What’s up with Civilization VI?

Checking in on Firaxis’s beleaguered strategy game.


Following its release in October 2016, Civilization VI faced a divided fanbase. Although the game sat in the high 80s on Metacritic, longtime fans of the series were critical of Firaxis’s newest strategy game. Poor A.I., multiplayer balance issues, divisive stylized visuals, and numerous complaints about the game’s systems (or lack thereof) compared to Civilization V dominated the discussion around Civilization VI. Why was the diplomatic victory removed? Why are players still punished with warmonger penalties? Why does the A.I. make nonsensical decisions and seemingly declares war at random? All in all, these fans claimed, Civilization VI was a game that was wholly inferior to its predecessor.

Some fans, however, were hesitant to write off Civilization VI so quickly. Comparisons to Civilization V were a bit unfair, they said–with two expansion packs under its belt, its not surprising that it would have more content than a game that had just been released. Plus, vanilla Civilization V was even more barebones than VI, with systems such as trade routes, religion, espionage and great works for culture victories all added to Civilization V in expansions, but appearing in Civilization VI at launch. The foundation for a great Civilization game was here, these fans claimed, and with expansions it could easily surpass other entries in the series.

Colors vibrantly pop in Civilization VI.

So, more than half a year later, how is Civilization VI doing now?

Fansites such as civfanatics.com and r/civ continue to be critical of Civilization VI’s flaws out of a desire to see the game reach its full potential. Chiefly, the game’s A.I. continues to be a point of contention. Patches have brought it up in line with Civilization V, however, that game wasn’t exactly praised for its intelligent A.I., either. Hardcore Civ fans continue to find Civilization VI easy on every difficulty except for Deity, and on all difficulties the A.I. has questionable reactions to the player’s actions. For example, if players are in an alliance with Theodore Roosevelt and declare war on an enemy civilization at war with America, Roosevelt’s A.I. may react with anger. Every leader in Civilization VI has “agendas” that they follow, which dictate what actions on the part of the player cause them to become friendly or hostile. Roosevelt’s agenda, “Big Stick Policy,” causes him to dislike civilizations that start wars on his home continent. So, even if players declare war in order to assist a losing Roosevelt, the A.I. may nonsensically become angered by the player’s assistance.

Civilization VI’s cartoonish art style has upset some fans of Civilization V’s more realistic look.

The new religious victory has also drawn some criticism. The amount of Great Prophets available in a game to create a religion is always less than the amount of civilizations in a match, and on higher difficulties it’s almost impossible to found a religion as a result. Even if the player does found a religion, organizing missionaries and engaging in religious warfare can become a micromanaging chore.

Other aspects of the game, however, have come to be acknowledged as improvements over previous Civs. The addition of districts has resulted in the most engaging city building in any Civilization game yet. Cities now have to be placed not only according their potential resource yield, but also according to the bonuses to certain districts the surrounding tiles will give. Pursuing a science victory? Make sure you build your cities near mountains, as science districts generate additional science according to how many mountains touch the tile that the district is built on. While warmonger penalties return from Civilization V much to the chagrin of fans, the system has been made more manageable in VI. The inclusion of Casus Belli means that players can reduce the warmonger penalty by declaring war for reasons such as retaliation for hostile religious conversion, liberating a conquered city, protecting a city-state, and so on. The addition of A.I. agendas also means that sometimes the A.I. may actually like a player that actively engages in war. The happiness system in Civilization V penalizes playing “wide”–or settling a lot of cities–in favor of playing “tall,” or settling a few cities. With the replacement of happiness with the amenities system in VI, the game promotes playing “wide” as long as the player has enough luxury resources or is willing to spend limited space on an entertainment district.

Rather than one tech tree based on science, a new civic tree grants new governments and policies that can be enacted for various benefits.

Rather than one tech tree based solely off of science, Civilization VI also features a second tree of “civics” based on culture output. The civic tree allows players to unlock new forms of government, as well as policy cards to further customize governments towards specific victory conditions and variables the player may encounter throughout the game. For example, policies may make military units cheaper to produce, or increase how quickly tourists come to visit for a culture victory. Each form of government not only affects which types of policies can be enacted but also give bonuses of their own–for example, autocracy can be adopted in the early game to assist with wonder production, while adopting communism in the late game can assist a player’s science victory by increasing production on a civilization-wide level. Each tech and civic also has “eureka” bonuses that reduces research time if certain requirements are met. Building walls in a city, for example, will give players a eureka boost to researching the engineering tech, while building six farms gives a boost to researching the feudalism civic. Because of eureka bonuses, Civilization VI is less focused on science output than V was.

All in all, while Civilization VI’s A.I. continues to face criticism, the game has the potential to become an amazing Civ entry in the same way that Civilization V’s expansions improved upon the vanilla experience. Civilization VI already trumps Civilization V as a base game, as VI includes systems that V didn’t add until its expansions. Districts add an additional layer of strategy and planning to city building, and although religious victories are rough around the edges, its issues are easily fixable with expansions in the same way that Civilization V’s expansions fixed issues with its science, diplomatic, and cultural victories. Fans in love with Civilization V as a complete package may not find VI’s improvements to be worth dealing with its current shortcomings, but given time, Civilization VI has the potential to become one of the best games in the series.