by Sergio Brinkhuis
reviewed on PC
Civilization VI: Gathering Storm review
Civilization VI was no runaway success. Commercially I am sure it did well enough, and critics loved it, but my friends list tells a different story. Known long-time fans of the series have put in far less time playing VI than they did previous titles, and I am no exception. The Rise and Fall expansion did little to improve this and I found it to be among the weakest expansions ever released for the franchise.
Gathering Storm, though, sings a different tune and may be one of the best. It introduces possibly the best diplomacy system I’ve seen in any game, and a climate change mechanic that ticks boxes I’ve long wished to be there.
A planet in peril
Climate change and natural disasters sit at the heart of the new expansion and it feels like every other addition organically grew from there. Droughts, volcanic eruptions, storms and floods occur throughout the span of the game, long before CO2 pollution became an issue. Yet their intensity and rate increase in the later stages, as does your ability to deal with some of the effects. When a flood destroys much of your most fertile and developed land, it’s of little consequence when you have 10 cities, but devastating when you have only two.
Your impact on climate change depends on how much strain you put on the planet. Resources such as coal, oil and aluminium are now a consumable, which means you need a steady supply to provide electricity to your city and power to your war machines. And yes, that means these resources also cap your ability to roll out and properly maintain advanced units such as jet bombers and tanks. I was shocked seeing my air forces hit their limit of three planes, but it gave me the perfect incentive to go look for aluminium – and thus war targets – outside of my borders. Using fossil fuels, though, puts CO2 in the air, fuelling not only your economy but also climate change. It isn’t until late in the game that you can start countering this, and it’s hard to do it on your own.
The world congress adds a deep new layer on the diplomacy side of the scale. A new resource, called diplomatic favour, can be used to influence political decisions on a global scale. Sometimes these invoke an emergency against an offensive Civ, other times they revolve around banning certain buildings, starting a global contest, or even to provide aid to a nation that fell victim to a particularly harsh disaster.
How it all works out
The consumable resources are a master stroke. With it, controlling resources has become far more important than ever before, putting a strain on even the best of friendships. Incidentally, friendships appear to be a bit more long-lasting. The effect of being successful in war doesn’t seem to affect allies as much as it did before – a good thing in my book.
I never felt the natural disasters to be too powerful, or particularly meaningful in terms of changing my fortunes. Where they did feel meaningful, is in providing a backstory to a planet that is slowly but surely heading towards catastrophe. With CO2 levels rising, pushing for change in the world congress can sometimes be frustratingly realistic. More than once after a bad outcome I heard myself say “fine, I’ll take care of it myself” and declare war on the most offending neighbour so that I could start cleaning up their environmental mess.
In fact, I would have liked to have more control over what emergencies and treaties were voted on, especially when climate change starts taking a real toll on the world. I guess it is realistic that the only available resolutions to vote on are soft and low impact – they have been in real life so far – but it means I need to put my dictator-with-aggressive-expansion-plans hat on to save the planet. For me, this is a missed opportunity. I would have liked to see voting on painful measures such as shutting down factories or banning the use of fossil fuels to power cities. We could see protests or even civil war triggered by these resolutions.
Another criticism is the weak AI. It wasn’t great in the base game, but it barely gets stuck-in during wartime now. Gutting most of Hungary, I was surprised to find most of Matthias Corvinus’ units sitting pretty at the back of his empire, and this would not be the last time that I saw this happen. Similarly, it looks like Civs that do not have access to oil or aluminium build far fewer units, where they should be building more to offset the lack of power of the units that they do have.
Yet the biggest criticism I have is that this expansion is ridiculously expensive. At 40 bucks, Firaxis should start scratching their heads whether they were trying to make a full new game or an expansion to a game they released nearly 2.5 years ago. Then again, I should not be surprised – their reskinned civilization DLCs have long been selling for 5 bucks a pop. Somehow, this capitalist cash grab doesn’t chime well with the (generally viewed as) socialist viewpoints that Civilization VI: Gathering Storm takes towards climate change.
Admirable climate and diplomacy mechanics
Ridiculously expensive, does little to fix the AI