The first expansion to the popular strategy game has several interesting new mechanics and additions. Now that it’s also out for Linux, I’ve had the time to give it a proper look.
Note: Key provided by Aspyr
Sid Meier’s Civilization has always been a hugely popular series that has often sent the standard for the 4X strategy genre. The latest installment, Civilization VI, has had its fair share of issues but also a few interesting innovations like the district system that makes cities feel a little more organic and specialized. The first expansion, Rise and Fall, released originally in early February but the Linux version was delayed until its eventual release in late March.
I’ve spent thousands upon thousands of hours over the years playing Civilization games. You could probably spend days arguing which entry in the series is the best as they are all rather different to one another while maintaining that certain familiarity that is well-loved. Civilization VI certainly felt more evolutionary than revolutionary at launch, despite introducing new mechanics, because gameplay felt broadly similar to its immediate predecessor. The two strongest new features, city districts and a new way to generate great people, solved some of the fundamental problems that made some of the older titles feel a little limiting when it came to strategy.
I think that the developers have taken some of those lessons to heart as Rise and Fall’s best mechanics also shake up important portions of the game. Chief among these changes is the introduction of era scores. In brief, each era of the game now sees civilizations earn points for actions such as generating great people, building wonders, discovering certain techs first, building districts and many other things. At the end of each era, civs with high enough scores may enter a golden age which grants important boons that can help out significantly. Conversely, civs that fail to achieve a minimum score fall into a dark age which may see some of their cities lose loyalty or be faced with other problems.
Failing to earn a golden age or even falling into a dark age isn’t all bad, however, as it gives you a chance to choose dedications (sort of objectives) that, if completed, add massively to your era score. Civilizations in dark ages, if they get enough points for a golden era, enter what is then a heroic age where they may get even more boons. It works as a good system of keeping games dynamic and gives civilizations who have fallen behind a chance to catch up. There are even civics that can be taken in dark ages that are more powerful than normal but have some sort of drawback, so it can be an interesting and fun challenge to guide your civ through its lowest moments.
There are a few criticisms I have to make about the system. Chiefly, if you’re already way in the lead it’s too easy to keep getting more golden ages than it perhaps should be. In one game I had four or five golden ages in a row. I also found that sometimes it can be a little too tough to get inspirations needed to keep from falling into a dark age. This is especially true early in the game when things like discovering natural wonders can be down to luck and can make the difference between finishing in a normal age and a dark age. I’ve played at least five full games and a few partial matches but even then it’s hard to say if the system evens out in the long run.
The second of the bigger changes include the introduction of city loyalty. If a city is founded too far away to your own cities or too close to other civilization’s settlements, it may suffer from disloyalty. Too low and they rebel, becoming free entities that can then be conquered by others or may be integrated by those exerting enough cultural pressure on them. Governors, of which you have several types, can be appointed as well and they can grant different kinds of bonuses as well as increase city loyalty.I generally like how loyalty works though it still fails to keep the AI from expanding too close to other civs. It is, however, highly amusing to watch civilizations lose a city or two over the course of the game for their folly, especially if they’re in a dark age. Likewise a conquered city can go back to its original owner that way, which I think is an elegant way of solving the blobbing issue that sometimes arose from powerful warmongers. Governors work out to be a so-so addition. It's an interesting concept but they're not nearly flexible enough to deal with fast-changing circumstances like the existing civic cards system is. That means that you generally assign them and forget about them, only moving them when there's a serious problem with loyalty in another city. I hope they’ll be tweaked further as it's certainly something that could reinforce the dynamism of the game if made more interesting to interact with.
The last thing that deserves special mention is the introduction of emergencies. Whenever a truly global event happens, like a holy city being converted to another religion, or a nuclear weapon is used, the game declares an emergency. Civilizations can join in on that emergency which usually involves keeping one offending player from getting away with what he’s doing for several turns. There are bonuses for all involved and if the defending player wins, he also gets plenty out of it. It’s a fun little dynamic twist to the game that’s marred by the fact that the AI is a little too reluctant to join them in some cases. I’m not sure if it was bad luck on my part but it seemed that at most a single civilization would join in opposition, making resolving the the emergency a fraught prospect. They’re still fun moments to resolve but I believe it’s something that can be worked on and improved.
There are other changes in Rise and Fall but they’re more of the evolutionary kind, such as a reworking of the alliance system and new wonders and civilization. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not bad by any means. As a civ addict I love to play around with new districts, buildings, civs and wonders. They’re all generally pleasant additions and go a long way in giving the game more flavor and variety. I especially appreciate wonders that take advantage of questionable quality terrain such as tundra and snow tiles. New civilizations like the Mapuche and Scots are a delight to play and solid additions. But they’re all things that you expect in any expansion and they’re of a sufficient quality not to disappoint.
There are still some issues that are present in the base game that remain unaddressed. The most striking is how utterly inept the AI can be in many cases. While they’ve made the AI opponents sufficiently competent when it comes to building wonders or aiming for cultural victories, it still is rather rubbish when it comes to war and diplomacy. Being backstabbed in nearly every game would be forgivable if the AI were good at following through. Too often I’ve had a civ with good relations declare war, try to invade and then flounder. Worse still, they are gluttons for punishment and are eager to declare war again after the peace treaty expires. Even though they haven’t rebuilt their armies yet!
It’s hard to play as a pacifist or isolationist which, fair enough, is hard in the real world too. Still, it shouldn’t be such a struggle to maintain good relations in every game played. Sometimes you should be able to get away with not being at odds with other civs at least not to the degree that it leads to boring and easily-countered wars. The AI is competent enough at competing in religion, culture and science, so it wouldn’t hurt for them to shift their priorities there to win the game instead of spending so much time spamming me with denouncements and lopsided trade deals. I’d be more open to trading my luxury resources if you hadn’t just pillaged my districts during the last war, Trajan.
I find myself in the odd position to have to talk about a patch that isn’t out yet for Linux. Aspyr haven’t yet put out the March update for the game which does a lot to rebalance and deals with plenty of nasty bugs. The changes mostly sound good and it’s extremely frustrating not to get updates in a timely manner. Aspyr have been better at communication as of late but it still feels like OSX and Linux customers are being neglected. The amount of uncertainty isn’t very good when it comes to recommending the game to others as it can be weeks or months after Windows users get their updates and expansions that we finally get our version. It should also go without saying that over a year and some months since release it’s also unacceptable that crossplatform play with Windows users still isn’t available. Linux users can be very patient and understanding but communication from porters and developers is important in maintaining trust and driving sales.
Also be aware that Asypr does not officially support anything but Nvidia proprietary graphics. I played on Mesa with my AMD card without issue but if you do run into problems you’re pretty much on your own. Performance is also an area where the game could be better but as it's a turn-based game, it can get away with lower FPS.
With all that said, this is still an expansion that I’ll gladly recommend to fans of Civilization VI. It’s not earth-shattering stuff but it’s a clear step forward in improving the game. Even the parts that aren’t that great aren’t enough to sour the experience. There’s still work to be done with the AI but I think it’s enough of a challenge to keep players engaged and entertained for dozens, if not hundreds, of hours. At the same time I don’t expect that this is the kind of expansion that will get people skeptical of the game to change their minds either. But I think it’s certainly a solid expansion that will hopefully lead to more ambitious and sweeping expansions and patches in the future.
You can grab Civilization VI: Rise and Fall on Steam.