'Civ 6' Versus 'Civ 5' Review: 4 Things 'Civilization 6' Got Right Over 'Civ 5' And The 1 Thing It Didn't

Civilization 6 Firaxis Games

I’ve sunk 400 hours into Civ 5 that I’ll never get back, nor would I want to: I came into the Civilization series and into strategy games with Civ V, so it holds an important place in my exploring, expanding, exploiting, exterminating heart. I awaited Civ 6 with extreme trepidation; I covered it extensively, sussing out all I could about what it would be; I logged 40 hours on the preview build alone. I’m only 30 hours into the full Civ 6 experience, but here’s what I think about Civ 5 vs Civ 6.

(For more on how Civ 6 stands up to the other games in the franchise, check out our review, which contextualizes Civ 6 both as a strategy game and as a Civilization game.)

The happiness mechanic is much improved.

Simply taking happiness from global to local makes a huge difference. The happiness mechanic in Civ 5 actively discouraged wide empires, despite how intrinsically fun it is to build loads of cities and expand your empire into every nook and cranny on the map. Even one unhappy city could drag your whole previously productive empire down. And don’t get me started on how Specialists generated Unhappiness in a tit-for-tat for their useful bonuses: that never made any sense.

Most importantly, none of it was fun to deal with. I always want my empire to claim everything it can, but the happiness penalties in Civ 5 were so punitive that great swathes of fertile land could go unclaimed just because expansion risked your empire’s felicity.

Now, each city is responsible for its own happiness through the Amenities system. Luxury resources provide 4 Amenities that are automatically allocated to your neediest cities. Extra copies of luxury resources may be traded away for new luxury resources and bonus Amenities, or you can also use Great People, policies, wonders or Districts to make up the difference.

Most importantly, one awful city that you had to build just so some other civ didn’t settle on your continent or whatever won’t drag your entire empire down with it.

Districts make cities feel like mini-empires.

I don’t know about other players, but my capitals were goddamned marvels in Civ V. If a Wonder was available, I snatched it; if a building could be built, I built it. If you zoomed in on the City Center, you could kind of see some of the buildings and sometimes you could see some of the wonders sprinkling your landscape.

But my Wonder capitals were nigh-indistinguishable from any other city. I knew they were special by looking in the City screen, but not through any visual indicator, despite how much fun the little animations (and their advancement through the ages) always are.

On top of that, National Wonders were a source of such irritation for a player like me who preferred playing wide (many cities) rather than tall (few cities). Requiring the same building to be repeated ad nauseum in every single city in your Civ? It makes all cities feel the same, taking away all the fun of diversity and expanding your empire. It’s boring and mundane to have to build this building everywhere no matter that city’s circumstance or you won’t get that Wonder and its major benefits.

And of course you’ll build this National Wonder in your capital city, usually your most productive and well-balanced city, just throwing another Wonder on the pile of Wonders you can’t really see.

Is the tedium and sameness these National Wonders require doable? Yes. And you’d do it every time until games started feeling like reskins of each other.

Now, with unstacked cities, managing each city is its own distinct challenge based on the procedural map generated for you at the game’s start. Arranging your Districts to maximize your adjacency bonuses is really fun. The fact that some Wonders have more stringent requirements than others (shout out to the Great Zimbabwe) makes achieving that Wonder feel quite special. Some Districts have buildings that add bonuses to all city centers within 6 tiles, so you don’t have to build every district in every city. You can make intelligent choices about that city based on that city’s particular circumstances. Huzzah!

I don’t have to build roads anymore.

I hated everything about roads: having to build them, setting otherwise-useless immortal Workers on auto-road duty, upgrading them to railroads, the fact that they cost money per tile , the fact that you absolutely required them if you ever wanted to get anywhere, the fact that at a certain point in the late game, Workers were good for nothing but stupid, coffer-draining roads…

Now, traders automatically make roads. Send a trader to your enemy for powerful trade route bonuses and give them a direct line to your city? Send a trader to a civ you’ve got an eye on conquering so your soldiers have an easy line later? Keep your trade routes internal so your units can smoothly travel within your empire and you keep all those delicious bonuses to yourself?

I love these choices. I love that immortal, freeloader Workers are gone like the Dodo. I really love not having to manually, tile-by-tile build my own roads (but that I can if I want to with units like the Military Engineer). I love that my coffers are no longer drained by freaking road maintenance. Thanks, Civ gods.

City-States don’t suck anymore.

Not to give city-states a bad rap, but the Diplomatic Victory felt like the new Score Victory, a win condition achievable practically by default if you just played the game. Bribe the city-states over and over again to ensure their love forever and ever. “Throw money for win” is not exciting or immersive. It wasn’t patently bad or blatantly unfun , but there was a thoughtlessness to it that goes against the core of strategy games. You should have to think about things like where you spend your money or how to approach city-states each time.

The new envoy system is much more interesting and city-states are more rewarding as well. Each city-state has a unique Suzerain bonus in addition to a trait, so you can choose based on your play style which city-state to cuddle up to the most. You can’t bribe city-states with fat sacks of gold anymore for the easiest victory ever. Once you send a city-state an envoy, you can’t take it back, so if you regret your actions later, too bad. (I don’t love that part - like Specialists generating unhappiness, it just seems unrealistic - but it definitely makes you mull over that envoy screen.)

Rather than neutral - friend - ally, you get bonuses at 1, 3, and 6 envoys. The amount of envoys you need for Suzerainty depends on how many civs are vying for that city-state’s affections - and bonuses. You can only send envoys once you’ve accrued enough influence points to do so, unlike in Civ V , when you could throw sacks of cash at a city-state every turn if your coffers allowed it and be rewarded with big leaps in that city-state’s loyalty every time.

Best of all, City-States are not part of any one win condition. No more “throw money to win” and it hasn’t been replaced with “throw envoys to win” either.

The only thing Civ 6 has not improved from Civ 5…

The AI is still dumb as a sack of bricks.

Scythia, don’t declare war on me. We are blocked by two empires and we both know you’re not smart enough to get open borders so you can pass through.

Cleopatra, are you serious? It’s like turn 5.

Harald, no one cares about your stupid navy.

Arabia, your mamluks are jammed at the mountain pass. Thanks for the easy pickings.

Monty, I’m offering you a better luxury deal than you initially offered. You are rejecting me because you are mad at me, because I have a luxury that you don’t have. A luxury I’m trying to trade to you on better terms. Monty, please .

At least the reasons behind the Leaders’ decisions are more transparent, even if their units still can’t make their way around a chokepoint.

What do you think about Civ V versus Civ VI ? What’s your experience been? Feel free to discuss in our comments section below. Don’t neglect to check out our guides as well:

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