A mere 12 months after the launch of Civilization VI’s previous expansion, Rise and Fall, we were told that Firaxis is releasing not just another expansion, but the biggest Civilization expansion ever. Having felt that Civilization VI is already damn near perfect, I struggled to fathom what they could possibly add to improve this, already fantastic, game. I spent the past few weeks getting to know Gathering Storm and I was completely blown away, not just by the sheer amount of additional content, but also by the impact it all had on my gaming experience.
You can find Civilization VI: Gathering Storm on Steam, and if you hurry, you’ll get 25% off.
Enter Mother Nature
As the name suggests, the primary focus of Gathering Storm is the awakening of Mother Nature. Treat her well and she’ll reward you but dare not respect her and you’ll feel her wrath.
The inclusion of natural disasters is a brand new feature for the Civilization series and one I can’t believe we went so long without. There are several types of natural disasters that could occur including hurricanes, sand storms, tornadoes, blizzards, floods, droughts, and my personal favorite, volcanic eruptions. All of these events can be highly destructive but the majority of them also leaves you with higher fertility once the debris has been cleared. The exception to this is tornadoes which is just a cranky little bugger and doesn’t do anything but wreak havoc.
When I saw this feature being announced I thought back to the days of playing Sim City 2000, where I would build along merrily and suddenly an earthquake would appear and leave half my city in ruins. We were all brave back then, thinking we could tame the wild beast that is nature, but eventually, we all accepted our place in the pecking order and humbly turned natural disasters off in the settings menu. This is not the case with Gathering Storm. While the natural disasters can be quite destructive, I once had my entire invading army brought down to 40% health by a tornado, it wasn’t as earth shattering as I was expecting, and once the storm passes, you have some nice new food yields to utilize. But just in case you still have PTSD from your Sim City 2000 days, there is an option to turn them off.
The weatherman’s job doesn’t stop there. Play long enough and you’ll notice a rise in temperature which in turn causes the sea levels to rise and will eventually start consuming coastal tiles. Thankfully, the Settler lens indicates which tiles will flood first, giving you a heads up long before it actually happens, but eventually, those tiles will go the way of Atlantis so you’ll need to take care where you put your cities and districts.
Since the natural disasters are such a big focus point, Firaxis isn’t just throwing you into the deep end, they’re giving you some nice tools to help you navigate these rough waters. Among the numerous new buildings and districts available are things like Dams and Flood Barriers which help you negate some of the negative effects caused by floods and rising sea levels.
As mentioned above, global warming is very much present in Gathering Storm and will cause sea levels to rise and swallow up coastal tiles in the late game. Keep in mind though, that you play a part in how soon this might happen. This brings me neatly to the next big update, city power.
At some point around the industrial age, your cities will require power which you’ll provide by building power plants. A city that requires power will suffer severe production penalties when unpowered, to the point where their buildings will produce less than half their normal yields.
As is true in real life, power plants tend to pollute their surroundings and this is another aspect that’s been brought into the game, Greenpeace rejoice! There are various types of power plants available, each with their own level of pollution. Coal and oil power plants are the first ones you unlock and obviously cause the most harm, but eventually, you’ll move on to solar, wind, or even nuclear power plants which are much greener. Nuclear power plants are the best ones to have as far as efficiency is concerned but they don’t come without risk. Remember a little place called Chernobyl? Yep, nuclear power plants will degrade throughout time and if you don’t perform the Power Plant Maintenance city project regularly, you’ll end up with a nuclear meltdown which will contaminate the surrounding tiles and make them useless. Radiation poisoning will not be a good look on your populace.
Love Thy Neighbor
Next up we have the reworked diplomacy system which introduces a new currency in the form of Diplomatic Favor, and also sees the return of the Diplomatic Victory.
Long time fans of the series will also be delighted to see the return of the World Congress, which meets every 30 turns and puts various proposals on the table for everyone to vote on. These include removing or increasing the amenities from certain luxury resources or changing the benefits of trading with a certain civilization, and many more. Some of these didn’t make much sense to me but I enjoyed the additional factors the World Congress brought to the game. To vote for, or against, any policy, you’ll need to spend Diplomatic Favor which is accumulated in various ways like keeping promises to your neighbors, participating in emergencies, and so on.
There are numerous factors to consider when voting in the World Congress as this is the main avenue toward winning a Diplomatic Victory. Each time your proposals get the green light, you’ll receive Diplomatic Victory Points. Earn 20 of these and you’ve won a Diplomatic Victory. This is not as easy as it sounds though. When voting, you might be tempted to take a stab at your enemies by robbing them of certain benefits, but if the rest of the world is friends with this particular leader then it might be best to take your votes elsewhere to ensure you earn that Diplomatic Victory Point.
The last update toward politics is the War Mongering penalties which have been replaced by Grievances. Grievances work on a back and forth points based system. If you denounce, declare war, conquer cities, or break promises then you will earn negative points with the civilization against whom you’ve acted. However, their transgressions toward you will move your Grievances counter back closer to neutral. No longer will you be labeled a global troublemaker for millennia after defending yourself in a war that you didn’t even start, instead your acts of aggression is balanced out by that of your enemy which could still leave you in a negative light but not nearly as bad as it was before. Finally, the “He started it” argument has some merit.
The last of the major updates comes in the form of resource management. Previously, you needed 2 copies of a strategic resource in order to build certain units, or 1 copy if you had the relevant buildings in place, which would allow you to build an endless supply of said unit. In Gathering Storm your strategic resources get stockpiled and you need to use a certain amount to build or upgrade a unit. This, in my view, makes a lot more logical sense.
Obviously, the more harvesting points you have for a resource, the quicker your supply will grow but you’ll still need to save up in order to upgrade all your units. Also, later era units require a constant supply of resources as maintenance such as tanks which require oil for fuel. This also makes resources much more of a commodity in trade than ever before and you can make a lot of gold selling iron or niter to a desperate neighbor. On the flip side though, you’re going to have a tough time waging war if your rival is sitting on all the oil deposits and refuses to share.
Oh, we’re not done yet. We might have worked through all the major updates but that’s only the tip of the volcano.
Named Geography: If ever you wanted to expand your knowledge of the world’s rivers, mountains, and volcanoes, Gathering Storm can help since every single one of them will now be named. The name of these features will be determined by whoever discovers them first. For example, should the Shaka of the Zulu discover a river it might be named the Orange River, or Limpopo River, since those are actual rivers found in Zulu territory. If the Zulu come across a volcano, something which is not found in their home country, then it will be named after a volcano in a country that is not included in your current game. This has no real gameplay value but it’s a testament to the developers’ outstanding attention to detail.
New Leaders, Wonders, Units, Districts, and Buildings: To discuss all of these would simply take too much time so I’ll try and keep it brief. There are now 45 leaders to choose from, 45! And some of the new leaders feel so much more unique than any we’ve come across before. They also seem to have been designed to capitalize as much as possible on the new updates which could make them less useful for generic strategies. This is a good thing though because while most leaders can be used to achieve any victory condition, having a leader with traits that specifically boost your play style ensures that playing with different leaders always results in a different experience. During my review, I played as the Maori since they’re the most radical of the new civilizations. They start the game in the middle of the ocean, leaving you to search for the nearest land before plopping down your first city. This messes with one of the oldest arguments in this game series, i.e. should you settle immediately or move to a better spot first. With the Maori, that argument is settled for you.
I’ve already mentioned the Dam and Flood Barriers, but there are also Mountain Tunnels, Water Parks, Canals, Railroads, and so many other new things to build. There is also a plethora of new units such as the Skirmisher and Spec Ops reconnaissance units which finally means a scout will no longer become useless after the medieval era. Then we have Rock Bands which can be sent into neighboring territories to melt the faces of the crowds with their sheer awesomeness and earn you some cultural dominance. But the most anticipated new unit of them all must undoubtedly be the Giant Death Robot or GDR as it’s more commonly known. It’s been a while since we’ve seen this doom-bringing, biped of terror and we welcome it with open arms.
Future Era: We all know the future can be unpredictable. Back in the 1960’s people thought we’d have flying cars by now, instead, the world is arguing about whether calling yourself a man is supposed to be offensive. As such, Firaxis didn’t just introduce a new era with some set technologies and call it a day. Instead, the technologies and civics that become available in the Future Era will be shuffled around with every game and even come at a different cost. You also get a new set of governments that unlock in the very late game and allow even more policy cards to be assigned. This is a tiny change, and many games won’t even reach that point, but I like the thinking behind it.
Game Modes: Gathering Storm adds 2 new scenarios including The Black Death where your people are struck down by a terrible plague which leaves you with both seen, and unseen enemies to confront. More exciting than that though is the new multiplayer mode called Play by Cloud. We all know how lengthy Civilization games can be which makes it very difficult to play multiplayer as very few people have the luxury of sitting in front of their computer for days on end without interruptions. Play by Cloud is a game mode that allows you to play your turn and exit the game while you wait for your opponents to carry on. Once the marker returns to you, you’ll receive an email notification stating that it’s your turn to play. I see this potentially turning a week-long game into a 6-month expedition, but it makes it possible for the average person to enjoy the multiplayer experience they’ve always longed for. Players with kids will be especially appreciative for this, I know I am.