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.

Sid Meier’s Civilization® VI

With so many famous historical figures to choose from, how does Firaxis decide which characters to include in each installment of Civilization? Ghandi's a given, obviously, but even then the surprisingly nuke-happy pacifist doesn't represent every aspect of India. In a panel at the recent PC Gamer Weekender, Firaxis' senior producer Andrew Frederiksen, and the DLC's lead designer Anton Strenger, explained how they came up with the cast of characters for Civ 6's Rise and Fall expansion.

This time around, they wanted a cast that would fit with Rise and Fall's Dynamic Empire's system, which sees empires rising and, well, falling over distinct historical eras. The team picked figures who would embody this theme, but who would also meet fan expectations, and sometimes surprise them, which sounds like a delicate balance to achieve. They wanted a diverse cast from a variety of historical periods, who would also look rather good standing next to each other in a cast photo.

As Fraser noted in his positive review, Rise and Fall introduces several new or returning civilizations, including the Cree, Scotland, Korea and the Netherlands. Naturally, the inclusion of new civs allowed the team to geek out and research the historical figures who would be the most appropriate figureheads for each civilization.

Frederiksen and Strenger discuss the base game's strengths and weaknesses in the full panel, below, while explaining their reasoning for the changes made for the recent Rise and Fall expansion. Ultimately, they wanted to improve Civ's capacity for emergent storytelling, something that lead to the creation of the Dynamic Empires system.

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.

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