Civilization VI: Loads of Depth and Bugs

Civ 6 Is Such A Mixed Bag

You know, the concept of casting the videogame player as an entire culture in the Civilization games is just brilliant, pure genius. The Civ VI intro cinematic captures the quest for human progress perfectly: the wide-eyed optimism and ambition that encapsulates all the bold and impossible achievements our species has logged over the aeons. Too bad it’s followed by a somewhat flawed and ponderous game.

I hadn’t played this series since college and it showed. The presentation has come a long way and I commend the designers for jamming a ridiculous amount of depth into a fairly attractive and intuitive package. That depth, though, isn’t all bonus: the load times on this baby are ridiculous (about three minutes to load your first save, but it seems faster for subsequent loads), and the game itself suffers from memory leaks because (at least on my PC) it intermittently stops responding and playing audio after several consecutive hours, each halt lasting a few seconds.

It also has two very different ways of drawing the world: a realtime view, which shows all your units and buildings as tiny fully-animated 3D models on textured terrain; and a strategy view, which skips some of the animations and detail and shows the terrain as hexes with simpler patterns. I found the strategy view attractive, faster, and much easier to play.

Civ VI Gameplay

The gameplay itself is ridiculously addictive. As a game writer, perhaps I should be more disturbed that a completely narrative-free game could be this intoxicating, but as with a good procedural (think “roguelike”) game, I quickly become invested in both the short-term story (I want to assemble a themed art museum to attract lots of tourism) and the long-term one (I want my culture to dominate). I also enjoy seeing the progression of cultures, from ideas to technologies to “Great People,” who are famous and not-so-famous luminaries who appear as I advance to contribute tasty treasures like substantial bonuses or advances in political thought that unlock economic, diplomatic, and military bonus cards. It’s refreshing to be in a game that reflects the world we live in, acknowledging the importance of art and science, and punishing diplomatically players who rely on conquest.

Some things work well. Others are pretty awful. Pathfinding often seems broken, with units choosing to slog through forests rather than taking a nearby seaborne route. The AI suggestions for what to build are often nonsensical. Your cities get crowded fast, and it’s pretty mystifying as to what resources and bonuses you gain or lose when you build things. (Key among these are the all-important production levels, denoted by gears. If you build the wrong things on geared tiles, you can cripple your city.) Districts, which are city enhancements, can simply never be removed once they are placed, which seems ridiculous, even granted the many interdependencies. I was also a little disappointed to see that almost all of the units you can build and manage are military; I’d like to see a more sophisticated tech tree here that reflects the game’s non-violent victory options.

Even seeing your city boundaries is a hassle, because as your cities start to creep close together, the game draws them as one united mass. I’m sure there’s some option somewhere to disable this, but I’m stumped as to why this is the default.

And the Civ VI Bugs… They Are Legion

I could see myself playing this game more but there were a few headscratching bugs that convinced me otherwise. First, my traders started telling me they didn’t have any valid trade routes. There were plenty of routes available, even in the game’s own trade management panel. Reddit said this might be a bug that requires reinstallation; I suspect it might also have been that I lost some bonus that increased my trade routes, leaving my trader crippled. Either way, the game should’ve handled this better.

The real capper was in the endgame stages when most of the Great People had been already awarded, which means that the Wildcard bonus cards for them were being removed from the board. I got to a point where I had more open Wildcard slots than there were cards, and the game insisted I fill those slots before ending the turn. Which meant the game was completely stuck. Reddit provided an answer for this dilemma too: restore a previous save. In the game industry, we call this an “A” bug — a bug that completely prevents a normal player from finishing the game, and one that a completed game should never contain. I ended up reverting my civ from a democracy back to a feudal chieftaincy to reduce the number of Wildcard slots just so I could get my game to a semi-satisfactory ending.

Thanks, Civ VI. It was a good ride, but I expected more polish from a game of your pedigree. Enjoy the uninstalled afterlife.


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