Reviews// Civilization VI (Switch)

Posted 10 Dec 2018 17:00 by
The Civilization series has been part of my life since the PC release of the second game way back in 1996. It was partly responsible for all the problems I had with revising for exams as the urge to have ‘just one more turn’ was always too much. My obsession with the game became so great that I used to arrange LAN games with friends and we’d sometimes play for over 24 hours, forming alliances, breaking them and trying to ensure world domination for our respective nations. To this day I would maintain that the game taught me more about the key development points of humanity than I ever absorbed in school. I learned not only the importance of irrigation of land but also why nations must carefully balance scientific research with the accumulation of wealth in order to stay ahead of their rivals.

I’ve stayed with the series since the sequel to the original, although I have to confess, I spent rather less time with the fifth entry as its release coincided with the birth of my daughter. World domination would have to wait until she had got a little older and I once again had the time to dedicate to long evenings planning how to bring down the French empire. Civilization VI was originally released nearly two years ago, but this version, for the Nintendo Switch is the one for which I have been waiting.

Since the launch of the Switch in 2017 it has quickly become the main place that I like to play games. The convenience and flexibility it provides via portability and docked mode has meant that I have played and finished more games on the platform than on my PS4 Pro and Xbox One combined. Civilization VI, on paper at least, would seem ideally suited to the machine. Being able to resume instantly and play for short or long periods of time fits the style of game perfectly. I am happy to say that with a few minor caveats I feel vindicated in waiting for the Switch release. The game truly is a full version of Civilization on a handheld machine, without the compromises that severely limited my enjoyment of the ‘Revolution’ series that came to mobile platforms in recent years. This release also comes with previously released downloadable content with the possibility for further expansion in the future.

Visually the game is impressive, particularly the day/night cycles that illuminate the world. Although the Switch’s hardware is significantly less powerful than the PCs that powered the original it doesn’t feel particularly compromised, although this is perhaps largely because of the size of the Switch’s screen. I was expecting to use the touch screen to control the game, given the similarity this mechanism has with the mouse and keyboard approach of earlier releases. However, Firaxis has done a commendable job of translating control to the JoyCons/Pro Controller and I quickly found myself preferring this method when interacting with my cities.

The mechanics of Civilization VI have changed somewhat to earlier releases. The most notable of these changes is the way in which production within cities has altered. Previously, improvements were made directly within the single tile that the city was based. Now districts can be created in the surrounding area, providing greater tactical choices regarding expansion meaning that greater forward planning is required to really take advantage of the terrain. The system may seem more complex and it does feel quite limiting in the early stages of a game, however once further scientific discoveries have been made the depth of the system becomes apparent and the desire to explore to find new terrain to exploit becomes overwhelming.

In addition, changes to the way in which civilisation development occurs offers similar complexity. Government civics can now be researched and ‘perks’ added that significantly change the orientation of government types. Whereas before the choices were rather more specific (Republic, Democracy, Monarchy, Communism etc), these perks allow for greater freedom to shape the overall government type in the direction you wish to go for the benefit of your society. Unit stacking has also returned, allowing similar units to be combined for more effective combat.

My favourite aspect of the series, the diplomatic options, have also been greatly enhanced, allowing not just for the creation of alliances but also deeper understanding of the other world leaders. Rather than just competing on the grounds of domination or scientific and cultural victories, they also have other goals, some of which are hidden, that can cause conflict between nations. I upset Theodore Roosevelt during one game because I built a ‘wonder,’ not realising that he was also intending to do the same. This adds a welcome random element to interactions making them far less predictable.

However, despite these positive developments there are a few aspects of the game that are a little problematic. Most of these issues are a result of the limited power of the host platform. In any game of Civilization load times between turns become longer as the game progresses. This is largely, as I understand it, because of the sheer number of variables from each civilisation that needs to be computed. Usually in the earlier stages of the game this isn’t a problem as turns take place almost instantaneously, particularly before the player engages with many other nations. However, on the Switch release, from the outset, turns take a little longer than I would like. The time certainly isn’t irritating, but it’s long enough to make it noticeable. In addition, having to agree to 2K Games' terms of service every time I load the game feels rather strange.

The lack of online multiplayer is also unfortunate. Although this isn’t a feature that I have ever really spent much time with, its absence does feel strange given Nintendo’s recent push with its online service.

The game can also feel too visually dense when played in handheld mode. Firaxis has done a great job of presenting relevant information to the player, however in the later stages of each game I did find that proceedings became increasingly fiddly.

This is, however, an acceptable trade-off. Having the ability to play the game portably with instant resume is fantastic and I can see myself playing this release of Civilization for as long as the Nintendo Switch is a viable platform. The depth of options on offer here is quite frankly astounding and I feel it will take me many months of play before I can feel that I am gaining any real mastery over the game. I can live without online multiplayer and the slight slowdown between turns because Firaxis and 2K Games have delivered what I have always wanted; a portable, full-featured version of Civilization. It’s terrific.

+ Fully featured Civilization
+ One of the deepest games available on the Switch
+ Extremely well implemented new features

- The time between turns can be quite long
- Lack of online multiplayer
- Sometimes visually busy in handheld mode

Score: 9/10

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