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Hands on: 'Sid Meier's Civilization VI'

More than a simple sequel, 'Civilization VI' represents the strategy series' next big milestone

When Sid Meier’s Civilization VI was announced nearly a month ago, the enthusiasm of fans eager to feed their “one more turn” addiction was somewhat tempered by those who felt the forthcoming turn-based strategy sequel looked more like a glorified expansion than a true evolution for the venerable series.

Because 2010’s Civilization V—which currently holds an impressive 90% rating on Metacritic—and its complementing expansions were so good, some of the more selective city-building enthusiasts feared the follow-up maybe wasn’t doing enough to push the franchise forward.

When asked if Civ VI is a mere iteration on the series or its next major milestone, however, Senior Producer Dennis Shirk confidently confirms the latter before offering the following justification: “The best thing is that the same design team that did the two expansions that really elevated V, are the ones that have attacked Civ VI.  We’re starting in a very different place than we did with Civ V…we’re starting Civ VI with almost every system we had at the end of Civ V. Whether it’s the great works and culture victory systems, whether it’s religion, whether it’s espionage, they’ve all been tailored for Civ VI‘s new systems. We are starting out with a much more solid foundation moving forward.”

Winning the war of words

While these “new systems” include previously revealed features like players’ ability to build cities beyond a single tile, evolved combat, and a more sophisticated agenda system, Shirk adds another  game-changer to the list. “We now have a Civics Tree. Before we had the Tech Tree, and if you were a builder or culture player, you were generally at the mercy of the militaristic science players that would dig deep into Tech and stomp on your face with tanks and infantryman. So we split the tree into two trees now.”

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This is a welcome addition for culturally-minded players, since it means that whatever you might be lacking in advanced military technology, you can make up for by cultivating your governmental powers. For instance, while the more military-minded player might be able to build a tank on the Tech Tree, you could counter offensively by pushing through a Civics policy that allows faster construction of infantry units. According to Shirk, however, this single example barely scratches the surface of how the new tree will open the game to more pragmatic players. “It gives the culture player a lot of flexibility.  If they want to focus down that branch, they are going to have a lot of options in defending against those kinds of players; or maybe even go on the offense, but in a completely different, maybe non-military fashion.”

Form follows function

Another sticking point for some seasoned strategists was Civ VI‘s shift to a more stylized visual approach, a design decision Shirk says is more about deepening the gameplay than giving the series a cartoony face-lift. “With cities now un-stacked, no longer vertical, you need to be able to walk your scout past another city and recognize what he has scattered all across the terrain. So we realized we had to come up with a different look for the game, a stylized look that had shape language and color language that people would just be able to look at and go, ‘I know what that is.’”

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In practice, this “color language” will see holy sites represented by white buildings, while culture-generating structures, such as a theater square, will sport a magenta hue. Of course, in addition to being able to easily identify education-boosting buildings by their blue roofs, the vibrant visuals will allow for far more detailed and authentic combat animations. “We also wanted to have a lot more fun with units, so when, say, the spear-man does his killing blow, he’ll actually stab a guy and flip him over his head on the spear.” Shirk giddily explains.

Just the beginning

Between its previously unveiled features beginning to take shape and fresh surprises, like the dedicated Civics tree, promising to further expand and enhance on the polished experience fans have come to expect from the franchise, Civilization VI is indeed looking like a worthy successor to its revered predecessor. But, according to Shirk, the admired strategy series still has many surprises in store. “There is a lot that I would love to talk about, but I would encourage the fans to just wait and, especially in terms of what they expect…well, once they see it all in action and actually play with it, it really shines.”

We look forward to learning much more—and seeing those spear-man in action—ahead of the game’s October 21st launch.