In a way, Civilization VI: Gathering Storm feels like the necessary second piece of Rise & Fall. So much of what the game’s first expansion added was received well, but didn’t offer enough to satisfy longtime players. Ages, emergencies, loyalty, and more felt like solid additions… that just left players hungering for more.
We’re happy to say that Gathering Storm has a more generous helping of meat and potatoes. Loyalty now has full support in the form of new leaders that primarily take aim at a Domination victory — without the bloodshed. Firaxis scrapped and reimagined the previous emergency system as an integral part of the new World Congress. Flavor features like the civilization timeline and historical moments are complemented by on-map labels for geographic features and real-world weather events. Gathering Storm grabs just about every single Rise & Fall feature and further expands upon them, making them more integral and satisfying in the process.
It’s still a game about managing a semi-historically accurate civilization to military, economic, cultural, or scientific dominance, though. And with all the new changes, it’s honestly almost easy to overlook just how radical of a departure a lot of the new leaders are.
New Strokes, Different Folks
Eleanor of Aquitaine can serve as the leader of either France or England. The great works in her cities cause -1 loyalty per turn if they’re within nine tiles. And those cities can skip the Free City step by just converting straight into one of Eleanor’s own. France is a mid-game powerhouse, able to convert city after city that dares be too close to the leader’s cultural boons. As England, you have a lot of power to keep expanding to new continents in the first few eras.
Kupe of the Maori starts the game on an ocean tile and can actually get away with waiting to choose the perfect spot. That’s because his per-turn bonuses make up for it. Mansa Musa of the Mali is a gold generating machine that utilizes their massive bank reserves to outright purchase units, tiles, and power. The Ottomans, led by Suleiman, have a unique governor that can be installed in any civilization’s city. Phoenicia’s Dido can move its capital by simply completing a unique project. There are just… a ton of incredibly unique (and esoteric) leaders that will drastically affect the way you play the game.
Our preview talked about how a lot of the updates help make the world feel more alive — that the game board itself is consistently shifting. But that’s only the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
My experience with climate change is actually all too similar to what we’re dealing with in the real world. At first, it was slow. Only a few civilizations had access to coal. Soon they advanced on to oil and nuclear power: a promising development. But things got ugly, fast, when the less scientifically advanced leaders got their hands on coal (mind you, this is a 20-player game).
The first sea level rise happened over the course of around 40 turns. The second, only 10. The third took five. Any civilizations not fortunate enough to be scientifically advanced suffered tremendously.
Suddenly building sea walls to keep the ocean rise at bay was of utmost importance. Being hampered by the loss that goes with those tiles caused extraordinary delays. Civilizations that were already on the edge of relevance only found themselves falling further behind.
Ironically, it was the coastal leaders that had flooded the atmosphere with CO2. Inland civs, like Japan in my first game, were none the wiser and free to keep doing whatever they thought best for themselves.
All of this brought more floods, droughts, storms. Not only were the civilizations ramping up towards victory, bringing more tension, but the world itself helps things along, too. Would a disastrous hurricane set me back? Could a flood decimate my most important production tiles? The entire system felt like it was helping push the game to an end.
At one point the sea level rise got so bad that major inland lakes became seas themselves! All those formerly safe cities were opened up to the rest of the world’s navies.
On top of that, there’s also a fascinating mechanic where the polar ice caps start pulling back. Depending on the map type, this can unlock swaths of new land and islands to compete for. You’ll need to plan your expansion efforts alongside the climate change if you want to be the first to settle these new lands. It’s a distressingly pragmatic way of looking at avoidable global disaster…
I’m now a few matches deep into Gathering Storm. The overall game feels like a much better package overall than it did even after Rise & Fall. What’s here finally makes the game feel as complete as Civilization V did towards the “end” of its lifespan, and should hopefully help convert the previous game’s faithful contingent.
That said, it’s not perfect. There are still some longer-than-ideal lulls in the mid-to-late game, where you’re mostly just working towards preset plans to rule the world. Some victories still feel easier than others, too. A few leaders woefully lack in power level — especially when compared to some of the DLC leaders.
I can’t really fault Gathering Storm for this, though. It’s almost easy to underestimate exactly how much the expansion has improved the game. This is largely thanks to how sporadic the improvements feel. There’s a new asynchronous multiplayer mode, though, so you can experience Civ at a much slower, more casual pace with your friends, and hopefully see the changes play out more gradually. There’s also a Hall of Fame to track your victories with each civilization. You can now queue up different productions across multiple cities to make build management less tedious.
The Complete Package
Finally, Firaxis added a great many options for game worlds. Do you start in a cold world with lots of rainfall and high sea levels? Maybe a hot world with very little rain or sea? Combine that with new world generation, which actually places mountains on continental divides, and there’s a lot to experience over time.
Oh. There’s also a giant death robot in the Future Era. Make sure to get that!
With Civilization 6: Gathering Storm, each match feels more fresh and different than ever before. What more can you ask for from an expansion like this for a game like Civilization?