Sid Meier’s Civilization® VI

I started my journey through the history of civilisation adrift on the ocean. Gathering Storm’s Maori don’t begin a game of Civilization 6 like the other civs. Instead of my settler and warrior appearing right next to a prospective city site, they were in boats, floating in between the map’s chilly southern pole and the tip of the continent to the north. For maybe the first time in over 20 years, I wasn’t rushing to found my first city. 

The Maori civilisation is one of several joining the game in Gathering Storm, but it piqued my interest the most because it promised to break my routine. Not only does it start on and have a general affinity with the ocean, it benefits from not settling too early. Every turn waited pays dividends, but also comes with some big risks, not least that your entire civilisation could be undone if a barbarian chooses to attack your sole settler. 

I wasn’t bold enough to wait for more than a handful of turns, but it was enough time to find a nice spot near a natural wonder and several exploitable resources, giving me benefits that most other capitals would have missed. Having the extra time to find the perfect home is an even bigger boon given the new threats facing humanity in the expansion.

Volcanic eruptions, rivers bursting their banks, rising sea levels—there are quite a few ways for Mother Nature to enact her revenge. Initially, these threats are unpredictable and unstoppable, but you can avoid them with a bit of common sense. Don’t build underneath a volcano, don’t make your home on a flood plain and don’t get a beachfront property. Simple! Except it isn’t. All these places are actually good places to settle near, giving you access to more resources and more fertile soil. The risk might be worth it. At least that's certainly what I thought as I merrily built next to rumbling mountains filled with scorching lava. 

Climate change, arguably the headline attraction, doesn’t start affecting the game until the Industrial era, when civs can start to exploit natural fossil fuels, but that doesn’t mean bad weather and natural disasters can’t kick off at any time. Even when they weren’t affecting me, messages about droughts and storms reached my civilisation, like an ancient Weather Channel. I could even see storm clouds in the fog of war, or at least little drawings of them, so I knew where they were even if I didn’t have cities or troops there at the time. 

Fully settled, the Maori function like most of the other civs, though there remain quirks thanks to some unique abilities, like additional benefits from rainforest tiles and immediately starting with shipbuilding tech. I was, I confess, hoping for something more like Civilization 5’s Venice, which plays unlike any other civ and never grows beyond a single city, but there is still a hint of that asymmetry.  

With my scouts sent out, I filled my rolodex with other civs and, eventually, the World Congress was established. Like Rise and Fall, Gathering Storm adds more features to the World Congress and diplomacy, offering up more opportunities for civs to work together and compete. 

Japan was in trouble. One of its cities was near a volcano that had erupted, creating an emergency that was brought before the World Congress. Like other emergencies, it set tasks for participating civs and then doled out rewards depending on how much effort you've put in. In this case, Japan needed gold to repair the damage, which could be offered as a gift or via a project that could be undertaken in one of my cities. I sympathised with Japan, having dealt with my own volcanic eruption a few turns before, so I was extremely helpful. As a credit to humanity, I was rewarded appropriately: with a big stack of diplomatic favour.  

Diplomatic favour is a common reward in such emergencies, but can be earned in other ways and traded with fellow civs. It's a new resource that lets you boost influence when voting in the World Congress and can lead to a new diplomatic victory. It's pretty handy. Say some resolutions have been put before the world’s civs, so you go through them and the pick the ones you want to vote on. Maybe there’s a resolution where the targeted civ gets another trade route, and everyone trading with them gets extra gold. You can pick the civ—maybe you really need the extra route, so you pick yourself—and then you can start spending favour, essentially giving yourself more votes. 

On its own, diplomatic favour seems like a clear way to understand how much international influence a civ has, and it adds some welcome structure and competition to the diplomatic game. Importantly, that competition can also be won without being completely adversarial. If you want to be a force for good in the world, making friends and helping people, you can absolutely do that and still earn lots of favour. Ultimately, it’s all about uniting the world, which is probably going to be a lot easier to do if you’ve not made a long list of enemies. 

When applied to a game that already has lots of systems, however, it loses some of its elegance. There are a lot of currencies and resources to keep track of, and of course weather and climate change, and Civilization 6 is starting to feel very, very busy. These systems aren’t all introduced at once, though, which does give you some time to get to grips with each individually.   

By the time industrialisation began and the world slowly started to react, I was already starting to get pretty used to thinking about how I could increase my hoard of favour or how I could use nature to my advantage. And it’s a good thing, too, as modernity brings with it a whole host of complexities, crises and solutions new to Civilization 6.

Modern buildings and units need fuel and resources to build and maintain, but doing so has a negative impact on the entire world, contributing to rising CO2 emissions and affecting the global temperature. This is all trackable, thankfully, in surprising detail, and not just in the later eras. The chart isn’t very scintillating before then, however, as it pretty much stays the same for most of human history. 

Right now, I’m trying to create plans for the future, protecting my vulnerable Maori cities from rising sea levels and off-setting pollution by exploring greener paths, such as solar or geothermal energy. Maybe I'll even be able to do something about those pesky volcanoes. You don’t need to care about the planet—you can just keep burning through resources and accept the risks—but trying to curtail impending disasters and make the world a little bit better seems more appropriate for Civilization, which has always been a fairly optimistic series, despite the nukes and wars. 

Keep an eye out for my review closer to the February 14 release date. 

Sid Meier’s Civilization® VI

Civilization 6 will get eight new Civilizations and nine new Leaders in the upcoming Gathering Storm expansion, along with some big changes to its core systems and a major late-game challenge to deal with in the form of man-made climate change. A new trailer released today showcases how it will all come together, from early-game difficulties with the environment to randomized 21st-century Technology and Civics trees in the new "Future Era." 

Disasters aren't necessarily all bad. Volcanoes are inherently risky to build around for obvious reasons, but volcanic soil is extremely fertile; flooding rivers can wash away village improvements, but you may also see increased food yields when the floodwaters recede. Some of them, like grassland tornadoes, are bad news all around, while others will apparently have civ-specific benefits: Blizzards are tremendously destructive, but can also confer some "nice benefits" if you happen to be playing as Russia.

Strategic resources will be divided into Fuel, which will be of particular importance once you his the Industrial Era, and Material. Unpowered buildings in Industrial (and beyond) cities will produce less than half their normal yield, and military units lacking the requisite Fuel and Material will be weaker in the field. The flipside of that new feature is that using some fuel types will release carbon dioxide into the air, driving up global temperatures—climate change—and leading to "unique consequences including increased storms or flooding, and rising sea levels." 

Green technologies can help alleviate the impact of climate change (careful with those nukes, though), and if you can make it into the new Future Era you'll have the opportunity to make friends and influence people (and maybe save the world) through the World Congress, and advance through the randomized 21st-century Technology and Civics trees. 

Civilization 6: Gathering Storm comes out on February 14. If you haven't already met them yet, here's Corvinus, Laurier, Kristina, Suleiman, and Dido

Sid Meier’s Civilization® VI

Fraser said last week that the addition of Sweden to Civilization 6 in the Gathering Storm expansion will be just the thing for players who prefer cultural or diplomatic victories over the more traditional route of violent imperialism. If, on the other hand, violent imperialism is really your bag, then allow me to introduce Suleiman the Magnificent, head honcho of the Ottoman Empire. 

Suleiman's unique ability is Grand Vizier, which unlocks a new governor named Ibrahim. A potential "major player in diplomacy," Ibrahim has his own promotion tree, is the only governor who can be established in another civilization, and is available only to Suleiman. The unique Ottman building is the Grand Bazaar, which replaces the Bank in commercial hubs and adds extra amenities and strategic resources in cities where it's placed. 

The Janissary, a replacement for the Musketman, is Suleiman's unique unit: It's stronger and cheaper to build than a Musketman and starts with a free promotion, but consumes a population point from the city it's trained—unless it's raised in a conquered city. Make use of that knowledge as you see fit. The Ottomans also have access to the Barbary Corsair, a unique replacement for the Privateer that becomes available earlier in the game and does not incur a movement cost when conducting coastal raids. 

The unique Ottoman ability is Great Turkish Bombard, which enables them to construct siege units much more quickly than other civilizations and grants them additional combat strength. Conquered cities do not lose population, and will also gain amenity and loyalty bonuses while under Ottoman control. 

If war is your thing, then, it sounds like Suleiman could be your guy. Civilization 6: Gathering Storm is set to come out on February 14. It will also include Hungary, Canada, and catastrophic climate change

Sid Meier’s Civilization® VI

There are few Canadian pastimes more universal than encouraging the world to believe in universal Canadian pastimes. But I'm starting to wonder if maybe we've gone too far. Canada is coming to Civilization 6 in next year's Gathering Storm expansion, and it is a very cliched take on the Great White North. 

Canada will be led by Wilfrid Laurier, known as an early, strong proponent of English and French unity in Canada. He's also known for being an easy way to make Canadians mad if you want to (just spell it "Wilfred" and then wait a few minutes). Laurier's "Last Best West" ability halves the cost of purchasing Snow and Tundra tiles, doubles resources gathered from them, and enables Canada to build farms on Tundra terrain.

The unique Canadian ability is called Four Faces of Peace. Canada cannot declare "surprise wars," but it's also immune from having surprise wars declared on it. As my compatriot Steven Messner put it, we can still declare war, we just have to be nice about it. The nation will also earn bonus Diplomatic Favour based on per-turn Tourism, and extra Diplomatic Favour for completing Emergencies or Scored Competitions. 

The unique building is, of course, the Hockey Rink, which grants additional Appeal, Amenity, and bonus Culture on adjacent Snow, Snow Hills, Tundra, and Tundra Hills tiles, plus other Production, Food, Culture, and Tourism bonuses depending on where and when it's built. The unique unit is—also of course—the Mountie, which receives a combat bonus when it's fighting near a National Park. Nope, not a joke, and if you're ever in the Thunder Bay area I would strongly encourage you to check out Pukaskwa, it's lovely in the summer.

It's all very amusingly stereotypical, but there's one line in the trailer that will cut any true Canadian to the core: "As Canada, you can take advantage of the icy landscape that most other civilizations will ignore." Ouch. Please don't ignore us.

Jokes aside, Canada sounds like it could be a powerful option for players who prefer a peaceful, polite approach to world domination. Civilization 6: Gathering Storm is set to come out on February 14, 2019; along with Canadians, it will also introduce player-driven climate change and resulting environmental disasters, the World Congress, a Diplomatic Victory condition, and eight other new civilizations and leaders. Read more about it here

PC Gamer

Remember that time Luke Skywalker went bad in a Star Wars comic book?

Imagine the Star Wars movies ending with Luke falling to the dark side. The "bad" ending would never happen in the big budget movies, but someone has definitely written it. Imagining those "what ifs" is what fan fiction is for. Videogames, though, don't have to leave their alternate history storytelling up to the fans. They can embrace those doom-and-gloom endings with branching paths and multiple endings. If Return of the Jedi were a game, we could've absolutely had a semi-canon cutscene of the savior of the galaxy cutting down his father and kneeling at the feet of the Emperor.

That's more or less how BioWare's Knights of the Old Republic ended, and it was way better than your typical happy ending. Gaming has accumulated a number of astonishing, melancholy, and downright sadistic endings for those of us who choose to go dark. In this list we won't be talking about game endings that result from failure—like botching the suicide run in Mass Effect 2 and losing half your crew. Instead we'll be focusing on the finales that empower your most heinous instincts. The ones that make you feel like a supervillain. So come along with us, and let's watch the world burn.

Dishonored

Dishonored is a game about vengeance. Corvo's legacy is tarnished by a cabal of greedy bloodsuckers, and you spend the entire game doing your best to re-establish the rightful ruling bloodline, and assassinate the cronies who got in your way. However, if bloodlust captures your instincts too much, and civilians are implicated in your operations, you might end with a cinematic detailing a city that has truly fallen to chaos. It's bittersweet, really: Screw the hegemony, but also let's skip town before things get truly anarchic. 

BioShock 2

Oh, BioShock 2, what a strange beast you are. The game falls into a category alongside Dark Souls 2 and Majora's Mask, where publishers instruct exhausted development studios to make a sequel using the same assets, and the same general formula, that made the original product such a classic. But looking back, we were perhaps too quick to judge 2K's greed. BioShock 2 was cool, weird, and responsible for launching the luminaries at Fullbright. Its evil ending, where your Little Sister sucks out the essence of yourself to conquer the world—fulfilling all the selfish lessons you taught her—seemed to serve as a final, mocking rejection of Rapture's false hopes in Randism. At the very least, it's a better ending than the first BioShock. 

Far Cry 3

This one's definitely not safe for work.

I think most of us expected Far Cry to die a silent, forgotten death. The first game was a technical marvel, way back in the Crytek years, but it was also saddled with one of the worst stories ever committed to a work of fiction. The idea that Ubisoft's Far Cry 3 resuscitated the  franchise with a truly batshit narrative, and one of the most compelling, immediately menacing villains in triple-A history, is almost more crazy now than it was then. Politically, Far Cry 3 hasn't aged particularly well, but man, that ending where you terminate the rest of your friends and get stabbed through the heart mid-coitus as part of an ancient ritual was audacious, to say the least. 

Sid Meier's Civilization

I've always appreciated the sense of perturbed melancholy Sid Meier has attached to the conquest victory conditions in his Civilization games. Throughout the series you've been able to achieve supreme victory through brilliant diplomacy, or cultural radiance, or the exploration of Alpha Centauri. Or, you can dump all your points into war production and backstab every other Civ on the map until you've established the One World Government your authoritarian heart so deeply desires. Thank you Firaxis, for always confirming the fundamental evil in the heart of humanity. 

Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun

God bless Joseph D. Kucan. Command & Conquer's Kane is not the most subtle role in video game history, but it absolutely is one of the most memorable. His delightfully unhinged portrayal of the Brotherhood of Nod's fanatical chairman was captured in dozens of tongue-in-cheek FMV cutscenes, and his finest moment might be at the end of the second game in the series, Tiberian Sun, where he offers a triumphant manifesto before nuking the entire planet. Go watch this now, and it'll make you even more upset that EA decided to resurrect this wonderful franchise as a mobile game. Kucan sure had a way of making the life of a dictator look glamorous, didn't he? 

Undertale

As far as pure, unmitigated darkness goes, no game comes close to Undertale's "Genocide" ending. This is more of an easter egg than a plot contrivance, but basically, if you spend your time in this delightfully twisted RPG killing every character you meet, you'll unlock a special, super-meta final cutscene where you literally erase your save file, thus "ending the world." It's especially wrenching when you consider how much tender love and care Toby Fox put into Undertale's narrative, and how broken and vulnerable each of its characters tend to be. More than anything though, it's a commentary on how easy it is to kill in a video game, and how eager we are to press the "attack" button, just because it's there. You gotta love a game that's willing to confront your evil as an active player, rather than as a detached observer. 

Knights of the Old Republic

Knights of the Old Republic's calling card was the touted moral choice system; how the player could control the political agency of the roguish young Jedi, and determine the fate of the universe by their temperment. Bioware made better use of that concept in the company's work on Mass Effect and Dragon Age, which actually managed to serve up legitimately confounding quandaries, rather than the uber-binary morality of the Lucas Star Wars films, but it still added up to a hell of an ending. If you decide to go full dark, you can finish the campaign as the new Sith Lord with the full command of your forces and your super hot, equally evil girlfriend by your side. It was so gloriously sinister, that it actually managed to eclipse whatever the good guys did. What are video games for, if not to create your very own Darth Vader?

Kerbal Space Program

A piece of software called Red Shell that's used by game developers for marketing analysis has caused an uproar among gamers who are concerned by its ability to generate detailed "fingerprints" of users—in many cases without them knowing about it. 

"Imagine a game developer is running an ad on Facebook and working with a popular Twitch channel," the Red Shell website explains. "The developer wants to know which of those ads is doing a better job of showcasing the game. Red Shell is the tool they use to measure the effectiveness of each of those activities so they can continue to invest in the ones that are working and cut resources from the ones that aren't."

In other words, if you click a Red Shell tracking link and then launch the releated game, the developer is able to determine that the link led to a sale. The site states that Red Shell does not collect personal information about users, such as names, addresses, or emails. It doesn't track users across games, and the data it collects is not used for targeted ads. "Red Shell tracks information about devices. We collect information including operating system, browser version number, IP address (anonymized through one-way hashing), screen resolution, in-game user id, and font profiles," it says.   

"We have no interest in tracking people, just computers for the purposes of attribution. All of the data we do collect is hashed for an additional layer of protection." 

Those reassurances don't carry much weight in this Reddit thread, however, which begins by pointing out that users typically don't have a say in whether or not Red Shell is installed in the first place. Games using the software "may offer an opt-out for any type of data/analytics services they use," Red Shell says, but that places the responsibility for declining the software entirely on the user, and could be in violation of opt-in privacy laws—and that's assuming the developer makes the option available at all. 

The list of games found to be running Red Shell is surprisingly broad, and includes everything from indies like Holy Potatoes! We're In Space? and My Time At Portia to high-profile hits including Civilization 6, Kerbal Space Program, The Elder Scrolls Online, and Vermintide 2. Some developers have promised to remove the software, but there's also widespread insistence that there is nothing sinister or spyware-like about it. 

Vermintide developer Fatshark, for instance, described it as "no more than a tool we can use to improve our marketing campaigns in the same way a browser cookie might," while Total War studio Creative Assembly stated that it's ditching the software only because "it will be difficult" to reassure players that it's not being used for nefarious purposes. 

And some studios have said that they will continue to use the software despite the furor. ZeniMax Online, maker of The Elder Scrolls Online, said in a Reddit post that Red Shell was mistakenly added to a live build while it was still being tested. ZeniMax said it would remove the program, but added: "We are still investigating how to use this technology in the future to grow and sustain ESO more effectively. When/if we do so, we will give everyone a heads up with clear instructions as to what it is doing, how it is doing it, and how to opt-out should you so desire." 

Dire Wolf Digital, formerly of The Elder Scrolls: Legends, said something similar about the presence of Red Shell in its new project, Eternal: "Red Shell is not 'spyware'; that’s a scary-'Let’s-burn-the-witch!'-word that’s getting thrown around without a lot of information behind. No personally identifying information is collected anywhere in this process," it wrote. "That’s basically it; there’s nothing nefarious going on here, just some under-the-hood analytics that help us understand how our advertisements perform." 

Reddit's rundown games containing Red Shell as of June 18 is below, although I wouldn't be surprised to see more games added to it as people become aware of them—you'll probably want to check the thread if you want to be sure you're up to date. There's also a publicly-available Google spreadsheet that contains more detailed information on how each one was identified. For games that don't offer one, Red Shell maintains its own per-game opt-out option here.   

Update: Team17 contacted us on June 19, 2018, to say that Red Shell integration in My Time at Portia, The Escapists 2, Yoku’s Island Express and Raging Justice has been fully removed.

Update 2: On June 21, 2018, HypeTrain Digital contacted us to say that Red Shell has been removed from The Wild Eight and Desolate; CI Games informed us that Red Shell was no longer present in Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3; and Gavra Games said that it had been removed from Warriors: Rise to Glory.

Games which used Redshell which removed or pledged to remove it (as of June 18, 2018):

Games still using Redshell according to community reports (as of June 18, 2018): 

  • Civilization VI
  • Kerbal Space Program
  • Guardians of Ember
  • The Onion Knights
  • Realm Grinder
  • Heroine Anthem Zero
  • Warhammer 40k Eternal Crusade
  • Krosmaga
  • Eternal Card Game
  • Astro Boy: Edge of Time
  • Cabals: Card Blitz
  • CityBattle | Virtual Earth
  • Doodle God
  • Doodle God Blitz
  • Dungeon Rushers
  • Labyrinth
  • My Free Farm 2
  • NosTale
  • RockShot
  • Shadowverse
  • SOS & SOS Classic
  • SoulWorker
  • Stonies
  • Tales from Candlekeep: Tomb of Annihilation
  • War Robots
  • Survived By
  • Injustice 2
  • Trailmakers
  • Clone Drone in the Danger Zone
  • Vaporum
  • Robothorium
  • League of Pirates
  • Doodle God: Genesis Secrets
  • Archangel: Hellfire
  • Skyworld
Sid Meier’s Civilization® VI

Besides Victoria's England-strengthening Pax Britannica leader bonus, Civilization 6 now lets players call for help mid-battle. 

As part of the turn-based 4X 'em up's spring update, new diplomacy tinkerings to Joint and Third Party War means players can now ask others—be that pals, strangers or AI—to join battles they're already engaged in.  

"There's been a lot of discussion in the community about Joint Wars. These rules have been updated," says lead designer Anton Strenger in the video below. "First, Joint Wars may be declared using a Casus Belli, which will require a denouncement from at least one of the players. Second, AI and players can join wars that have already begun, and gain the benefits of the Casus Belli that are in effect." 

Over to you, Anton:

Further to that, Joint War now requires one party to have denounced their enemy for five turns, so says this Steam Community update post, while the leader screen now clearly identifies that war declaration is part of a joint engagement.  

Above, Strenger addresses the yield discrepancies identified by Tyler in March, noting a "general all around improvement in AI scores." 

Civ 6's spring update also adds 12 new Historical Moments—from the World's First City with 25 Population, to the World's First National Park and World's First Seaside Resort—the sum of which can be perused here. Civilization 6's spring update rolls out today. 

Sid Meier’s Civilization® VI

England have taken a bit of a battering in Civlization 6 recently, with a series of nerfs making it harder to win with Queen Victoria. Developer Firaxis plans to put that right in its spring update, after which Victoria's Pax Britannica leader bonus will grant a free unit both when you settle in a foreign continent and when you build a Royal Navy dockyard in that new city. That additional unit should make it easier to expand your borders.

The update, which doesn't yet have a release date, will also tweak the loyalty system introduced in the Civilization 6: Rise and Fall expansion. You'll now get more loyalty from cities following the same religion as you, and less from those following a different religion.

The team at Firaxis is also changing the way that joint wars work. You'll now be able to declare wars with a Casus Belli, which is a justification for war in specific circumstances that will mean you'll get fewer warmonger penalties. Both the player and the AI will also be able to join joint wars that have already begun, gaining the benefit of the Casus Belli in the process.

Lastly, the update will tweak the AI and add a few more historic moments, which essentially act as achievements marking important milestones. No full patch notes for now—they'll arrive alongside the update.

Thanks, PCGamesN.

Sid Meier's Civilization® V

Welcome to our round up of the best 4X games on PC. Ever since the term '4X' was coined for the original Master of Orion, we’ve been Exploring, Expanding, Exploiting, and Exterminating our way through fantasy, history, and the depths of space. The genre has seen something of a renaissance in the last half decade, and while it’s great to have options, there’s also a lot to sort through. 

Not every 4X game is for everyone, so we’ve taken a look at all the major players to enter the stage in recent years and why you might, or might not, want to play them.

Dominions 5

Let's start with an unusual one. Dominions 5 is a 4X game about warring gods and their fantastical armies. You start by designing your deity, which could be a raging dragon or a mystical inanimate rock. Turn by turn you muster armies, recruit wizards to research apocalyptic magic spells, and fend off the attentions of other pretender gods. 

Dominions' visuals are... old school, let's say. You need to dig into the community and get some decent user-made maps but, once you've done that and scanned the manual you'll find a detailed strategy game that generates mad stories. I'm used to controlling spaceships and cavalry in 4X games, only in Dominions can I send an alliance of satyrs, wyverns, elemental spirits and ghosts off to fight some atlanteans. The AI is easily to beat once you have played a few games but the game thrives in multiplayer about other people.

Who's it for: Players happy to get past primitive visuals to unpick a detailed magic system and command dazzling and varied factions.

Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion

A unique blend of 4X and RTS set in space, Rebellion is more fast-paced than most of the games on this list. It’s a standalone expansion, but also the definitive version of Sins currently available—so you don’t need to worry about grabbing the original to have a good time.

Who it’s for: Existing RTS fans who want to branch out into 4X, and players who like to get to the action fast and maintain a challenging pace. This one may be a little chaotic for the turn-based armchair generals of the world.

Fallen Enchantress 

This turn-based fantasy 4X revolves heavily around Hero characters and a faction leader called a sovereign who can go on RPG-style quests and be used in many aspects of empire management, not just limited to combat.

Who it’s for: Classic RPG fans will feel right at home with the quest system, and the customizable fantasy armies are likely to appeal to tabletop miniature painters of the Warhammer and Hordes persuasions.

Endless Space

One of the most intriguing aspects of the universe in which Endless Space (and its sequel) are set is the mythology behind it. Much revolves around the ancient empire known as the Endless, and the quasi-magical Dust they left behind.Who it’s for: A good all-around entry level space 4X that will also challenge experienced players, and holds added appeal for anyone who wants to unravel facets of a mysterious, pre-written story while dominating the galaxy. It’s also available for beans now that ES2 is in Early Access.

Sid Meier’s Civilization 5 

If we could crown a king of 4X, Sid Meier’s Civilization would have little competition for that throne. Taking one of an armload of civilizations from the ancient to the modern age while competing for various victory conditions, this is the series that has championed the genre for years.

Who it’s for: Even with Civ VI out, Civilization V frequently goes on sale for absurdly low prices, so if you’re not sure you’ll like the series and just want to try it out without dropping the full $60 on the new one, by all means take advantage. It’s certainly an excellent, entertaining game in its own right, particularly with the Brave New World expansion. Plus, the mod scene is excellent.

Europa Universalis IV 

While most of the other games on this list put you in a randomly-generated world or galaxy, EU4 is built on an extremely in-depth recreation of Earth between the years of 1444 and 1821. You can lead any nation on the planet, from France to the Comanche, through centuries of colonization, exploration, and technological discovery.

Who it's for: Considering it’s the highest review score I’ve ever given out, it’s almost easier who to ask who it’s not for. The complexity of the simulation and sprawl of interlocking systems for trade, war, and diplomacy might intimidate newcomers to 4X and grand strategy, but EU4’s interface and tooltips do an excellent job of helping you wade into the shallow end and get a feel for the water.

Eador: Masters of the Broken World 

Taking the role of a demigod battling others of your ilk for control of the shards (all that’s left of the eponymous broken world), Eador is another 4X game that’s hard to categorize. It features 4X, RPG, and board game-like, tactical turn-based elements.

Who it’s for: Eador’s greatest strength might just be how different its setup is compared to most other 4X games. The breaking of the game world into shards, which each behave like a smaller version of a strategic map in a game like Total War or Crusader Kings, means you’ll enjoy it if you’re looking for something a bit different than the standard map conquest or flipping largely static planets in a vast expanse of space to your color.

Sid Meier’s Civilization: Beyond Earth

Taking the Civilization formula into space, Beyond Earth casts you as the head of one of the first human colonies on an alien planet. You guide its development and compete with other colonial concerns using mechanics that will feel highly familiar if you’ve played Civ 5.Who it’s for: Beyond Earth is, in my opinion, a bit of a misstep in the Civ series, lacking elements that drive its siblings to success. While it has some cool things going for it, like a nonlinear tech system that allows you to evolve your futuristic technology in a number of distinct directions, it ultimately feels like a high budget Civ 5 mod that didn’t hold my interest for more than a couple dozen hours.

Endless Legend

Similar to its sci-fi counterpart Endless Space, the unfolding fantasy epic of Endless Legend takes place in a richly realized world with character and backstory to spare. Civilizations are highly customizable, and each presents distinct opportunities.

Who it’s for: We awarded Endless Legend a Commendation for Design in 2014. It has its foundation in the time-tested elements that make 4X what it is, but is unafraid to build on and remix them in ways that will especially interest long-time players who might be suffering from genre fatigue. Beyond that, anyone just wanting to explore a rich and interesting new fantasy setting won’t be at all disappointed.

Warlock II: The Exiled

Warlock is pretty close to what I’d imagine a well-done fantasy overhaul of Civilization might look like. It makes good use of neutral factions on the map to be more than just an early-game annoyance.

Who it’s for: Due to its relative simplicity and adherence to genre norms, this is a fairly welcoming first step for those wanting to branch out into fantasy 4X from other subgenres. It also has a sharper sense of humor than its more dour, grandiose counterparts like Endless Legend and Fallen Enchantress.

Distant Worlds: Universe

Allowing you to discover the stars in a pausable, real-time galaxy, Distant Worlds features one of the more robust models of a civilian economy (which can run on auto-pilot while you handle the political stuff) I’ve seen in a 4X game.

Who it’s for: Aside from just being an overall well-designed 4X, Distant Worlds will have a special appeal for those who like to focus on exploration. This is because it really succeeds where so many other sci-fi games have failed: it makes space feel really, really big.

Star Ruler 2

Similar to Sins of a Solar Empire, Star Ruler 2 is a bit of a 4X/RTS hybrid. It boasts quite in-depth systems for diplomacy and planetary development.

Who it’s for: This one skews toward the higher end of the complexity scale, and the sheer amount of fine control you have over its systems might be intimidating to newcomers. If you’re looking for gigantic, animated space battles, however, it may be worth your time to wrap your head around it.

Galactic Civilizations III 

Galactic Civilizations has cemented itself as the other 'blockbuster' contender in the 4X space, and GalCiv III is the most polished and extravagant entry to date.Who it’s for: If you’re sick of cookie-cutter victory conditions, one of the most positive changes GalCiv 3 made to the series’ formula was turning victory into a set of objectives you can pick and choose from. So even two different runs going for the same victory condition might look different.

Stellaris

Stellaris takes Paradox’s historical formula and blasts it to the stars where you’ll manage military, political, and economic aspects of your space empire.Who it’s for: Fans of historical grand strategy will feel at home in Stellaris, but for those used to more traditional 4X, it takes some getting used to. There’s a much heavier focus on politics, with elements like your form of government and the will of your citizens playing a large role.

Master of Orion

The most recent in the lauded Master of Orion series doesn’t do much we haven’t seen before, but it plays the old hits well and wraps them in stratospheric production value and some big name sci-fi voice talent.Who it’s for: Despite being so new, MoO is bog standard 4X. Not much has changed here since its 1996 predecessor other than the graphics. That does make it a nice starting point for total newbies, but the real draw is hearing John de Lancie lament the war that's brewing between his empire and yours.

Endless Space 2

Endless Space 2 builds on some of the best ideas of its predecessor, this time crafting more unique story content for each of the distinct interstellar empires.Who it’s for: It shouldn’t surprise you at this point in the list that connoisseurs of interactive storytelling should jump for anything that says 'Endless' on it. Endless Space 2 is also arguably a better starting point for newcomers than the first one, as it’s made lots of improvements to your ability to access important, contextual information.

Sid Meier’s Civilization VI

Civilization VI emerges from its chrysalis to reveal the most transformative and fresh take on the series in its storied history. Also, it has Sean Bean.

Who it’s for: Just about anyone who enjoys turn-based strategy. It presents lots of new challenges and opportunities even for the most weathered series veterans, but also remains among the most inviting 4X games for first-timers.

Sid Meier’s Civilization® VI

Update: Firaxis has confirmed that the spelling errors are a mistake. In a brief statement sent to PC Gamer, the developer wrote: 

“We’re aware of a community-reported bug that has a minor impact on AI behavior. We’ve also made sure that everyone knows that I goes before E except after C… or other weird exceptions. Thanks to all who helped bring this to our attention and there will be a fix included in our next update.”

Original story: There's a story going around that sounds too improbable to be true: that Civilization 6's AI leaders have been acting strangely all this time because of five misspellings in a data file. The likelihood that Firaxis wouldn't have noticed such an obvious error for so long seems minuscule. And yet, inside one of Civ 6's loose data files, Leaders.xml, are the following five lines: 

<Row Item="YEILD_PRODUCTION" ListType="DefaultYieldBias" Value="25"/><Row Item="YEILD_SCIENCE" ListType="DefaultYieldBias" Value="10"/><Row Item="YEILD_CULTURE" ListType="DefaultYieldBias" Value="10"/><Row Item="YEILD_GOLD" ListType="DefaultYieldBias" Value="20"/><Row Item="YEILD_FAITH" ListType="DefaultYieldBias" Value="-25"/>

In each line, 'YEILD' is a misspelling of 'YIELD.' That wouldn't matter if it were misspelled everywhere, but 'yield' is written with the correct spelling in every other instance across all of Civ 6's data files.

The misspelling was noticed by Something Awful forum user Straight White Shark (though they say in the thread that they weren't the first to pick up on it), and I've verified that the 'YEILD' lines can be found in a fresh Civ 6 download, though it isn't clear whether the mistake was always there, or if it was introduced in an update.

Testing with and without the typos

Shark and other Civ players believe these table entries are meant to set the AI leaders' default priorities, which are then modified by their various preferences and agendas. The effect should be that, by default, each leader prioritizes production and gold over everything else, and gives the least priority to faith. Popular theory has it that these misspellings are causing the default values to be ignored, explaining why some AI civs seem to put too much energy into religion.

By running two automated 151-turn games using the same Civilizations, each starting in the same spot on the 'true start' Earth map, Shark did find that fixing the misspellings created a noticeable difference in the AI leaders' priorities—they produced less faith overall, and more buildings and science.

I have been able to create reproducible results with the same basic methodology. By using the true start Earth map, I can run identical games using the Autoplay mod and produce identical end-of-game graphs, provided I don't change anything between tests. When I fix the typos, though, the graphs change. For example, Pedro II produces less faith-per-turn at the end of 100 turns when the typos are fixed.

The faith-per-turn graph after 100 double-speed turns without the typos fixed.

The faith-per-turn graph after 100 double-speed turns with the typos fixed. (Note the difference in the Y axis values.)

To confirm that I was definitely making a difference, I set faith to 1,000 and all other yields to 0. When I did, Pedro II's faith-per-turn skyrocketed within 50 turns, and the other civs in my test trended up too. Even Queen Victoria built a Holy Site, which she didn't do in any of my other tests. I tried the same thing with the typos uncorrected, and the graphs reverted back to 'normal,' as if I hadn't changed anything from my first baseline test. With the misspellings in place, the lines don't do anything.

It's possible that the misspellings were introduced in a recent patch, and weren't there all along. It's also possible that Civ 6 is actually behaving as intended despite the misspellings, as different default values might be set elsewhere, making these five lines obsolete. But who would take these lines out of commission with typos, rather than by commenting them out?

I've reached out to 2K to find out if Firaxis is aware of the misspellings, and whether or not AI leaders are truly supposed to deprioritize faith, and just haven't been. 

If you don't want to go editing the xml file yourself, you can download this mod on the Steam Workshop to try playing Civ 6 with the typos corrected. For more data, a few players are testing variations of the typo-corrected values on Reddit.

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