How Civilization VI Is Setting a New Standard in Strategy Games

Firaxis Games is not sitting on its laurels with Civilization VI, which is aiming to be the most comprehensive Civilization game in the series by leaps and bounds. Attempting to take in all of Civilization VI's improvements and gameplay alterations was difficult when I first had the chance to sit down and delve through an early pre-E3 build for just little over an hour. So luckily, 2K gave the press a recent opportunity at its Novato studio to experience a more polished build for more than three hours. And within only 70 turns, it's clear that Civilization VI has a plethora of layered and complex ideas that will entice strategy fans to conquer the world once more.

Before starting the campaign, I took note of the setup first. Since we only had a limited amount of time, the match speed was set to Quick, which is actually the fourth fastest speed out of five. Civilization VI will have an Online speed setting that will cut the gold and tech cost by almost half compared to Standard speed, whereas the Marathon setting (my preferred speed) will triple the gold and tech cost. As for difficulty, the build was set on “prince,” the fourth out of eight possible difficulty settings, with easier settings giving your units more combat strength and better overall starts than the AI opponents.

The roster of leaders in Civilization VI has a broad yet distinct range. Whereas Civilization V's leaders have one, maybe two bonuses, Civilization VI's typically have four: two unique boosts, a unique unit, and a unique building. Catherine de Medici representing France has better production for early wonders and earns double the tourism for Wonders. Her network of ladies-in-waiting give her better diplomatic visibility and will earn an extra spy once you research the Castles technology. Her unique unit, Garde Impériale, gains attack power while fighting in French territory, while her unique building, châteaus, needs to be placed next to a river but provides extra culture if it's close to a Wonder.

It would be exhaustive to list out all of the various bonuses for every civilization, even from those that we know of so far, but there are a few highlights. The Aztecs have an Eagle Warrior that can transform enemy units into Builder units, Civ VI's redesigned worker unit that can build things instantly a limited number of times, and China can craft the Great Wall as a unique feature of the civilization one tile at a time. Out of the leaders available for the build, I settled on Japan's Hō​jō​ Tokimune. Maybe it's the Triforce symbols on his vest, but really it was his unique ability, Meiji Restoration, that was the most intriguing as it provides bonuses by building districts next to each other.

As such, precise tile placement is at the core of Civilization VI's design. The surrounding topography of each city will determine what wonders and districts you can construct, as well as what strategic and luxury resources you have access to right from the very start. An early coastal city, in particular, will give you an easier time with completing optional boost objectives for technologies like Sailing, granting you an advantage as a seafaring powerhouse throughout the campaign.

Since cities are now unstacked, some unique buildings and Wonders will need to be placed on tiles away from the city center. So if you can plan out the adjacency bonuses carefully and appropriately, playing a civilization like Japan will only enhance your city's output by placing science, industrial, and military disticts next to each other. At the same time, enemies can figure out quickly what your cities may be specialized in and can plunder specific districts and Wonders of your city if they want to stall your progress.

City-states have been enhanced in Civilization VI, with their unique bonuses being fought over aggressively between civilizations. Your relationship with a particular city-state grows by sending envoys to it (not trader units, to be clear), and you'll earn new envoys every time you get a set amount of influence points that builds per turn. Reaching a specific amount of envoys grants you basic bonuses from that city-state, but having the most envoys to a city-state (and having at least 3 of them) will have it become a Suzerain of your civilization and bestow its unique bonus to you and you alone.

Having Zanzibar as your Suzerain, for example, will grant Clover and Cinnamon as unique luxury resources that can't be earned anywhere else, which keeps your cities happy with a higher number of amenities. And you'll need to have caution: a friendly, rival Civ (I'm looking at you, Pedro from Brazil) can turn on you with a surprise war, all the while secretly turning a city-state near your capital into its Suzerain to fight against you. I can already tell that this will be a ninja strategy in multiplayer. Pedro got angry with me for claiming Great People, which are in a limited stock this time around with all civilizations competing over them (there's only a few Great People in each category per era). Next time, I'll have my units primed to take him out if he starts getting sassy.

As your units continue to explore the world, hopefully finding villages for one-time bonuses and being the first to visit a city-state for a free envoy, you'll be micro-managing each city and switching policies frequently to best fit the current situation. Every time you finish researching something in the civics tree, you can freely switch out different passive bonuses that can help you fight particular units, earn a variety of resources, and/or award influence points.

Once you have the access to various governments, you can turn your society into an Oligarchy, Classical Republic, or Autocracy. Each grant different bonuses, but even when you switch to another government later down the line, you'll earn a legacy bonus based on your past choices. For instance, every 10 turns that your civilization is a Oligarchy, your combat units will gain a 1% permanent bonus to combat strength.

Without mincing words, Civilization VI is well on its way to being a contender for Game of the Year. Firaxis still needs to make refined touches, re-balancing tweaks, and several bug fixes to maintain the game's momentum, but the result may just be one of the best Civilization games we've seen to date. Civilization VI releases worldwide on October 21 on PC, Mac, and Linux.