The Civilization series is what many people consider to be the quintessential example of the 4x genre - explore, expand, exploit, exterminate. While I've played a fair share of 4x games recently, it wasn't until jumping in to Civilization VI until I realized, none of those ones of late have actually been turn-based strategy, but they've all been real time strategy instead. Now Civ VI is in every way a very modern example and entry into this classic field of gaming, but firing it up for the first time in some ways was like stepping into a time machine as that switch from real-time to turn-based immediately tracked my mind back to my own earliest days exploring the genre. It has those shades of a throwback to be enjoyed, yet provides a modern experience, a very good fit.
However, trying to jump right in ended up getting myself completely lost. Despite being a fan of the genre, I've never actually played a Civilization game before. And while the mechanics and options for world building have been slowly building and evolving over all of these iterations, I've been thrown in to the deep end here. Which considering this is Civ VI on console under review, very well may mirror the experience many players have coming in to this game. PC players have had a wealth of 4x options over the years. Console players' options have been much more slim. And while it's great to have a titan like Civ represented, jumping right in to a qucikplay game was decidedly not the way to go. I eventually just quit the first attempt to start again fresh the next day after having difficulty even correctly positioning my first settlement.
Day 2 would begin with the tutorial. Turns out the settlement building is the very first topic. Of course it is. While loading in there is some wonderful narration going on. Whoever notices narration? Well I am, that's how good it is. Wait... Is that? Is that Sean Bean? (furiously starts googling...) Great googily moogily it is! So each character backstory gets the Sean Bean treatment because one does not simply walk into Civilization. At least not without a pleasant narration from an acclaimed actor with a voice so silky it could calm a raging bull.
What characters? Glad you asked. Each civilization, or nation state you choose to play as, has a leader. That leader gets special perks, Czar Peter form Russia gets a bonus to the resource tiles a starting settlement derives. Attila gets special combat units. Ghandi gets special religion bonuses, etc. Some of these kick in straightaway and present an edge in the early game. Some, like future technology bonuses can take a while to come to fruition but provide that late game push. You are free to play the game however you like, win conditions range wildly beyond the classic exploit/exterminate of less sophisticated 4x entries. That is one way to win of course. Classic Domination, conquer every other capital on the map. But you also can claim Culture, Religion, Diplomacy, or even a Science Victory. The race to space is on.
So while the nation and leader can give you a leg up in certain areas, you are left free to play to any victory you desire. You are also left to figure out how to do that largely on your own. And I'm not solely referring to the strategic aspects of that road, sometimes the very button you need to press is also never presented, not in the tutorial or elsewhere. So you're told to plop a combat unit on top of a city to protect it from barbarians early on. However what you're never told to do is how to swap between city and unit when selecting that tile again. The button click always selects the unit, always. So if you want to check how your city is doing, get ready to start googling (lmgtfy: you hover over a certain button and click up or down). Then it's time to take a city, you drop the HP down to 0 and... Nothing, turn over. Ok next turn... still nothing. How do you actually take a defeated city? Well you start by googling... (lmgtfy: you need to attack with a melee unit, not a ranged one to actually reposition onto the tile and claim the city). There were lots of little instance like this where, despite being a tutorial covering much ground, more ground yet needed covering and critical little bits were absent. These let to some unnecessary frustrations, but they were few and far enough apart to not knock the overall experience.
One particular annoyance was ever-present, however. You see the game for the most part does an excellent job of translating a mouse and keyboard interface to a controller. And that's no small thing mind you. Time and again I find console ports fall flat by getting this one critical element of the port wrong. Controllers do not operate like mouse and keyboard and expecting a cursor and click to do all of the work is extremely painful. Civilization VI mostly gets this right. It even maps the square button to the progression button enabling you to blaze through required actions on each turn by mashing square to skip to the next one. Skip to the next one, but not skip over... And there is the rub.For your combat units, you have a few choices: you can choose to move, choose to fight, choose to embed into their present tile and take a defensive stance. They benefit by some defensive bonuses this way and will skip over the queue of the required actions of the next turn. You can also choose to embed until fully healed, then be notified to move again. What you can't do is simply skip a turn. You commit to embed and are removed from that queue or have to do input gymnastics to work around it. It's a real shame because once your empire grows to even an intermediate size, you're going to really learn to love that next action queue. The square button will be your best friend. But if you're in the middle of a siege and trying to hold off the melee unit another turn to take a city just out of reach needing another volley by your ranged units, the whole flow breaks down. One of the nicest features becomes a chore to work around and it's such a shame in that.
I had more in my notes about strategies I picked up and game phases, but really, that's what playing the game is for. So I'm going to cut this review here. Because what we have is an excellent canvas of a 4x game with a really rich variety of play baked inside and I think those strategies are best learned on your own.
As far as turn-based 4x games, the Civilization series remains the best in the business, and Civilization Vi is no slouch in the lineup. The control scheme was carefully ported and there is a turn flow that when it's working is fantastic. I was in my second night playing when I blew way past my bedtime because I wanted to play "just one more turn" and ended up many turns later over an hour late to sleep. You can easily get stuck in and it becomes very difficult to pull away, the hallmark of an excellent 4x, no? There is a wide variety of nations and leaders to choose from, as well as a variety of Victory conditions to pursue and an even greater abundance of maps randomly generated or otherwise to build your empire. There are grievances that could be improved, sure. But those are really ancillary to the the core loop you experience. A loop that is hard to break out of. Civilization VI is top-notch and feels right at home on a console.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
First picked up a game controller when my mother bought an Atari 2600 for my brother and I one fateful Christmas.
Now I'm a Software Developer in my day job who is happy to be a part of the Gaming Nexus team so I can have at least a flimsy excuse for my wife as to why I need to get those 15 more minutes of game time in...