Grand strategies, RTS, RTT, TBS or 4X, this year had them all. Homeworld saw a planetary iteration. XCOM 2 did a lot of things right despite inheriting the story and many of the issues of its predecessor. Master of Orion was revived. Battlefleet Gothic: Armada pulled off the rules of the board game beautifully with a gameplay that resembles naval combat and a campaign against Abaddon the Despoiler, but the production value of a small studio. Paradox has taken Grand Strategy to space with Stellaris. The Warhammer universe met Total War in a streamlined strategy game with a modest narrative and epic battles which proved a great opportunity for SEGA to spam pricy DLCs. Cossacks 3 copied the original game with all its qualities but with additional problems. And at the end of the year, Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun has resurrected Commandos 2 and transformed it in a battle between samurais.
The one strategy that isn’t on the list above is the one that surprised me the most coming from a great series that lately has seen content fragmentation with mandatory mechanics delivered through expansions. I have to admit that my expectations from Civilization VI weren’t that high, but I was proved wrong by a game that is an absolute improvement over its predecessor.
Beautifully narrated by Sean Bean’s calming voice, Civilization VI oozes production value from every ounce of its virtual body. The mobile looking graphics from the screenshots and early videos retain a wanted silliness through an artistic direction with caricaturized historical characters and amusing unit animations translating into great visuals when put in motion. But production value was expected from the Firaxis and 2K combo. What I wasn’t expecting and I was delighted to see at release are gameplay mechanics and features that were part of the expansion for Civilization V. Religion is already in the game playing a big role in a nation’s development with its pantheons system and as a victory type. Trading has the required complexity from the get go with routes being established that help nations to flourish. The cities have seen a complete redesign in the way they expand with the addition of the districts system which comes with impactful and permanent choices of strategic and economical importance. The research has doubled in volume with the introduction of a civics system in parallel to the technological advancements, providing players with political and military ways of expanding a nation’s power. There is so much to do in this game and the choices are spread so well that from start to finish you will never get bored.
The game VI is not devoid of problems with the UI and AI requiring some serious work. But there are a ton of gameplay improvements balancing most of the problems of Civilization V without begging for an expansion.
Civilization VI is probably the best base Civilization game to date. With a solid production value, a unique flair and enough content to keep players hooked for hundreds of hours without feeling repetitive, the game comes on top of every other strategy released this and I’m quite curious what Firaxis will do with the expansions for this one.