Civilization VI’s Rise and Fall expansion reviewed

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.

Conclusion

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.

Sweatshopking

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Comments closed
    • rudimentary_lathe
    • 2 years ago

    For me the pinnacle of the Civ franchise was Civ IV. I find Civ V and VI to be needlessly complex, to the point I’ve never been interested enough to learn all the ins and outs. The graphics have taken a step back, to the point it can be difficult to discern what’s actually happening on the map. Also the UI for basic commands has grown more cumbersome.

    Civ IV is a masterpiece, with a number of well understood civ strategies and battle tactics. And then there are the bells and whistles, like the beautiful intro music and Leonard Nimoy’s narration.

    I know some don’t like the stacks of doom but it’s a lot more realistic than one unit per tile. And it gives you an incentive for certain strategies (e.g. go for early astronomy to circumvent land armies and capture/raze important coastal cities).

    • Kougar
    • 2 years ago

    The expansion fixes so many of the issues in Civ VI, I’d finally rank it better than V with a better, more balanced mechanics system.

    The AI is still atrociously useless. Not even Deity AI will move units out of its cities to allow itself to purchase military units, so instead it just buys support units and throws them at the enemy. It will path artillery units into water to attack ships, so a single Battleship and melee unit can eventually capture max-tech’d AI capitol even though the BB (by default) can’t repair at sea. Civ VI is great, but it’s only enjoyable with friends because the AI is so useless.

      • TurtlePerson2
      • 2 years ago

      Civ 6 AI is the only reason I stopped playing the game. I played maybe 7 or 8 games before I was able to beat Deity AI. Ever since the hex tile system, the AI has been unable to compete militarily. They try to compensate with ridiculous bonuses for the AI, but it’s just not fun. I’ve been wanting to try multiplayer as I think there’s a really good game here, but it’s not a really good single player game.

        • Kougar
        • 2 years ago

        Most definitely. But the hex tile system isn’t the issue, Civ V’s AI was in many respects more capable at warfare purely because there weren’t the same move-attack limitations on unit classes and support units weren’t a thing. So it would only buy military units and moving them didn’t break its own attacks. Also, it bought many more of them and kept replacing them if lost, VI’s AI never seems to do that.

        Civ VI’s AI doesn’t understand support units, doesn’t understand purchase limitations, attacking-moving, or even great admirals/generals. It is only by chance that it forms corps/armies but it will never ever create a 3-unit army + support unit + general on the same hex because it wasn’t programmed to understand it. So in the end, while VI’s AI should be way better at warfare than V, it ends up being worse at it because they took V’s AI and barely updated it for the new mechanics. I still can’t decide if that was laziness or a deliberate choice given Sid Meier’s comments on making AI fun and easy for players to beat up on. Either way it’s not a design choice I will be buying future titles for.

      • brucethemoose
      • 2 years ago

      That’s exactly why I haven’t bought VI.

      I’m fine with “much worse than human” AI that most games have, but V/BE’s just seems lazyily developed. There are too many obvious, fixable issues to count you can see in every playthrough (many fixable by mods), yet they just let them be. Now people tell me they somehow outdid themself in VI… It’s just too much.

    • derFunkenstein
    • 2 years ago

    I leave town for one freakin’ day and everything goes to hell. 😉

      • drfish
      • 2 years ago

      YOU HAD ONE JOB!

    • auxy
    • 2 years ago

    SSK is a nerd (‘ω’)

    • Valiant1
    • 2 years ago

    So my question would be, as someone who is not a fan of the series in general, would i be better of going straight to this or would i be better off choosing an older or waiting on a newer version to try it out? Is it a good jumping off point in the series or is it more of one you would need to have the history to really get the feel for?

      • sweatshopking
      • 2 years ago

      It’s a solid place to start. Id start with the base game and see what you thought of it before investing in the expansion. Probably somebody you know has it on steam and you could give it a shot for a bit. Steam has a refund policy but 2 hours of civ isn’t going to tell you if you like it or not.

      • Zizy
      • 2 years ago

      Civ5 with all expansions when it goes on sale (I think it costs around 30$ then) is an option to save some money, but I would rather recommend this one. No need to wait, except perhaps for a sale to get the game a bit cheaper.

      You will get any feel you need after playing 2-3 games, just make sure you start with an easy enough difficulty, but not too easy to still have some challenge – somewhere around the middle is fine, depending how good you are in other strategy games.

        • Valiant1
        • 2 years ago

        I tried civ IV a long time ago and i kinda think i even have it somewhere in somebody’s game catalog, since there are a billion of them now (steam, uplay, humble bundle etc.) but i played with my brother and he would just demolish me like 6 turns in. I would have built a settler and he would have built an empire. So… It wasn’t that fun for me. Also i get bored if games take too long so i need something on a little map lol. And same goes for when i played SC… I really only played strategy games with him, now that i think about it… No wonder i always lose

          • morphine
          • 2 years ago

          Well, sparring with a kung-fu master isn’t going to be very fun. Stick to single-player for a while, multiplayer in strategy games in particular can be brutal.

    • Srsly_Bro
    • 2 years ago

    Next step is back to CEO position. Keep it up!

    • Usacomp2k3
    • 2 years ago

    I was always more of an age of empires fan than Civ. I could never mentally work out a non real-time strategy.

      • sweatshopking
      • 2 years ago

      I assume you’re familiar with the excellent total war series?

        • derFunkenstein
        • 2 years ago

        I have a couple Total War games. Rome and Shogun 2 are both pretty fun.

          • sweatshopking
          • 2 years ago

          Rome 2 just got a dlc update, and it’s been out for like 5years

            • derFunkenstein
            • 2 years ago

            Yeah the games I have are older. I’m not much of a PC gamer these days.

        • Usacomp2k3
        • 2 years ago

        I am not. I might have to look them up. I enjoyed Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds (On GoG for $6) and also Rise of Nations was alot of fun. I’ll have to look for Total War.

          • sweatshopking
          • 2 years ago

          It blends the empire management of civ, to a limited extent, with top quality RTS. Well worth checking out.

    • chuckula
    • 2 years ago

    [quote<] 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.[/quote<] Free Idea AMD: Call it Civilization VI [i<]Ryzen[/i<] and Fall Edition. Bundle with Threadripper. AI problems solved.

      • Zizy
      • 2 years ago

      Not even overclocked Power will solve Civ’s AI issues.

      • cygnus1
      • 2 years ago

      If only Civ AI got better with better hardware 🙁

        • drfish
        • 2 years ago

        It just seems like Firaxis is either incapable or doesn’t care, really sad. Personally, I wish they would follow the model of doing at least some AI work during the player’s turn, it’s not like that’s unprecedented in 4X games.

        Huh, looks like there are some AI mods in the workshop, I should check them out. The Sorian AI mod for SupCom back in the day took the game from pretty awesome to absolutely fantastic for skirmishes (and helped performance too). Maybe one of the Civ6 mods is similarly good.

          • cygnus1
          • 2 years ago

          yeah, I’m sure there’s plenty of pre-calculating the AI could be doing while the player is thinking. Just make assumptions for major actions the player could take and like branch prediction, any paths/decisions that were made but invalidated by a player action can simply be discarded. I seriously doubt your average Civ players do anything that surprising that the AI couldn’t have guessed you *might* do. Throw it in a low priority thread on a quad core CPU and the player won’t even notice it’s happening. And shoot, I know a lot of players (mostly me) spends a fair amount of time just looking around before I hit the end turn button to make sure I haven’t missed something I could do, so as soon as the player stops moving/taking actions, start calculating as if they pressed the end turn button, that alone could make the end turn button go instantly. It’s like they’re afraid to max out a CPU…

    • blastdoor
    • 2 years ago

    Meh… I’ll wait until all expansion packs have been released and I can by them all on sale for $9.

    Until then, Civ 5 for me.

    In other news… since Civ VI is available on both Mac/PC and iPad, might this present an interesting benchmarking opportunity to see how well Apple’s A-SOCs perform outside of GeekBench and javascript benchmarks?

      • odizzido
      • 2 years ago

      I agree with you. Steam release and you might as well play the game when they’ve finished working on it since it will (hopefully) be as good as it’s going to get. I have the same thing with cities skylines. Waiting for them to finish working on it and for them to bundle it all and put it on sale for $10. There are 15….15 packs of crap added to the game now. I will probably be waiting till 2028 to play.

        • brucethemoose
        • 2 years ago

        Paradox games are a different animal than even Firaxis, as the DLC keeps on coming until the game is obsolete anyway. If you ever hope to play, you should play during the “crossover point”, where the game is fixed up and fleshed out even though more DLC and updates are in the pipe.

        Not sure where Cities: Skylines is on that timeline, but I think Stellaris, for instance, crossed that line with the most recent 2.0 patches.

          • odizzido
          • 2 years ago

          What do you mean if I ever hope to play? Do they patch their games to not work anymore? Or have phone home DRM?(in addition to steam’s phone home DRM of course)

            • brucethemoose
            • 2 years ago

            I mean when all the DLC is finally finished in 2028, you might rather play something else. It’s a lost opportunity.

            I know they just publish cities skylines, but just look at Paradox Studios’ older games. If you waited for HOI, the next one would’ve almost been out by the time you started the previous with all the DLC. If you waited for CKII, well, you’d STILL be waiting many years later.

            • odizzido
            • 2 years ago

            Oh, I am not worried about that. Any newer game like that will likely be in the same boat and I won’t play it until 2040.

            I played through railroad tycoon 3(2003 game) in 2017 and I liked it quite a bit.

          • jihadjoe
          • 2 years ago

          If someone is playing single player anyway I don’t see any reason to rush and play it in ‘real-time’. Might as well wait till there’s a GOTY edition and get it when everything is polished and cheap.

      • brucethemoose
      • 2 years ago

      I’m not sure if achieving feature/settings parity with the PC version is possible, yet that would be an interesting comparison anyway.

      E: Turn times would be another interesting metric, as the AI is gonna be similar in both games. Unfortunately Civ isn’t deterministic, but maybe there’s a way to ports saves between platforms.

      • DPete27
      • 2 years ago

      Civ5 was great! CivBE ruined everything for me, so much I have little desire to try Civ6.

    • chuckula
    • 2 years ago

    A review of a game that’s [b<]not[/b<] about the inside-the-second frame times*? THANKS [s<]AMD[/s<] uh... I mean TR!! * I'm not hating on those either, BTW, but it's nice to see reviews of the games that actually serve as the basis for those benchmarks.

      • K-L-Waster
      • 2 years ago

      Sounds more like an “inside the hour” benchmark.

      “In the first fifteen minutes, Stevie keeps over-thinking whether to prioritize military or religious units.”

    • sweatshopking
    • 2 years ago

    GREAT REVIEW.
    ALSO FIRST

      • drfish
      • 2 years ago

      LMAO

      • Redocbew
      • 2 years ago

      Oh my goodness.

      • PrincipalSkinner
      • 2 years ago

      Wasn’t “First” tag only applicable on shortbreads?

        • Redocbew
        • 2 years ago

        That’s just what we told you. 🙂

          • PrincipalSkinner
          • 2 years ago

          First time I see this.

      • derFunkenstein
      • 2 years ago

      this hurts my Brian.

        • Wirko
        • 2 years ago

        Would it hurt less if he said FRIST?

          • derFunkenstein
          • 2 years ago

          let me ask Brian

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