Gathering Storm comes as the second, and possibly final, expansion to the 2016 release of Civilizations VI (Civ 6). Historically, the second expansion for recent Civ games has done a lot of heavy lifting. These iterations often move the game from the “good” to the “great” category. Gathering Storm (GS) does a lot to improve Civ 6 overall with its storms, global warming, and new civilizations. Although not without its imperfections, I think it should add longevity for many fans. I never anticipated being so excited to have a volcano erupt two tiles from my capital. Now that the storms have rolled in, I hope they are here to stay. They seem like a Civ staple I never knew I always wanted.
The biggest advantage any terrestrial 4X game has over its space counterparts is geography that players can explore, exploit, and well, you get the idea. Gathering Storm breathes life into the exploration of the world by adding character to these geographic features. What seems like a little thing, naming a river or a mountain range, makes the world feel more alive. While this doesn’t affect the minute to minute gameplay, for anyone who enjoys roleplaying as their civilization, you now have one other feature to add life to your story.
Gameplay implications extend beyond just naming geographical features. More exciting is when you come across a floodplain or a volcano. Not only do these look cool, (beware because they can and will kill your units) but they are features I would suggest any player seek out as their rewards often outweigh the risks. Every major geographic feature in the game now is subject to different disasters that wreak havoc on your empire. But never fear, it isn’t all gloom and doom, as such cataclysms often leave yield potentials better than they were originally. Floodplains and volcanoes are the most basic tiles that can create destruction and seem to happen more often than the other new terrain features in GS.
Let’s look at floods as a general example. Each flood will destroy or pillage tile improvements, but typically also add food or production to the flooded tiles. I have had floodplain tiles eventually output eight to ten food per turn by the end of the game. So not only are rivers an attractive spot to settle, but floodplain tiles become an even more exciting settlement location. A volcano near a mountain range now can provide district adjacency bonuses as before, but also present the opportunity of fertilized tiles in wake of its eruption, again increasing projection.
All disasters range from fairly mundane to Hollywood action movie status. For example, a category four hurricane will cover about seven tiles, while a category five covers 17 tiles. Floods can range from your relatively common overflow of the river banks, to a 1000 year deluge that can cover an entire floodplain, destroying lots of improvements and even killing two population in a nearby city.
Just like real life, most disasters can’t be mitigated, the only exception being constructing dams for some flood control. One change that was made post launch is that the largest storms (such as a category four or higher hurricane) will not add any benefits and in some cases can even reduce tile yields. This, as well as decreasing certain yields from storms (looking at you dust storms), has done more to make storms more penalizing which feels like a good move. While it feels good to get increased food output from a flood, it’s nice that some disasters don’t bring longer gains for short term setbacks. Not everything has to boost the players, fighting against negative modifiers brings balance.
Deciding if you are going to play Russian roulette and settle near a volcano is an early game decision that will have consequences both good and bad throughout the remainder of the game. While some people may disagree, I liked the need to keep builders near potential disaster zones, as throughout the game you will be undoing nature’s destruction. The other feature you will need to recognize early on is whether you are settling a tile that will eventually be flooded, as oceans rise alongside global warming. Tiles are clearly marked to let players know if they will flood when ocean levels rise one, two, or three meters. Placing a district on a one meter tile is very risky, as it will certainly be submerged and you may not be able to reclaim it before it is lost to the sea forever (more on this later). It is nice to have a few more variables to consider as you explore and look for cities to settle.
Gathering Storm does not add much when it comes to expanding your territory but the expansion does add some interesting new leaders that change the way you think about empire building. Usually I am not one to get excited about new Civ leaders and I don’t think I’ve ever purchased a leader pack. However, when it comes to GS there are some downright amazing leaders in terms of power and how they play unique from every other civilization.
The new expansion brings nine new leaders (although Eleanor of Aquitaine is counted twice as she can lead either England or France). Every new leader offers a unique gameplay mechanic that is more than the usual mundane differences such as “this civ generates a little more science so they are for science victories.” Take Mansa Musa for example. His mines have negative one to production but generate positive four value to gold, and overall he gets a 30% decrease to production when constructing a building or unit. Add the fact that his version of the commercial district is cheaper to buy, sprinkle in some faith bonuses, and you will have insane gold output.
The fact that there is a civilization which has negative stats is quite unique when compared to existing Civs. But it helps create a gold focused trade powerhouse that actually caters to a unique experience that is going to play a little different than anything you are used to.
Mansa Musa isn’t the standalone unique Civ. Pachacuti will have you settling near mountains to take advantage of almost game breaking terrace farms that produce so much food you will almost feel like you’re cheating. Need a new favorite naval Civ? The Cathon (which replaces the harbor) not only increases naval production and settlers by 50%, but your ships will insta-heal if inside your borders! Is this kind of overpowered? I would say certainly, but I have never had so much fun going for complete naval dominance on an island map. And for those of you who wanted to watch Canada go for world domination, GS has you covered yet again.
While I have been quite positive about the expansion so far, there is a lot that leaves me wanting more. However, the nine new Civs are truly one of the expansion’s high points. If you are looking for more variation or a new challenge they really pay off in ways that I just haven’t seen or felt playing Civ6 until now.
When it comes to resources, Gathering Storm has a few new tricks up its sleeve. The crux of the reworked system is that players now accumulate a small number of strategic resources each turn for each improved resource in their empire. These resources fill up until they hit their default cap of 50. Building a unit requires a chunk of these resources. By default, a swordsman requires 20 iron to construct, or an early mounted unit will require 20 horses. End game units, such as infantry, require a single oil resource.
There are a few things I like about the new system. First, since players generate strategic resources every turn, you can afford to trade away a stack of 30 or more for some gold, without limiting your ability to utilize the resource in the future. Encampment districts are also something I want to build more often, as each one increases your stockpile cap. This becomes less important in the endgame, when most units require a small amount of a rare strategic resource. Still, it was nice to see the encampment become more valuable over time. It isn’t a very complex system, but I think it strikes a more interesting balance than we’ve seen so far in Civ6.
The biggest overhaul to the use of resources, is power plants. At the beginning of the industrial era, you will be burning coal or oil to power your cities. While coal is also used for ironclads, it is much more effective to construct a power plant (or 12 if you can!) Take for example, the stock exchange improvement for the commercial district. Unpowered it provides an additional four gold, powered +13. All industrial and later district improvements are only really effective if powered. I won’t even build a research station unless a city is powered because it is so inefficient otherwise.
You may be under the illusion that you can avoid fossil fuels and create a green utopia. If you have any such preconceptions, toss them out the window now. Power is king. An unpowered empire really has no hope of catching up to one utilizing power unless it is five to six times larger. Now, you might start to feel guilty when tiles start getting flooded by global warming, but you do have cleaner options such as wind mills or geothermal plants that can be constructed on appropriate tiles.
Hydroelectric dams also provide a modest energy gain per turn, but nuclear plants are by far the most efficient. A single uranium resource produces eight times the power a coal resource would! But with such power comes risks. Unless you maintain your nuclear power plants, you are certain to experience city stopping radiation leaks.
Because you probably don’t want to spam nuclear power plants in every city, a strategic industrial district placement becomes much more important than it ever was before. I appreciate the developers really leaning into the district system with features like this. In previous iterations I often felt that placing my districts wasn’t all that imaginative or important outside of min/maxing adjacency bonuses.
For the strength of these systems, overall I find the newly added techs, and the so-called future era in general, a let down. Prior to the release of Gathering Storm Nate wrote a piece theorized some unique additions the future era could bring. Unfortunately the implementation of the future era is mundane at best. The civic side is definitely more impacted than the scientific side of research since you get three new government types that give you bonuses to target specific win conditions.
On the scientific side, you unlock ocean based wind farms (truly a tech of the future, a windmill on water that has to be on par with a manned mission outside our solar system right?), seasteads (seems cool until you look at what it does), and a ton of death robot upgrades. Yes, you get the death robot which is kinda cool, but four of the seven future era techs just make your death robot a better death robot. These improvements aren’t very imaginative. Adding 100% air defence to an already overpowered unit doesn’t seem to have the payoff I’d hope the future era would bring to the game. Of the other three techs, one allows you to build the aforementioned offshore windmill (still not impressed), and two help supplement the scientific victory path.
The Civic tree is slightly more interesting with the three new end game government types. Each government is aimed at helping you close out the game with a specific victory condition. The problem is that by the time I get that late into the game, I feel like the winner has already been determined and we are just waiting to see the victory screen pop up. There are a few interesting wildcard policies you unlock, which I won’t go into too much depth here, but they do allow for some counters to try to stop others from winning. So overall, the future (era) is kind of bland and not nearly as interesting as I had hoped.
A few last tidbits of interest are the return and addition of a few engineering marvels. Railroads can once again be constructed, which are a salvation for larger maps and late game conquest. Tunnels can now be built as well, which allow transversal through, rather than around large mountains. While not perfect, the AI does seem to understand that tunnels are fantastic for getting troops from point A to point B quickly.
Finally, we have canals which seem really neat, but tie your hands somewhat in terms of their placement. If you place your cities right, you can potentially create some interesting connections from a city to a body of water, but I have yet to use canals to cover larger swaths of land. There is some good stuff there, but it is too bad that at the end of the day that the simple addition of railroads (which are not new to game) seem to be more impactful upon gameplay than almost every gameplay addition from the future era. I think railroads are much more impactful than anything the future era has to offer.
I had high hopes that the future era would reinvent how I crush my enemies. While it might not have been the revolution I was hoping for, at least we got the Giant Death Robot. In terms of strength, the bot is overpowered. With all the future era tech researched, it is somehow even more powerful! The unit looks cool and it dominates everything else. Sure, it is big, flashy killing machine, but ultimately left me feeling meh. Thankfully, there is a bit more that just a big robot to the end game.
The science victory has been overhauled to a multi-step process where man advances to the stars, the moon, Mars, and then sends a ship to inhabit a world 50 light years away. Thankfully, players have the ability to construct repeatable city projects which increase your ships’ “light speed” by a factor of one. With two spaceport cities with high production, I was able to eventually get my spaceship hurtling towards victory at seven light years per turn. I don’t want to complain about a nice quality of life change that saves me from clicking next turn for 50 turns, but it is quite a stretch to imagine we will be sending anything or anyone even a single light year away from Earth in the near future.
In terms of a cultural victory we can now construct a rock band to generate tourism with successful rock concerts. While not groundbreaking, it is nice to have a new mechanic and something more active to use while generating tourism. Civilization games have always tried to give players multiple paths to victory but a lot of times these were boring “next turn” fests, so I am glad to see them trying to cut down on the monotony to some degree.
The final overhaul to victory comes in the form of the newly added World Congress. I would like to say that with the overhauled diplomacy system, along with the added resource of favors, diplomacy takes on a new edge or brings something new to the table. Unfortunately, what we have in reality is a basic system that the AI doesn’t seem to fully understand or utilize to its fullest (or even to whatever a portion of fullest would be).
The crux is, you generate favor through positive diplomatic action with other civilizations, such as promising not to expand too close to them in the near future or such. There can also be some passive favor generation every turn that comes from City States and certain policy cards. Every time the World Congress convenes, you can vote for, or against a set of resolutions that rotate through the game.
Some of these are pretty cool, such as embargoing a nation, or choosing which resource can be used to purchase military units at a significant discount. Now, for multiplayer, these might work well, but the AI seems to frequently vote for the same resolution in the same way a concerning number of times. You would think the computer would prioritize campus districts if going for a scientific victory, but I can’t tell you how many times my opponents all vote for city improvements to be boosted over anything else. It almost feels like it is the only option the AI knows it can vote for.
Along with this, the diplomacy victory is basically just spending enough votes to make sure you get the required diplomacy score. Even when I am at war with the entire world, I have been able to throw enough votes in for myself, so that with consecutive votes, I still keep “winning.”
The AI often offers the stupidest trades. I can’t tell you how often I am offered one shiny piece of coal for something MUCH more valuable. Even with the post-launch balances diplomacy is still mediocre at best. Yes, the computer is now less prone to overvalue diplomatic favor (it was quite exploitable) but fixing something that was broken isn’t as good as having a fleshed out dynamic system in place.
Gathering Storm is the perfect expansion for someone who already likes Civ 6 and wants more ot it. For anyone else, I don’t know if I could recommend it. I think GS is a perfect example of expansion bloat within the 4X genre. At the end of the day it doesn’t feel good to pay for features that have already been included in previous iterations of the series. Especially when features like the World Congress seem beyond the ability of the AI. It doesn’t mean it is a bad expansion, as I think it is just as guilty of bloat as every other major 4X game on the market.
What gives me hope are the truly interesting Civs they’ve added to the game. I can’t believe it has taken this long to see a Civ that actually has some sort of negative stat to offset and allow a somewhat balanced type of gameplay. Storms and disasters are great. Actually, they feel like a core tenet in many ways, and I don’t think I could play (a hypothetical) Civ VII if they aren’t included in the base game. It is seemingly minor adjustments and additions such as these that really make me optimistic the series can continue to grow and mature in new and exciting ways.
Interesting Civs and storms on one side, an underwhelming future era, and a so so World Congress system on the other. While it is somewhat of a mixed bag, I’d say the positives do outweigh the negatives. I don’t think I can stress enough, if you have enjoyed Civ 6 to this point, this expansion is for you. If you haven’t, it won’t do anything to win you over so save your money. The franchise continues to stick to its tried and true formula and there is far more that has remained the same than has changed over the years. Gathering Storm doesn’t redefine the series or the genre. It brings some new ideas to the table that will keep current fans playing but probably won’t win over anyone who hasn’t enjoyed Civ 6 up to this point.
TL;DR: Gathering Storm brings some solid additions to the series accompanied by a few missteps. While dust storms, hurricanes, or volcanos may not seem like game changes on the surface, they add an enjoyable dynamic that affects the game from start to finish. These dynamic events along with the addition of rising sea levels as a result of global warming create a new challenge and present a unique opportunity for players. The new system of strategic resources requires more of a balancing act, especially in regard to the new power system for cities. The diplomacy system, even with the addition of the World Congress leaves much to be desired, and the new technologies found in the “future era’ are somewhat of a mixed bag. Gathering Storm is a solid expansion for fans of the current iteration and brings some of the most imaginative and unique civs yet. For those simply looking for more Civ 6 goodness, this expansion won’t disappoint.
You May Like This Game If:
Having new civs to play is something you are looking for
You are looking for something new in the series in the form of disasters
If your dream for the future of mankind includes giant death robots
You May NOT Like This Game If:
You wanted the future era to significantly change gameplay
You cannot look past the current AI and some of its oddities
Diplomacy is very important and you want the World Congress to feel meaningful
Dallin played 105 hours of Civilization VI of which 35+ were playing Gathering Storm using a copy of the game provided by Firaxis on a custom-built gaming PC with Windows 10, an Intel i5-6600k processor @ 3.5GHz, 16GB DDR4 RAM, and a Nvidia GTX 1070 graphics card.