There’s a tradition with Sid Meier’s Civilization: ever since Civ IV, the definitive game doesn’t leave Firaxis office for a couple of years after it launches. Gathering Storm is Civilization VI’s second expansion, and it follows last year’s rather meaty Rise and Fall to build a much better version of Civ VI than we had in 2016.
Unlike Rise and Fall, however, which successfully broke the short-sighted monotony that Civ VI launched with by adding goals and decisions that affected empires for several turns, Gathering Storm pretends to be deeply strategic, but is awfully shallow. Volcanoes, hurricanes, and floods may sound like long term concerns, but they end up as nothing more than eventual worries which need to be dealt with on a turn-to-turn basis – or in some cases, negated completely.
As the name implies when taken literally, the main draw of Civ VI’s second expansion is the effect of nature in a civilization’s evolution, from settling near rivers and volcanoes for the extra fertility in exchange of the looming possibility of disaster to dealing with freak accidents like tornadoes or storms. The game takes care to make their presentation palatable, what with little cutscenes and intensity classifications for when rivers flood, or by giving names to hurricanes the same way real world meteorologists do. I still remember the danger of hurricane Aurelie, making landfall to the west of my main capital and moving implacably towards it, missing it by inches a few turns later.
However, those disasters feel like little less than gimmicks, adding very little gameplay interactions in a game that already tends to devolve into a series of clicks followed by multiple empty turns in a row. In the early game, disasters are little less than luck of the draw, threatening to destroy improvements and damage districts but giving you extra fertility in the areas they hit. As the game progresses and fuel usage becomes a concern, global warming starts to melt the ice caps and causes the sea to rise, completely swallowing coastal settlements whole. Through technology, you find ways to to fight back against nature, such as by building floodgates to stop the sea or habitats that can be built on water.
Instead of properly adding new mechanics, these basically just contribute to the list of things that can happen to the player, like barbarians spawning or wars being declared. The actual interaction with disasters basically revolves around building or repairing things – something that the base game already does to death. Proper new mechanics, like Rise and Fall’s era scores, timeline, or decisions, would be much better suited for a fully fledged expansion.
One addition brought by Gathering Storm does include new mechanics, in the form of the World Congress. Coming back from its successful outing in Civ V, this faux-United Nations allows players to not only vote at scheduled times, but to also host global events and call emergency sessions in case of disasters or war. Through participating in diplomacy and in the World Congress, players can achieve the brand new Diplomatic Victory condition.
The expansion also brings along nine new factions, featuring new rulers and bonuses as usual. Eleanor of Aquitaine can lead both a French or English empire – each with it’s own characteristics – while the Maori’s oceanborn civilization starts in the seas and thrives the further it takes to settle a colony (at the danger of losing their only settler to barbarians and being wiped out of the game early on. While very different from each other, the lack of unique cultures like Civ V’s wonderfully vertical Venice trade empire compounds Civ VI’s general blase roster of civilizations.
In the end, Gathering Storm brings a few new toys to the sixth entry of the classical turn-based franchise, but does hedge a few bets on the natural disaster part of the deal. While those are an interesting addition, they are not meaningful enough to spearhead a whole expansion – and certainly not at the full prices charged by 2K. Disasters would be a fantastic addition as a cheaper content pack or DLC, but as the main feature of a £35 expansion to a two-year-old game, it is simply not worth it.
CIVILIZATION VI: GATHERING STORM VERDICT
A worthy expansion, given you own Rise and Fall first and get this on a sale.
TOP GAME MOMENT
The first time I saw the seas rise and swallow tiles.
Disasters are fun
World Congress was sorely needed
Factions are cookie cutter, and we still don't have civilizations dedicated to wide/tall builds
Turn-to-turn gameplay remains exceedingly boring and without far-reaching consequences without Rise and Fall installed