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Civilization VI: Gathering Storm - title

In a Nutshell

WHAT I LIKE

  • World is more alive and dynamic!
  • Attempt to add late-game challenges to overcome
  • Attempts to make some infrastructure and units more useful
  • Fills in holes in unit upgrade lines
  • Trading strategic resources make diplomacy more relevant
  • Strategic resource limitations make a varied military more important
  • New civs play very well with and against each other
  • Maori starting on ocean
  • Peace-mongering civs have new rewards and options
  • Otherwise peaceful civs aren't unduly punished as "warmongers" for defending themselves
  • Finally adds a build queue!

WHAT I DON'T LIKE

  • Randomness of weather events
  • Global warming disproportionally affects coastal civs
  • Global warming effects are easy to mitigate
  • Diplomatic victory provides perverse incentive to pollute excessively
  • World Congress lacks a sense of purpose
  • Lingering problems with denouncements, promises, surprise wars, and joint wars
  • New and lingering UI issues

Overall Impression : C+
Subtle changes steal the show

Civilization VI Gathering Storm - cover

Developer:
Firaxis

Publisher:
2k Games

Platforms:
PC (via Steam)

MSRP: $40 USD

Original release date:
13 February, 2019

Genre:
historical turn-based grand strategy

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

Player(s):
up to 12 in hot seat, LAN, and online

Official site:
civilization.com/

It's refreshing to see a video game (of all things) take seriously the second greatest existential threat to civilization (after nuclear weapon stockpiles), while governments (particularly here in the United States) fail to even acknowledge that it's real. I was honestly a little bit surprised to see anthropogenic climate change be the focus of an entire expansion to Firaxis' Sid Meier's Civilization VI. Firaxis has been playing very "politically correct" with the game in its past two iterations. Civ IV, if you remember, included slavery as a mechanic that allowed players to kill population in exchange for a production boost, and it included leaders like Joseph Stalin and Mao Zadong. Civilization III allowed collateral damage from city sieges that would kill population, destroy infrastructure, and potentially reduce wonders of the world to mere ruins. Civilization II allowed democratic congresses to overrule the choices of the player. And Civilization: Colonization actually required you to draft citizens from your cities into soldiers to fight wars.

Politically sensitive concepts like slavery, and characters like Joseph Stalin, have been in Civ games before,
but Civ V and VI have played things very safe and controversy-free with most of their content.

Civilization V and VI have dialed back from such concepts and leaders, as well as other "politically sensitive" topics in favor of diversity, inclusiveness, and a more rose-tinted vision of human history that tries to pretend that things like slavery, colonialism, opium wars, and the Holocaust didn't happen. I get it. They're going for a more optimistic vision of humanity that celebrates our achievements while overlooking the incalculable amount of [often unnecessary] suffering that came at the expense of many of those achievements.

So to see Anthropogenic Global Warming not only be included -- but to be the headline feature -- is surprising. I mean, I don't think it's a politically or culturally sensitive topic, nor should it be to anyone else if we lived in a rational world. It's the reality that we live in -- plain and simple. Nevertheless, it's a brave and important gesture from 2k and Firaxis. Anthropogenic climate change is certainly the second greatest threat to human civilization after our frightful stockpile of nuclear weapons -- or maybe an asteroid impact, but that is exceedingly unlikely to happen. It's an issue that needs to be a part of the cultural conversation, and it is perhaps the biggest price that we (as a civilization) are going to pay for the hubris of our unsustainable growth. It's a problem that every nation in the world needs to face, and solving that problem should be part of any game that attempts to simulate or systematize modern politics.

Anthropogenic climate change is one of the most serious problems threatening real-life civilization.

That is why I'm rather disappointed that the actual implementation of global warming in Civilization VI: Gathering Storm is a bit lackluster and un-apocalyptic.

The greatest existential threat to civilization is civilization

Climate change in Civilization VI: Gathering Storm just doesn't seem to be quite as devastating [globally] as it is in real life. Basically, raising the global temperature will have three effects.

  • Increases the frequency of weather-related disasters,
  • Melts polar ice caps,
  • Floods certain coastal tiles.
Many disasters are trivially managed by leaving a builder or two (with 1 charge) to repair pillaged tiles.

The melting of the polar ice is actually a benefit, as it provides easier routes for naval units if canals aren't available or useable. The other two will cause problems for every player, but I've found them fairly easy to manage (at least on the Emperor difficulty that I usually play on). Disasters will typically pillage tile improvements and districts, but a severe disaster may also outright remove improvements, and may even kill points of population.

Pillaged tiles can be trivially repaired as long as you leave a couple builders hanging around with 1 charge left (since repairs do not cost a charge). Worst case, you may have to train a few extra builders if improvements are outright destroyed. You lose a couple turns of productivity from the affected tile(s), but with a builder around to repair it, there's no permanent or long-term damage. Pillaged buildings and districts can be a bit more troublesome, since repairing those will use up a few turns of the city's production queue. You not only lose the output of the district or building for those turns, but also lose the opportunity cost of not being able to build other districts, buildings, units, wonders, or projects in that city.

Rising sea levels will flood tiles and destroy districts.

The coastal flooding is the only permanent damage, and it can be completely prevented by simply building Flood Barriers in any relevant cities -- or simply never settling or building directly on the coast. If you're keeping ahead in science, you'll likely get to the tech for Flood Barriers before coastal flooding gets too severe, and so your cities will be completely safe.

It's the other civs (who are behind in technology) who will suffer, which means that you can actually weaponize global warming!

Flood barriers protect coastal cities and districts from sea level rise.

The mechanics associated with climate change are fairly scientifically accurate and do a decent job of modeling the specific effects that the game supports, but those effects are very limited. Global warming in the game won't (as far as I can tell) turn plains into desert, destroy woods or rainforest, kill grazing animal resources from lack of plants, kill ocean animals resources due to ocean acidification, bleach or kill coral, reduce or eliminate the bonuses and appeal from natural wonders or national parks, reduce the housing capacity in cities due to shortages of fresh water, destroy ski resorts due to lack of snow, turn snow into tundra or tundra into plains, release toxic methane stuck under the permafrost of thawing tundra tiles, or any other similar (and likely permanent) effects that would be analogous to the real world effects of global warming.

Many real-world consequences of climate change are ignored.

A lot of the social and political strife from climate change is also ignored. You won't see nations fighting wars over access to fresh water. You won't see an influx of climate refugees fleeing cities because they've run out of water, or have become over-run with disease-carrying mosquitoes, or their soil will no longer sustain their food crops or livestock. You also won't have to cope with (or exploit, depending on your government and governing style) a rise in popular nationalism and cries to build walls to keep those refugees and immigrants out; nor will you have the opportunity to do the right thing and open your doors to desperate people in need. The closest you'll come is to be able to perform city projects to give foreign civs gifts of nebulous "aid" in order to win competitions.

Climate refugees (or the associated reactionary social fear of them) is not modeled at all.

Some aspects of global conflict as a result of climate change may happen as en emergent reaction to climate change in the game, but the game mechanics won't create these effects explicitly.

Furthermore, failing to prevent or mitigate global warming doesn't act as a "lose condition". If you're well on the path to a victory before the effects of warming become manifest, then those effects will be moot. They might slow you down a bit if your key districts (such as a Spaceport or Theater) become pillaged or submerged, but they'll rarely -- if ever -- be more than an inconvenience.

You can win the game without first having to deal with the consequences of climate change.

You can happily launch your exoplanet expedition (which replaces the Mars mission as the science victory), and win the game while leaving the entire population of Earth to suffer and possibly die within the runaway greenhouse effect. You can attract enough tourists to your museums and win the game, even if the cities that the tourists are visiting are constantly being flooded or inundated with hurricanes. You can conquer all the capitals, even if those capitals are too hot for anyone to live in.

The A.I.s will even call you out for doing so! But the game rules are such that none of the victories actually require you to confront and deal with climate change.

Scrubbing CO2 is a possible path to victory.

Perhaps worse yet, there's a late-game civic that allows you to scrub CO2 out of the atmosphere, and you're rewarded for doing so with Diplomatic Favor, which can be used to win a Diplomatic Victory (more on these later). This city project only allows you to scrub CO2 that your civ has produced -- you can't scrub other players' CO2. As far as I can tell, civs who never pollute to begin with do not receive any Diplomatic Favor or any other bonuses or rewards, and they are equally subject to the drawbacks of increased warming. This provides a perverse incentive for players who are ahead in the tech and civic trees to pollute as much as they want, then build Flood Barriers to protect their coastal cities, and watch as all the other civs' coastal cities sink into the ocean, while you scrub your own pollution for Diplomatic Favor that you use to win the Diplomatic Victory. You can effectively win the game by destroying the world, so to speak.

Civ IV had poorly-implemented random events.

What's the weather today?

I'm also not thrilled with Firaxis' implementation of weather. When the expansion was first announced, a lot of Civ players (including us on the Civilization podcast PolyCast) had some unpleasant flashbacks to Civ IV's random events, with mountains suddenly turning into volcanoes, and hurricanes randomly killing population, and so forth. The implementation in Gathering Storm is not that bad, but it's also a far cry short of games like Cities: Skylines's Natural Disasters expansion, and also not quite what I was hoping for.

I've advocated for climate mechanics in the past. But when I did that, I was thinking more of large-scale climate events. Things like anthropogenic climate change, Little Ice Age, the Medieval Warm Period, ice caps and glaciers gradually expanding and receding over the ages, for deserts and rainforest to [similarly] slightly grow and shrink over the ages, slight ocean level changes, and so forth. I was looking for things like ice caps to partially melt and allow ships to travel through (temporarily), only to freeze back over a thousand years later when the climate cools again, or for land bridges to maybe form as ocean levels recede, or for animals to migrate to more temperate tiles, and other things like that. Beyond Earth started to go slightly in this direction with the Miasma feature and the mobile aquatic cities.

I was advocating for more gradual and systematic changes. Things the player(s) could see coming and react to accordingly. Things to put external pressures on civs to find new land and resources in order to reduce turtling. The idea would be to make the map more dynamic to force players out of comfort zones, and to shift some of the game's challenge away from the A.I. and onto more "player versus the map" kind of challenges.

Storms occur at random, and cannot be predicted or prevented.

I wasn't advocating for individual hurricanes, tornadoes, and the like, but that's what we got.

The implementation here is OK. It's not as offensively bad as Civ IV's random events. There are still completely random weather events such as storms, droughts, and so forth. These events cannot really be predicted or alleviated. There's no climate model that causes storms to be more common in certain parts of the map, or for storm systems to follow predictable patterns. Or at least, there's no climate models that are visible to the player. I see floods, storms, and other events repeatedly hit the same tiles or regions. So Maybe there is some underlying logic or weighting for certain events at certain places, but it's completely invisible to the player. Weather just seems to come out of nowhere. You can build some infrastructure to mitigate the penalties (such as Aqueducts), but you're mostly at the mercy of a random number generator here.

The better-executed ideas are the river flooding and volcanoes. Unlike the random storms and droughts, floodplains and volcanoes are specific tiles on the map. You know that they are prone to flooding and erupting (respectively), and so settling near them is a part of risk / reward game strategy. They also provide benefits, as well as penalties. Floods and volcanic eruptions will fertilize the affected soil, making farms more productive for a period of time. They'll also pillage any farms on the tiles, but as long as you keep a 1-charge builder handy, you can quickly repair the damage and reap the rewards.

I don't mind the river flooding or volcanoes, because they have well-explained cost-benefit strategy.

It's all a bit underwhelming -- more of a series of inconveniences -- and doesn't really shake up the game as much as I would have liked it to.

No clear agenda?

The other big, headline feature is the return of a World Congress. This feature is also a mixed bag.

I really like the inclusion of the new Diplomatic Favor currency. You earn it from government type (similar to city state influence), but can also earn it from alliances with other civilizations and city states. You can then use it to vote on World Congress resolutions or trade it with other civilizations in exchange for money or resources. The idea is similar to the promises and diplomatic capital of Beyond Earth, which was one of my favorite concepts in that game, and I'm glad to see a variation of it return here.

The World Congress, itself, falls rather hard on its face, in my opinion. First and foremost, there is no "leader" of the Congress, as there was in Civ V, so which resolutions appear at any given time is (as far as I can tell) random. No matter how much favor you've banked, you might simply never have the opportunity to vote on a resolution that you want because it never shows up, and you have no way of proposing it.

Many resolutions target specific civs, providing very few tradeoffs for voting for or against them.

I'm also not happy with some of the resolutions themselves. Many target specific civilizations, which seems kind of silly. For example, there's a resolution to make all new districts plopped by a specific civ act as a culture bomb. There's no real reason for any civ other than the one being targeted to want to vote for this. I'd much rather that this resolution have targeted a specific type of district (such as campuses or encampments), or for it to apply to all civs so that there's a risk / reward element to voting for it.

These selfish proposals means that the Congress isn't as much about building coalitions, and is more about saving up more favor than the other civs.

You similarly have little-to-no recourse that I'm aware of if other civs are polluting the planet and driving up the temperature. I haven't seen any diplomatic options to demand that other civs stop burning fossil fuels, or to provide them with an alternative energy source (since you can't trade electricity). And even if you could, there is no way to shut down an existing power plant. All you can do is convert it to a different type that you've unlocked, with nuclear power being the cleanest and deepest into the tech tree. Heck, even if you capture another civ's city that has a polluting coal or oil plant, you still can't shut down or demolish it (shy of completely razing the city). There may be an option to ban fossil fuels in the World Congress, but its appearance on the agenda is random, and I don't recall seeing such a resolution show up in my games so far.

It's important to acquire Diplomatic Favor early, since it's used for declaring emergencies.

The emergency system from Rise & Fall was also rolled into the Congress. This is a fantastic change, and these emergencies are the only time that civs are actually given the ability to propose a resolution as a reaction to some event in the game, which triggers a special session in which all potentially-affected civs may vote. However, if you don't have any Favor, you can't propose these emergencies, which is especially punitive early in the game, when the A.I.s are steamrolling over city states left and right, and you don't have enough favor to do anything about it.

Grievances will tell the world who is
on the right side of a conflict.

Even though the A.I. is still rather incompetent, diplomacy is slightly improved by the new "grievances" system. The "warmonger" rules were always annoying, and it's been replaced with a new system in which specific offenses against specific civs are tracked and provide a score that determines which of two civs is on the right side of any conflict. In principle, this means that aggression against one civ does not label you a "warmonger" for the rest of the game. A.I.s may take your side on one conflict, but oppose you in another conflict (sometimes even simultaneously), depending on the breakdown of grievances.

I'll admit, I'm not entirely sure if this system will be work out well in the long-run, as it's something that will take a lot of time to get used to. In any case, it definitely seems like an improvement over the old warmonger system.

What's old is new again!

Even though the game's core features (climate change, disasters, and the World Congress) are kind of a wash, I feel that the real strength of Gathering Storm is how some of the more subtle changes and additions really improve the underlying game.

For instance the inclusion of strategic resource supply is probably the single best addition that either expansion has made to Civ VI! In fact, I think I might even like this strategic resource mechanic better than I liked it in Civ V! These mechanic provides a greater pressure to expand to acquire more resources throughout the game. And if you can't access enough resources domestically (or through colonies), then diplomacy becomes much more important because you'll need reliable trade partners from whom you can buy the resources that you'll need to defeat your enemies or defend yourself from invasion.

I Also feel more willing to sell strategic resources to other civs -- including potential enemies -- because the usefulness of a lump sum of resources is finite. This is because training or upgrading units requires a chunk of resources that are removed from your supply, so a single iron (or coal, or oil, or whatever) is not sufficient to fuel an entire army (as was the case in vanilla Civ VI). Trading away one source of iron doesn't allow the other civ to upgrade their entire military and then surprise attack me next turn.

Trading lump sums of resources makes diplomacy more relevant and interesting.

Being able to trade Diplomatic Favor in exchange for resources (or other items) is also great, as it gives relatively small civs with weak economies an opportunity to acquire resources for expansion or defense, if they've been building coalitions the entire game.

The unit upgrade paths have also been fleshed out to fill in some of the most glaring gaps. Rise & Fall added some new units, but they were mostly late-game units that I felt weren't really necessary or valuable. Honestly, how often have you used a Spec Ops? Gathering Storm gives me new units that I'm for sure going to use almost every game!

There's a medieval light cavalry (Courser) now that fills in the gap between Horsemen and Cavalry. There's a renaissance heavy cavalry (Curaissier) that fills in the gap between Knights and Tanks. And there's my favorite new unit: a medieval reconnaissance unit (Skirmisher) that fills in the gap between Scouts and Rangers.

New light and heavy cavalry units fill in gaps in those upgrade lines.

These units help to rebalance combat by making it so that the gaps in combat strength between an obsolete unit and an upgraded unit aren't quite so high, making battles with obsolete units not so overwhelmingly one-sided. For example, the inclusion of the Courser means that Crossbowmen aren't one-hit-killing Horsemen, so your light cavalry are actually useful for their intended purpose (which is ostensibly raiding and flanking attacks) during the massive (and critical!) chunk of game between your opponent researching Machinery and you researching Military Science. Similarly, being able to upgrade Scouts to Skirmishers means that they won't be one-hit killed if they accidentally stumble onto a barbarian Pikeman.

A medieval recon units allows for mid-game scouting and exploration
without the prospect of imminent and sudden death.

There are still some annoying gaps in the unit lines that make me hope for another expansion or some post-release DLC or updates. There's still no medieval naval units to fill in the gap between Galleys / Quadremes and Caravels / Frigates. There's also still no classical or medieval naval raider -- or a land-based raider unit of any kind. Perhaps the most notable gaps now are the lack of a medieval melee unit (Longsword, Axeman, Maceman?) to fill the gap between Swordsmen and Musketmen, and the lack of a Rifleman or similar unit to fill in the gap between Musketmen and Infantry. There's also no medieval siege unit, which (combined with the lack of a medieval sword upgrade) makes medieval walls tougher to bring down than they probably should be, and means that Knights are still far too dominant for a large chunk of the game.

I still feel that we should have a medieval melee and siege unit.

Old districts, new uses

The new mechanics and systems have also provided new relevancy to some previously-under-utilized buildings and infrastructure, and the strategies around them. Encampments and Aqueducts might be the biggest beneficiaries of the new systems. Encampment buildings increase your strategic resource supply cap, which makes then valuable as more than just an extra set of city walls on your border towns. I actually find myself sometimes building one in a core city (far away from any front line).

Aqueducts can also reduce the loss of food that is often suffered from disasters. The presence of river flooding also means that settling directly on the river may not be the best idea anymore. Not only do the floods pillage any districts on the floodplain, but they also fertilize the tile with higher food yield. Farms are therefore much more valuable on floodplain tiles (especially in Feudalism-boosted clusters), and I see more cities being settled with an Aqueduct going to a mountain or lake.

River flooding moves some cities away from water, leading to more Aqueducts,
and strategic resource caps have me building more Encampments in my core cities.

Power Plants (and therefore the Industrial Hubs that contain them) are also more necessary, since they provide the power that allows much of your city infrastructure to operate at peak efficiency. A single Power Plant in the middle of your empire may no longer be sufficient, as your other cities will need additional power. It is weird that there is no empire-wide power supply, since it means that solar and wind farms can't be built out in the middle of nowhere (outside the range of a city), as they'll provide no power to your "grid". You also can't trade electricity (or fresh water) as a resource, which means that they only way to provide aid to other civilizations is with gold.

Disasters may also give more value to improving a resource rather than harvesting it. Typically, you'll harvest a food resource in order to increase a small city's population quicker and get it working more tiles faster, or to hit district thresholds sooner. However, if a disaster hits that city later in the game and kills one or more population, you won't have that resource around to harvest again, nor will you have its extra food from working the tile. Any districts that you plopped will stick around, so there's still value to growing a city in order to unlock more districts. But doing so just for the population boost is considerably more tenuous now.

Being the suzerain of a city state also grants Diplomatic Favor per turn, and is pretty much the only way to acquire favor prior to unlocking alliances with other civs. So you might find yourself using the Charismatic Leader policy to pump envoys into city states, rather than conquering them.

You'll certainly want to build at least one Military Engineer, since they are the only ones who can build railroads. Or, if you're like me, you'll completely forget that railroads even exist in the game, because you never bother to build a Military Engineer...

Heck, even Pikemen (of all things) are slightly less useless in Gathering Storm! Lack of iron may prevent you from training Swordsmen or Knights, so you'll have to fall back on pikes. And if your enemy has little or no iron, then your pikes suddenly become much stronger against their armies of Warriors, Archers, and Horsemen.

Pikemen actually become useful units if either side of a conflict lacks large stores of iron.

All of these subtler improvements really combine to make Gathering Storm a surprisingly more well-rounded and compelling expansion than it might seem at first glance, even if you don't care for the climate and disaster mechanics on their own. And I haven't even touched on the inclusion of canals and mountain tunnels -- both of which fall under the category of "it's about damned time!" They come a little bit late in the game, so aren't as useful as I might like them to be. At the very least, it would be nice if some kind of one-tile canal would show up as a medieval wonder. Perhaps the Grand Canal (of China) or Canal of the Pharaohs (ancient Suez Canal) would be good candidates?

Bound to be divisive?

I have a feeling that this expansion is going to be very divisive within the Civilization community -- partly for valid reasons, and also partly for petty reasons.

Some will like that the game world feels more alive and dynamic, and that it reacts to what you do to it. Others may hate it for the randomness.

Some will hate it because "Keep your politics out of my games!". Others will applaud it for taking seriously one of the most dire social, economic, and political issues of our day and age. Yet others might say it doesn't go far enough!

Some will love the unique new civilizations and leaders like Suleiman of the Ottomans, Musa of the Mali, Kupe of the Maori, or Eleanor -- who can bring her leader ability to either England or France. Others may still be disappointed that their favorite civ wasn't included, or that civs like Canada, Hungary, or Sweden "aren't real civs".

Some may dislike how much more difficult it is to build and maintain large armies and sweep across the map crushing your opponents. Others will like the more subtle ways that the expansion shifts some of the balances of existing game mechanics, rules, and units.

Personally, I play the game almost exclusively in single-player, so the randomness doesn't bother me as much. If you prefer competitive multiplayer, however, then you may need to look at some other reviews from players who play more multiplayer than I do.

One of the more unique civilization ideas is the Maori, who start with their settler embarked on the ocean,
and must explore to find a suitable spot for a capital.

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Total War: Shogun 2Total War: Shogun 2Total War: Shogun 2: Fall of the SamuraiTotal War: Shogun 2: Fall of the Samurai
TrineTrineTropico 5Tropico 5
Ultimate General: Civil WarUltimate General: Civil WarUncharted 3: Drake's DeceptionUncharted 3: Drake's Deception
Until DawnUntil DawnWhat Remains of Edith FinchWhat Remains of Edith Finch

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A gamer's thoughts

Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

Follow me on Twitter at: twitter.com/MegaBearsFan

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Without Gravity

And check out my colleague, David Pax's novel Without Gravity on his website!

Featured Post

Yes, you can MAYBE play Ace Combat 7 with an un-supported flight stick!Yes, you can MAYBE play Ace Combat 7 with an un-supported flight stick!03/14/2019 Some number of PC players may have booted up Namco/Bandai's recently-released Ace Combat 7 on PC, only to be disappointed to find that their preferred flight stick doesn't work with the game. Un-supported controllers apparently includes the very popular (and very expensive) Thrustmaster Warthog. This isn't a technical issue;...

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Hunter's Workshop: Bloodborne cosplayHunter's Workshop: Bloodborne cosplay06/24/2017 Let us cleanse these foul streets. Fear the blood. I'm not a big cosplayer (yet), but I'm also no stranger to cosplay. Many years ago, a friend of mine helped me put together a Pyramid Head cosplay for an anime convention. I was pretty pleased with the result. I tried to be as accurate to the Silent Hill 2 video game as possible,...

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