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.
Tell me more!
The new Era system is interesting, and it drives players toward additional exploration in the early game and extra violence during the late game. Era points can be earned through discovering natural wonders or defeating higher-level units. This leads to more engaging turns with more activity per turn and less mindless clicking on the Next Turn button. This is a positive change, and possibly the biggest one in the expansion. You’ll earn large bonuses for a heroic age, neutral bonuses for a normal age, and some costly, deal-with-the-devil-type bonuses that can be awesome or ruinous. Overall, the Era system is a welcome addition, and probably the one major change that will really impact your single-player games.
Typically, Egypt never made any attempt on Dortmund to recapture it.
As mentioned before, Emergencies are largely a multiplayer feature. The idea is neat, except most emergencies are military events (attack this, defend that) and the computer just doesn’t seem aware of them. The AI is still bad at war, and realistically likely won’t improve until computers get significantly smarter. The difficulty increases in the Civilization series generally equate to higher and higher bonuses for the AI because they simply aren’t as smart as you. The easiest victory path against the AI continues to be “get nukes, gg.” I don’t know how Firaxis advances from here, but maybe when the robots take over the real world soon, we can ask them for upgraded Civilization AI in the human slave camps for our 30 minutes of recreational time a day.
Having said that, Emergencies could be a huge game changer in a multiplayer match, driving you to make changes to your war plan or enter a conflict you weren’t involved in before—all due to the promise of reward, of course. Emergencies are an innovative idea, and issues with single-player AI aside, they’re well implemented.
Here we have a city newly independent. It would soon join my side, drawn in by my “toys” and “jeans” amenities.
Loyalty is wonderfully fun, but it’s also held back by the AI in single-player matches. The AI players don’t worry about their cities’ loyalty and do little to keep them that way, and they never try and take yours. I’ve never lost a city against the computer nor come close to it. I’ll often gain six to seven cities in a single-player match on a standard map without putting effort into Loyalty. Should you invest into Loyalty, you can certainly swing the pendulum much farther in your favor. The feature is a welcome improvement and could really mix things up in a multiplayer match. It’s enormously satisfying to cause a rebellion in a friend’s city. This might be my favorite Rise and Fall addition.
Governors are interesting, though you’ll only get out of them what you invest. If you’re not carefully managing them, you’ll find they provide only a minor bonus to their respective cities. Your play style will impact your appreciation of this addition greatly. I use governors most often for keeping the cities I’ve captured as they offer a significant loyalty boost. Having said that, they have plenty of other skills, including improving benefits received from city states and unlocking new buildings. Governors are fun, but they don’t necessarily revolutionize the game.
Behold the Timeline feature in all its glory!
The Timeline feature was given its own bullet point on the Rise and Fall official website. It consists of a banner rolling across the screen telling you that you earned an Era point or three. Yay? I have no idea why they thought it deserved its own mention, but here we are. As you can imagine, I don’t think it’s all that interesting.
The Alliance enhancements are probably the expansion’s least-interesting gameplay feature, though at least they’re useful. Rise and Fall lets you pick a bonus when you forge an alliance with another civilization. That bonus accrues over time, encouraging players to stay allied longer. I’ve not had much success with getting computers to agree to alliances in general, though. That might be because they all think I’m a warmonger during the entire game (probably because I am).
In a multiplayer game with rational people, this feature is far more handy. You and a friend can ally religiously against your wife, and then use the alliance to force her people to submit to your gods, winning you the game (and possibly getting you into trouble, if she’s anything like my wife). That’s fun. On the other hand, asking a computer for an alliance and having it decline ten times because 1000 years ago you conquered a city state is much less so.
The year is 2032. Only ‘MERICA stands between Korea and global domination!
Rise and Fall‘s smaller improvements are more appreciated than the major changes. Rebalancing, streamlining, and updating some of Civilization VI’s core features makes for a more pleasant game. Reviewers often complain about the “boring early game” or that the “late game is a slog,” but I’ve never worried about that much. I might have a few dozen things to do by turn 400 on a huge map, and the AI may have broken my Core i7-4790K so turns take 2 minutes each, but that’s Civilization. You play it because you’re going to win and you just need three more turns. No, wait, way more than three. I know it’s 3 AM.
My wife might not love me playing the Civilization games, and that’s completely fair.
The fact that many of the changes in Rise and Fall only shine in multiplayer games is a problem, since the multiplayer scene for Civilization is tiny. Games usually take too long to finish in one sitting, it’s tough to get a group together, and somebody always takes a year for their turns. Rise and Fall turns Civilization VI into its most multiplayer-friendly version ever, but the game still isn’t likely to become an e-sport.
Ultimately, how much you’ll like Rise and Fall will depend on whether you like modern Civilization titles. If you didn’t like the latest ones, Rise and Fall probably won’t change your mind. On the other hand, if you’re into Civilization VI, this expansion will probably eat up quite a bit of your time. The changes are best enjoyed when they’re causing your friends to rage-quit, but even for those of us who only play single-player matches, the game is better than ever. In my opinion, Rise and Fall turns Civilization VI into the best game in the series. It doesn’t do anything ground-breaking, but it does improve much of Civ VI‘s gameplay. If you want to try your hand against my armies sometime, look up “Sweatshopking” on Steam.