As you may have noticed, we at eXplorminate have posted a couple of pieces about Civilization 6 and our thoughts on what the future could (and hopefully should) hold if Firaxis is going to take the game to the next level. While each of the previous pieces offered exciting ideas on how to improve the gameplay, I want to bring something less flashy but, dare I say, more important to Civ 6 and the 4X genre as a whole.
To begin, I want to look at two platforms and how they are pushing gaming forward, specifically by making games more accessible. I don’t know when my life switched, but I can remember a period of my life when I was much younger and I had more time than money. I had hours at my disposal to sink into old school RTS games or favorites on my Nintendo 64. Fast forward to life now and, while I can spare some change to buy a game that might excite me at release and have a impossibly large Steam library, I just don’t have the time to play all the games I would like to. I don’t think my experience is unique; as we get older our commitments to family, work, and other responsibilities seem to multiply. So with the barrier of time, let’s take a look at the Nintendo Switch and Microsoft’s “Play Anywhere” initiative and how they could end up helping us play more Civ 6 and 4X games in general.
After the largely unsuccessful Wii U, the Switch has shown that there is quite the market for a portable gaming device. From its launch in March 2017 to June 2018, sold 19.67 million units! One of the reasons for its continued success is the system’s ease of use and portability. I don’t think I’m the only one that has seen a coworker pull a Switch out on a lunch break or on a commute to work. You can whip it out at a family get together, pass the time during a long flight, or just have a few more minutes to beat that darn boss while someone else uses the TV. For me it feels much less intrusive than, say, going over and starting a game on my PC. I’m not restricted to a single room in my home, and I don’t spend the two minutes getting a game loaded that I would on PC. I pick it up and I play. For two minutes or two hours, it doesn’t matter. Now I realize my situation may not reflect everyone’s experience, but portability and ease of access can remove a big obstacle that could prevent players from playing one more turn.
Then there’s Microsoft and their Play Anywhere initiative. Any first party game, if bought through their online store (which does seem a little annoying given the fact most people purchase games from Steam), can be played on your Xbox or PC, and you can play with friends cross-platform. Cross-system saves offer the ability to pick up and play the game from as you move from one device to another. For example, the nights my brother and I brought terror to the high seas with Sea of Thieves. I played on my Xbox and my brother, who loves his computer, used the PC. Did we play hundreds of hours of the game or was it the single feature that improved gameplay? Of course not! But that isn’t the point, we wouldn’t have spent as much time as we did playing a game and hanging out if cross play was not an option.
From speaking with other eXplorminate staff, I know I’m not the only one who was able to enjoy a gaming experience we would not have otherwise had if Microsoft wasn’t tearing down the traditional barriers between the console and PC. Again, let me reaffirm cross play didn’t turn Sea of Thieves into a God of War rival, but it opened a door to enjoy a game in a way that wasn’t possible before.
Giving players the ability to cross-save and to play Civ 6 any time on any device would allow players to get much more mileage out of the game. Firaxis has already made some strides to incorporating this, such as releasing Civ 6 on multiple platforms. But more could be done. Truth be told, I hadn’t actually played much of Civ 6 since the release of Rise and Fall. However, when I saw that Civ 6 was not only on sale for 15$ but that they were giving out DLC for free the end of 2018 I had to buy it. This, largely nostalgia charged, purchase on my iPad has given close to 20 hours of Civ 6 that I would not have played had I not had the game available on a mobile platform. Not only does it run surprisingly well on my slightly older iPad, if I don’t want to tote my iPad around, I have my game I’m currently trying to not lose on my iPhone. If I want to take a few turns on my break at work, all I have to do is pull my phone out and I can enjoy an experience on par with the base game on PC in most ways. It doesn’t matter where I am, I will almost always have my phone on me which means my opportunity to enjoy Civ 6 throughout the week has exploded!
Now, while you can enjoy Civ 6 on both Apple devices and the Switch, sadly the current versions don’t support the most recent expansion and there is no word on when or if Gathering Storm will be released on those platforms. I would also love to be able to play late (probably too late) into the night on my PC and then take those last few turns to finish that wonder I was rushing the next day on my phone. There may be some hurdles to cross in providing this functionality from Steam to my iPhone but it would truly be an amazing feature to have as it is a bit disheartening to be playing with the current era system in Rise and Fall on PC and then to jump into my phone game and remember, “Oh yeah I don’t get to enjoy that feature.”
I realize that coordinating mods would be extremely difficult (if it’s even possible) and that creating a system to pick up a game from one device to another isn’t as easy as a copy and paste on a server somewhere. But again for me, while I love the ideas put forth by Nate and Joshua, I’d honestly just love to have 10 or 15 minutes throughout the day to chip away at a game that I already enjoy, a game that I don’t play sometimes because I’m busy or because other games are vying for my attention on PC.
If we are being honest, I think the most innovative addition to the the series in the past few games is the district system implemented in Civ 6 and maybe the religious rework too. Firaxis has a history of releasing a very similar game, with expansions that aren’t all that imaginative. I suppose if it is making them money now, the pessimist inside me believes they have no reason to change. I love 4X games and while they can be beautiful, they are never going to require anything close to the power Cyberpunk will require. Take a moment and imagine your favorite 4X strategy game, maybe it is Endless Legend, or you are on a Galactic Civilizations III kick. Can you imagine if you had Age of Wonders III or Planetfall at your fingertips?
I am getting beyond excited for the new features that have been added through the recently released expansion Gathering Storm. However, I know that given my current commitments in life and the limitations I have to playing it, I won’t have as much time as I’d like with the game. So come on Firaxis, help us play the latest iteration on a classic and lead the way. Show other developers how to bring 4X to an even wider audience. Come on guys, all I really want is one more turn!