TL;DR – While the big up-front features are interesting,
for me it was a lot of the small quality of life changes that really stood out
Score – 4.5 out of 5 stars
Now, if you have read anything on our site before, you will likely know that I quite like the Civilization series. Well, I have had my hands on the new expansion Gathering Storm for a couple of weeks now and have been able to play a number of games with many of the new civilizations, so I think I have reached the point where I can give the game an informed review. With that in mind in today’s review, we will be looking at the civilizations, the main features, the improvements, and then the production to see what sort of expansion Gathering Storm is.
So to set the scene, if you are not familiar with the game, Civilization VI is a turn-based strategy game of the 4X persuasion. This means that instead of moving all at once, each player takes their turn to build wonders, move troops, and explore the map or whatever they are trying to do. Your aim is to build the biggest empire through economic, military, scientific, cultural, or religious means (or all of the above). Thus you eXplore, eXpand, eXpolit, and eXterminate. Gathering Storm is the second expansion pack for Civilization VI after Rise and Fall, which has historically meant that this is the last expansion for the game, but we’ll see about that.
The first thing you see when you open up a new Civilization expansion is all the new stuff, the civilizations, the wonders, everything really. With Gathering Storm we get a mix of old favourites and interesting new additions. Unlike the Rise and Fall expansion, this time around there were a number of civilizations that played into my preferred play style. So while you still got the warmongering Hungary and The Ottomans, you also got more builder style civilizations in Mali, The Māori, and The Inca. One thing I did find interesting is that Firaxis has experimented a little more this time around with the bonus combinations, working both negative and positive bonuses into the mix. For example, while The Māori have a bonus to culture, they can’t get Great Writers, or Mali that has a penalty to production, with a bonus to gold. This makes you play differently with the different civs which really adds to the replayability of the game. To add to this The Ottomans get a unique governor and Sweden gets a unique World Congress proposal which also adds to the feeling that each game is different. We also got a bunch of new wonders which was really interesting from the all-time favourite Mach Picchu to some I had never heard about until they appeared in-game, and I love learning about new parts of the planet. I have yet to be able to build the Great Bath (AI seem to love building it) or the Golden Gate Bridge (very specific build requirements), but it is fun to smack down that massive Panama Canal across the map.
With any expansion come a number of big-ticket features which dramatically shift the game and Gathering Storm is no exception. We don’t get the chance to talk about all of them, but if you want to see all the features in the game you can see our Features List Here. The first big item, and inspiration for the name, are Natural Disasters, which do shake things up. The Civilization series has experimented with random events in the past but they didn’t feel as polished as this. Even though they are random to a certain extent, and can do great damage, they never felt unfair because you have some indication which areas are more prone to others. Now, this doesn’t really match with reality, but it does help you make educated risks. When playing as Mali, I knew settling in a flat desert could lead to dust storm damage, and it did, but I also knew it was worth the risk. That being said when a natural disaster strikes during wartime you might not have that same charitable view. While it is a nice addition in combination with Global Warming, it did feel like it could have been taken maybe a step further. In my games, I think I only ever had one or two outlier cities be effected with sea level rises. One thing that I did find deeply frustrating is that when one hits you get a zoom-in view on the location like they use for wonders. Now this is fine, you get to see the volcano exploding etc. and how much damage it does. However, many of the natural disasters, like floods, can add fertility to the tiles, but you can’t easily see which ones because the moment you get out of that zoomed-in view, you get yanked away to the next unit, and miss the animatic that shows which tiles have been affected and how.
The next big feature is the World Congress and
the associated diplomatic changes in the game. The World Congress is one
feature that I was surprised was missing in the base game and while we got
hints of it with emergencies in Rise and Fall, it is only now that we get
it fully implemented. Overall, I think this is a big improvement on what has
come before because it makes you have to engage with every vote. You are not
just voting for one option, but also voting against another. Do you want to get
a bonus to trading with faith-based city-states, or stop someone from trading at
all? This means you have to be engaged with every vote because they can change
the rules up quite significantly, and it can be devastating. For example, in
one game I was building up my faith and had just picked a Golden Age policy and
it was going to be full expansion ahead. Only for the World Congress to block
buying units with faith when I was not paying attention. This is facilitated by
a new currency called Diplomatic Favour, that you want to store up to use to
both push your interests and protect yourself
from other’s attacks. It all works really well, especially when you add in the
new grievances system which finally fixes the issues the game had with warmongering.
One small thing is that since Diplomatic Favour is a commodity that can be
traded (which is good), it does now mean that you will be pestered with bad
deals from the AI that you will never take. As well as this, it would be good
to have a bit more variety to the early World Congress sessions. The other
things like updated victories and the new future era are nice but I am not sure
they really change anything too drastically.
While these are the big things you will see right away, for me some of the things that I have really liked are the smaller features. For example, they have changed up how Strategic Resources work, making having and owning them much more important. Also, there is a cap, making building encampments something you might actually do. They have tweaked the map code, with mountains and deserts and other features forming where they feel like they should. This combined with the new Geographical Features addition makes the world come alive. It is also helped by a lot of art changes to diversify and give units personality depending on which civ is playing them. To add to all this have been some much-needed UI updates which makes playing the game just that little bit more easier. Though, the diplomatic trade menu is still a bit of fiddley mess. One of the big issues people have with the game is the AI and while I feel like there has been an improvement here, I don’t think it is at the level some people would like.
Finally, I can’t go without talking about the music, the same music I have had blaring through my headphones as I wrote this review. I have mentioned my love for Geoff Knorr and the team’s work in the past, but they have really outdone themselves this time around. Each soundscape feels both completely new and also completely true to each of the civilizations. When you play The Ottomans you will be whisked away to the winding back streets of Istanbul, with Sweden it takes to a hall with a large hearth in the middle as people sing and dance around it, and Canada we arrive at a parade as it marches down the boulevard. Though without a doubt for me, the one theme that will stay in my head in the weeks and months to come is that for The Māori. I deeply respect that they found proper Haka performers (The Te Tini a Maui Kapa Haka Group) to not only give the theme the authenticity it needs, but also the power and weight. Seriously, you will want to make sure that The Māori are in all your game if for just the music. To add to this I also have to give a big shout out the concept and animation artists over at Firaxis for some of the most entertaining leader characters so far. That look that Kristina gives as she gazes up from her book is one of the best animations I have seen in a video game in a long time.
In the end, do we recommend Gathering Storm? Yes, yes we do. The big features are interesting, the new additions with the civilizations and wonders, etc. are fun, and there has been a lot of quality of life improvements to the game that really helps. One caveat I will add is while I don’t know about the global pricing, it did seem on the expensive side of things here in Australia, and that might be a problem for some people. Another thing to be careful of is that this game did have me so absorbed in the One More Turn loop that I looked up and the sun had started to rise, so make sure you see a reminder alarm, and remind yourself that you can build the Országház in the morning.
Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV,
he’ll be talking about International Relations,
or the Solar System.
Have you played Civilization VI: Rise and Fall ?, let us know what you thought in the comments below, feel free to share this review on any of the social medias and you can follow us Here. Check out all our past reviews and articles Here, and have a happy day.
Credits – All images were created by Firaxis Games
– Ed Beach
Lead Engineer – Ken Grey
Producers – Dennis Shirk & Ed Beach
Writing – Pete Murray
Marketing – Sarah Darney
Art Director – Brian Busatti
Music – Geoff Knorr, Roland Rizzo & Phill Boucher
Developer – Firaxis Games
Publisher – 2K
Disclosure – I am a moderator on the site Civfanatics of which several staff and players are members of the ‘Frankenstein Testing Group’, Firaxis Games internal playtesting team. I am not part of this team nor do I have any links with Firaxis Games or 2K.