I love getting a new Civilization expansion. Each one is a near-complete revision of the game as the community has come to know it, a wave of changes large and small that address mechanical shortfalls and community concerns, while adding complex new systems into its existing web of other complex systems. With Civilization VI: Gathering Storm, developer Firaxis Games looks to tighen up a few of the game’s more glaring issues regarding conflict, make Diplomatic victories more exciting to accomplish and add a fresh environmental wrinkle in the form of the World Climate score.
Part of Gathering Storm‘s overarching goal is to make Civ VI feel more like a global game. Though the world is always filled with people from other races all vying to reach the space age first, it sometimes felt like thy were a bit disconnected. No matter who I was up against, it was always a simple land battle. We’re competing for space and resources and that’s really as far as it ever went. Gathering Storm‘s World Climate score changes that. Now you have to weigh your actions against what they may do to the world itself down the track. Hoover up too many resources and the World Climate score will begin to change. Hoard too many and climate change will set in, raising sea levels. Depending on how bad things have gotten, this will have one of two effects: any tiles that run along the shoreline will either be temporarily flooded and damaged, or submerged entirely rendering them unusable. An important lesson for resource-hungry players: never build your house on sand.
The World Climate score ties into another new feature, natural disasters. While natural disasters aren’t a new mechanic in simulation and strategy titles like these (SimCity has been at it for decades), they are new to Civ VI and bring with them a deeply upsetting amount of destructive potential. Found your civ on a floodplain at your peril. Setting up next to the ocean, a sure-fire strat for most players to date, is now a very risky play should the sea level rise of a hurricane blow in. Deserts whip up sandstorms and drought, arctic areas can result in blizzards. Also introduced are volcanos. Setting up next to a volcano like your own little Pompeii is a high-risk, high-reward strategy. There’s every chance the volcano will erupt, devastating the city you’ve built below it. On the other hand, the lands and resources around the volcanic area are ultra fertile, making them extremely valuable.
The change that makes me happiest however is the altering of the Warmonger penalty. Previously, in the event that computer-controller civ attacked or took one of your outposts you had two options: 1) Suffer the blow and do nothing or 2) Strike back and suffer the Warmonger penalty, affecting both your diplomatic and trade relations as allied civs denounced your actions. It was hardly a fair system, especially when you weren’t responsible for throwing the first punch. Gathering Storm changes the Warmonger penalty with a new system called Greivances that allow you to launch a proportional response against hostile play — declarations of war, denouncements and the capture or razing of your cities — without the entire world coming down on you for it. No longer will you be considered a Warmonger by allied civs for launching a (perfectly fair) retaliatory strike on enemies that attack you unprovoked. Grievances can also be used to bind other civs to a Promise — if they agree to a promise and later breach the agreement, they accumulate Grievance points. The more Grievance points they have, the more frowned upon they are by other civs. Grievances are a two-way street however — accumulate too many of your own and you may wind up in hot water.
Gathering Storm introduces a new diplomany screen called the World Congress, an area that breaks diplomatic relations down into more discrete numbers. The World Congress is a crucial part of the revised Diplomatic Victory, letting all civs propose and vote on various Resolutions and Discussions. Resolutions are global laws that will affect every civ in the match. Let’s say you’re looking to punish a nearby enemy rich in a specific luxury resource. Propose banning that resource. If your motion succeeds, your enemy will be utterly hamstrung. This makes it incredible for resource blocking, especially in multiplayer. You also have Discussions, which are like large scale summits. They’re typically things like organised games and declared emergencies, better for unity than for division.
The World Congress also introduces the game’s newest currency, Diplomatic Favour. Favour is earned through overall influence and successful votes, and can be spent at the World Congress to further push your agenda. Every win you get at the World Congress nets you Diplomatic Victory points getting you closer to that sweet sweet Diplomatic Victory.
Gathering Storm also adds a further eight new civs — Phoenicia, Ottomans, Sweden, Mali, Inca, Canada, Maori and Hungary — with nine new leaders to accompany them, including a few series firsts. One of the most interesting new leaders is Eleanor of Aquitaine, queen consort of both France and England. Eleanor becomes the first leader in Civ history to pick the country she leads — England or France. It’s a fantastic experiment, and step in a very interesting direction — the ability to mix-and-match leaders and civs is one fans have long asked for. The Maori, led by Polynesian explorer Kupe, are another big experiment. The Maori are the first civ to begin not on land, but at sea. This gives them a play style that is wholly different from every other civ in the game, allowing them to capture far flung spots on the map earlier than anyone else and secure important footholds.
Civilization VI: Gathering Storm is another brilliant addition to an already brilliant game. It is exactly what you hope for in a Civ expac — clever, inventive and willing to throw out those elements that don’t work in favour of trying new ones. For those who love careful, deliberate strategy, it doesn’t get much better than this.
FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Highlights: Smart changes to a number of crucial systems; Fantastic new civs to try out
Lowlights: Civ gets more and more dense for new players with every expac
Developer: Firaxis Games
Publisher: 2K Games
Platforms: Windows PC
Review conducted with a retail code provided by the publisher.