Will Civilization VI be the weirdest Civ game ever?

Caesar has abandoned Rome, the Kongo is part of the vanilla game, the French are under Medici rule with a whole flotilla of spies, and Gandhi sounds...peaceful? It's obvious that Civ VI is a whole new Civilization, with 18 unique Civs already on the roster before Firaxis has even rolled their new prize stallion out of the gate. Some of the changes that have been announced sound a bit mad to anyone that's sunk more than a few hundred hours into Civ V or other previous games in the franchise, so has Firaxis finally floated off their rocker after spending so many hours working on the alien worlds of XCOM 2 and Beyond Earth?

Although aliens swooping in to wipe out the human race as we know it is pretty unlikely in a Civ game, there are some huge changes coming with Civ VI that should make even experienced players perk up and take notice. Otherwise, they might find themselves making fast friends with Civ's most peaceful former nuclear warlord while hordes of Roman legionnaires come knocking on their front door asking for a spot of tea and engineering a hostile takeover.  

Let's take a look at the big changes as they currently stand. As of this writing we're still waiting on final details of all the civilizations in the base game, but what we know so far is plenty to confirm that this isn't your dad's Civilization game.

All Roads lead to a Rome without Caesar?

If you're a fan of history, you might ask yourself: what's Rome without a Caesar? Well, according to Civ VI, it seems to contain more roads than ever before, your standard set of Legionnaires with plenty of spice and vinegar for building and fighting alike, and Trajan – a fancy new faction leader with a special set of talents allowing Rome to spread from one horizon to another on a sea of gold and well-trained Legions.

Gold and commerce aren't exactly alien concepts to the legions of Rome, as they're generally a faction that requires heaps of treasure to fund their adventures large and small. But what's really interesting is the fact that, for the first time since Civ II, a Caesar isn't personally leading the Roman faction. There's definitely been some variance between Augustus Caesar and Julius Caesar over the history of the titles, but almost every generation of Civ has honored the practice of choosing a Caesar to lead their most prolific faction.

So the fact that Trajan, Rome's 13th Emperor, is now leading the charge is kind of a big deal as far as historic Civ moments go. And he’s coming into it swinging a hefty new set of abilities that make running a connected, profitable empire easier than ever, which means that this is one of the subtler shake ups for a faction we've seen so far. If you're a fan of Legionnaires and miles of open road and trade, that is.

Historically, Trajan is remembered as one of the five good emperors – rulers of Rome that chose to pass down their leadership to distinguished individuals based off merit and quality of character rather than lineage. Trajan used his time as emperor to expand Rome both militarily and culturally, a feat that he accomplished so well that it lead to the Roman Empire expanding to the farthest reaches of Europe, covering the largest expanse of conquered territory in Roman history.

Trajan brings his special ability, Column, to the table, which gives every freshly minted city in the Roman Empire a free building in the city center proper. Additionally, with the new All Roads Lead to Rome perk, the far-reaching empire can expand its trade and commerce even faster, as new cities within range of the capital will automatically be connected by a road and gain a free trading post to keep funds flowing into your pockets. 

Firaxis isn't interested in letting sleeping dogs lie with Civ VI – replacing Augustus Caesar with Trajan highlights a trend of changes focused on making Civ VI a new and interesting revision of the title as a whole. They're not interested in making the new Civ V, they're making a brand new Civilization, and that means making some changes that might seem absolutely nuts, but all for the sake of creating a dynamic new world for players to explore. 

One Less Alexander in the World

A huge change up for long time Civ players comes from Greece, where Alexander the Great is stepping down from his high horse in favor of Pericles, an Athenian statesmen that rose to power nearly a hundred years before our fair-haired horsemen. Pericles lead Athens and Greece into a time of great prosperity, and is believed to be the leader that built Greece into the center for knowledge and learning that influenced nations large and small for generations.

To fit that history, Pericles and his accompanying abilities are all focused on building and maintaining a strong republic that gives players access to nearly any victory route they desire – something that's a significant change up from Alexander's more aggressive set of abilities and unique units. You'll still have access to Hoplites as an early game unit to fend off highly aggressive early game Civs, but you'll find that your Civ is much more focused on growing a powerful all-seeing republic.

Pericles himself grants Surrounded by Glory, which gives bonus culture to Greece for every allied city-state, as well as Plato's Republic, which gives Greece access to an extra wild card slot in any government, giving the player a huge boost in exactly how they handle Policies in their game. Greece's new unique building is the Acropolis, which must be built on a hill but will benefit from significantly greater adjacency bonuses from surrounding structures.

All in all, this means that Pericles (and the player) will be able to lead Greece down a wide and varied path, depending on the player's preference and how well they take advantage of their strong early game forces to shoot ahead of the competition.

Alexander the Great was a candle notorious for burning twice as bright but half as long, but Pericles is all about building a future for Civilization that will brighten the horizon until well past the last sunset. Despite this, it's the end of an era for Greece, and continues the theme of fresh new takes on certain Civs and gameplay rebalances for this generation of the game by shaking out the old rugs and bringing in some…slightly older, less musty rugs.

Napoleonic Warfare is out of Style, Spies are In

The French are seeing a dramatic shift in both leaders and how the faction plays as a whole. Civilization VI finds Napoleon far away on an island, doing some dedicated pondering of life, liberty, and the merits of clams versus escargot. Taking his place is none other than the Italian-born Catherine de Medici, who was wife to French King Henry the 2nd, but who also ruled and counseled her sons in ruling during one of the most tumultuous periods of French history, securing both the crown and the French government against many issues that threatened to tear apart the country.

Catherine's changes to the French faction are focused on molding her Civilization into a complex defensive network of spies. Her unique units are the Garde Imperiale, which get a bonus for fighting on your home continent. And to make gauging her friends and enemies easier, her special ability, Ladies in Waiting, will feed the player additional information on Civs the first time you encounter them, giving you a strategic advantage when faced with a new enemy or ally. Furthermore, the French will now receive an additional spy once they research castles, giving them access to unheard of levels of subterfuge and control of intelligence.

It's a significant change up from the gameplay style players were used to when Napoleon was in charge. Rather than a fast-paced focus on offensive advances, players now have access to a more subtle but equally effective faction that can manipulate and gather information on other Civs with relative ease. Unfortunately, this change is a little bit more than a subtle shift, and players that previously enjoyed Napoleon's more aggressive nature are going to be in for a shock - but only if they aren't willing to adapt to the new style, or switch to a different Civilization that better fits their talents.

Old Factions, New Twists, Brand New Game

These newly minted leaders of older factions aren't the only big changes incoming. We're also seeing the return of Civilizations like the Kongo, which has previously only been available as part of specific expansions, and a mixed bag of new Civs that combine some older themes, such as Vikings and Sumerian Empires, with a few Civilizations that Firaxis has previously left unexplored in the form of Norway and Scythia.

These factions bring a healthy dose of variety to the party - they're each unique in their own right and their specific abilities make for a significant challenge whether players are interested in playing them personally or not. Scythia's easy access to mounted cavalry at a low cost makes them a highly mobile, extremely aggressive early game threat that can heal after every battle as they warmonger their way through your defenses. And Norway's similar bonus to naval units combined with their ability to pillage makes it extremely simple for them to strike hard and fast and leave you reeling and crippled in the aftermath.

Players both veteran and novice would do well to shore up their borders and expect both land and sea raids to be common place anytime Norway and Scythia are on the wrong side of the ballpark. This kind of adversity creates a unique sense of tension, and the random potential that comes into play as you spread out across the map means that you'll never known when, where, or how these factions will affect your plans. It's a nice sense of the unknown that could do a lot to break up gameplay by throwing unexpected twists into the player's field.

Combine this sense of variety with multiple change ups in some of Civilization's core Civs and it's clear that Firaxis isn't planning on letting Civ VI fall down as a rehash of old content. They're hell bent on making Civilization VI the biggest bad boy on their side of town, and they're willing to sacrifice some of the older players in the game to get it done. So that means that the Caesars have left the building, and that Greece is missing its Alexander, but these changes to the core game – as nuts as they may seem – are all about making the game feel fresh and new.

It's not an alien concept - every Civ game comes out with a new set of players, new Civs, new mechanics, and it's the best way to innovate and play with balance in an established franchise without dramatically altering the formula that players love. Firaxis is trying to innovate with not just how units stack up, or how cities lay out across a map, but by consistently modifying the game balance to see how players react. As much as the nuclear Ghandi of Civ V was an accident, it also made for some unique challenges and an absolutely massive number of stories and situations for how players handled the warmongering pacifist, and it's exactly the kind of thing that makes Civilization worth playing.

For more on Civilization VI, make sure to read our hands-on impressions playing the game as Brazil.