Unlike many of the other games we’re nominating this year for Game of the Year 2016, Civilization VI doesn’t really have any competition. Sure there are other strategy games out there, but none that offer the experience that the Civ franchise has provided over the years.
Games like Overwatch, Titanfall 2, and even Pokemon, have other games in its genre to compete with. There’s a clear bar to hurdle, and lots of inspiration and ideas to be passed around. Civilization VI, a slow-paced, turn-based game about creating a world power, only really has its past self to be inspired by. It has to constantly fight the urge to become complacent and instead reinvent itself (but not too much) over again with each game. With Civ VI, you can chalk up another victory for the franchise, Firaxis Games, and 2K.
Unlike some of the other games we are nominating that are doing things we’ve seen many times before with various degrees of greatness, Civilization VI is really the only place where you get to really play emperor (or a peace loving enlightened leader of some sort if you prefer). Every game depending on the parameters you set, will have its own story and history.
You’ll see all sorts of events unfold, such as failed attempts at aggressive expansion that lead to a Treaty of Versailles-like disaster for the losing side, or Cold Wars where two Civs fight for the same winning condition but avoid conflict that would derail their progress at all costs. In a gaming world where imagination is often replaced with cutscenes and story lines that explain everything for you, Civilization VI is a modern game that still lets you create your own narrative, and is executed in a near flawless way.
Mechanically, Civilization VI improves on so much of the areas that needed major touch-ups in Civilization V while also throwing in game-changer additions that enhances the quality of life for marathon players looking for more. History and diplomacy nerds like myself can revel and agonize in the majorly improved diplomacy screen that actually tells you useful information now. It may seem innocuous to accept a foreign leader’s invitation for dinner, or to establish a embassy, but you foresee conflict down the road. Maybe it’s best we keep a distance so that the path towards war can remain clear and unsullied. Thought processes like that didn’t occur in Civ V because of how hidden away so much of that important information was, and as a result, the AI seemingly behaved randomly.
Religion, kind of a strange experiment in Civilization V, is a full-fledged victory condition now that feels like you’re playing an entire different game if you commit to it. Culture, once nothing much more than just a shallow hoarding of points, now is an incredibly deep system of gaining tourists, recruiting great-people, and using modern technology to spread your greatness around the world. That’s just a few of the many ways Civilization VI made its own experience that much more authentic.
There’s little stopping Firaxis from resting on its laurels, tweaking a few things here and there, and pumping out a new game with updated visuals every few years to similar fanfare. The Civilization franchise achieved greatness a long time ago. But it’s clear that the team behind is committed to providing the most authentic game of diplomacy and empire building imaginable and that’s what makes Civilization VI so important. Civilization is the best in its genre — it practically is the genre — and even with a lack of direct competition, it’s a model franchise that continually goes above and beyond to top itself and always succeeds.
When we’re talking Game of the Year, we’re talking the best of the best, the great powers of gaming going head to head with one another. Who else dominates their sphere of influence better than Civilization? The answer is not too many others.