Review by Matt S.
Finally. FINALLY. It only took three years, but 2K Games has finally released Civilization VI onto a console that we all knew was perfectly capable of playing Civilization VI from day one. When the PC version landed back in 2016, 2K sidestepped the question of a console port. When it then came to Nintendo Switch, 2K again sidestepped the question of a console port. My only thought as to why this has taken so long is that 2K for commercial reasons wanted to keep revenue coming in over a period of years, and so now there’s a new “version” of it for people to dip, double dip or (in my case) triple dip, just so we can play the game on the platforms we prefer to.
I’d actually be annoyed at this if I didn’t love Civilization so much. But I do, so there you go. Five stars. The problem with reviewing this game is that I’ve already reviewed the Switch port, and aside from the improved visual element, the quality of the game is much the same. There’s still an abominably bad loading time when first creating a campaign, but otherwise there’s no technical issues in playing Civilization VI on PS4. The interface still works as beautifully on the Dualshock controller as it did on the Switch. So it’s all checks as far as port quality goes.
Thankfully, there is one thing I can review to make this content original – after the Switch release 2K put out an expansion, Gathering Storm, which really changed up the Civilization experience. That expansion was not dropped onto the Switch initially (though it is there now as well), so I’ve been able to play that for the first time on PS4. With that in mind, let’s talk about the expansion, because it is a good ‘un.
Superficially the first thing you’ll notice when turning the Gathering Storm expansion on (you can turn it off if you want to play a campaign without it) is that there is a bunch of new civilizations to play, and there are some wildly good ones in there. The Maori start off on a boat with no sight of land. The Canadians like their weather cold, and can do things to make a civilization work in the frozen tundras that would ruin any other faction. Mali, meanwhile, makes gold appear out of thin air, and there’s even a unique leader, Elanor of Aquitaine, who can lead either the French or the English. Each of these new civilizations and/or leaders bring genuinely new ways to play to the experience.
Backing that up is an entirely new way to claim victory – a Diplomatic Victory. Midway through a game a World Congress event begins happening periodically. It works like a United Nations, where each nation gets votes that can either boost, or veto, other nations across a wide range of different topics. You might be able to make a luxury resource worthless for a while, for example. Or make it more expensive to recruit military units. The more diplomacy points you earn in-game, the more votes you get, and once you win a certain number of votes, you win the game. So building up a big bank of those votes to ensure that you dominate the World Congress is how you can target the Diplomatic Victory. It’s one I haven’t achieved yet (I can’t but help go after cultural victories when I play, because I do like to fill my nation with literature, music, and paintings), but even when you’re not running for a Diplomatic Victory, the World Congress adds another layer of strategic depth to the overall experience.
The final big element that has been added through this expansion is climate and climate change. There are now hurricanes, floods, volcanoes, tornadoes and the like that will affect your nation periodically. This has benefits (a flooding river or erupting volcano makes the soil around it more fertile and value once the danger has passed), but can also damage buildings and destroy units. Things get so much worse once your nation hits a certain level of development and starts generating electricity and otherwise introducing pollutants into the air. There’s short term gain for that, because powered buildings produce more goods and resources, but in the long term climate change causes sea levels to rise (destroying cities near the water), and the frequency of natural disasters escalates rapidly. You can then take steps to mitigate the damage and “clean the nation up” with pollutant-free energy sources and the like… but that generally requires some really substantial investments, and there will always be the temptation to build something different instead.
As I sit here writing this review I’m wearing a face mask because my entire state is blanketed in ash and smoke created by catastrophic bush fires, while our government continues to approve new mines to dig coal out of the earth. Civilization VI’s complete accuracy (that certain types of victories all-but mandate you ruin the environment because you need that electricity to stay ahead of the other nations) infuriates me, but only because it’s proof that our government here in Australia is looking at the issue of climate change with all the nuance and intellect of a really, really bad Civilization player. Scott Morrison, you’re a clown. Bugger off and go swim in the ocean.
All of these features combine to create an even more rich tapestry of strategic decisions that you’ll need to make as you play Civilization VI. You’ll have a lock on what kind of victory you want from the early game, but you’ll never be able to ignore everything. You might not want a Religious Victory, but if you don’t do something about your culture’s faith, another civilization will convert your entire population and then use that to push themselves towards victory. So you’ll need a baseline of resistance there (also it’s fun to create a new religion, call it Mikuism, and then set about converting all of Christianity to the One True God). You may not want to conquer your opponents, but you’ll always end up pissing off at least one other civilization, so if you haven’t got at least an adequate military, then you’ll get rolled, quickly.
Success in Civilization has always been about finding the right balances when presented with a dozen different decisions to make every time. The expansion, Gathering Storm, further enhances that without dominating over it. the balancing of the new systems is supreme, and the additional new civilizations all adding more flavour without being overpowered.
Civilization VI is essential. Not only is it a game that’s educational, informative, and inspirational (see my video above for more thoughts around that), but it’s also deeply pertinent to today’s world and gives players a way of seeing – and grappling – with the topic on their own terms. There are deeper strategy games out there (though not on PlayStation 4), but Civilization’s accessibility and polish make it the perfect introduction to the genre, and while the PS4 port doesn’t do anything beyond what was already on offer, this is still one of the best things released on the console this year.
– Matt S.
Find me on Twitter: @digitallydownld