Just one more turn...
Two years ago I bought Civilization VI at launch on PC and for some reason it didn’t resonate with me. The newest entry in the franchise completely failed to hold my attention and I found myself returning to Civ V before long. With Civilization making its way to Nintendo Switch I think I’ve finally come around to understanding what there is to love about the latest iteration of Sid Meier’s classic strategy series. Even so, it definitely took more trouble than I would’ve liked to wrap my head around the game mechanics.
In Civilization VI, you take control of an infant nation at the dawn of history. Starting with a single city and a single group of warriors, you grow over the course of centuries into a major competitor on the world stage in a gamified simulation of real life diplomacy, politics, and civil management. Facets of everyday government are represented through resources; food represents how fast your cities grow, amenities represent how many citizens your city can comfortably sustain, production represents how quickly you can build new units or buildings, and so on. The amount of different resources you need to keep track of can frankly be overwhelming, and understanding how all of them interact with each other is key to successfully competing in the world stage.
This is where my biggest issue with Civ VI comes to light. Though Civ VI appears to have robust tutorial options based on your past experience with the franchise, it does a poor job of actually teaching you how to play. For example, you are taught what civics are and how they can enhance your empire, but you aren’t given any guidance on what you should be focusing on based on your current situation. Playing Civ skillfully is not something that comes naturally, and given how long a single game can be it’s incredibly frustrating to get deep into a run only to find that you’re hopelessly outmatched because of poor decisions you made over a hundred turns ago.
Putting in the effort to really understand the game is not easy, but once you’ve started to figure out all the different systems at play everything starts to get very satisfying - and also very challenging. Strategy games have a bad habit of frontloading their complexity to the point that finishing a game can sometimes feel like a formality, but the late game in Civ VI is filled with enough complex situations that require real decision-making and strategy to make an entire run feel consequential. I never reached a point where I could switch to autopilot and mindlessly advance through turns letting a game run its course; I had to stay fully engaged the entire way through in order to succeed.
As a Switch game, Civilization VI manages to work pretty well. The interface - originally designed around a mouse and keyboard - has been fully translated to a traditional controller without any loss of functionality. It’s not always elegant, and navigating units across the map to accomplish specific tasks can sometimes feel a bit like patting your head and rubbing your stomach. Overall I think the touch screen controls offered in handheld mode are much more consistent, so playing Civ on the go turns out to be everything I could’ve asked for from a Switch port. Performance does take a bit of a hit in the late game as the map fills out more, but given my PC suffers the same issues I’m confident in saying nothing was lost in translation to the Switch.
Well, there actually was one thing that was lost in translation. Unfortunately, Civ VI on Switch doesn’t offer any online play - a glaring omission given that the game’s setup menu still features a speed setting that’s optimized for online play. The AI in Civ VI is serviceable but can never live up to a real human player, so I can see this entry’s appeal running thin pretty fast if the only option to play with another real person is by sitting in the same room as someone playing on their own Switch.
With the exception of the missing online play, Civ VI is - for better or worse - a faithful and complete port of the PC experience. It’s disappointing to be stuck primarily playing with AI but there’s a lot to love about Civ VI’s single player experience, and playing on Switch turns out to be a solid way to experience the rise and fall of entire civilizations.