Sid Meier’s Civilization® VI

It's hard to make a new strategy game that can compete with Civilization—even when that new strategy game is also Civilization. When Civilization 6 released on Steam in October 2016, it peaked at more than 160,000 concurrent players, quite a feat for any new game. But after the excitement of its first month, Civilization 6 has failed to surpass Civilization 5 in terms of regular players, according to Steamcharts. It’s gotten pretty close in recent weeks as expansion hype for Rise and Fall builds, but Civ 5 still holds the edge. Similarly, community members reported that Twitch viewership between the two games tended to favor Civ 5 prior to press and streamers receiving pre-release code for the expansion (though we were not able to independently verify this).

Why is this? Why are 4X fans (at least on Steam) still sticking to the old warhorse rather than moving on to the new hotness? Is it discontent with changes made in the newer iteration? Is it the price difference? Was Civ 5 just that good?

To unravel the mystery, we surveyed Civ players on Twitter, the Civilization subreddit, the CivFanatics forums, the Civilization 5 and 6 communities on Steam, and a handful of Civ-centric or Civ-friendly Discord servers. The results aren't scientific, but the responses give us some insight into 2010's enduringly beloved Civilization. 

Question 1: Which Civ game do you currently play most often? 

As it turns out, the survey results don’t reflect SteamSpy’s numbers right off the bat. Almost 57 percent reported that Civ 6 is already their main jam, with Civ 5 coming in second at a respectable 40.7 percent. Write-in responses mentioned no longer playing Civ, bouncing between multiple games, and at least one respondent who insisted their favorite Civ game was Europa Universalis IV. (I swear I didn’t vote in my own poll.)

A discrepancy between responses in a voluntary survey and actual player numbers isn’t that wild. But we may also be able to infer from this that the players who are very active in the Civ community have already adopted Civ 6 more widely than the general player base. A comment from Reddit user Reutermo seems to endorse this idea."I think that Civ players are a bit different than a lot of other gamers," he writes. "I know some people, especially older ones, who don't really play any other games except for Civilization. They treat the game like solitaire. They don't really need a new version, they already have theirs."

So the difference in player numbers may be made up not by active forum posters and redditors who devour new leader announcements and discuss optimal city layouts. A lot of those still playing older Civs might be someone more like your friend’s dad who doesn’t own anything else on Steam and makes a go of casually conquering the world over morning coffee. Again, we can only speculate—but I’m drawn to this theory, as it can serve as a reminder that the vocal online community for any given game is often not representative of the larger base including casual, solo, and offline players.

Image via Steamcharts

Question 2: When Civ 5 came out, how long did it take to become your "go-to" Civ game? 

Here we can see pretty clearly that Civ 5 had early adopter problems of its own. While SteamSpy data isn’t available going back that far, the most popular answer was "after two expansions," coming in at about 41 percent. 35 percent switched over right away, 15 percent more were sold after Gods & Kings, and just over nine percent said Civ 5 never became their go-to game (either because they stuck with an older iteration like Civ 4, or because Civ 6 was their first—I was silly and didn’t think to separate these two possibilities into their own responses).

Reddit user J-Codo gives some voice to this phenomenon: "Civ V was regularly denounced until the DLCs came out. Give it time, Civ VI is the better game."

And he’s not wrong. Many Civ 4 die-hards criticized changes like only allowing one military unit per tile, and the lack of features like religion in the initial release of Civ 5. In my personal experience, I switched to Civ 5 pretty early on—but it wasn’t until after the second expansion, Brave New World, that it really felt like a complete game.

Question 3: How does Civ 6 currently compare in quality to older Civ games? 

This was the most divisive question, with roughly a quarter of respondents each deeming it somewhat better, about equal, or somewhat worse. Overall, those that said it was somewhat or much better outnumbered those who said it was somewhat or much worse—43.2 percent versus 31.8 percent, respectively. If you add up all those that said it was at least as good as older Civs, we can see that around 68 percent don’t view Civ 6 as a step in the wrong direction when all things are considered.

It may be telling that the most popular answer, by a narrow margin, was "about equal." When you correct for other factors like price, that may tell us something about why many haven’t seen a compelling reason to jump ship at this point.

Question 4: If you are currently still playing Civ 5 or another older Civ as your main Civ game, what factors are most keeping you from switching to Civ 6? 

This question was specifically targeted at those who are not currently playing Civ 6 as their main Civ game. It received 208 responses, while 229 survey-takers skipped it. Respondents were instructed to select all factors that applied to them.

The most popular answer was "Missing features I liked in past Civ games," with over 55 percent of respondents claiming this affected their choice. The second most common gripe was the art style and graphics, with around 44 percent. 

27.5 percent proclaim Civ 6 is already the best in the series. A close second, at 24.7 percent, believe it will take its place at the top after two expansions

The third most common response was the write-in "Other" category, where the most common complaint was about the AI of non-player civs. This was a problem for 30 percent of write-ins and roughly nine percent of those who answered this question altogether. 6.7 percent lamented that Civ 6 was not as moddable, and/or that one of their favorite mods had not carried over from Civ 5 to Civ 6—with Civ 5’s Vox Populi mod being called out by name more than any other.

Around 32 percent criticized the user interface. A handful of others expressed that the price of Civ 6 was currently too high, or that they were waiting until all of the expansions came out to be able to buy them together as a bundle. This is definitely a major factor to consider, as Civ 5 Complete Edition has been available for as little as $12 on sale, whereas I was not able to find the base game for Civ 6 (excluding any DLC) available for less than $30 anywhere other than shady-looking key resellers (though it was recently in January's Humble Monthly Bundle).As Reddit user Portugal_TheDude put it, "I think some of this comparison is just blown out of the water. One game has been around for a lot longer, is cheaper, and has had two dedicated expansions and tons of DLC. [Civ 6] is way further along than [Civ 5] was at this point in its life cycle." Several others agreed that Civ 6 at launch was better than Civ 5 after its first expansion, and if we compared them outside of time, it wasn’t until the second expansion that Civ 5 surpassed the launch version of Civ 6 in quality.

Question 5: When do you think Civ 6 will catch up to or surpass past Civ games for you? 

The most common answer once again supports the idea that our pool of respondents have already embraced Civ 6, with 27.5 percent proclaiming that it’s already the best in the series. A close second, at 24.7 percent, believe it will take its place at the top after two expansions. Meanwhile 16.7 percent trust that Rise and Fall will give it the boost it needs to beat out its older siblings. At least 12.6 percent believe that their grievances couldn’t be addressed with an expansion, but rather fundamental changes to the base game would need to be made.

Of the write-in answers, the most commonly-cited demand was better mod support. Others once again brought up the poor AI, performance optimization, or some combination of the above. One respondent said, "When my friends buy & are willing to play multiplayer." This gives us perhaps a further hint. Even if you’re in a position to buy every brand new strategy game the day it comes out, being a part of a larger group who devotes less of their budget or energy toward having the latest version of things could cause you to hold back until the entire gang is ready to move on.

Question 6: How do you feel about Rise and Fall based on what you've seen so far? It will make Civ 6… 

The resounding majority seems to view Rise and Fall as a step in the right direction. 32.7 percent said it would make Civ 6 much better and 48 percent said somewhat better, for a total of over 80 percent feeling optimistic. Less than two percent felt it would make the game somewhat or much worse overall, and around 11 percent said they hadn’t been following news about the expansion.  

Question 7: Describe the features and changes you'd like to see in an ideal Civ 6 expansion. If Civ 6 is not currently your main Civ, focus on what would make it surpass other Civ games for you. 

This question received 228 answers, and the most commonly cited feature by far was better AI, referenced by 33.7 percent of the comments. Not far behind was the return of the UN/World Congress and Diplomatic Victory, which was mentioned in some form by 27.6 percent of respondents, and a similar number said they wanted more diplomatic options in general. Roughly 21 percent said they would like to see changes to armies, with a focus one tweaking or adding to the current military tech tree and/or overhauling movement rules.

Around 11 percent expressed a desire for more new civs or more alternate leaders for existing civs, and another 11 percent expressed dissatisfaction with the current Religion and Theological Combat mechanics—some calling for a total overhaul of the system. Nine percent brought up better mod support once again. 7.7 percent were unhappy with how districts currently work, and another 6.7 percent didn’t like the current government and policies system.

At least a handful of respondents felt Firaxis hadn’t been daring enough. "I'd like them to really be bold," one commented. "They said since Civ 6 included most of the systems from [Civ] 5 in its base game so they could expand into new territory. I like Rise and Fall but I feel it's playing it too safe. Not ambitious enough for my tastes."

Putting it All Together 

Much like the age-old questions, "Why did the Roman Empire fall?" and "Why wouldn’t Heather go to prom with me?", this is probably a quandary without a single, simple answer. At least a sizeable portion of the active, online community has already switched happily to Civ 6. Of those who haven’t, factors from price to features to aesthetics all play roles of varying importance to various people. For some, it has nothing to do with how good Civ 6 is. They’re simply content with Civ 5. And I can’t blame them—Civ 5 remains one of my favorite strategy games of all time, while I’m not sure Civ 6 would make that list just yet. The march of expansions and Steam sales will tell how long it takes for Sid’s latest flagship to overtake its predecessors. Until then, I will leave you with the definitive, final word from the immortal Ice T: 

Sid Meier’s Civilization® VI

The upcoming Civilization 6: Rise and Fall expansion will add the Zulu to the roster of nations, led by Shaka, the illegitimate son of a Zulu chief who would suffer exile and humiliation before finding his place as a warrior in the ibutho, eventually rising to become one of the most influential rulers of the Zulu Kingdom. 

The unique Zulu unit is the Impi, a light, highly-disciplined force that is less expensive than other combat units of the same era, has an increased flanking bonus, and earns experience at an increased rate. The unique district is the Ikanda, a self-sufficient, fortified homestead that provides additional housing and, when prerequisites are met, enables Corps and Armies to be built outright.

Shaka's unique ability, Amabutho, reflects his commitment to the constant, harsh training of his troops, and enables him to form Corps and Armies earlier than other leaders, with additional Base Combat Strength. The Zulu civ ability is Isibongo, awarding bonus loyalty to conquered cities when garrisoned and automatically upgrading units that conquer them into a Corps or Army when the proper Civics prerequisites are unlocked. 

Shaka was a deft politician and an outstanding military commander whose military innovations helped make the Zulu one of the most powerful and feared nations in southern Africa. But his rule was far from peaceful, and the death of his mother in 1827 led to a period of mandated grieving that resulted in the deaths of as many of 7,000 of his people. He was ultimately assassinated by his two half-brothers. Try to do better. 

Civilization 6: Rise and Fall comes out on February 8. We spent 150 turns with it earlier this month.   

Sid Meier’s Civilization® VI

We're delighted to welcome veteran strategy developer Firaxis to the PC Gamer Weekender at the London Olympia this February. Under the creative direction of developer legend Sid Meier, the studio is responsible for classics like Civilization, XCOM and XCOM 2, and they'll be talking to visitors directly from one of our stages on the show floor at our live event.

In a session titled Tales from the Helm of Civilization VI: Rise and Fall, lead designer Anton Strenger and lead producer Andrew Frederiksen will take you behind the scenes on the creation of this major new expansion for Civ VI, detailing the creative challenges and opportunities they faced during development. It's your chance to get some game development insight, and learn how some of the finest strategy designers in the business tick.

For more on Civilization VI: Rise and Fall, you can follow the developers on Twiiter, Facebook, and the official Civilization website.

In addition to Firaxis there will be many more stage talks and hands-on sessions with the best new and upcoming PC games at the PC Gamer Weekender. It's happening on February 17-18 at the Olympia, London, in the UK. For more details see the site, and follow us on Twitter for up-to-the-minute news. Tickets are available now from £12.99, though you can knock 20 percent off that price with the code PC-GAMER20.

Sid Meier’s Civilization® VI

Off the back of its Poundmaker-led Cree and Tamar-fronted Georgia, Civilization 6 now welcomes Scotland the Brave. Led to battle by Robert the Bruce, the tartan army will debut in the game's incoming Rise and Fall expansion.

Cue hordes of kilt-wearing, ginger-headed, haggis hunting soldiers—whose 'Highlander' Unique Unit replaces Civ 6's Ranger as a recon ensemble, that gains strengths from fighting on hills and within forest terrain. 

Moreover, Scotland's Unique Leader Ability is 'Bannockburn', in reference to the famous independence-fighting battle; whereas its Unique Structure is 'Golf Courses', which provide additional Gold, Amenity and Culture. 

The civ's Unique Ability is 'Scottish Enlightenment'—whereby happy cities are granted surplus Science and Production. They also generate a Great Scientist point per campus, and a Great Engineer point per Industrial Zone. 

Other traits that failed to make the cut include 'Being Inherently Tight With Money', and 'Whinging About The Snow, Despite The Fact It Happens At This Time Of Year Every Year'. Writing as a Scotsman, these are my own best qualities too. 

Despite the film's historical inaccuracies, I'd quite like to have seen a William Wallace-in-Braveheart-led Scotland feature here. Perhaps Civilization 7 might consider Nicola Sturgeon, Billy Connolly, or Glasgow Airport terrorist-kicking John Smeaton at its helm.   

More information on Rise and Fall's Scottish contingent can be found over here. The expansion is due on February 8, 2018.  

Sid Meier’s Civilization® VI

One of Sid Meier’s most frequently quoted musings on game design is that games should be a series of interesting decisions. Civilization VI: Rise and Fall, the latest game’s first big expansion, feels like a reinforcement of that philosophy, restructuring each era—from ancient to modern—around big choices and important events in the history of a civilisation. 

It's a real shake-up of a system that's normally tied to technology, with each civ independently moving from era to era depending on the pace of their research. Now every civ reaches new ages at exactly the same time, but there’s still a competitive aspect. During each era, civs get points for historic moments, like recruiting unique units or founding a new religion, and at the end of an era these points determine whether the next one is going to be a normal, Golden or Dark Age. These moments can also be viewed in an illustrated timeline of the civ that shows some flavour text and the total number of points they added to the era score.

So when you bid farewell to the ancient era and slide into the classical period, you’re not simply getting a notification that you’ve moved on and some new techs to research. Depending on your achievements in the first era, you’ll be able to pick a number of ‘Dedications’ that net you major buffs for the entirety of the next era. As the Cree, for instance, I decided that I desperately needed more builders so I could construct a Mekewap, the Cree’s unique building that adds extra production and housing to a tile. I selected the Dedication that allowed me to spend faith points on civilian units as well as religious ones, giving me another route to recruit some diligent builders.

Despite getting a Golden Age at the first opportunity, my Cree nation didn’t fare as well when it entered the medieval era. Some problems with barbarians and a couple of lost wonder races left the civ’s notable moments somewhat diminished, ushering in a Dark Age, a period of turmoil.

It s possible to spread loyalty to your empire among other civs, seducing their citizens to your side and increasing the chances of the city defecting.

The biggest problem introduced by Dark Ages is the deterioration of loyalty. Every city now has a loyalty meter, reflecting how happy its citizens are with being part of the empire. Low loyalty can lead to lower yields and thus slow growth and production in the suffering city; worse, it can ultimately cause revolts, with the city joining another empire or simply declaring its independence. 

Loyalty can also be exploited, however. It’s possible to spread loyalty to your empire among other civs, seducing their citizens to your side and increasing the chances of the city defecting. It's a lot like culture flipping from Civilization IV, and to a lesser extent V, where a unhappy cities could revolt and join the civ with the most culture. In Rise and Fall, cities automatically exert loyalty pressure on nearby cities, so even when you’re not focused on it, your propaganda machine is still ticking away.

Dark Ages aren’t all bad. Nobody wants disloyal citizens, but there are some advantages to slumming it. Unique policies can be activated, for example, that give powerful bonuses but with high costs. Choose the Inquisition policy and you’ll beef up your religious units but at the cost of science. When being good at chemistry can get your burned at the stake, you’d probably pick a different career too. If the costs seem too great, you can ignore these policies entirely, but they’re a great way to keep up with the other civs if you’re willing to specialise.

It might even end up being worth dealing with a Dark Age just so you can overcome it. If you get enough points to make the next era a Golden Age then you’ll enter a souped-up version known as a Heroic Age. There are consequences and new challenges, but hitting a Dark Age isn’t a failure. And if you’ve assigned some governors to your cities, you might barely even notice any disloyalty. 

A governor, in a 4X game, is typically just another name for automation. You can set their focus and then just forget about them. Rise and Fall’s governors have definitely grown out of that mechanic, but now they’re characters with progression trees and predilections. Not only can they foster loyalty amongst the citizenry, they can evolve into powerful tools that are able to transform cities into capitals of culture,  industrial powerhouses, and stalwart citadels.  

Deciding to take advantage of the Cree’s handy trading abilities (more gold and food with every trade route, more trade route capacity, and a free trader when pottery has been researched), my first governor was Reyna, ‘The Financier’. Not surprisingly, money is her sphere of influence, and hiring her also made it easier to buy tiles and expand faster. With her influence and my trade routes, cashflow wasn’t an issue. 

By the time I hit turn 150, the end of the preview build, I’d managed to hire three governors and promote them all. When you are able to hire a new governor, you can also choose to promote an existing one instead. You level them up by picking and unlocking new abilities, just like you would a combat unit. There are seven governors in total with six abilities each.

For my 150 turns I decided to take a friendly, diplomatic approach, knowing that the loyalty system gives my opponents new ways to screw me over and steal cities. Alliances have been given a makeover in Rise and Fall. Civilization VI unstacked cities, and now it’s unstacking diplomacy. Instead of just becoming buds with the civ of your choosing, you need to pick a specialised alliance connected to each of the game’s pillars: cultural, research, military, religious and economic. Within these specialised alliances are different tiers that represent how close you are to being total BFFs. You progress through tiers by earning alliance points. These are generated every turn an alliance is maintained, and there are ways to increase the yield—by sending traders to your ally's city, for example.

The result isn’t just that diplomacy feels more varied, it’s now more proactive. Since you can only have one of each specialised alliance on the go at the same time, you need to make sure you’re picking the right civ for the specialisation. Who wants a military alliance with a chill pacifist who prefers missionaries over warriors? It’s worth finding out more about your potential pal, then, before you start pursuing them. 

Lamentably, the final new addition to the series, international emergencies, didn’t appear in my first 150 turns. Emergencies are big crises that can be solved by civs working together. It might be that a city state has been taken over by a civ, or maybe someone naughty is playing with nuclear weapons. Emergencies have objectives that must be completed before rewards are doled out and if those objectives aren’t reached then the civ that the emergency is targeting gets rewarded instead. Firaxis warns that it might not be worth the risk if the other civ’s reward is too great.

Rise and Fall makes a lot of broad changes that fatten up existing systems with more interesting decisions and consequences, and in practice it feels more cohesive than the list of features suggests. But with a game as large as Civilization VI, 150 turns is just the tip of the iceberg, we'll have to wait and see how Rise and Fall's multitude of changes affects the entirety of a campaign when the expansion comes on on February 8. 

Sid Meier’s Civilization® VI

The latest Civilization 6: Rise and Fall trailer takes a break from introducing new leaders and nations to provide an overview of the new systems that will be ushered in by the expansion, including Great Ages, Loyalty, Governors, Enhanced Alliances, Emergencies, and new Wonders and Units. 

The primary addition, Golden and Dark Ages, are temporary changes to a civilization that last for an era. Both can dramatically alter the state of the game and will force players to adapt their strategies accordingly, but while Golden Ages are obviously preferable, Dark Ages have upsides too: Golden Ages come more easily when emerging from a Dark Age, and they also enable Heroic Ages, which grant three Dedication bonuses instead of just the single one that comes with a Golden Age.

Changes to alliances also promise to make things more interesting, by making the alliances themselves more meaningful. Instead of merely ensuring that other civs (hopefully) won't drop the hammer on you while you're preparing to do the same to them, Rise and Fall will enable different types of alliances—Research, Military, Economic, Cultural, or Religious—that will provide better bonuses the longer they're maintained. 

Emergencies are similarly designed to encourage diplomacy and cooperation. When one happens—for instance, someone nukes a city—the other players have the option of targeting the aggressor with a joint Emergency action, which will give them a specific objective to complete within a limited amount of time. Completing the objective can confer permanent bonuses to all who take part, but failing to get it done will grant a benefit to the intended target instead. And civilizations don't have to be allied to take part in an Emergency, so doing something to trigger one could have the knock-on effect of bringing together forces that were previously unrelated, with their attention turned to you. 

Civilization 6: Rise and Fall comes out on February 8. If you don't already have the base game, you can pick it up along with a couple of DLC releases for a really good deal—$12, instead of the regular $60 for Civ 6 by itself—in the current Humble Monthly Bundle.

Sid Meier’s Civilization® VI

Following the Cree announcement last week—and the criticism that followed—2K and Firaxis have unveiled the next civ en route to Civilization 6. Led by Golden Age ruler Tamar, Georgia will feature in the geopolitical strategy game's incoming Rise and Fall expansion. 

As detailed in the 'First Look' trailer below, Georgia's unique ability is Strength in Unity whereby the player receives an additional bonus when transitioning into a Golden Age. Naturally, this means Georgia is better placed to achieve and, crucially, maintain Golden Ages over rival civs. 

Replacing the Renaissance Walls, Georgia's unique building is the Tsikhe—Georgian fortresses situated atop neighbouring hills and rocky cliffs that provide faith. Moreover, the Khevsureti marks the Georgian's unique unit whose melee approach leverages a combat bonus on hill terrain. As such, the Khevsureti ignores all hill movement penalties.

As for Tamar herself, her leader ability is Glory of the World, Kingdom and Faith. It's described thusly: 

Tamar can declare a Protectorate War after gaining the Theology Civic. Considering Tamar’s upbringing—and how she was known to inspire her troops before battle, they gain bonus Faith for a limited time after declaring a Protectorate War. In addition, Georgia gains bonuses as they continue to deliver the word of God. An Envoy sent to a city-state of your majority religion counts as two. 

More information on Tamar the Great can read via this blog post. Georgia is set to arrive in Civilization 6's Rise and Fall expansion, due February 8, 2018. 

Sid Meier’s Civilization® VI

If you've ever wanted to play Civlization 6 but found yourself put off by the $60/£50 price tag, then you're in luck. The game, plus two DLC packs, are the early unlocks available to anyone that purchases the next Humble Monthly bundle, which you can pick up for just $12.

The brilliant turn-based strategy game has had the odd 50%-off sale, but its price has never been anywhere near this low. It really is an incredible deal, offering the base game alongside its Viking-inspired DLC and its Australian scenario pack, which normally cost £3.99/$4.99 each. 

The bundle is a subscription service, but you can just pay $12 for one and then cancel before the next one arrives. You'll immediately get Civilization 6, and then the other eight or so games in the bundle will unlock next month. You don't know what those other games will be, but usually you'll get a few decent ones. And besides, it's worth it for Civilization 6 alone.

I don't normally dabble with the monthly bundles, but I think I'll bite on this one and put some time into the game before the huge Rise and Fall expansion comes out next month. That expansion faced criticism this week for its portrayal of the Cree.

Pick the bundle up here.

Sid Meier’s Civilization® VI

2K Games announced earlier this week that the Cree, led by Pîhtokahanapiwiyin—or Poundmaker, as he's more widely known—are being added to Civilization 6 in the upcoming Rise and Fall expansion. That does not sit well with the leader of the real-world Poundmaker Cree Nation, who told CBC News that the game's portrayal of Indigenous people is "very harmful," and based far more on Hollywood than on actual history. 

"It perpetuates this myth that First Nations had similar values that the colonial culture has, and that is one of conquering other peoples and accessing their land," Headman Milton Tootoosis said. "That is totally not in concert with our traditional ways and world view." 

"It's a little dangerous for a company to perpetuate that ideology that is at odds with what we know. [Poundmaker] was certainly not in the same frame of mind as the colonial powers." 

As Nuclear Gandhi has taught us, Civilization isn't the sort of game that cleaves closely to historical accuracy. But the case of the Cree is more problematic than most, because it remains an extant civilization that continues to struggle with the gross inequities caused by colonialism. In that light, the ahistorical potrayal of the Cree as being on equal footing with other civilizations, jockeying for world domination, seems particularly galling. 

Civilization 6: Rise and Fall appears set to portray Poundmaker and his people in a favorable, and relatively non-warlike light: Cree strengths lie in diplomacy and trade rather than military power. Tootoosis expressed hope that the game's presentation of Poundmaker's commitment to peace could help its efforts to have his 1885 conviction for treason officially overturned by the Canadian government. "It could go either way," he said. "I certainly hope it helps more than it hurts the cause." 

The Cree aren't the first Indigenous nation to play a role in a Civ game: The Shoshone, Iroquois, and Sioux have all been portrayed in previous releases. But this does appear to be the first time that 2K has faced any backlash over the inclusion of an Indigenous North American people. The Poundmaker Cree Nation are waiting to consult with elders before contacting 2K with its concerns, according to the CBC report; I've reached out to 2K for more information and will update if and when I receive a reply. 

Path of Exile

Tim Clark: Simulacra  

Look, I'm nothing if not entirely predictable, so to the surprise of absolutely nobody, least of all myself, I failed to catch up on Assassin's Creed: Origins. To be fair I did boot it up and made it through a couple of missions, but as I saw its vast sandy expanse stretching away into the distance, I felt the clarion call of my old favourites. And so most of the break was spent grinding Destiny 2 for masterworks weapons, of which I now have an indecent amount, but somehow still no raid hand cannon. I also managed to crank out a successful Hearthstone Dungeon Run with every remaining class, thereby earning the card back. Shaman was the last to fall, and finally got over the line last night—but only after I started auto-quitting unless I was able to get the 'double Battlecry' passive buff and a decent batch of Jade cards.

In at least a slight change of pace, I did play most of my games on a laptop this Christmas, a gift from my family and myself to myself. Being able to plug the 1070-equipped ASUS into the bedroom TV and enjoy Destiny 2 at 1080p/60fps made for an illicit pleasure and long lie-ins. (I also ended up buying a wireless adapter and charging pack for the Elite controller.) And at least I managed to play one entirely new game stuff on the laptop. Inspired by Hannah Dwan's retrospective on 2017's best visual novels, I picked up Simulacra and finished it over the course of a couple of nights on the sofa with my other half.

This was the first 'missing phone' game I'd tried, and I loved the mix of stalker-themed Tinder mystery with weirder supernatural trappings. Creeping around the emails, Twitter account and chat logs of a girl who has disappeared becomes propulsively dramatic when a blizzard of new notifications start popping up. Simulacra doesn't quite stick the ending, but as a self-contained mystery it was still a great way to spend a few hours. You can pick it up on Steam in the Christmas sale right now at 30% off.

Steven Messner: Path of Exile

I had great, ambitious plans for this holiday break. With a back catalogue of games that had grown considerably over 2017, I was looking forward to making a big dent while sipping rum and eggnog in my underwear. I was going to finally wrap up Persona 5. I was going to try out PUBG’s new desert map. I was going to shovel the walks like a good neighbour should. And then I logged back into Path of Exile to give the new seasonal league a quick taste. I fell in love with the free-to-play ARPG back in September with its Fall of Oriath expansion, but I was curious about seeing how it had grown since then. Nearly two weeks later, I’m looking back at my holiday break in despair. Where the hell did it go?

I clocked in over 60 hours an average of five a day (though I m ashamed to admit there were a few days where it was much more). Path of Exile consumed me.

It’s been years since a game has wormed itself so deeply into my brain, but Path of Exile is like a fever that won’t break. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I woke up exhausted more than once because of a restless sleep filled with dreams of running maps, finding exorbitantly expensive unique items, and theorycrafting my build. I clocked in over 60 hours this holiday break—an average of five hours a day (though I’m ashamed to admit there were a few days where it was much more). Path of Exile consumed me. I’m finally willing to say that it might even be my Dota 2, the game that I will happily clock a thousand hours into and countless more talking and dreaming about.

Tyler Wilde: Civilization VI 

I uninstalled all my Civ 6 mods (some old, manually-installed mods were breaking all the icons and I couldn't remember which) and relegated half of New Year's Day to building a prosperous Russian civilization. I quit in the Classical Era to go find my old mods, though, disappointed by how few quality of life improvements have been made standard so far. Still no production queue? A strange omission. That aside, I still love Civ 6's district system, as I always thought it was silly that a city near the ocean couldn't have a harbor, and city-planning minutia is my favorite aspect of the series. 

Building mines, farms, camps, and roads, protecting caravans, erecting wonders and ensuring that every district is placed exactly where it out to be, maximizing gains—these are the reasons I play Civ, not warfare, so I'm typically on the defensive, protecting my perfectly symbiotic metropolises and hamlets from the absurd imperialist reasoning of my neighbors. Presently, Mvembra a Nzinga is furious that I won't spread my religion to his people, and Qin Shi Huang is upset that I've built more wonders than him. What did my peaceful, overly efficient society do to deserve such petty neighbors? Yet again I wonder if I wouldn't enjoy Civ more if I were by myself in the world.

Evan Lahti: They Are Billions 

Some of the most fun I had with RTSes as a kid was messing around with Command & Conquer: Red Alert's map editor. I'd make winding tesla coil death mazes that my opponent had to navigate in order to reach my spacious, well-supplied base. They Are Billions revives that same feeling of defense-focused strategy, except I'm the one being tortured.

I love the preparation for the payoff at the end, a Left 4 Dead-style finale where thousands of zombies are on screen simultaneously.

The structure of it is somewhere between StarCraft and a horde mode game like Killing Floor 2: you expand outward with pylon-like towers, hoovering up wood, minerals, and food off the map to feed your economy, but there isn't a true opponent on the map with you—you're the only one with an expanding base. Instead, there are crowds of mostly stagnant undead (with various durabilities, speeds, and attack types) occupying the map, and massive waves of them that attack every 15 minutes or so from a random direction.  

I love the preparation for the payoff at the end, a Left 4 Dead-style finale where actual thousands of zombies are on screen simultaneously, seeping in from all cardinal directions. Your north wall may be impregnable, but did you gather enough resources to reinforce that bottleneck to the west? An Early Access game, They Are Billions needs a little more depth and unpredictability in its midgame, but it nails the fun of building a sprawling defensive death machine and having it continually tested by a tough enemy.

Chris Livingston: Rick and Morty: Virtual Rick-ality 

I finished Rick and Morty: Virtual Rick-ality before the break, but despite its size (it mostly takes place in Rick's garage and only gives you three spots to stand in) it's a impressively expansive VR playground. This is mostly to do with the Combinator, one of Rick's inventions that allows you to put two items onto it and see what you get when they're scientifically merged (think of Jeff Goldblum and a fly getting into a teleporter together). 

Often it's nothing exciting (combine a glass with a bar of soap and you'll get a bar of soap made of glass) but there are enough weird and surprising combinations to make you want to combine everything with everything else, and then combine the resulting combinations with the resulting combinations. And then combine those some more. Throw in some growth pills and the fact that you can copy your own brain (by laying your VR head on the combinator) and you might, with enough re-combining, wind up with an enormous twitching brain that fills the entire garage.

And despite it looking like a cartoon, it's still the most convincing VR experience I've had. I almost fell over after trying to lean on a countertop that doesn't actually exist, I've punched a few real walls throwing things around, and I realized that when eating or drinking something in the game I actually open my (real) mouth.

Wes Fenlon: Thimbleweed Park and Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward 

My holiday gaming involved a lot of puzzle solving. Over Christmas I was away from home and my gaming PC, so I actually spent most of my time with friends playing games on Nintendo's SNES Classic and Switch. If you love XCOM, you really need to try Ubisoft's excellent Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle. In the last few days of the break, though, I really dug into two games I've been meaning to play for months: point-and-click adventure Thimbleweed Park and escape room visual novel Virtue's Last Reward.

Information from some dead-ends actually lets you progress down paths that don't end with horrible suicides or deaths by lethal injection.

Thimbleweed Park is delightful so far, with classic adventure game puzzles that err on the side of reasonable instead of impossible logic. It gives you multiple characters to control so you don't get stuck and can jump between puzzles and areas at will, and there are also some clever bits that require using one character to help another. It's a little meta jokey for my taste (as mentioned in our review) with frequent jokes about the genre itself, but the laughs I've gotten from the ridiculously foul-mouthed Ransome the Clown have more than made up for it.

Currently, though, all I can think about is Virtue's Last Reward, which has its hooks in me deep. The central mechanic of this escape room game is solving the mystery of your imprisonment, with every major decision you make creating a new branching path—but you can go back and take a different route whenever you want. Information you gain from some dead-ends actually lets you progress down paths that don't end with horrible suicides, explosions, or deaths by lethal injection. The way it teases out the solution to its mystery is maddening, and there's a bit more repetition of similar conversations than I'd like, but I need to find out what happens, and each cliffhanger I hit just adds fuel to the fire.

Andy Chalk: Hob 

I started playing around with Hob shortly after it came out in September, but I didn't make a concerted effort to really do anything with it until the holidays arrived. With time on my hands, I got down to the business of properly exploring the bizarre, wild mechano-landscape, collecting its secrets, and unraveling the great mystery that lies beneath. Most of my gaming time is dedicated to shooting dudes or playing roles, but this odd little diversion ("little," I say, as Steam shows 36 hours sunk into it) was nothing less than magical: Complex without being obtuse, challenging but never punishing, and set in one of the prettiest and most unusual game worlds I've ever explored.

The sights and sounds are so wonderfully weird that even after botching an obvious move, I never felt the urge to pound my mouse into pieces with my keyboard.

The platforming is a tad wonky at times but never unfair, and more importantly the sights and sounds are so wonderfully weird that even after botching an obvious and simple move, I never felt the urge to pound my mouse into pieces with my keyboard. The ending was brilliant, too. No spoilers, but there is a story being told amidst all the strange grunts and glowing hieroglyphics, and the payoff was unexpected—and unexpectedly difficult to process, too. For all that I loved the game world, the fact that Hob isn't just jumping and slashing its way to a simple happy ending might be my favorite part of the game.

Everything we said in our review was spot-on (although I would've scored it ten points higher—sorry, Other Andy) but I feel like it could stand to be shouted from the rooftops a little more loudly: Hob is a fantastically good game. (And Runic deserved better.) 

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