I could start this review with a very obvious joke about the peasants being given the keys to the kingdom now that the console bound masses are finally getting a full-fat serving of the formally PC-bound Civilization franchise. But the tired PC vs Console sniping is out-dated and as this exceptional console release demonstrates the distinction between platforms has very little actual meaning in modern gaming. And in the case of Civilization, the perception that Civ is a PC-bound franchise has actually never been true. Civilization has a long history on console and on the PlayStation in particular, with both Civ 1 and 2 seeing solid if somewhat clunky ports back in the 1990s. That being said, it has been over 20 years since the PlayStation has seen a mainline entry. And while that is a substantial absence, the final product has in many ways made up for its time away by being about as good a Civilization game as it could possibly be.
Civilization is one of those titles that most gamers know about in one way or another. It’s been part of the gaming landscape for so long it is iconic even for those who have never played a mainline Civ game, or even one of its many spin-offs, reskins, or ports. Being essentially the Godfather of the 4X genre (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, eXterminate), it in many ways defines the genre, at least in what many purists consider the genre to be, for better or worse.
Civ VI is certainly no different. You begin proceeding in the same way you start pretty much any game in the genre; by controlling a primitive tribe and slowly evolving and growing them into an advanced culture. From humble beginnings as hunter-gatherers, through advances in cultivation, and later diplomacy, warfare, trade, and scientific research. Your civilization may flourish, or stagnate and diminish, it may even die horribly, either slain by enemies, killed by incompetence, or act of God. But that really is part of the fun of a 4X game, and Civ in particular. Every misstep is a learning opportunity, and every defeat provides insight that can be utilized in future games. Every outcome is an adventure, failure or success seldom dictates how much fun the hours or days you spent to that point have provided. How you go about growing and evolving your society is completely up to you, and there is no absolutely right way to do it. The near-limitless replayability of this series is one of its defining strengths.
All of this depth and the expansive toolset can be perceived as a massive hurdle to newcomers. The turn-based gameplay, numerous multi-tier menus, and seemingly limitless options to explore can be daunting for someone starting their first civilization. Hell, even returning fans could potentially find the tidal wave of information too much to navigate when jumping in again. I hadn’t played Civ VI since it first released a few years ago, and even then I did not play much of it, and coming back I was expecting a daunting learning curve as I came to grips with mechanics both old and new in this latest entry in the series. Still, surprisingly that curve was not as steep as I had expected.
This is not only because of the new control scheme which I will talk about later but also because Sid Meier’s design ethic for this series remains in place despite his hands likely not touching much of the later entries and almost certainly very little if any of this one. However, his commitment to evolving the series, while remaining true to its core identity is absolutely at the heart of Civ VI. Specifically, that each entry should in equal measure contain; a) new ideas and systems, b) refined or improved mechanics from the previous games, and c) some of tried and true that fans love that should not be touched. It helps keep the series both fresh and familiar but has caused a few teething issues from time to time.
Civ VI on PC when it first released, was not a game I particularly liked, and as a result, I did not play much of it, so coming in here was almost like playing it for the first time, and I cannot for the life of me figure out why I did not love it when I played it on PC. I adore Civilization VI on console, and I honestly do not know if that is because of improvements made since its initial launch, some additional content, or my state of mind. Whatever the case, Civ VI is a triumph.
Civilization VI on PlayStation does a stellar job of guiding you through the basics of the “core” game exceptionally well. Each evolution or milestone opens up new options, and these are laid out in a way that keeps your first forays focused on the core needs of your people, and from there expands out into the more complex systems as you extend your civilizations boundaries to take over new territories, research new technologies, and encounter both friends and foes. The deeper diplomacy and governmental systems offer far more control over how you interact with those friends and foes and provide some much-appreciated depth in the mid to late game. As a result, after only a couple of forays into these new lands, I was able to experiment with more strategies, from warlord to diplomat, or from authoritarian overlord, to magnanimous leader. I ultimately was not very successful initially, but that is beside the point. I don’t think I’ve had this much fun in a Civilization game in well over a decade.
Your hand isn’t held, but it’s also not bitten, or fingers burned. And those fingers will be kept busy as you shuffle through the various menus and commands via your controller. The transition from keyboard and mouse has been a relatively elegant one. One of the biggest fears, and historic issues when translating a game designed for keyboard and mouse to a controller is that it will grind to a halt when it hits the clunk of the relatively restrictive control scheme. But thankfully I am happy to say that nothing has been lost in the transition to controller, except maybe a little efficiency, but at no point did I feel like the new control scheme was limiting my enjoyment. The new UI and streamlined controls just work, and work elegantly as surprising as that may sound.
My only real complaints are that the game feels a little less responsive in some areas. Tool tips have a small but noticeable lag, which seems to be a design choice as the game runs flawlessly on my PS4 Pro with no dropped frames, or noticeable stutter when surveying my expansive empire. Another minor irk is that some on-screen text can be a little hard to read due their size and placement, this is most noticeable with Policy Cards used in the new government system, but does affect a few other areas of the UI, most notably some of the tool tips, or ancillary notifications. At worst though they were a minor annoyance and could be because I am getting old and my eyes aren’t what they used to be. My final issue is one that only a PC gamer like myself could have, and it is not something that can ever be addressed by the dev team, because as great as the game looks and feels on console, I much prefer to play with a keyboard and mouse. As good as the controller support is, this is not how I want to play the game. I doubt this game will convert any PC players to the couch, but if you’ve made the switch to a more reclined playing position, you’ll appreciate the hard work the team have done here.
Reviewing a game like Civilization when you’re likely dealing with both established fans and newcomers is a challenge, as going into the minutia of the components that make up the game doesn’t really provide much value for either audience. I could never go deep enough for old-timers, and I also likely lack the depth of knowledge to even address some of the questions they may have, and newbies could be put off when trying to explain some of the game complexities without the hands-on context they really need in order to be understood. So, instead, I will be as broad as I can. If you’re a fan of the series, and for whatever reason missed this entry when released on PC you are doing yourself a disservice by not playing it. If you love this genre and used to play on PC or console back in the day, but lack a gaming rig, now is the perfect time to dive back in. If you’re a console player and never played a 4X game, due to either the perceived complexity or their reputation for being “bad on console” Civilization VI offers you the very best entry point into the series and the genre as a whole. It’s not as complex as some of the more hardcore games in the genre, but it is deep and rewarding enough to keep you entertained for hundreds, if not thousands of hours.
transitioned to a more couch-based gaming lifestyle to jump back in.
+ Smartly redesigned UI.
+ Looks great.
+ Plays even better.
+ Complete Civ VI experience with no omissions, shortcuts, or loss of depth.
+ Endlessly replayable.
- Some minor UI issues.