Civilization 6 Rise and Fall Review

Continuing the last couple of Civilization games’ penchant for “unstacking’, the Civilization 6: Rise and Fall expansion has remade some of the series’ fundamental systems- this time it’s the march through history itself. It’s more dynamic and chaotic, with civs, as the title promises, rising and falling as they enter new eras and experiencing Golden and Dark Ages. At the same time, however, Civilization has rarely felt this structured or cohesive.

Civilization’s gameplay has always been divided into eras, which represent a civ’s technological and cultural level. In Rise and Fall, this system has been expanded so that there are now two different eras: player eras and game eras. Player eras are the mark of a civ’s individual progress, while game eras start and end at predetermined moments and affect every civ. The result of this is that you'll still be rewarded for investing in science and planning ahead, for example, but if you don't, there’s going to be a fixed point when a new era officially begins, so you're not going to fall too far behind. This system by itself is a nudge towards equality that keeps things interesting without diminishing the rewards for having the most enviable civ- it also helps make an otherwise daunting, massive game manageable by splitting it up into discrete chunks with accompanying objectives.  

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It’s with the introduction of Golden and Dark Ages that things get a bit messier. During an era, every civ is in an unacknowledged race to increase their era score with historic moments- being the first civ to befriend a city state, defeating your first bandit camp, making a city a commercial centre—anything that represents an important decision or a world first achievement can net you points. Depending on how many you have, the next era will be a normal, Golden or Dark Age. These ages affect the loyalty of your citizens and let you pick era-long buffs that give you new abilities, like the ability to recruit builders by spending faith, or making it easier to accumulate era points through things like building districts and conquering. Achieve a Golden Age and you might see your civ enter a period of unparalleled prosperity with every city praising your name, while a Dark Age could spell civil war as citizens become disloyal and revolt, breaking away from your empire and creating independent cities that can be snatched up or seduced by others.

“Rise and Fall and Maybe Rise Again” doesn’t have a nice ring to it, but it’s true that a Dark Age isn’t always the end. It introduces new challenges, certainly, but they’re all surmountable- as long as you’ve expanded conservatively and your cities are fairly loyal, it’s likely you’ll make it through relatively unscathed. If you’ve done particularly well and gathered enough era points during the Dark Age, in fact, you’ll enter a supercharged Heroic Age. If anything, Dark Ages could afford to be a little harsher, though I do appreciate that it feels less like a punishment and more like a very different, slightly trickier path. I’ve yet to see it fully realise its promised potential, however. It’s unpredictable, but properly huge upheavals of an empire’s stability have been largely absent in my games.

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There have been a few large-scale international emergencies, though. These emergencies are new cooperative events that task civs with banding together to solve a crisis regarding another empire. In one of my games, playing as Scotland and Robert the Bruce, I sparked one myself when I converted the Catholic holy city of Seville to Protestantism- this essentially created a mission in which I had to hold the church for 16 turns while others tried to stop me. Unfortunately for Spain, only a few of their friends helped them out and I got myself a cash reward and an explosion of faith that converted yet another city. It helped that I had a religious governor, one of the seven new upgradable characters that can specialize cities in my capital, churning out faith for me that I could spend on more missionaries.

While the objectives are simple and the AI is still lacking, these international events are a very effective way to force civs into large conflicts, making the world a bit livelier in the process. Perhaps more importantly, it turns what could have been overlooked moments into historically significant events. I wouldn’t have previously remembered the conversion of Seville, but now I remember it as a long religious siege with Spain and its allies furiously summoning lightning bolts out the sky in an effort to rid the city of my religion.  

That’s what lies at the core of Rise and Fall. It’s an expansion that homes in on these single moments or specific periods and gives them greater meaning and impact. Sometimes, though, it can be easy to tunnel vision into these events, especially when you’re desperately trying to get enough era points and time’s running out. It shakes things up, so it won’t convert everyone, but the added tension and dynamism is a massive boon for a series where the pace can be a bit predictable.

Overall, Rise and Fall is a great addition to Civilization 6 but isn't groundbreaking enough to be considered essential for everyday play.