17th Jun2020

‘Civilization VI & Expansions Bundle’ Review

by Phil Wheat

When I look back across almost thirty years (goodness me) of videogaming experience, there are several games that have stayed with me through their various iterations. Super Mario, Football Manager and Total War all spring to mind (as well as several others) but chief among them is the Civilization series. When I first sunk hundreds of hours into Civilization II, I never imagined for a second that later in life, I’d be playing a game as huge, expansive and now, thanks to two large expansions packs, as feature rich as Civilization VI at all – let alone on a handheld console like the Nintendo Switch.

There’s some debate about whether some of the features in these two expansions (sold as a single “Expansions Bundle” on the Nintendo eShop) should have been in the base game or not, but in all honesty, even without them Civilization VI is a huge undertaking for Nintendo’s console. The lack of power in this plucky handheld console is pronounced in a game like this, but despite the four to five-minute loading time each time you boot up, or the very low-resolution visuals, I could not help be impressed.

I’ve played something like a thousand hours on the PC version of Civilization VI and for completeness, I chose to invest in the same expansion content as I’ve been asked to review on the Nintendo Switch to do a like for like comparison. The amazing thing about the Switch version is that whilst there are some differences (like much fewer AI units, and many technical differences) the features appear to be almost identical. That means the Switch version gets the same laundry list of features from both the base game and its expansions that the PC version does, including then tens and tens of factions that now span the collection.

But enough gushing, I’ll try to be as objective about this as I can. You probably know what Civilization VI is by now, and if you’re reading this review you likely already have the base game. If that is the case, you can skip over the next paragraph or two. Civilization VI is a 4X game – where the four X’s represent exploration, expansion, exploitation and extermination. In a nutshell, that means you’ll choose a real-world civilization – with their own leader, unique units and buildings, and specific way of playing and then you’ll jump into either a random map, a hand-crafted one or a specific prebuilt scenario.

The objective for a standard game based on a random map is to take your civilization to one of the victory conditions that has been enabled – typically through military might, winning the space race or by spreading your religion or culture across the globe to the extent that everyone admires you beyond all others. The game (usually) begins in around 4000 BC, and you’ll need to research basic technologies such as the wheel, or pottery, and by the end, you’ll be developing lasers and advanced technologies that don’t even exist yet. The expansion packs add even funkier new features such as mechanised walkers and similarly far-fetched elements.

You’ll grow your civilization through building new cities and by conquering others, and you’ll need to manage your relationship with both the other civilizations that expand just as you do, and the independent city-states that grant bonuses to the civilizations that send envoys to them. The map is littered with valuable luxury and strategic resources, as well as numerous different kinds of terrain. Building a city in a choke point might really help you tie up a part of the map for your own expansion until seafaring technologies are developed, but elsewhere in your reach there might be a lucrative but vulnerable area that you want to exploit.

Even in the base version of Civilization VI there is so, so much more than this going on. Combat, for example, is a straightforward mathematical affair during the early turns – with only terrain or fortification affecting the base values of each unit. As the game goes on however, you’ll be able to group up to three identical units together to make them extremely powerful, and some units (like pikemen versus cavalry or fighters versus bombers) are specifically designed to counter certain threats. Even whilst the Switch version of the game seems to generate fewer units than the PC version (this may be simply the playthroughs I’ve done) the need for a combined arms strategy is very real indeed.

Now, pretty much everything that I’ve just said relates to both the base game and the expansions alike, but if you do play the game with the base rules and then again with the additions that either the first expansion (Rise and Fall) or the second (Gathering Storm) bring, you’ll be amazed – both by the base game features alone, and then more so by what is added to them. I really don’t want this review to devolve into an infomercial that simply lists the new features, and so I’ll just focus on the key ones – needless to say, there are a raft of changes both large and small.

On the one hand, the two expansions together add – I think – something like sixteen new leader and civ combinations. Some of these are very powerful and each one, much like those in the base game, has a very different play style. Eleanor of Aquitaine, for example, can lead either England or France (receiving the civ bonus for whichever one she is aligned to) but her own personal power allows her to capture cities by imposing her culture upon them. Normally, if a city rebels as the result of foreign influence, it will become “free” for a number of turns before it actually joins the other side, but with Eleanor, the “free” step is skipped.

Another new character is Suleyman of the Ottoman Empire, and his focus is most certainly on warfare and in particular, besieging enemy cities. Genghis Khan, on the other hand, can “steal” other players cavalry units, and is extremely powerful during the early to mid-game when played aggressively. What is perhaps best about all of the civs is that it’s very simple to understand how to play them based on their very powerful special abilities. Also commendable is that it is rare for any civ to have a very limited way of playing, or only a limited time during the game to shine – there’s almost always a Plan B, even if you do fail to capitalise on Plan A.

There are loads and loads of new features, too. Firstly, there are now natural disasters such as floods, dust storms, volcanic eruptions and more. These things will affect your decisions about where to build cities, since however attractive a location might be, it can be risky to build beneath a volcano that might erupt at any time. Thankfully, on the base intensity setting, disasters happen frequently enough to matter, but not often enough to frustrate – and pleasingly almost all of them offer an upside afterwards, such as more fertile soil.

Linked to the idea of natural disasters is the introduction of a climate change mechanism. Many coastal spaces now show a number between one and three, indicating that the space in question will fall beneath the rising sea during one of the climate change events that might happen later in the game. Climate change is the result of many of the modern era buildings, weapons and power sources – and managing your power levels is a factor that will essentially force you towards energy sources like nuclear or coal power, that introduce either risk or pollution.

Linked to pollution and climate change is the new diplomatic favour system, the overhaul of diplomacy in general and the idea of a world congress where ideas can be brought to a table for discussion between leaders both friend and foe. Diplomatic favour is key to all of this and can be earned by keeping your promises, or spent in return for trade goods or other favours. When a congress is called, diplomatic favour may be spent either for or against ideas raised there – some which may affect you and others that won’t. These notions are often powerful, affecting the amount of culture you generate, or your cost to build new units. In the end, you may declare mass wars on other civilizations because of their own contentious behaviour or policy.

On a smaller scale, the Expansion Bundle also introduces different kinds of age, where a player may work towards a Golden Age more specifically than ever before. These ideas were always triggered due to wonders or for other specific reasons in the past, but now, as the ages advance (linked to certain tech advancements) you’ll be scored for your current age and could enter a Normal Age, a Golden Age, or a Dark Age. Golden Ages are most certainly best, but even Dark Ages introduce a few new policies and “dedications” that can not only boost your civ during the age, but also help it return to happier times in the next age.

The introduction of Governors is another small thing, allowing the player to choose one of several Governors, each of whom can be upgraded up to six times, to manage and improve cities. The Castellan, for example, is a master of defending his domain, and can really help a city hold out against enemies. The Diplomat, on the other hand, can reside either in a home city to counter spy and spread good news, or in a city-state city where they will act as a much more powerful envoy. Governors are a simple, small addition, but when used correctly in conjunction with your civ and your in game circumstances, they can be very powerful.

When you bring all of the base Civilization VI together and add it to two expansion packs that feel quite large in their own right, you have a huge amount of content. I mean, breathtakingly huge. To see all of this content pretty much present and correct on the Nintendo Switch is really something. Yes, the game loads slowly and later on it runs at an absolute crawl, but the ambition to have it here in its full fat form, rather than some abridged equivalent is just fantastic. I may be biased, but you cannot buy a better strategy game for the Nintendo Switch than Civilization VI and with these expansions in place, you have a second layer of icing on an already very delicious cake.

***** 5/5

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