Civilization V required two complete expansions to become the classic it is looking at today. Civilization VI is halfway there.
While my flashback to Civ VI glowed in 2016, it was associated with the historical caveat that civilization games are so big and their design process is evolving so that they are rarely a masterpiece from the start. While Civ VI should be commended for some of its positive moves, such as the complicated district system and more flexible policy design, it has also been delivered with poor diplomacy (compared to the series) and terrible AI.
Rise & Fall fixes some of these issues. But for the most part, the things introduced are not interested in corrections. Instead, you're trying to turn your experience into something more intimate than you're used to from a Civilization game.
Lots of new things are offered in this expansion, from UI optimizations to new factions, but I'm not here to remove bullets. Instead, I'm going to talk about the top three additions to R&F and how they all work together to change the way each game of Civ VI feels.
Governors are a newcomer to the series. Players can choose from eight of them in the course of a game, and each specializes in something. If you look at the picture above, you will see that there are governors dealing with issues such as the military, production, religion and diplomacy.
You appoint a governor for one of your cities, and as soon as one of the unlocked skills applies to that settlement. So if you have a border town that is your bulwark against invasions, it may be a good idea to house Victor, the militaristic governor. And as the game progresses, you earn points that you can spend to either unlock more governors or to gain new powers.
They are important not only for the benefits that their powers offer, but also for the thrust they offer to a city's loyalty. There is a new loyalty system in R&F that combines old series ideas on border influence and happiness and turns them into something better. Cities near a rival's borders may see their loyalty to your empire slowly wear off, making the interplay of borders more interesting.
These forces also have the wonderful side effect of neutralizing the old Civ-Dick move, founding a tiny new city in the middle of another empire, because if this happens now, the new settlement will eat up a heartbeat from the cultural forces in its environment ( the ups and downs between larger, more established cities is far less dramatic).
Governors give Civ VI a much more satisfying feeling of governance. Everyone is so specialized and powerful that their effort and training help to eliminate the feeling of helplessness that some aspects of Civ (such as loyalty and limits) might leave the player beforehand.
Age & epochs
The idea of a “golden age” is nothing new in Civ. There is also no codified progress through epochs like "medieval" and "industrial". But the way they are implemented in R&F is new and perhaps my favorite part of the expansion.
Previously, the player did these things alone. A golden age would be triggered by something you did, and your progress over time was determined solely by how many technicians you discovered.
Now the world is united. Everyone moves together through the centuries, regardless of their technological advances, and each time R&F takes stock of how you have done in the past few centuries. Players who do good civstuff are rewarded with a golden age that increases their loyalty. Players who are left behind are stuck in a dark age, which reduces their influence on the map around them.
In most cases, you end up in the middle at a "normal" age, which means that you work as usual. Regardless of your age, you can assign benefits that will either help you get closer to a golden age or, when you are in one, give you powerful advantages over your rivals.
What sounds unfair and for a while it is! But age is designed to be fitted with rubber bands. It is easy to move from the dark times to a golden age, and it is just as easy to move in the opposite direction (although this does not drive R&F crazy … I found that I would normally go through it one of each age per game).
This swinging pendulum adds a little urgency and compulsion to act in parts of the game that would otherwise have become a "click in the next round".
The scope and script of your relationships with other executives was one of the most disappointing things about starting Civ VI. Your rivals were unpredictable and alliances seemed almost pointless, as you could never trust the AI from round to round.
They … still largely cannot trust them, but one area where things have turned for the better is alliances. Instead of simply forming an alliance with another player and meaning that you are now generally only your best friends, you can now choose from various types of alliances, ranging from military to research, each tailored to a specific common bonus are.
And the longer you maintain alliances, the stronger they become. I played a game as Scotland and (sorry) made an alliance with England in the Middle Ages. This continued for the rest of the game and started all kinds of business, and the renewal of our oaths was offered by the AI as well as myself.
We did research together, we acted, we fought in countless wars, England sometimes came to my aid against the dominant Chinese, sometimes I came to her against her annoying neighboring Poland.
This may sound insignificant, but it really helps you get out of a feeling of loneliness that Civ VI could sometimes hold onto. It's now in your interest to turn to your neighbors to get more than just the uranium you don't have, and the relationships you build over the years really help build strong bonds.
The three new features above, as separate as they appear on this page, all work together to achieve a common goal: to bring you closer to the world and make you feel like you're part of it rather than just a distant one Observer.
The governors add a touch of personality to your own civilization, where previously the only other attraction in the game was to be found in your opponents. The New Age system breaks through all isolated paths and binds the world together. And through alliances, you can now create a playful feeling of friendship with another civilization in which you could previously only loathe.
The chief designer of Civ VI, Ed Beach, has a lot of experience in designing board games, and that was one of the lasting feelings that I took away from the game when I first played it: how Civilization has become more tactile, both in terms of your interaction it and how it looked.
Rise & Fall continues this good work. Sure, there are still nooks and crannies in the game – trade routes and spy networks are lengthy and poorly signposted, and naval AI remains a disaster – but this is not a patch or a seasonal upgrade to fix problems.
It is an essential extension of Civ VI, and its main goal was to pull you down from the distant sky and get you to work among your people instead of a few thousand feet above them.
Back in November, I said that this expansion would come at just the right time since Civilization VI was stale and thousands of players preferred the 2010 predecessor to the younger – and many fans would argue incomplete efforts.
If you stick to the rule that games in this series require two expansions, Civilization VI is now a much more complete game. Rise & Fall steps in deeply, showing that the greatest strength of the expanded game may not be its size or history, but the feeling of togetherness that inspires it and the way it takes the player to the surface of its beautiful World draws.