Preview: Sid Meier’s Civilization VI

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After one hundred and fifty turns in Civilization VI, I, Queen Victoria, emerged victorious, leading England to a solid seventh place based on points.

Quite honestly, I was super happy with that – and I even managed to surprise Firaxis’ Sarah Darney by completing the game’s preview build with every other civilization remaining quite friendly with me. Actually, I’m downplaying that; I was best friends with everyone.

As Darney later told me, this is what she sees as the beauty of the Civilization franchise – you can play it however you want. I was researching science, expanding my borders and even colonising new cities, but I just wasn’t doing it fast enough. Simply put, my AI competitors were en pointe. Nevertheless, my municipalities were large and prospering, and more importantly, their residents happy. There was no war in the world and trade routes were open and bustling. It was hard to consider that a failure.

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This new iteration of Civilization looks gorgeous and plays quite smoothly. Same yet different, one of the biggest changes – that we can talk about at this point, anyway – is that cities are no longer stacked. As you research new elements, you’re able to build new districts, each on a new tile of the now-familiar hexagonal mapping system. Proper positioning of your cities is quite important, as you’ll need to strategically expand to take advantage of resources and boosts. Playing as Japan, as an example, means you’ll get bonuses to your army if your city is positioned near a riverbed.

Another change to this iteration is the Builder unit, one that can be made to then build three items before you need to build another grouping. You might need shelter or a refinery and the nature of the Builder now means you really have to think things through before you begin. If you’re not thinking too far ahead, you’ll have to wait things out for another unit to come to be – and, essentially, stagnate as a result. Military units can also be tied to Builders, meaning the latter has protection from rival civilizations and barbarians alike.

Wonders make their return, and the construction of any means a wonderfully animated building cutscene. As in past iterations, it’s a beauty to behold. They, along with some strategic city building, help attract Great People into your culture, again helping to assert your position in the world. Not that I’d really know from my back-of-the-pack skill.

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It’s too early to speak of in-game values and their balancing, but current systems lead me to believe a lot of it is still required. While I’m quite proud of my diplomacy in the preview, I can’t help but think it was a little too easy; I didn’t fluke it, instead, I milked systems that were perhaps a little too geared to my benefit. Montezuma shouldn’t want to trade one of his cities for 20 gold. Weird trades aside, I’m sure things of this type will be tweaked and refined far ahead of release. After all, it’s Firaxis we’re talking about here.

From what I experienced, Civilization VI was great fun, but nevertheless had a feeling it was more DLC than an entirely new product. That said, it’s still relatively early days; I’m hoping for something with a little more oomph upon release.

Expect Civilization VI on Windows PC and Mac from 21 October.