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Civilization 6 is a solid console port, at too high a price

First, the good news: Civilization 6 works great on consoles. I played the Xbox One version, and came away impressed with the job done by porting house Aspyr, which worked with original developer Firaxis.

Civ 6 is a complicated, turn-based strategy game, and players have to be able to click with precision, move through pages of data, and take in a large amount of information while playing. It’s not a natural fit for a console-style controller.

Aspyr makes it feel easy to navigate the screen, move units around, and deploy orders to cities. I cross the screen by skidding along its hexagons, moving quickly and smoothly from one continent to the other via my gamepad. This serves as a slower navigational route than using a mouse or trackpad to point and click, but it works well enough. I use a simple matrix of left thumbstick and main buttons for most unit movements, as well as shoulder buttons for deeper menus. I found a few occasions when I felt lost in menus, but nothing I couldn’t figure out for myself.

Civilization 6 is an engrossing game in which players create their own civilization (based on real historical leaders) through choices of military conquest, technological superiority, cultural or religious dominance. It’s about building cities, improving them, and expanding your nation’s borders. It’s about being bigger, stronger, richer, and smarter than the other civilizations. I’ve played many hundreds of hours on PC and iPad, and I won’t hesitate to recommend this game if you’re curious about historical strategy and civilization planning.

If you have a PC, Mac, or modern iPad, those are better platforms than console. After all, this is a game designed for PC, and those are better platforms for games that require lots of pointing and clicking on a large map. But the console versions are perfectly fine if they’re your only option.

But while I do recommend this marvelous game, I also think the price tag is too high. The Civilization 6 game itself is the standard console game price of $59.99. But the two add-ons that were subsequently released are a further $49.99, collectively. This means that if you want to play the game in its present form, rather than the way it was back in 2016, you’re being asked to pay nearly $110.

Other versions of Civ 6 are priced the same way (on Steam it’s frequently featured in sales and special offers). As I argued when I reviewed the most recent update, Civilization 6’s DLC prices are too high, and the entire package should be offered at a much lower price.

The original game came out three years ago. It’s a decent game in its base form, but the improvements offered by its subsequent updates render it inferior to the full experience. The “loyalty” systems in Rise and Fall (2018) are transformative to the game’s depth. If you build a city too close to a culturally dynamic rival whose cities are brimming with happy people, there’s a high chance that your city will rebel and switch sides. This has a marked effect on how players grow their empires, making the strategy of grabbing faraway chunks of land self-defeating. Organic growth from the center is more realistic to real empire building. It also means that rival civilizations that spam faraway land masses with remote cities can no longer thrive, which is still a significant annoyance in the core game.

Global warming and natural disaster systems added in Gathering Storm (2019) give Civ 6 an added richness and complexity, especially in late game. Players must deal with rising sea levels. Diplomacy shifts in emphasis as nations agree on a need to cooperate to combat a shared threat.

Taken as a whole, these post-launch improvements are fundamental gameplay advances on the original design. They render the core game dated.

Both the updates, which are packaged together, also include the sort of DLC added-value stuff you might expect, such as new civilizations, characters, maps, and items. But their real value is in the details of the gameplay updates, which radically improve the game.

We live in an age when companies regularly update their games as a service to players. The time when paid-for downloadable content updates (DLC) dominated the post-launch commercial strategies of publishers is fading away. At this point in its lifecycle, Civilization 6, as an entire finished package, should cost the standard $59.99, not more than $100.

Civilization 6 on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One is out on Nov. 22.


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