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Civilization VI: Rise and Fall - title

In a Nutshell


  • Diverse mix of new civs
  • Adds a militant alt leader for India
  • Era Score rewards diverse play
  • Encourages expansion
  • Loyalty punishes reckless expansion
  • Punishments for breaking alliances
  • Governors and government districts allow further specialization
  • Some minor UI improvements
  • Excellent new musical tracks


  • Era Score can be a bit too gamey
  • A.I.s are not reliable in emergencies
  • Fails to fix many of my complaints with the core game
  • Unit upgrade paths still feel shallow
  • Still no production queue?
  • Only a single alternate leader?

Overall Impression :B-
A no-brainer for fans of Civ VI

Note: This is a review of expansion content only.
Please click here for my review of the base game.

Civilization VI: Rise and Fall - cover


2k Games

PC (via Steam)


Original release date:
8 February 2018

historical turn-based grand strategy

ESRB Rating: E10 (for Everyone 10+) for:
Drug Reference, Language, Mild Violence, Suggestive Themes

up to 12 in hot seat, LAN, and online

Official site:

When Civilization V first launched back in 2010, it was in a pretty ugly, incomplete state. The game was buggy, was very slowly-paced, was completely missing any sort of espionage mechanic, and had other gaping holes in its design. It took about six or eight months' worth of patching and updating from Firaxis before the game reached a state that I would consider "adequate". Its first expansion, Gods & Kings basically came off as a fan wishlist, as it re-added (and re-vamped) many of the features and systems that had been removed between Civ IV and Civ V (religion and espionage). That expansion also addressed a lot of core complaints with the game by dramatically improving combat balance and A.I. intelligence. The second expansion, Brave New World, almost completely re-invented the game and added a considerable amount of innovation in the form of trade routes and the new great works and artifacts systems. It also added an exceptional, robust roster of new civilizations.

Civilization VI launched with most of Brave New World's innovations still in place (though culture seems to have regressed a bit), and also added its own new innovations in city management. It felt like a much more complete game at launch than Civ V was. At the time, I was blown away by Civ VI, but as time has gone by (and I've increased the difficulty level), my enthusiasm for the game has diminished a bit.

I really enjoy the game when I play it on the King difficulty level (the "easiest" of the "hard" difficulty levels, in which A.I.s only get very slight bonuses). As soon as I up the difficulty to Emperor, I start to get frustrated, and the game becomes much less fun. The problem is that on the difficulty that I enjoy (King), the A.I. puts up very little resistance, and the game (though fun) is generally too easy. I can play the game on Emperor (I haven't experimented much on Immortal or higher in VI yet), but the stacking of the deck makes the game less enjoyable because I often feel that I'm blocked out of many early-game strategies that I want to try (such as early religion or wonders). It's all possible to accomplish, but it's prohibitively so, and the game often pushes me too far in the direction of militancy.

Doesn't address core game issues

Nope. Still no build queue...

In summary, while Civilization V's first expansion filled many of the gaping holes and addressed many of the flagrant flaws in vanilla Civ V's design, VI's first expansion mostly just stacks additional mechanics and features onto an already-complete game, while leaving many of VI's annoyances, quirks, and genuine flaws un-resolved. Let's get these complaints out of the way first.

Rise and Fall does little to address complaints with shallow unit upgrade paths. There's still generally only a single unit of a given unit class every other era.

Rise and Fall does very little to improve the combat systems in general. Units still die far too easily (in my opinion) (though this seems to be due in large part to the disparity in unit upgrade levels mentioned above), and imbalances between melee, ranged, and mounted units are still prevalent.

Rise and Fall does nothing to address complaints that I've had with the maps feeling very crowded and claustrophobic.

Civilization VI back-loads most of its culture, tourism, artifact, and great work systems into the second half of the game, and Rise and Fall does very little to make these feel like game-long engagements the way that Brave New World mostly did.

It does very little to make the late-game victory march feel less like a slog, or to make the early-game feel less rushed (especially on higher difficulties).

It does very little to address complaints with how the A.I. agendas can make them very erratic and schizophrenic. A.I.s are still far too willing to agree to joint wars against their own friends, allies, and trade partners, and joint wars in general still feel like a cheap loophole that lets warmongers bypass the casus belli system and warmonger penalties. Further, while the expansion does allow for deeper alliances with mutual benefits for the civs involved, it does not expand alliances to the point of allowing for shared or cooperative victories. So dipomacy in general still feels like a zero-sum-game with every civ acting to the exclusion of all others.

There's still no icon or indication that a unit has experience bonuses from barracks or buffs such as "Spears of Fion", or to indicate which abilities or penalties a given unit has by default.

We still can't assign military units to escort traders, nor can we see the path of any particular trader after it's started a route. And Trade routes themselves still don't generate reciprocal profit by default, meaning there's no reason to want other civs to send routes to you (other than getting a free road out of it, which isn't all that rewarding).

There's also still no build queues for cities!

Religion was overhauled in a patch last year, and religious units occupy their own layer.

Some major game upgrades have already been made available via post-release patches and DLC updates, and I'm grateful for those. New resources and wonders have trickled in since launch. One of the best improvements came in an update late last year that allowed religious units to exist on their own layer, so that swarms of missionaries don't block your own units' movement in your territory. And the religious system in general was improved. So the game, overall, has improved a little bit since release. It just hasn't improved as dramatically as Civ V had improved in its first year. Though, to its credit, Civ VI didn't have as much room for obvious improvement.

I am particularly frustrated that the expansion does not expand unit upgrade paths in meaningful ways. The Pike & Shot is a good addition that helps keep Knights and Cavalry in check, but it's the only new unit that I actually feel was necessary. The Drone is cool (as an upgrade to the Airship), but I'm not super excited by it. Same goes with the Spec Ops. They're nice, but I don't feel that the late-game really needed to deepen its unit roster as much as earlier eras, especially considering how few games progress that far to begin with. Upgrading the Medic to a Supply Convoy also feels similarly unnecessary.

The Pike & Shot [LEFT] fills a valuable gap, but other unit upgrades [RIGHT] feel superfluous.

The medieval era has a frustrating dearth of units. There's no medieval sword or siege upgrade (like a Maceman, Longswordsman, or Trebuchet), which makes Knights feel far too powerful for a large portion of the mid-game. The lack of any classical or medieval naval units also feels like a huge omission. I also would have liked to have seen a mid-game upgrade for the Scout (something along the lines of Civ IV's Explorer unit). The early-game naval units, siege units, and Scout just become far to weak, far too quickly and can't stand up to barbarians that spawn during the classical and medieval eras. There's also still no upgrade for the Battering Ram or Siege Tower.

If a failure to address any of these issues is a deal-breaker for you, then you may want to wait until the next expansion. Hopefully these issues will get addressed at that point.

Rising and Falling

What Rise & Fall does do is provide some new ways to try to keep players a bit more actively engaged throughout the entire game. The first way that they try to accomplish this is through the new Golden and Dark Ages. Instead of triggering a Golden Age by passively tripping over a threshold of happiness (as was the case in Civ V), you now have to build up an "Era Score" by accomplishing certain in-game tasks (called "Historic Moments"). These are kind of similar to the existing eureka and inspiration mechanics that are attached to technologies and civics.

Various tasks (such as circumnavigating the globe) contribute to your Era Score.

If your Era Score is too low, you can actually sink into a Dark Age, which will potentially destabilize your empire and could lead to revolts or cities flipping their allegiance to another civilization. Cities now have a "Loyalty" rating, which affects their satisfaction. Excess loyalty can bleed out to nearby foreign cities, which can allow you to potentially take over that city if it become more loyal to you than to its original owner. This provides players with some "peaceful" methods of conquering territory if you don't want the warmonger hate, war weariness, or simply don't have enough units. It also puts a little bit of a penalty on civilizations and A.I.s who like to forward-settle (ahem, Montezuma!).

Disloyal cities can also secede from their parent empire and become an "independent city". As far as I can tell, such cities do not ever develop into city states or spawn whole new civilizations. Instead, they appear to basically just become a barbarian city that is hostile to everyone. At that point, any civilization that gains loyalty within that city can annex it. Or the city can be taken by force (without causing war with its parent civ). So if push comes to shove, I can send a fully armed battalion to remind them of my love.

"If push comes to shove, I will send a fully armed battalion to remind them of my love.
Da da da dat da dat da da da da ya da, Da da dat dat da ya da!"

The Era score (and the threat of a Dark Age) forces the player to constantly be working towards building up your civilization in multiple different ways. Focusing exclusively on one strategy (such as military aggression) may offer diminishing returns as the game progresses and it becomes harder for you to attain Era Points. Much like with the eurekas and inspirations, this system can feel a bit gamey at times. It encourages you to do arbitrary things in order to earn arbitrary points that will contribute towards a possible buff if you hit the threshold -- whether those actions fit into your overall strategy or not. That being said, you actually do have a reason to try something that you might otherwise have no real motivation to achieve.

In some games, the Era Score can also become mostly moot, as a lucky map or other circumstances may allow you to accumulate enough points for Golden Ages without really having to do anything to actively earn them. You just play the game as you normally would, and if you happen to stumble into a Golden Age cake, then I guess you can eat the cake too. Even if you fail to achieve the minimum threshold of Era Points, a Dark Age is not a game-ending condition. Your loyalty drops, and a poorly-managed or over-extended empire may disintegrate. This can prematurely end your game, but at least it's a system-driven fail-state that is the result of your own [for lack of a better word] mistakes.

Settling too close to other civs can lower loyalty, leading to rebellions, secession, or joining another empire.

The Era Score gives you more to think about, and it creates situations where you either want to rush to do something, or wait. Maybe you hold off on training your first unique unit because you have no immediate need for it, you've already hit the threshold for a Golden Age, and you won't benefit at all from the Era Points that it will provide. Or maybe you realize that you simply can't earn enough points to avoid a Dark Age, so you delay certain actions in order to save them for the next era, when they may be enough to push you into a Golden Age.

Firaxis isn't completely merciless though. If you can go directly from a Dark Age to a Golden Age, then you'll trigger a "Heroic Age", in which you get even more bonuses than a normal Golden Age. To help with this, Dark Ages will grant you access to exclusive social policies that actually do have some pretty powerful benefits -- but at the cost of pretty significant penalties (as well as the opportunity cost of not using a different policy). If you can use these dark policies effectively, then your underdog civ can reach an even brighter glory. In some cases, you might even want to trigger a Dark Age in order to gain access to the superior Heroic Age.

Dark Ages grant exclusive policies with potent trade-offs.

Leadership by committee

Later in the game, there's also a new "emergency" feature, which provides additional objectives that one or more civs can cooperate to achieve. These quests are targeted against a specific civilization that commits one of several specific offenses. Launching a nuke, capturing a city state, declaring war on a weaker opponent, and other such actions can allow all other civs to chose to gang up on the offending civ. If the coalition civs succeed at the stated goal, or whatever, they are all granted some minor reward. If the offending civ that triggered the emergency holds off those other civs from accomplishing their goal, then that one civ gets a major reward.

These combine with the Historic Moments provide you with additional late-game tasks to accomplish, and the idea seems to be to give the player(s) things to do beside hitting "End Turn" and turtling to a victory. It could also, hypoethetically, provide a "catch-up" mechanic for civs that are falling behind, or as a check on civs that are steamrolling to a victory. Emergencies can also target civs that betray an alliance with another civ, which finally adds some recompense for all the spurious joint wars that friendly A.I.s will declare against you. Sadly, it doesn't deter the A.I.s from declaring those wars.

Emergencies act as late-game quests that multiple civs can cooperate to complete.

It's a bit frustrating that you aren't given any indication of whether the other civs are going to join you in accepting the emergency, nor is there any way to actually coordinate with the A.I.s on how to proceed. This can be a problem if the emergency involves you declaring war on another civ that is actually militarily or economically superior to you, as you won't know if you'll receive any support from the other civs. Even if they do accept the task, the A.I. is still notoriously fickle, and you'll likely be stuck having to do most (if not all) of the work on your own. If they don't accept the call to action, you can't invite them to join you in the war after the fact because the game still doesn't allow you to invite other civs into a joint war against an opponent that you are already at war with.

This system has a lot of risk and reward associated with it, but the incomplete information means that the actual extent of the risk is usually unknown. In games in which you are already a military and economic superpower, then these emergencies can often be trivial to deal with, and success just puts you into an even better position (the rich get richer). Alternatively, in games in which you are lagging behind, and taking up the emergency may swing the game in your favor (or at least slow down an opponent who is cruising toward a victory), it might be impossible to justify accepting the challenge if you don't know if you'll get help from the other player(s).

Governors provide loyalty and buff your cities.

Rise and Fall also introduces a mechanic that is fairly common in other grand strategy games (such as Stellaris): governors. A governor is a special character that can be assigned to a particular city and provides various buffs. Each governor has a specific theme, and comes with its own promotion tree. As you progress through the tech and civic trees, or build wonders, or accomplish certain other objectives, you'll be awarded with additional governor "titles", which can be turned in to either recruit another governor, or to promote an existing one.

Unlike Great People, governors are not a global resource that civs compete for. Every civ has access to its own set of governors, and that set is identical for every civ. They actually operate more akin to spies than to great people.

Some of these governors can unlock exclusive improvements such as the fishery or city park, while others grant passive bonuses to trade, culture, science, or religion. There's a pretty wide variety of options available, though my particular playstyle means that I often find myself picking the same two or three governors and promoting them in similar ways every game.

One of the ways to earn governor titles is to build the new government district. This is a special district that acts similar to a National Wonder in Civ V: you can only build one in your empire. There's also a set of tiered buildings that you can add to the district. At each tier, you're given the option of one of three buildings, and each building has a different effect. For example, at tier I, you have the option between a building that buffs cities with governors, or a building that grants a bonus from military conquests, or a building that provides discounts towards settlers and builders.

Each tier of government building unlocks three mutually-exclusive building options.

One change that I'm not sure that I like is the removal of legacy bonuses from governments. Your civ no longer automatically accumulates passive bonuses by staying with a particular government for longer. Instead, you are given a policy card that corresponds to your current government at the time that you build a government district building.

In the base game, I sometimes found myself delaying the adoption of a new government if I was close to improving my current legacy bonus. This was, admittedly, pretty rare, since the legacy bonuses accumulated very slowly and provided generally weak benefits. With the expansion, I might consider delaying the construction of the next tier of government building if I want to switch governments first, so I guess maybe it's functionally equivalent. The problem is that the new legacy policy cards take up a valuable wild card slot in whatever government you do have selected, so I often don't bother enacting them, and I rarely care which of the cards I receive.

More fresh, new faces

One of Firaxis' most consistent successes since Brave New World is the eclectic sets of new and interesting civilizations being added to the games. Yes, the popular veterans Genghis Khan of Mongolia and Shaka of the Zulu return, but theirs are the only familiar faces that you'll see. Keeping with the philosophy of the base game, there's a lot of fresh new faces and nations here that we've never seen in a Civ game before. As with the base game, I love being exposed to these new historic figures and empires that I wasn't familiar with before. The story of Tomyris of Scythia has become one of my favorite historical anecdotes, and I hope to find other similarly fascinating stories with the new civs.

Most of the expansion civs and leaders are completely new to the franchise.

There's still some major cultures that are conspicuously absent from the game. The Ottoman Empire, Inca, and Maya are the big three that I'm surprised to not see. I'd also have really loved to have seen Polynesia be brought back. That was a Civ V DLC civ that looked really neat and had a novel power, but which I never got around to playing. But I guess Firaxis has to save some big names for the second expansion...

Chandragupta of India is the only new
leader added to an existing civilization.

I was also really disappointed that the expansion only adds a single alternate leader for an existing civilization. I feel that the alternate leaders is one of the most sadly under-utilized features of Civ VI. I understand that Firaxis put it in so that modders could fill out the roster with their own creations, but I'd still like to see more first-party leaders from Firaxis. To Firaxis' credit, the one alt leader that they did add is a militaristic Indian leader (as an alternative to the peace-monger Gandhi), which was numeral uno on my list of desired alt leaders.

That being said, there's still a lot of alternate leaders that I would really like to see. I was hoping to see a medieval English crusader king like Richard the Lionheart. I was hoping to see an alternate for Rome that represents either the pre-imperial republic or the Byzantine period (with a Cataphract unique unit). Those two would certainly seem to fit into the themes of dark and golden ages. I was also hoping to see Bismark (or maybe even Agela Merkel, if Firaxis is willing to use living people) represent the modern German nation-state (as opposed to the Holy Roman Emperor who is currently representing Germany). Or maybe even an alliance-building alternate Aztec leader representing their Olmec heritage (though that one might be more appropriate as a whole new civ). There's a lot of potential for the alternate leaders to allow Firaxis to represent variations of the cultures that are already in the game without having to create a whole new civilization, but it's gone almost completely squandered. I would have welcomed a DLC leader pack containing three or five alt leaders, but so far Firaxis has given us nothing in this regard. Greece and India have alternate leaders. That's all you get, unless you dig into mods.

There are a lot of alternate leaders that I would love to see Firaxis add. But so far, no such luck...

Despite my annoyance with the lack of alternate leaders, I'm mostly happy with the selection of new civs and leaders that is offered. The lack of any representation of Byzantium is the only glaring fault that I see in this package, considering the Golden and Dark Ages theme. The Netherlands, with their beautiful Polders were one of my favorite civs in Civ V, and I love them in VI as well (even though I preferred building polders in marshes and floodplains in Civ V). Cree trade routes annexing tiles is also a nice ability that I really like, and Korea seems all-around pretty strong..

The new musical tracks are also pretty outstanding. I love the Scottish musical track in particular. The Cree, Mongolian, and Dutch theme tunes also stuck out to me.

More to love, but not less to hate

Since Civ VI did feel like a feature-complete game on release, there wasn't much that felt "missing" that needed to be re-added by an expansion. This meant that, from my perspective, the sky would be the limit for the expansions. I feel like Rise and Fall kind of plays it safe and so fails to deliver on the promise of expanding an already-complete game. Despite the title, the civilizations in the game are not actually falling, and new civilizations aren't rising (e.g. being spawned into the game) over the course of the game (like in the "Rhye's and Fall" mod that might have inspired this expansion).

Though not terribly innovative, the new features that are added offer a good mix of new systems, some ideas borrowed from competitors, and the return of some old ideas with a fresh presentation. At the very least, you have to think much more carefully about how you're going to expand and how you're going to manage your cities.

If you're already enjoying Civ VI, then this expansion is a no-brainer -- maybe even for the new civs alone. If Civ VI wasn't your cup of tea to begin with, then I doubt that this expansion will bring you on board the bandwagon. If you're expecting a dramatic improvement on the same level as Civ V's Gods & Kings expansion, you'll probably be disappointed.

Rise and Fall allows deeper alliances, but not to the point of shared or cooperative victories.

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