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Civilization 6 Preview: A Tale of Many Cities

Twenty-five years later, the Civilization games are a carefully crafted formula. Every part of a Civilization game—be it diplomacy, conquest, or development—has been woven together and tuned to make sure they all interact seamlessly for the player.

Civilization 6 is a continuation of this formula. It introduces new elements to enhance the already-existing systems, but retains the same appearance, flow, and design of the other standouts in the world-building franchise.

I’m given a 60-turn demo to tinker with new systems and venture out on my own without little instruction from the development team. It begins as most Civilization games do, with a group of settlers, a few warriors, one main city, and a handful of revealed tiles.

I send the warriors out in a quick exploratory mission, scouting the area to uncover new resources and get a feel for who might be around. They encounter and defeat several barbarians, ransack a friendly village for much-needed gold, and even pursue bigger targets.

The Settlers move their lengthy caravan down to the south, where they establish a brand-new city within my country. Once it is officially live, I begin to build farms and mimes, attempting to make sense of diplomacy and reason while also building an army on the side. Barbarians are bad enough; I don’t want to be caught defenseless if any of the other leaders decide to wage war.

While scouting about, I’m greeted by Teddy Roosevelt, whose stylized form welcomes me to America and tentatively promises to be friends, should I behave myself. Later, he’ll declare war simply because I accidentally attacked one of his roaming scouts.

More personality and emotion has been woven into each world leader the player will encounter, which also has an effect on one of the newer aspects of Civilization 6. Rather than being cartoon-y renderings, these world leaders are characters with their own motivations, interests, and plans. All of them have been designed to share some of the traits in common with the known world leaders of the past, Firaxis’ developers explain. Since Teddy Roosevelt was known for “Big stick diplomacy,” it’s not surprising he’d declare war on my country simply because of a light mishap with one of his scouts.

Additionally, every leader will have a “Secret Agenda” the player will want to figure out before they can successfully implement their carefully laid plans. This could range from building Wonders to creating a large standing navy, and it will change at the start of each new game. To learn these secret agendas, players will have to engage in diplomacy and perhaps even test out some espionage tactics.

New advantages to interacting with other civilizations have also been introduced. Shortly after meeting with Teddy and having a successful conversation with him, my nation’s research on writing unlocks almost immediately, giving my civilization access to new technology and development. This is part of the Civics system, a completely separate progression system unlocking policies, buildings, wonders, additional policy slots, and—at its highest level—new types of government. It’s another way for players to develop their civilization through means other than conquest or building.

With one city founded and a so-so defense in place, I begin looking to add more to my city. To do so, I will need to queue up some Builders, one of the new units in Civ 6. Similar to Workers, a Builder’s primary function is to…well, build. But instead of structures taking multiple turns to construct, everything is built automatically and the number of builders in each unit is reduced with every new development. Whereas it starts with four able-bodied builders in one unit, by the time I’ve set up four different farms, it’s time to requisition another four builders from the city. This limiter on the number allows the player to have structures completed automatically, but it also forces one to make careful decisions about the things they build and how it might impact their civilization overall.

Another one of the new features in Civ 6 is the implementation of Districts, small sections contained within a city dedicated to producing specific resources. In a stage demo, the presenter had several districts linked up, each with their own specialty. One was a holy district producing Faith, while others were dedicated to science, production, and military garrisons.

The Districts in these cities serve several roles. Not only do they aid in boosting statistics and helping bolster the player’s progress, but they can also provide specific advantages when built near each other or a similar resource, whether it’s improved mining production or an increase in the population’s Faith. In order to maximize a city’s output, the player will have to make deliberate choices about placement within their nation’s borders.

Wonders also have a few new changes, including the fact that they must be built near a neighboring resource. During the stage demo, the presenter pointed to Stonehenge, explaining that it had to be built near a natural supply of stone in order to make sense, just like the Pyramids had to be built on a desert tile. Wonders take up a full tile within the city limits, and Wonder movies will once more allow the creator to watch their genius construct come to life in a time-lapse video.

I spent the better half of my demo tinkering with these features, impressed by both the familiarity of it and the multiple new options at my disposal. It may not be the most accessible entry—there are many layered systems overlapping one another, and the same impressive depth could prove challenging for people who aren’t already familiar with Civ’s firmly established formula—but this is business as usual for the Civilization franchise, and I’m excited to see more. 

This Civilization 6 preview was based on a pre-release PC demo of the game at an event where transportation and accommodations were provided by 2K Games.

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