When Sid Meier’s Civilization VI launched in October 2016, the reception wasn’t so much divisive as it was banal. There were the usual, expected complaints accompanying any new Civ game. A few people didn’t like the graphics. The AI was a misunderstood mess. Some mechanics felt better thought out than others. So on and so on.
What was more surprising was the sort of collective shrug from the 4X community. People seemed simply more engaged by Stellaris, the Endless series, and Galactic Civilizations 3. Or, they simply stuck with Civ V. This is Civ! The great white shark from which all other strategy minnows must flee. Civ VI felt more like a dolphin: clever, quick, does some neat tricks. But not exactly dominating the seas. No one is afraid of Flipper.
The previous iterations of Civ struggled out of the gate, as well, so there’s no reason for Civ fans to panic. It was only after their respective expansions that IV and V truly came into their own. Does the new expansion, Rise and Fall start the same process for part VI? Or is the series now, truly, floundering?
The first thing you’ll notice when you fire up Rise and Fall is all the new leaders (after the new opening movie which continues the tradition of high quality, cinematic beginnings for the Civ series). Rise and Fall adds the famous (infamous?) Genghis Khan (Mongolia), Lautaro (Mapuche), Tamar (Georgia), Poundmaker (Cree), Robert the Bruce (Scottish), Seondeok (Korea), Shaka (Zulu), and Wilhelmina (Dutch). Chandragupta is also a new choice for the existing Indian civilization. Maybe he’ll go easier on the nukes than his buddy, Gandhi.
Some of the new leaders/civs fill some of the strategic options previously missing from the launch game and its first round of DLC, including more science and trade-based Civs. Others specialize in concepts that come with the expansion, such as Loyalty. This is a nice, diverse group and it really rounds out the options as a whole. There are now 35 different leaders in the game, and while none of them are as unique as what you’ll find in Endless Space 2, each feels distinct with its own strengths for a unique experience.
While eXploring overall is probably the least impacted by the new content, a lot of what Rise and Fall adds to Civ VI are systems that you’ll contend with from turn one till whenever you win. That’s a good thing, suggesting that the developers have reworked the game overall, rather than just adjusting little bits and bobs in certain sections.
The biggest addition that players now have to contend with in every Age (separated into the usual Classical, Renaissance, Industrial, etc.), is the collection of Era points. These are distributed for almost everything you do: finding goodie huts, destroying barbarian camps, earning Great People, building your first unique unit – all these things will earn you a set number of points.
Some of these actions will pay off every time, like building a Wonder. Others are more random and attempt to develop a sense of narrative. Not every barbarian camp will give you Era points, but the ones that have harassed your civ for a while almost certainly will. This keeps the Era score from feeling mundane, but also makes it easy to find ways to build score, as needed.
Eventually each Age will close. The game seems to choose a set number of turns at the outset. While the game will give you a general idea of how long each Age will last (say, 45-55 turns), the actual time between Ages is not revealed to the player until the end is ten turns away. This means that even if your individual Civ has moved into the Modern Age, the world may yet be hanging back in the previous era.
In any case, once an Age closes, your Civ will be rewarded or punished based on the number of Era points you’ve collected. There are Dark Ages for those who underperform, Normal Ages which are normal, and Golden Ages for you overachievers. It is also possible, if you reach a Golden Age during a Dark Age, to enter a Heroic Age.
Each Age comes with benefits. In the Dark and Normal Ages, Players can select a Dedication: a goal that they’d like to work towards and be given extra Era points for completing. There are four options, and there is usually one for building wonders, building districts, going to war, and spreading religion. These will vary, however, depending on the age (earlier Dedications, for example, focus more on earning inspirations).
Players in Dark Ages also get an added booster – the ability to choose an extra Dark Age Policy Card that gives an extreme malus for an added benefit. For example, you can choose a policy that gives your units 100% bonuses to experience, but it increases their costs by two gold per turn. These options will also change depending on which Age you’re currently in.
Players in Golden Ages, on the other hand, get powerful bonuses instead of Dedications. If you earn a Heroic Age, you actually get to pick three of the four benefits for that age. These all feel very well balanced, where getting the bonuses is rewarding, but not game breaking.
I was extremely skeptical of the Ages feature when it was announced. Would getting a Dark Age just lead to insta-quitting? Instead, overall, I have to say I think this is the best addition in Rise and Fall and actually one of the best new features ever in a Civ game.
It just works. Ages are a constant consideration and working towards an Era score is the exact right balance of distraction without overtaking the game. However, there are some issues that need to be addressed. At least at the Prince and King levels, it feels like once you get a Golden Age it’s very hard to stop getting them. The Ages should be more swingy. I should struggle to reach Golden and miss most times, not roll into them more or less by accident.
The other overarching addition to Civ VI is the Timeline. This seems like a minor quality of life feature, but it actually does an excellent job of highlighting big moments in every game and giving it a real feeling of continuity. One of the complaints about vanilla Civ VI is that it often seemed to overlook accomplishments – little titles would float by every now and then but if you didn’t look, you missed them. The timeline helps Civ VI feel epic. It gives everything a very narrative feel. And while the interruptions aren’t always necessary, and some of the content seems dumb to call out, overall this is an excellent little add-on that I really appreciated.
The other, more aesthetic addition here is that there are several new Natural Wonders to discover as you wander around the map. These include the Matterhorn and the Eye of the Sahara. They are all neat – it’s always fun to find new features and the benefits can be quite powerful in some cases – but they don’t do much to change the game state.
The other large addition with Rise and Fall is the new Loyalty mechanic. The days of just dropping down a city wherever seems ideal are now done. Every city you own generates Loyalty to your Civ within a certain range. Cities placed outside that range, or settled within the range of another Civ’s cities, will gradually degrade Loyalty.
When Loyalty goes down to zero, the settlement becomes a Free City – basically a brand new City State. Eventually they’ll join a new, neighboring Civ based on whoever has the most Loyalty nearby. Importantly, absorbing a neighbor’s former city will not lead to bad relations with your neighbors. They won’t resent you for occupying their city (as they would if you captured it during a war) and it won’t trigger any Casus Belli either.
Loyalty is a needed new mechanic that, unfortunately, is not very well implemented and causes as many problems as it solves. For instance, because it limits city expansion, including the AI’s wacky way of claiming continents, Loyalty is a godsend. It also adds some needed strategic considerations to the act of eXpansion in the game. Players really will have to consider where to place their next settlement.
Unfortunately, there is far too much that is passive about the experience. If you want to be a Loyalty powerhouse and take other Civ’s cities, there honestly isn’t much to do but sit around and hope your neighbors make poor decisions about where to expand.
If you want to push your own frontiers, there’s very little you can do to boost the Loyalty of your own cities. If your own city rebels there’s… not much you can do about it, either. You can send in the troops to tamp down the rebellion, but once you reacquire the city the same Loyalty penalties will apply. So it’s a temporary fix, if at all.
There are ways to boost Loyalty including policies and the new Governors (who we’ll discuss in more detail shortly). Also, a Dark Age will decrease the loyalty of every citizen in every city and a Golden Age will increase it. But the overall effect feels minimal. If you place a city in a poor place, you can pretty much kiss it goodbye. Expanding to other continents? Don’t bother. In some ways, I love this – it’s so realistic to history that your colonies will almost certainly rebel in the near future (Quick aside: wouldn’t it be cool if they became their own, unique new Civs rather than joining someone else?). But I wish I had more tools to combat this, or prolong the time I get with my new cities.
As it stands, Loyalty is a great addition that is, nevertheless, in need of serious overhaul. As a game consideration, it works extremely well. But as a strategic choice – either in using to to strengthen your own Civ or attack your enemies – it leaves much to be desired. It also has serious consequences for certain game mechanics that were never intended to work with a Loyalty system. But I’ll get to that in a bit.
Rise and Fall also adds new districts, primarily the Government Center, which lets you build unique buildings based on which governments you choose. It’s another nice way to customize your Civ and your capital. It also helps give the feeling of change over time, making Civ VI feel all the more epic.
As you eXpand you’ll find several new Wonders to build including the Taj Mahal and St. Basil’s Cathedral. It still feels like we’re lacking in Wonders overall – especially in the late game. More diversity in Wonder benefits would also be appreciated. There’s really only the one industry wonder (Ruhr Valley), and it seems like there are more opportunities for clever benefits that don’t fall into the “plus whatever to X resource” bucket. In that vein, the new Statue of Liberty wonder which provides 2 free settlers is a move in the right direction.
Rise and Fall adds a few new resources for players to collect including amber, olives, and sea turtles. These all add some flavor to the Civ VI world, but gamewise they’re just macguffins, which has been the problem with resources from the start. I want resources to be desirable – there should be a strategic reason why I’d want to acquire, say, whales vs crabs. Instead it’s just more stuff, useful stuff perhaps, but not unique or interesting.
As players progress through the game, they’ll now be given the chance to earn Governors. There are seven “unique” Governors available, and each has their own set of specialized abilities. They work a little like heroes in the Endless games. Each Governor can go to a city and there’s a little ability tree that you can build for each.
Governors all help with Loyalty, but they also give bonuses to each of your cities. One Governor helps you build things faster. Another buffs city defenses. As players construct certain buildings and advance down the ethics tree, they’ll be able to purchase new Governors for their Civs or earn increased benefits from the Governors they have.
Like Loyalty, Governors seem like a good idea from a distance, but in practice, they’re not great. I described the Governors as “unique” because every civ gets access to the same seven Governors. So you might have Pingala the science governor, but so might all the other Civs you’re playing with. This is immersion-breaking in the extreme. The cartoonish nature of the characters doesn’t help; they seem to be visiting from some other game.
To me, the Governors concept would have been a great way to rethink the Great People concept. I could bring in Caesar to run my capital for benefits to armies and use Darwin in another place to boost my science. Instead I have these generic weirdos.
Governor benefits are also a mixed bag – some abilities seem essential but others have limited appeal. Many times I found myself choosing a benefit because I had one available rather than because I actually wanted to choose one.
Diplomacy with other civs has also been given new options – specifically, alliances have been overhauled. Now, after declaring someone a friend, you can offer them a specific kind of alliance. There are science alliances, culture, military, etc.
Each gives you a bonus to your trade routes with that specific civ, so an economic alliance with the Dutch provides an extra two gold to your exchanges. You can only have one type of alliance at a time, so be careful to pick the right partners. Alliances will also improve over time. So the longer you maintain that science pact with Peter the Great, the better the benefits you’ll receive.
Alliances are fine, overall. The AI seems less willing to break them willy nilly, and it’s nice to have benefits to being friendly. However, the process of setting them up is a bit burdensome. First, you have to declare friendship. After they accept, you can offer them an alliance. Now you have to select which kind of alliance you want. Then, you can see if they’ll accept it. And the alliances expire so you’re doing this every 20 turns or so. Good Lord…
Also, notice there’s no “game” here. No strategic decisions, really, or clever, diplomatic gamesmanship. It’s just more buttons to click and beyond adding flavor to the experience I’m not sure what alliances are actually doing. It feels like busy work because, honestly, it is.
In general, the diplomatic AI feels a bit improved. My opponents were mostly predictable with no mad mood swings. And they would actually accept my friend requests, unlike last time around when they’d say a flat no and then offer me the same thing a turn later.
For some reason, though, the game is obsessed with trying to trade for cultural artifacts. It’s pretty pointless. Offering one artifact for another is a waste since they generate the same points regardless. Suggesting resources for an artifact is stupid because eventually those oranges will stop coming, but they’ll hold the Shroud of Turin basically forever. And I could still forgive the bad trades if they didn’t show up every freaking turn! Let it go, Montezuma. The Art of War isn’t going anywhere.
There are a few new units in the game, but nothing that really changes things. Units like Pike and Shot or Drones just seem like more options for the sake of having more options.
The combat AI is still mostly incompetent, at least at the Prince and King levels. Higher up, I feel like there might be better play, but I haven’t had the chance to try that yet. As before, the AI runs a serviceable battle on open ground but it has no idea how to assault a city or defend one.
I had an epic battle on a thin stretch of beach – landing my troops and then slowly marching over the dunes to assault a city. It made for something very cinematic in my head. Unfortunately, the AI was unable to block my movement, or flank my advance, or even use the city to attack my troops. We went from Omaha Beach to tiddlywinks in about ten turns.
Honestly, I wasn’t expecting combat to be bolstered in this expansion, anyway. Naval combat was “improved” in previous DLC, but it didn’t make that part of the game any more fun. A shame, since so much of world history has been dominated through command of the seas.
Conquest victories, however, are seriously hurt by the new Loyalty mechanics. Since it’s impossible to hold a city far from your borders, the only option if you want to win by Conquest is to raze everything to the ground. This doesn’t really solve things either, though, because now there’s no place to safely hold your troops while readying for the next assault.
One of the key tenets of Civ VI seemed to be that combat was necessary. It punished players for playing turtle. Now they’ve added a feature (Loyalty) that makes continental conquest nearly impossible. Maybe I’m missing something, but this seems like a massive misstep.
The other new mechanic that’s tied to combat, at least tangentially, is emergencies. Supposedly, when one civ does something so egregious that the other nations cannot bear it, they can call for an emergency alliance.
I say supposedly because I’ve tried multiple times to trigger one and have yet to see it in gameplay. I thought for sure that when I launched my first moon rocket the game would declare an emergency and try to stop me from winning the game. I was certain that if I started going all Napoleon on my neighbors the AI would amass its might, but no such luck. Nothing happened.
Nor has the game declared an emergency against any of my enemies either. I’ll keep trying, but in the meantime it seems like this new system is being greatly underutilized.
I was a fan of the look of Civ VI, so I’m still happy now. The music for the new civs maintains the level of quality we’ve come to expect. It is almost uniformly excellent, though I’m sure some tunes will strike your fancy more than others.
The devs have also made the UI far more functional, stuffing every screen with important information without overcrowding it. Data that I often struggled to find is now front and center, and new stats have been added, as well. It makes for a far better gaming experience.
On the other hand, I’ve encountered multiple bugs, even after the recent patch. There’s nothing gamebreaking by far, but there are graphical errors and some strange gameplay flubs. For instance, at one point, my civ wasn’t collecting trade routes. I’d built enough buildings for five, but could only have one. Also some of the diplomatic responses will come up wrong. These sorts of errors don’t make a ton of sense in a big time title from a major developer.
One reason why I feel Civ VI has struggled out of the gate was that it felt very much like Civ V-and-a-Half. There just wasn’t enough that was different about it. Rise and Fall begins to correct that. The Ages are an excellent mechanic and the game already feels like it would be deficient without them (Bad news for Civ VI on the iPad, but I digress). Loyalty is also a good addition that, while in need of tweaking, is already making the Civ VI experience better.
Beyond adjusting what they’ve added, Firaxis now needs to turn their eye to the endgame. The early game was always good and the midgame has been greatly improved by the recent additions. Sadly, it makes the lack of an interesting endgame even more stark. Right now it is just a complete slog.
I’m not asking the developers to add yet another system to an already overstuffed game. The endgame needs to be completely rethought, in my opinion. There should be an exciting race to the finish. Most of the time it’s more like waiting for a cake to be done. Just watching it slowly solidify in the oven. So…boring…
Overall, despite my complaints, I feel like Rise and Fall moves Civ VI forward in the right direction. It’s a far better game today, and I can start to see how it might improve even more in the future.
If you own Civ VI already, the expansion is a must buy. If you’ve been on the fence, I think Rise and Fall should push you into a purchase. The new civs, new features, and quality of life tweaks have really elevated Civ VI. The new expansion definitely signals a rise of fortunes, not a fall. We may yet be entering a Golden Age of Civ.
Chris’ Additional Perspective:
I just wanted to jump in and offer a few words on the new emergencies mechanic. I’ve only triggered a couple different emergencies in my few games since the release of Rise & Fall. The first was caused by one civilization taking a city-state. I stayed out of it because the aggressor was a good friend and neighbor. I had to keep up relations, right? However, the other emergencies were triggered by yours truly.
You see, assuming the role of Saladin, I was tasked with bringing my religion to every heathen on the map. It was a smaller four player map and Peter was near me to the south, Gitarja across the water to the west, and far to the east rested the Chinese empire led by Qin Shi Huang. Once I had a bit of religion pouring in Peter was an easy target. I took a city-state or two near him and his capital quickly fell to my godly ways.
Peter, not so happy with this, created an emergency against me. It was just him against me and it was a bit like a quest. Within the next thirty turns he was tasked with keeping my religion out of his capital for 16 turns. However, even after I enforced my religious rule for well over 20 turns and it was impossible for him to win, the emergency would not resolve until the end of the turn limit. I did win… But I was confused when it was finally resolved. The wording in this case struck me as misleading and I had to double check the quest report to fully understand that I had actually won. That said, the rewards were indeed worth it.
Gitarja tried the same emergency when I took her capital. FAIL. Qin Shi Huang, being the last to fall to my religious onslaught, didn’t get the chance to have his own emergency so…
Anyway, I like the emergencies. There are only five types but they are an interesting way to create dynamic events around military/religious conquests, betrayal or even nukes dropping. The rewards for winning an emergency are excellent and might even tempt the most turtling players off of their fences. That said, I would like to see more varieties of emergencies in the game but not so many that you’re juggling them like a World of WarCraft quest log.
TL;DR: Civilization VI: Rise and Fall adds several new excellent features that change the game, overall in creative and distinct ways, correcting many of the initial issues. Ages and the timeline give the game a really epic feel. Loyalty helps keep city placement in line and has the potential for some interesting strategic options. Not every addition works perfectly, and even the good ones need some polish. Worse, existing issues like combat AI remain mostly unaddressed. However, the good outweighs the disappointing and the new expansion evolves Civ VI into an even better experience.
You might like this game if:
- You love Civ VI and you want more of it
- You were looking for greater complexity, especially in the mid-game
- You’re bored of raging at Cleopatra and want some new faces to be angry at
- City spam was one of your main complaints about Civ VI
You might NOT like this game if:
- You need all features to be working perfectly and polished
- You really want to see improvement in the endgame
- Combat plays a huge part in your enjoyment of a 4X game
- Feature bloat makes you nauseous
Joshua has played for 180+ hours (30+ on Rise and Fall) on a Powerspec g313 with an Intel i5 6600k processor, 16GB DDR4 RAM and a NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1070
Disclosure: Joshua was given a product key at no cost by the developer for the purposes of review.