I’ve had a chance to play a few video games over the course of the Fall. I’m going to try to keep these concise:
Civilization VI review
I have a long history with the Civilization franchise. My first experience goes back to the first game back on the SNES. I was 9 or 10 at the time, so the game was a bit out of my depth. In fact, it was the first strategy game I played. I did not get into it as I didn’t understand the game as there was no tutorial and it was a game I rented from the local video store which lacked the instruction manual. Instead, my first real experiences with the series came with Civilization II on PC. By then, I was far more into strategy games due to such gems like Ogre Battle on SNES, Sim City (also on SNES) and a few others. I enjoyed the game tremendously; so much so my friends and I leaped at Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri. To whit, it remains one of my favourite strategy games of all time.
The newest iteration of the game does clean up quite a few issues I’ve previously had with the franchise but introduced other ones. As a whole, I find the game one of the best outings of the series but I’ll focus on the things done wrong to encourage discussion on solutions. Note this review includes changes following the first patch.
Diplomacy system is still bad: It never ceases to amaze me how Civilization still continues to fail at diplomacy. The agenda system is a nice attempt in theory to fix issues and works well with some leaders. On the other hand, the hidden agenda often having a random seed can lead to conflicting agendas or making it impossible to be on good terms with a civilization. Frequently, the AI would offer me trade deals which were laughably one-sided in their favour. However, unlike in Beyond Earth, I did find myself making more trade pacts than in that game because eventually I could please the agendas of the rulers to where the deals were fair for both parties.
It is particularly glaring when comparing the early game to the rest. The AI is war happy until the classical age and then rarely launches any wars at all. The few times it does declare war, the other AI controlled civilizations will call me the warmonger even though I was the target of declarations of war.
The AI extremely rarely respects your wishes regarding spies and missionaries when they agree to do so. Furthermore, breaking such promises do not trigger casus belli conditions or warmonger type penalties for the AI the player or other AI can exploit. Your only recourse is denouncing the AI which often triggers other Civs to repudiate you in response for doing so even if you have just cause.
Removing the World Congress also reduces what can be accomplished via diplomacy, making it feel stripped down. To be fair, it is the only feature that has been removed from previous incarnations of the game. I’m hoping it does get included at some point; hopefully free but I won’t hold my breath on that.
AI is lacking: The AI really struggles with the new district system. Only 1-3 cities in any civ will have more than 2 districts even when playing with abundant resources. Often times I’ll see Civs like Russia or Greece (Pericles) hoard great artists, writers and musicians but no buildings to house great works. The AI will build cities extremely close to one another and not exploit ideal land utilization. This is particularly meddlesome to me who likes getting the most out of every city.
On the warfare front, I never feel challenged by the AI except on the higher difficulties and only in the early game where they’ll utilize their huge early advantage to send 3-4 warriors against my only city before I’ve even had a chance to build my first unit. If played smart, 3-4 units can turn away four times their number without issue.
Barbarians are a different beast. They are relentless thorns in your side even until the later periods if you so much as allow enough room for encampments to spawn. Further, the AI almost always has barbarians target your civ ahead of the AI if your units, districts or improvements are within range.
The UI is not optimal: To a veteran of the CIV franchise, it took me a while to figure out where to find some information. You find yourself having to often switch between the newly introduced lenses to find what you are looking for. Further, I often encounter issues where scrolling over a tile won’t reveal the yields. The game also doesn’t warn or prompt you when enemy units are in proximity of your cities. There are times I have units fortified in the area to act against these or enemy units within my cities bombard range but I fail to notice until several tiles have been pillaged or my units have been attacked when I could have reacted sooner if it worked like in Civ 5. Speaking of bombardment, it can be difficult to click on the icon to bombard an enemy unit if your city or encampment has a unit on that tile.
I still haven’t found how to raze cities ceded to me in a peace deal. This annoys me on a personal level more than most, granted.
Building up your cities is more difficult: The designers really wanted to emphasize small or specialized cities and it shows. Every subsequent construction of any building or even unit has an increasing cost. Thus, to “optimally” play the game, you want to avoid duplicates. Nevertheless, the costs still increase as you progress through each age as a sort of weird inflation. Wouldn’t things become cheaper if you’ve already built examples earlier?
The big change of districts and buildings being outside your city is the biggest change in game. I like the new strategy element it introduces as you try to optimize city and district placement to get the most out of your constructions. However, once you lay down a district you can’t remove or halt its construction to replace it elsewhere. You are stuck with that initial decision unless you load an old save. I also dislike that there is no method to hasten repair times of pillaged districts whether it be cash or though another method. You can build buildings through cash or even faith but repairs is a no-no.
Wonders need tweaking: Some wonders need to be re-balanced. The Great Library offers little benefit because by the time you finish building it, you are extremely likely out of the classical period and thus would gain no benefit from the boost of increased research for ancient or classical technologies.
Despite my criticisms, I give the game a solid 8/10. With tweaks, the game has the potential to be the best of the series and close to matching Alpha Centauri.
Hand of Fate
A fun little game by a small developer. I really liked the atmosphere and while I do find some of the random chance in the game to be highly frustrating, it is a fun game. The game reminds me of the Lord of the Rings Living Card Game, in a good way. Sometimes the cards screw you, other times you can breeze through. Good for 4-10 hours of play.
I give it a 7/10.
Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak
I was really looking to like this game but as I progressed through the campaign, I quickly felt disappointed. The game appeared straight forward enough as a call back to classic RTS games. However, the game has far too many different units with special abilities you have to manage in battle. Perhaps it’s just me getting worse at video games now that I’m 34, but it makes the game feel more twitchy like an FPS than the RTS games of my youth.
My main complaint comes in the game interface. The setting of the world is in the title: a desert world. Thus, level variety is severely limited to desert landscapes with differing rocky outcroppings or ruined starships. It does help create a certain atmosphere. Think Dune crossed with Battlestar Galactica. However, most of your units are a colour similar to the sand which makes it difficult in a high paced situation to pick out the right units for the job. It makes sense within universe to camouflage against the sand but your enemies don’t seem to care (they are a bright red) and neither do their targeting systems. Additionally, the basic or visually representative UI is limited in how far you can zoom out. This makes it easy for the AI to try to ambush or flank you if you don’t frequently jump in and out of the “radar” UI. This UI resembles the stick figures models of the old Mechwarrior games. By the end of the game, I found myself exclusively in the radar UI which made for a very bland experience. The game has a lot of depth but it feels very much like playing a war game as a general at the Pentagon. If it required micromanaging every single unit.
I give it a 5/10.
Every gaming group goes through a phase of playing evil characters. It was interesting to see the take of playing a bad guy in a CRPG. I found the game to be fairly fun and interesting. Sadly, I found only one NPC really stood out and it was hard to feel any ownership of the world. Like Pillars of Eternity, the designers started a world from scratch. Instead of keeping to a simple story, they wanted to create a very complex world which leaves a lot of dialogue to be expository. At other times, the game simply gives hyperlinks within dialogue trees to explain what the hell the NPCs are referring to. I’d liken it to Wikipedia: the RPG.
What stood out for me in the game was we could craft our character’s backstory and importance in the world and these decisions play out over the course of the game. Unlike Dragon Age: Origins, the game doesn’t pay lip service to this decision and it offers a lot of potential replay value for completionists. I do feel the game is a bit short but I feel it is worthwhile compared to what else is out there.
An aspect of RPGs I don’t usually care for but did come to my attention in this game was loot progression. I was never really awed by the gear you could earn in game. Pillars of Eternity did a far better job on that front. Further, the skill system favours using the same weapon types over and over again. Thus, if you made a bad decision or split between close and long range fighting, it felt like a detriment. You wouldn’t want to change weapon type for a character as you would be wasting the progression they earned using a different weapon and would be “behind the ball” with new weapons. The way the game gets around this is by allowing you to upgrade weapons but I found myself only upgrading the characters with fixed gear and never on my own and I completed all but 1 side-quest.
I did like how I never felt I had more money than I knew what I could do with as I constantly was low on cash divided between upgrading characters’ gear, purchasing magical customization or going to skill trainers. This made your purchasing decisions matter. As the gear was lack luster in my view, I spent most of my character’s money on character improvements.
A solid effort and I’m intrigued with what they do with it if anything going forward. I’d rather see them stick to one world and flesh it out fully through multiple games like Bioware with Mass Effect and Dragon Age. 8/10.