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Civilization VI's Rise and Fall expansion reviewed

Empires tumble down and go back up again

Once upon a time, I had an exercise regime and could see my feet. Now, I have conquered the world more times than I'd like to admit. Many of you fellow Civilization players may share that joy. Civilization VI's new Rise and Fall expansion has been out for a few weeks, and given the popularity of the previous games among the local nerds, we thought we should put together a review.

Reintroducing an old friend
First, some background. Civilization VI is the latest in the long-running franchise of turn-based 4X strategy games that started back in 1991. Players pick a historical civilization, start off with two units (a settler and a warrior), build cities, trade, research, conquer, spread religion, and hopefully rule the world. A game runs until somebody achieves a victory condition like global conquest, cultural or religious expansion, or settling on Mars. The Civ games have always been addictive, and the series could well have spawned the "just one more turn" feeling many gamers experience when playing well past their planned bedtime.  

When Civilization VI originally launched, I didn't love it. I appreciated some of the new ideas on top of its classic formula, but I also felt that its UI was optimized for a low-end tablet. Lo and behold, the complete game is now an iPad app. Although some of the UI issues are mitigated now in the PC version, the game's original interface design made it hard to play. Diplomacy took too long, the cutscenes were obnoxious, and ugh—that menu design with an X in the top-right corner of the screen, far away from everything else you're clicking. That makes sense on an iPad, but not on PCs.

The cross-platform design likely had to do with 2K's decision not to use Steam's cloud service and instead implement its own. The decision is questionable given that the 2K cloud link is often down (including at the time of this writing), and has been for at least three hours. When that happens, there's no way to access your cloud-stored saves even if they're single-player matches, because you can only exclusively use cloud or local saving. This is a bizarre system in 2018.

What new features are we talking about here?
Expansions for Civilization games are always welcome, and they've typically turned great games into fantastic ones. Rise and Fall is no different. Just in case you're not familiar with the major changes, here they are:

  • Eras—new Heroic and Dark ages with rewards or punishments based on points earned by achieving specific gameplay objectives.
  • Emergencies—sudden game events where you can opt in or out of a specific goal. For example, you could be given the option to join an alliance to recapture a town in 30 turns and gain a reward if you're successful. An interesting mechanic, though it's really only engaging in multiplayer games.
  • Loyalty—Finally, the return of the system existing in previous Civ games! Win over enemy cities (or lose your own) according to loyalty points. Loyalty can be shifted through military might, trade, amenities, spying, or just having a ton of other cities nearby. Cities can be made to rebel and start their own "free states," or be swayed to join other civilizations.
  • Governors—Characters that can be assigned to cities to provide specific bonuses based on how and where they're used. Level them up and deploy them to specific cities to impact loyalty, production, or provide other benefits. They can also improve bonuses from friendly city-states.
  • Alliance enhancements—Players can form Research, Military, Economic, Cultural, or Religious alliances. The longer an alliance stays in place, then bigger its additional bonuses. This encourages long-term relationships and adds harsher consequences to warmonger penalties.
  • Timeline—A visual review of your civilization's significant events, in particular the ones that earned you Era points.

Rise and Fall brings additional enhancements, rebalances and adjustments (like drastically-reduced wall repair times), but the items above are the big ones. There are, of course, new wonders, natural wonders, civilization leaders, and units. Generally, all the changes are good ones, though there's a large and seemingly-unavoidable problem: most of the new gameplay features don't do all that much in a single-player match, and that's how the vast majority of Civilization games are played.