Back in the days before we made the move to essentially being console-only gamers, Sid Meier’s Civilization series was among our favourites on the PC, and outside of a couple of watered down versions (Revolution and its sequel) there it has stayed… until now. Indeed, 2K Games has finally seen fit to port one of its full releases, bringing 2016’s Civilization VI to the Nintendo Switch in what should be a great day for strategy enthusiasts. Time to start colonizing.
One of the big concerns anytime a game meant to be played with a keyboard and mouse is ported to consoles is how capably the controls will translate. By and large, Civ VI handles the transition admirably. Even as the map expands and you have dozens of active units to track we had no trouble issuing commands and wading through the many expansion trees as you research various advancements, implement governance and so on.
When docked you can use either standard Joy-Con controls or, if you prefer, the touch screen, which to us makes it the preferred method of play — and, of course, one of the great joys of the game hitting the Switch versus the Xbox One or PlayStation 4 is that you can play it on the go. Even on the smaller screen we found the type consistently legible, something that other games have struggled with. That’s important given how much information is available for you to digest as you go.
With its focus on a grand scale, Civ VI settles for functional and sometimes charming in the visual department. It’s generally easy to distinguish unit types and allegiance, even when zoomed out in handheld mode, and you’re always free to get a closer look as cities expand and technology advances throughout the world. As things get busier the system seems to struggle a bit as you peruse the map, but it’s not enough to be more than a nuisance.
There’s a strong musical accompaniment here, swelling and receding, and even evolving as you whisk through the centuries. Sound effects are solid with ambient sound based on what part of a map you’re viewing, such as howling winds when on a tile in an arctic region. Sean Bean handles the narration effectively, though when unlocking items the game restarts his narration each time you return from checking out the new available units, which gets annoying.
If you’ve never played any of Sid Meier’s Civilization titles, the bare bones synopsis is that you’re in charge of a particular people (Japan, England, Egypt, etc.) and tasked with guiding it to prominence, eventually angling to become the world’s top superpower through any number of ways.
Although the goal is straightforward, achieving it is anything but, and it’s here that the series creates a potentially significant barrier to entry for newcomers. That’s because there is a lot for you to digest, so no matter how far you scale down the settings or activate the tutorials, which are largely inadequate, there’s going to be a learning curve where certain mechanics and options don’t make sense right away.
While that seems unavoidable to an extent, the game could’ve done more to explain things to the player, even something as simple as a key for the icons you use to issue commands — it’s possible it’s explained somewhere, but we never came across it. There were so many “ohhhhh” moments as we deciphered what function commands did, unlocking more of the game, that we couldn’t but feel that more effort should’ve been made in the early going.
For those that have the patience and perseverance to weather the initial storm, Civ VI offers an embarrassment of riches on the other side. The amount of content is staggering even without the Rise and Fall expansion (it does, however, include four post-launch scenario packs), and there’s enough here to keep strategy buffs happy for weeks on end.
At its core, Civ VI is all about decision making as you try to grow faster and stronger than those around you, and those choices abound at every level. What kind of government do you want to have? What policies will you enact? What discoveries will you prioritize? How aggressive will you be in expanding? How will you divvy up finite resources? And literally dozens more questions, all of which reverberate as time goes on.
You can make things easier or harder on yourself thanks to the game’s many options as well, with numerous difficulty settings, game speeds and map sizes. In addition to the open-ended runs there are also the more focused scenarios, which limit the number of turns and have their own situation-specific win conditions. Again, if you hold any fondness for strategy games odds are Civ VI has something for you.
Unless, of course, you want to go head-to-head with another person online as the Switch version lacks online multiplayer — you can play via a local network, though that is a feature we were unable to test. Some will doubtless view this as a significant omission, so while we’d be unlikely to play a game like this online it’s important to call out its absence.
Assuming you’re either a) familiar with the series, or b) willing to wade through a lot of menus and content initially, Civilization VI is a wonderful strategy game that feels surprisingly at home on the Nintendo Switch.