Civilization 6 pre-review impressions

We've been playing the full release all day today

I played more than 35 hours of an almost-complete, almost-whole Civilization 6 a few weeks ago. You can read my impressions of the game here, which give a fairly comprehensive overview of how the game's systems have been altered since Civilization 5.

A full review should be complete within the next few days. Publisher 2K Games only gave us code this morning, at the same time as the game unlocked in Australia and New Zealand, and a few hours before the game unlocks in the United States.

I've been playing all day. You can take a look at some of my early progress on this Facebook video, which ran live earlier today. I plan to run another live Facebook video sometime tomorrow (Friday), probably around 11.a.m. PT.

Full Pre-Review Coverage

Take a look at all our coverage of Civilization 6 including videos and in-depth previews as well as an interview with series creator Sid Meier.

My main concern today was twofold. Firstly, the preview build was limited to a fairly easy "Prince" level of play. So today I've been playing at "King," which is still below my usual Civilization 5 level, but good enough for test purposes. This level is reasonably challenging, without expecting too much from the player. I'll move up to a higher level soon.

I'm playing a massive map on epic timeline and am currently deep into the Renaissance as India. There's only been one point when I seriously worried that I might be vanquished, something we'll get to in a moment.

I also wanted to change up my style of play a little. Usually, my civilizations are a bit of a curate's egg. I keep up in terms of all the game's important metrics, maintaining strong borders and an advanced, compact standing-military. I only strike out when threatened, or (if I'm really bothered about actually winning) a rival gets close to a victory condition.

This time, playing as Gandhi, I decided to go for a religious strategy, which is definitely a different set of stockings for me. This means spending early on holy districts and religious buildings, as well as directing both civic and tech trees in the appropriate direction.

Geography Matters

Unfortunately, India is not blessed with much in the way of decent geography. None of my cities are exactly production powerhouses, so early progress was slow. I was militarily weak and my infrastructure was unsatisfactory.

I managed to keep barbarians at bay, and to build up a ramshackle defensive force, just before my northern neighbor (we are on a large continent) Russia decided to have a go. I beat him off in two separate wars, and he now seems to have decided to leave me alone. Normally, I'd have invaded his pitiful ass by now, but I want to stay on target with the whole religious thing.

To my south, China is one of those civs that expands through military might. When a massive army appeared on my border late in the Ancient period, I seriously thought I was a goner. But he had other targets in mind and left me alone. It helped, I think, that we shared the same system of government at the time, which maybe saved my skin.

Diplomacy continues to be something of a frustration. It's better than before, offering more information and options. But you're still at the mercy of their particular AI programming. The Vikings are mad at me because I have a weak navy and because I tried exploring my sea. You can't please some folks, so it's best not to try. In Civ 6, your best bet is to work hard on the relationships that matter, and let the rest go hang.

Rival Shenanigans

I did make one major error, clearing a peninsula of rampant barbarians, but failing to have a settler in place to claim the land. Literally, as soon as I had cleared the barbarian village, the Viking spam civ showed up, crouched down and plopped out a city. Maddening.

In other circumstances, I might have just declared war on the Nordic vermin and taken his city, especially as he's kind of a jerk. But declarations of war, without just cause, carry a penalty. I'm also neighbored, to my east, by the Scythians, who absolutely hate surprise declarations of war and are usually pretty handy in a fight. So, for now, I tolerate this stain on my honor.

The good news is that, having invested early in spirituality, I'm now absolutely cranking out religious mana, giving me opportunities to build buildings, spread the word and defend myself from heretical beliefs.

My game has been massively affected by my geography. Crammed into a corner of a continent and partly surrounded by mountains, I'm reasonably safe, without having much room to expand. I only have four cities and, for the moment, it doesn't look like I'll get much bigger. It'll be interesting to see how far that gets me, if some of my rivals start getting aggressively expansive.

Review Thoughts

As I begin to think about my review, it's difficult to get away from three major points. First, this game is not significantly different from its predecessor. At a fundamental level, it feels a lot like Civ 5. But against that, I'd say that all its systems have been overhauled and work more smoothly and more interestingly. I like the way it looks, and I enjoy the wittily portrayed leaders as well as the challenge of keeping them at bay.

Finally, like all Civ games, it has its irritations and its annoyances. None of these are hugely bothersome, but now and again I feel like some of its quirks might have been resolved. More on that in the review.

I said in my previous piece that, if you're a Civ 5 fan and you're about ready for a change, then I can see no reason why you'd be disappointed with this slick and thoughtful production. If you're married to Civ 5 and you hate change, then there's little here that's going to blow your mind. If you're looking for a new paradigm in turn-based strategy, this definitely isn't it.

More from me tomorrow. In the meantime, wish me luck. If you've been playing and you have anything you'd like to say, I'm on Twitter @colincampbellx. Babykayak