
* Colorful and bright aesthetic! I love it! A lot of people don’t. Those people are the same people who enjoy first-person cover-based shooters with brown, brown, grey, and brown palettes. Civ has always been a series meant to appeal to people of all ages; the complaints that the new aesthetic is too ‘cartoony’ makes little sense. Neveryoumind that the framerate is apparently fantastic now—Civ has always been, at best, an abstraction of city/empire/world management. If one is looking for realism, one jumps up to the ‘Grand Strategy’ genre.
-Pros: Better framerates, and I can tell which tiles have roads on them without putting 30 hours into the game.
-Cons: Some people are put off by the cartoony visuals. These are the same people who keep saying “I love playing Civ games because they’re historical!”
* ‘Full-Feature’ base game! It has been the opinion of many that the launch versions of Civ 4 and Civ 5 felt incomplete—that the developers had held back content for future expansions and/or DLC. I cannot speak to this, as I didn’t get into Civ 4 or 5 until their expansions/DLC had already been released. I did play Civ BE before and after the Rising Tide expansion, and although the expansion did good things for Civ BE, I wouldn’t necessarily say that Civ BE was ‘under-featured’ at launch. However, I’m glad that Civ 6 feels complete to its players; it seems many PC game launches of the past couple of years have been holding back…if they weren’t completely broken.
-Pros: All pros! Like the Star Ruler 2 devs have said: expansions should fix bugs and make the game ‘more’. But the game should always release as a full game. Apparently, Civ 5 didn’t even launch with the religion system!
-Cons: No cons. Games should always release as full games.
* Religion system seems interesting, but many have said it needs some work. Some have said that religious combat is boring, that religions can die too easily, and that one has no chance of starting a religion unless it’s one’s primary goal.
* Interface needs a tune-up. Some have said that there aren’t enough hover-over tool-tips, and that the Civlopedia is lacking in statistic and strategic information.
* Why are districts permanent once placed? Again: ignoring for the time being that Wonders are permanent ‘historical’ fixtures, why can districts not be removed? “I don’t like that there’s a school here! Let’s bulldoze it and put up a strip mall!” “Well actually Empress, we can’t.” “Of course you can! I command nuclear silos and submarines! I built the first computer in 1390 ACE!” “Riiiight…but it’s a special district.” “Oh! Of course. My bad. Wait: …nuke?” “Won’t work either, I’m afraid.” “But in Pandora a black hole generator would literally destroy everything in and surrounding a hex!” “Go play Pandora then.” “Well fine, maybe I will!”
* Roads…built only by traders…can’t be built by workers or ‘Builders’. Can’t build roads everywhere, even if I can afford the upkeep. Can’t focus on roads leading through hills or other terrain that requires more movement. Hmm….
* Diplomacy. Developers have been making Civ games for 25 years. One would’ve expected that they would have the AI’s diplomatic subroutines down pat. Of course, I invariably turn off all win conditions except for ‘Domination’, so I’m sure this won’t bother some of us.
TL:DR: The Civ franchise is the godfather of the 4X genre, the fans of which will always try the newest Civ game…after the release of a few expansions. All reviewers seem to agree that this is the most ‘complete on launch’ Civ game of the past 11 years, and I’m inclined to agree.
Most importantly: Civ 6’s enhancements and innovations will be super-awesome when the next sci-fi Civ game is released. History is boring. People who get into Civ because they’re ‘history buffs’ are lying to themselves. Civ BE is great! And it’ll be even better when the next expansion to Civ BE comes out introducing districts (that can be demolished) and wonders that take up tiles!