Before I can review the first expansion for Civilization VI, let’s get something out of the way. There have been a lot of complaints about Civ VI, and Civ V before it, and I think they all boil down to two basic problems.
First, starting with Civ V, the team at Firaxis tried to incorporate real time strategy elements into the Civilization franchise. I don’t think many people will seriously argue there is even a close competitor to Civilization in the 4X strategy genre, so I believe most of Civ’s competition comes from the RTS genre, of which there are many good titles. Unfortunately, that attempt on their part was a mixed bag, leading to some of the problems players complain about in specific.
Second, and perhaps far more important, Civ has always had an AI problem. Back in the halcyon days of Civ I or II, nobody expected sophisticated AIs, and the game took full advantage of that fact by plain cheating to make the game harder. Modern players with modern hardware expect a modern AI, but the expansive nature of Civilization makes designing a good AI for the game a challenge at best. I’m not saying the team at Firaxis couldn’t do better, but I understand the challenge they face in doing it.
Keeping those things in mind, most of the things I could say bad about the Rise and Fall expansion are things I’ve already said bad about Civ VI itself. The game play is somewhat convoluted, the AI just dumb sometimes, and the execution sometimes excruciatingly slow.
It’s always dangerous to lead with things I don’t like in a review because that’s what people tend to remember, but the fact is Firaxis has one of the greatest gaming franchises in history in its care, and it needs to do better if it doesn’t want to go the way of EA and lose the loyalty of once fantastic titles like SimCity or Ubisoft with the Anno series.
All of the new elements to Rise and Fall add value to the game, but they’re understated and seem to be designed to add that familiar RTS anxiety to a 4X game. It doesn’t always work because I think it faces the player in the wrong direction. When Civ VI introduced things like districts, it was an intriguing advance on Civ’s core ideas. Instead of building on that, Firaxis has doubled down on the 4X in RTS clothing gambit it seems to have committed to in Civ V, and it still doesn’t quite seem to be working all the way.
Overall, I’d say wait on this expansion a bit yet. It’s not really worth the $29.99 Firaxis is asking for it for what you get, but if they’re listening to the community, future patches and DLCs may yet fix some of what doesn’t work as well as it could yet. If they don’t, there’ll be room for a new king of 4X. Or we can all go back to playing Civ IV, probably still the best entry into the franchise so far.