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One Week Later: Early Impressions

As I write this, Civ6 has been out for one week. I've had the chance to play two games thus far, the Realms Beyond Adventure One game (Victoria / Prince) that I demonstrated on Livestream, and a private Single Player game (Saladin / King) that I played afterwards in my spare time. Reports are forthcoming for both games at the moment. In the meantime, I've had several requests for initial impressions about Civ6, in particular from a couple of people who have been on the fence about purchasing this game. I was going to type up some initial impressions to satisfy those folks... and then I found a post by oledavy at Realms Beyond that more or less perfectly captured how I felt about Civ6 at release. Rather than reword the same general ideas, I'm going to repost his thoughts and tack on a few of my own additions at the end. I feel like this is a pretty good summary of what Civ6 feels like at release in October of 2016.

Posted by oledavy at Realms Beyond:

The Good

Districts - Really cool concept, executed pretty well (costs need to be scaled down). Reward planning ahead and building to suit your terrain, both of which I like. They also serve to redeem 1UPT in a big way. It's not enough to hold the city, repairing districts takes forever, so you need to control the land and stop your opponent from pillaging them.

City-States - On the one hand, we now have another 'fill up the bucket' system. That being said, sending envoys is so much more refreshing than Exploit AI for cash -> Buy City States. Being a Suzerain and being able to use the city's military is cool, if arguably a little too strong early on. I think I like most of all that each one is unique. It's a lot more interesting and gives me an interesting decision to make each game. City-state quests are still a little laughable though.

Eureka Moments - Really cool, rewards planning ahead in a big way and going out and doing things on the map versus just building up a big science base. Probably need to be less than half of the science/culture cost though. As it stands, grabbing these is super impactful.

Every Bonus Feature Can Be Harvested - Great introduction. It really poses an interesting trade off for your civ. More resources down the road or a lot now? Is rushing this district or unit or pop point worth it? As your city expands and you want to make more tiles into districts, is it really worthwhile to still keep this around? And they scale with the game age?! Great job on this one Firaxis.

Workers - One consequence of making workers obey 1 UPT rules is that Civ 5 was really frustrating from an 'improving your land' perspective. Now, turns to complete something is no longer a delay. Charges are great. The exploit of selling at 1 charge left obviously needs to go away, not sure how I feel about scaling builder costs yet, but overall, this is solid, and feels a lot more rewarding. If you wanted to keep 1 UPT, this is a way to redeem it. It does have another side effect though...

Expansion - I love how this game handles expansion. It finally provides a a really strong incentive to settle for fresh water, coast with housing. Housing as a cap feels a lot more forgiving and logical than happiness. Amenities serving as a soft cap makes a lot more sense and gives a strong incentive to still keep collecting them. Increasing settler costs don't make large empire untenable, creating a 4X game where you still want a large empire, but it steadily gets harder to expand and you have more reason to want to take cities from others. Some aspects of how amenities are distributed are wonky, but on a whole, this three-tiered system to gate expansion is great.

The Eh

Social Policy Tech Tree - I really wanted to move this into the good. In conception, I think the different government types with different slots for cards is really neat. A nice fusion of the best from Civ 4 and Civ5 in this regard. can switch every turn, and can switch for free every time you finish one.... The optimal playstyle will often be to swap extremely frequently - possibly every couple of turns, rewarding an extremely intensive and unfun style of play. This could have been really easy to prevent with nothing more than a cool down on the switching.

Wonder Requirements - I like the wonders that have district requirements, once again rewarding planning ahead. I don't like wonders that have really strict terrain requirements. This feels a bit unfair and reduces your ability to build wonders to the RNG of the starting area you received. While I do like playing around your terrain, this one feels a little much to me, but I don't feel as strongly about this as some things.

Tech/Policy Trees - Really glad they fleshed out SPs into it's own tree. It feels appropriate The consequence of having two spread out trees is that both are incredibly boring and a lot of techs/cultural techs are really generic. I give this a pass because I imagine I will get more accustomed to it and know what I want to target.

Roads - Almost put this in bad, but I'm willing to wait and see for now. Something so essential as roads can only be built by a trader now? And you have to repave over them with every age? This is a natural consequence of the previously mentioned charge system on workers. It now introduces the "Well, I want to establish this higher value trade route, but I also need a road to my outlying city...." decision, which I think is potentially solid. But, you don't get to choose the route. Also, am I right in surmising that you can't rebase a trader once you build them? If so, I haven't found how yet.

Gold - Removing City-States as gold sinks mean there is a lot more gold in this game. And yes, there are new sinks in the form of great people and civic swaps, but essentially, you will only use gold for paying maintenance on buildings and soldiers, and buying tiles and units (On that note, can we talk about how it doesn't show which tile your city will pick up by culture next, or let you choose it, PLEASE FIRAXIS). So, you're going to be rush buying probably more than a few units. This still feels a bit weird to me, but I'll give it a pass for now. What makes this iffy is the abundance of gold you get in this game. I am swimming in gold on my play through and I am not even exploiting the AI with luxury sales. Granted, I am playing Egypt and have a couple trade routes, but just the same, it feels like gold is way more abundant without rewarding places to put it.

The Bad

The AI - Much has been said of this already, and yes, to forestall the counterargument, I understand that an AI will never be as good at Civ as a human player when the playing field is equal. What did astound me was that 100 turns into my game, the most cities another civ had was 3 (as opposed to my 8). The AI wouldn't settle for ages, would wander settlers around, get them captured by barbs, and overbuild districts earlier when it should have been focusing on expansion. As a result of this, no AI is a threat, and I can safely ignore all of them. They spent so much time trying to craft more meaningful diplomacy and interactions with the AI from Civ5, yet it's all wasted, because the AI doesn't matter. Who cares if Qin is angry at me for building wonders, I have twice his score. I can only hope that the AI gets better on higher difficulties, but for a game that is banking entirely on the SP experience, this is an astounding shortcoming. It's not like they didn't craft an AI before that could expand well (Civ3, Civ4), Civ 5's AI was lackluster in that regard, but in that game there was a cost to a larger empire. Here, all the caps on expansion are soft, so why aren't you actually expanding?

The UI - I miss the Civ 5 UI so much. This is just hideous, and it's not getting better the more I play. Resources need to be more distinct, it's impossible to tell what's what without mousing over. Hills blend in, which is really annoying considering how movement works in this game. It's hard to tell looking on the map where land ends and water begins. Seriously, what the hell? I will buy the cartoonish style, and font choice, but please make it clearer what is where. It also doesn't help that mousing over the map takes 2 seconds to display the info (and there is nowhere in the settings I can find to shorten this) and that it's cluttered up with information that is mostly useless, like appeal.

Movement - So, I think in a vacuum the idea of needing the full amount of movement points to move into a terrain type was a solid idea. However, I will say it feels really unrewarding to move, have moment points leftover, and have to hit spacebar and wait until next turn to attack or keep moving because the next tile is a hill. With 1UPT though, the results are disastrous. The traffic is even worse, and units are moving across the map even more slowly. You can't event deliberately road in front of your army to speed this up! This needs to go, it's unfun, and makes the design decision of 1 UPT that much more frustrating.

Strategic Resources - These also suffer from the 'impossible to find' issue, but I addressed that above. My qualm here is that they did away with the strategic resource quantity feature. I will couch my critique here with the acknowledgement that I still don't entirely understand the SR requirements in Civ6 (more advanced units require increasing number of certain resources available?, 1 iron for swordsmen, 2 for knight?). However, I thought one of the best introductions in Civ5 was the different quantities of strategic resource. This felt so much more appropriate and rewarding, inviting conflict over resources. Why was it done away with here? I have no idea.

No Numbers - What. The. Hell. Look Firaxis, I understand you are marketing to a more casual audience these days, but what are you doing here? I know the numbers are there, just have them display when I mouse over the food box or production box in the city screen! This is simply infuriating to me.

Promotions - Terrible promotions, a good number are worthless, and you're forced down one path once you pick. Where is the branching paths of previous civ games? Two lines of promotion? That's it? okay. They could have just recycled Civ5's promotion system and it would be 10 times better.

Bugs/Exploits - I expect a certain amount of bugginess from a new game, so I won't go too deep into many of the known bugs at this point (including the possible one that is really gating people's enjoyment of districts). I do want to talk about the disband units for gold exploit though, particularly doing it with tons of production modifiers. Seriously, how was this not caught? In game, you are primarily gated by production, and so they created tons of big production modifiers in the SP tech tree to make up for this. However, doing this while allowing you to disband for huge sums of gold effectively creates a situation where your best play is to build units with a bonus, disband it, then use it to buy something that you don't get bonus production on. It makes me think these SP cards were created by people in a committee meeting just coming up with random shit without thinking about how it would interact with things. If you couldn't rush-buy, or if you didn't disband for huge gold sums, this would not be an issue. But the combination of all three again promotes really unrewarding play.

Initial Conclusions

So far, Civ 6 is about exactly what I expected. There is some good stuff here, but the dumbing down trend for casual audiences has not been reversed. What's frustrating is how the series seemingly takes one step forward and two steps back. I'm going to get a lot of enjoyment in the coming weeks from intricately planning out my districts and wonders, from trying to make sure I hit every single Eureka moment. These are super-rewarding systems that appeal to more serious strategy gamers. Yet somehow in making the game they forgot how to make an AI that's competitive, scrapped the Civ5 strategic resource system, and the promotion and movement systems that were working for no reason. I don't feel ripped off, I'm going to get more than my money's worth out of the game and have a good time. I would go so far as to say it's a solid strategy game - a little above average. I debate with myself if my reaction would be more positive if it wasn't a Civilization game with a long pedigree behind it. What's frustrating is how close it comes yet how much it fails on stuff that should not be an issue anymore by the sixth game in a series. I am confident it will get better, and I remember how broken Civ5 was on release and that it ended up being a decent strategy game. Civ 6 is starting off better for the most part, but still has a frustrating number of simple errors.

As I said at the top of this page, an excellent summation that very closely matches how I feel about the game. I would also add that I think the victory conditions are not very well designed at present, and virtually all of them require either investing into oddball minigames (tourism/religion) or dragging things out in tedious fashion (conquest/space). I also think that the war weariness penalties are much too high at the present, which ties into the problems with diplomacy and warfare being too heavy penalized. I'll have more to say about this in my upcoming Adventure One report. For now though, I hope this helps provide a little extra information for those who are looking at Civ6 and wondering how it stands at the time of release. Thanks.