I had the opportunity to sit down with Firaxis marketing manager Pete Murray to see an overview of what sets Sid Meier’s Civilization VI apart from its predecessors. Behind closed doors, Murray said, “you're going to see what's new with VI. We're going to show you things like un-stacking the cities, how you're going to build districts and wonders off in the city center. You'll see the active research, how the things that you do in the world make your civilization better, but you'll mostly see why Civ is so great.” With that, Murray began the accelerated gameplay presentation narrated by the soothing voice of Sean Bean.
There seems to be a greater visual variety across almost every aspect of Civilization VI. One of the first things I noticed was that a new end-of-turn animation displays a neat day-night cycle to symbolize the passage of time. It’s a small change, but is both aesthetically interesting and adds a sense of time to a series that sometimes felt strangely static. Large, visually distinct structures appear within cities as players construct buildings. A lot of detail seems to have gone into the more vibrant, exaggerated aesthetic to visually convey information to players outside of the UI, which I think is a step in the right direction for an information heavy game series like Civilization. It seems that Firaxis will be prioritizing the utilitarian approach to visuals and trimming fat elsewhere, like the animated backgrounds seen in Civilization V’s diplomacy screens. VI appears to feature static, painted backgrounds behind more detailed character models representing the various leaders of past civilizations.
In Civilization VI, certain resource improvements, such as rock quarries, can boost research toward specific technologies. “Quarries provide greater access to building materials, increasing our insight and instruction. Our builder’s efforts are not in vain,” says Sean Bean as a quarry is built and gives research credit toward the Masonry technology.
One of the biggest changes to the Civilization formula is the ability to construct separate city districts on tiles within your borders. Sean Bean narrates the gameplay introduction of the new city districting mechanic by saying, “Our cities are now free to develop as never before. For the first time, our civilization spreads beyond the heart of our cities, allowing for the creation of new districts each with its own focus and distinct advantages.” For example, religious districts host improvements that increase faith and theater districts improve culture. Wonders also take up tiles within an empire. This means that players will have to be able to defend not just the central city tile, but all of their territory. To that end, military districts seem to be useful as strategic placements – they appear to spawn units when players become engaged in war.
Combat appears to work similarly to Civ V, so unit stacking will not be a thing. I think it is safe to say that Firaxis is not a fan of the “giant death ball” strategy of massing an entire civilization’s worth of military might in one tile to steamroll everything in its path. Barbarians, however, are very much still a thing. “For there will always be those who wish to destroy all we have accomplished” says Bean, channeling his inner Boromir, “Barbarian forces continually prey upon our lands. […] To ensure the safety of our borders, we must defeat the enemy at its source.” The demonstration revealed that the time-honored tradition of hunting down and struggling with randomly spawned barbarian camps will continue in Civilization VI.
Government policies are now represented by cards and each civilization will be able to make use of four policies at any given time: Military, economic, diplomatic, and a wildcard policy that seems like it could be used for culture or an additional policy from the other three branches.
Precious little was shown of how diplomacy will work in the upcoming Civilization title. That’s perhaps one of the biggest gaps in what we know about the game at the moment. Diplomacy has always been one of the most fickle systems in the Civilization series. In a later part of the demo, after Sean Bean solemnly announces that “upon these once untamed grounds, our civilization grows. A new age is upon us and we find ourselves but one part of a larger world. We are no longer alone,” the player’s civilization proceeds to wipe out a neighboring empire, which has always had drastic diplomatic consequences. The demo doesn’t cover any of the diplomatic fallout, however, leaving diplomacy a giant question mark.
Civilization VI releases for PC on October 21. There are still many unknowns, but the core systems still appear to be enjoyable and the new district mechanic and a revamped wonder system seem to be exactly the kind of thing that Civilization needs to mix things up on the strategic level. Here is hoping that Firaxis can nail an improved diplomacy system that players can really dig their teeth into while still being comprehensible to a more causal audience. Sid Meier’s Civilization turns 25 years old this year - make it count, Firaxis.