Hands-on with the Civ VI: Rise & Fall expansion

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Hands-on with the Civ VI: Rise & Fall expansion

150 turns later

With Rise & Fall, Civilization developer Firaxis wants players to both appreciate the bigger picture and get lost in the details. It’s an expansion that urges you to step back, to zoom out and chart the tectonic transfer of power throughout the ages. But at the same time it’s an expansion that prompts you to zoom in, to get hands on and juggle minor adjustments in each city, specialising like never before.

Of course, all Civ games demand this kind of split attention - between the macro and the micro - at least to some extent. Here, though, it feels more pronounced than previously. In my time with a preview build that allowed me to play unlimited games each up to a 150-turn cap, I felt the rise of the grand sweep of history, the swells of plotting a course for my empire, yet also I felt the fall as each turn becomes weighed down with an accumulation of small choices, none of which necessarily feel definitive.

Golden Years

As the first proper expansion to Civ VI, following a series of updates that have tweaked existing gameplay features and a handful of leader and scenario DLC packs over the nearly eighteen months since launch, Rise & Fall is in a position to make substantial changes. Firaxis has had the time to analyse what was good about Civ VI, what was bad, and what was missing, and overhaul that base game with significant new features and extensively reworked existing ones.

The new feature I think provides the most tangible effect is the introduction of Golden Ages. From the first turn you can trigger “historic moments” that earn you points towards your Era Score. These moments can be anything from encountering a tribal village or building a unique unit for the first time to becoming the first suzerain of a particular city-state or eliminating the danger of a nearby barbarian camp. They’re things you’ll naturally contact during the normal course of play rather than any out of the ordinary achievements. At the end of each era your score determines whether you qualify for a Golden Age, if you’ve done well, a Dark Age, if you’ve done poorly, or a Normal Age, if you’ve done okay.

At the start of each Age you’re asked to make a dedication, a choice that essentially sets the tone for the next era. During both Normal and Dark Ages, you’ll choose a dedication that confers bonuses to your Era Score - e.g. you’ll gain an extra point every time you build a specialist district in a city. If you plan on a construction wave of commercial hubs throughout your empire, then that’s probably a good dedication to make. During a Golden Age, however, you choose from dedications that don’t directly enhance your Era Score - e.g. your builders gain extra movement and you can faith purchase civilian units at half-price.

Golden Age dedications are powerful, but alone they’re not going to help you chain together consecutive Golden Ages. What’s really interesting is that if you manage to rise from a Dark Age to a Golden Age - something I accomplished only once during my half-dozen games - you enter a Heroic Age and can make two dedications in addition to the one you get for a Golden Age. That’s a huge boost, and one that - if played effectively - could be more beneficial than successive Golden Ages.

Rebel Rebel

Intertwined with the Golden Age system is a second new feature: Loyalty. Every city in the game has a Loyalty Score that’s trending up or down. Essentially it measures how loyal the city is to its current leader. Similar to the religion lens you can pull up an overview of the world’s loyalty and see how much loyalty pressure is being exerted on each city, by whom and from where. Cities founded on the frontier of your empire will likely be less loyal than those in close proximity to your capital. And what happens when that loyalty breaks? The city rebels.

When a city rebels it enters a period where it’s designated a Free City. It’s not a city-state - you won’t be sending envoys there - but you’re able to apply pressure to increase its Loyalty to you and eventually coax it to join your empire. In the first game I played I was able to take advantage of the German capital rebelling and “flip it” to my empire without ever declaring war.

One of the best ways to manage Loyalty is to not succumb to a Dark Age. Normally, you see, each citizen of a nearby city exerts 1 point of loyalty pressure, with that doubled for those in a capital city. In a Golden or Heroic Age that increases to 1.5 per citizen, but in a Dark Age it drops to 0.5 per citizen. It’s obvious how a small frontier town surrounded by a couple of large rival cities could be quickly consumed. I found myself reconsidering my settling options in the games I played, preferring to expand in less ambitious directions, or when I did order a settler into far-flung territory I had to make sure I was prepared to deal with the consequences.

A New Career in a New Town

To assist with the Loyalty system, Rise & Fall also introduces Governors. These are seven named characters who you are able to recruit once you unlock a Governor Title, assign to a specific city or city-state, and promote through a small skill tree with each additional Governor Title you unlock. The most significant ability a Governor possesses is he or she adds Loyalty to the city in which they reside. Appointing a Governor to your capital as soon as possible is critical to resisting early pressure from rival civilisations and reinforcing the loyalty of your own population.

But it’s also useful to send your Governors to other cities throughout your empire. Not only does that loyalty bonus assist in establishing colonies far from your capital, each Governor also carries a set of abilities drawn from their individual area of expertise. Victor, the Castellan, for example, seems well suited to governing a city under siege during war time while Moksha, the Cardinal, appears a good choice for players striving to spread their religion. I didn’t get to recruit all seven Governors during my time with the preview build, but an early favourite was Amani, the Diplomat, whose ability to count as two envoys to a city-state while also exerting loyalty pressure from that city-state played a decisive role in the abovementioned flipping of the German capital in my first game.

Governors can be reassigned between cities at will, though like spies it takes a few turns for them to establish themselves. And each time you’re awarded a Governor Title you face a choice of promoting an existing Governor or recruiting a new one. You can still only have seven in total, and no more than one per city. I found myself moving them around frequently - some Governor abilities are suited to getting a new city up and running while others, especially after a few promotions, are more effective at higher populations later in the game.

Changes

My impression of the combination of the Loyalty and Governor systems is that they, among other things, rebalance the perennial Civ tussle between growing “tall” or spreading “wide” - that is, do you develop a handful of big cities or spam lots of little ones? Recently, Civ V favoured a tall approach while Civ VI favoured wide play, or at least there was very little penalty for settling as many cities as possible and equally little in the way of bonuses that scaled with a high city population. Admittedly I’ve only played games to the 150-turn mark, meaning I haven’t ventured beyond the Renaissance Era, but I think that Rise & Fall is an attempt to rein in wide play and give tall more of a chance.

Part of this is having Loyalty pressure tied to citizen count within a city. A high population city will exert more pressure than a low population cities, and it’s always going to be risky to settle near an established location. Couple that with the fact you’re limited to seven Governors and that eighth (not to mention ninth, tenth, etc) city you settle is going to have to struggle by without that Loyalty bonus and whatever else a Governor might be able to do. That’s my theory, at least. We’ll see how it withstands the scrutiny of further play.

Elsewhere, Rise & Fall adds a bunch of new content - civs, leaders, wonders, units and so on - and tweaks in subtle but telling ways many of the things you thought you knew about Civ VI.

  • There are eight new civs and nine new leaders to play, although only the six thus far announced were included in the preview build. That’s Genghis Khan of Mongolia, Poundmaker of the Cree, Seondeok of Korea, Tamar of Georgia, Wilhelmina of the Netherlands and Chandragupta, joining Gandhi as the second Indian leader. My favourite to play was Seondeok, mainly for the incredible science output of Korea’s campus replacement district, the Seowon, but I did enjoy leading a Mongol Horde, as Genghis Khan, from the Korean peninsula to the Black Sea on the true start location Earth map.
  • There are eight new world wonders: Amundsen-Scott Research Station (science and production bonuses in snow areas); Casa de Contratación (boost colonial empires); Kilwa Kisiwani (diplomatic buffs); Kotoko-in (extra faith and free warrior monks); St Basil’s Cathedral (Chichen Itza for tundra tiles); the Statue of Liberty (the Colosseum with Loyalty instead of Amenities); the Taj Mahal (Era Score bonuses); and the Temple of Artemis (extra amenities from camps, pastures and plantations).
  • There are also seven new natural wonders: Delicate Arch (faith and gold); Eye of the Sahara (production and science); Lake Retba (culture, gold and production); the Matterhorn (culture and adjacent unit buffs); Mount Roraima (faith and science); Ubsunur Hollow (faith, food and production); and Zhangye Danxia (Great General and Great Merchant points).

And, as far as gameplay tweaks are concerned, here’s a short but not exhaustive list of the ones I noticed:

  • Some coastal tiles now feature a reef that gives extra food and production. Sometimes a coastal tile can accommodate a reef and a sea resource for an extra bonus, though I only saw it happen with fish rather than whales or something.
  • The Colosseum now provides +2 culture, +2 amenities and +2 loyalty to each city within six tiles.
  • The Great Library now provides a tech boost when another player recruits a Great Scientist, in addition to its previous traits.
  • Bread and Circuses is a new city project for the Entertainment Complex that grants loyalty bonuses.
  • You no longer gain a trade route upon completing a Commercial Hub or Harbour district. Instead, the trade route arrives when you build the first district building - the Market and Lighthouse, respectively.
  • City-state bonuses have been adjusted. The 1st tier remains the same, but you now need the first district building to benefit from the 2nd tier and the second district building to benefit from the 3rd tier. For example, Kumasi grants +2 culture in the capital for 1 envoy, +2 culture in every Amphitheatre for 3 envoys, and +2 culture in every Art or Archaeological Museum for 6 envoys.

I Can't Give Everything Away

Rise & Fall does add two other major features, one of which I briefly experienced and one of which I did not experience at all due to the turn limit.

The first is global emergencies. This did happen to me, just the once, and in the game I described earlier where I absorbed the German capital. I was playing as the Dutch on the new True Start Location Europe map. Shortly after two of Germany’s three cities had “flipped” to me (via Loyalty pressure), Greece declared war on Germany and swiftly conquered Frederik’s last city. The next turn an emergency was declared (this is an automatic occurrence after a specific, catastrophic event such as the elimination of a civilisation) and I, along with Spain, England and Georgia, was offered a choice: take action and liberate the former German city of Magdeburg from the Greek oppressors within a time limit, or do nothing.

I clicked accept. My reasoning: I had a decent army, Magdeburg was nearer to my empire than Greece’s so I’d have the advantage in terms of supply, I had been friends with Germany and was currently friends with Spain and England, and hey it was going to be four versus one - how hard could it be to take one city? Also, if we were successful, we’d get a reward.

Next turn I discovered that Spain, England and Georgia had all rejected the call. It was just me and Greece in the Battle of Magdeburg. I won convincingly - my freshly recruited pikemen made mince meat of their horsemen - and “liberated” Magdeburg. (It turned out I could actually still choose to keep the city for myself so I did. And I pocketed the entire 4,000 gold reward.)

The second new feature is an extension of alliances. Now there are several types of alliance, one for each of the five core gameplay concepts (science, culture, religious, military and economic), all composed of three tiers of bonuses depending on how long the alliances has been preserved. You can have up to five alliances in total but you can’t have two of the same type.

New Angels of Promise

As I said I didn’t spend enough time with either feature to get a feel for them. Emergencies look promising - and I’m not sure I’d like to be on the receiving end of one - but I’d like to see just how varied they can be and how responsive the AI is to their call. Alliances sound nice, in theory, but I simply wasn’t able to play far enough to test them out.

Overall, Rise & Fall looks like what I wanted from an expansion. It adds substantial new gameplay concepts to consider, some of which look like they have the potential to shake up preconceived notions of what makes for a successful Civ VI strategy. I’m a little concerned that the extra layers of Governor bonuses and Dedication bonuses might begin to obscure, if not contradict, the choices made around which Policy cards to play, especially the ones that overlap. Is it meaningful choice - or just redundant - if I can gain extra builder charges from a Policy card and a Governor ability?

I look forward to further testing the balance of all those bonuses, as well as the new Dark Age policy cards that temper their strong bonuses with significant penalties, when the expansion is finally released on February 8. Not to mention discovering who are the remaining three unannounced leaders… And just how difficult it is to achieve multiple Golden Ages into the late game… And how powerful those Heroic Ages can be in comparison… And are alliances really going to be worth it? And… Sorry, I’ll stop now.

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