Gathering Storm is, in many ways, an expansion that’s been hotly anticipated by the Civ community. With Rise and Fall largely rehashing the few offerings that didn’t carry over from Civilization 4 and 5 to the base game, some in the community have been wondering when they’d finally get something new.

Whilst some aspects of this expansion are familiar, the main selling point – a world that reacts to Global Warming – is certainly a new and intriguing take all of its own… But is the expansion pack really an essential, or is it better to wait for the price to cool off in a sale..? If you’re after just the breakdown of the Global Warming stuff, please, skip ahead to the appropriate section. Otherwise, let’s first look at the undeniable positives of any new Civ expansion: New civilisations!

Once again, we have 8 new civilisations, but 9 new leaders – But the interesting thing about leader 9 is that she is, infact, available to two civilisations.

Eleanor of Aquitaine is available to both England and France. Historically, Eleanor ruled the duchy of Aquitaine entirely herself, and ruled France alongside Louis VII for a time. They ended up divorcing, and Eleanor married the Duke of Normandy, Henry, through which she would bare the future English king, Richard the Lionheart. Considered a wise leader, she ruled England for Richard as Regent when he was abroad (Especially during the Crusades). Her appearance changes depending on which nation she leads – As Queen of France, her looks is regal and refined. As Regent of England, her look is more informal, with her hair done up with a floral crown. Her ruler ability, however, is the same for both nations – ‘Court of Love’ (Named for the ideal of Courtly Love) makes it so that each piece of art causes an extra 1 Loyalty Loss per turn, with cities that fall to loyalty pressure from Eleanor’s empire joining instantly instead of becoming a Free City. Not bad!

The other new cultures and leaders include Phoenicia (Led by Queen Dido), the Ottomans (Led by Sultan Suleiman), the Mali (Led by Mansa Musa), the Inac (Led by Sapa Inca, Pachacuti), and Hungary (Led by King Matthias Corvinus). Sweden also returns, led by Queen Kristina, bringing with it the Nobel Prize competition when in a game; the Maori (Led by the navigator, Kupe) and Canada (Led by Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier) are the two new cultures to the franchise.

The Maori are similar to the Polynesian culture of Civilization 5 in that both can travel the oceans immediately, but there are quite a few differences: Their unit, the Toa, replaces the Swordsman and has the ability to build the defensive tile improvement, the Pā, once without being consumed. The Marae building replaces the Theatre District’s Ampitheatre, and adds a bonus to Culture and Faith – Perhaps a little less useful than the Polynesian Moai stacking you could do in the previous title, but at the same time more diverse. Kupe’s leader ability, Kupe’s Voyage, will boost starts by placing settlers safely in the ocean on starting, and providing Science and Culture bonuses before settling – With a free builder once a settlement has been made, with bonus Population, Housing and Amenity to the settlement itself. Unimproved forests and rainforests provide the Maori with production boosts, and fishing boats are culture bombs that have a bonus to food production. One unfortunate downside to the culture, though, is the inability to earn Great Writers, presumably as a nod to the mainly oral traditions of this people. But even with that loss, this is still quite a culture!

Canada was an addition that took many people by surprised when announced, similar to how Australia was met – New cultures are always welcome, but the younger the culture is, the more uncertain players seem to be. Similar to Australia, Canada is a defensive culture – Its civilisation ability, Four Faces of Peace, mean it is unable to be the target of surprise wars… But also cannot declare them, or wars on City States in general. They gain a Diplomatic Favour per 100 Tourism points, and plus 100% Diplomatic Favour upon completing an Emergency, and Laurier’s leader ability – Canadian Expeditionary Force – ensures that AI Canada will always try to help people out, which is nice. Hockey Rinks can be built on the colder-leaning tiles, and function similarly to Scotland’s Golf Courses (Although with a production and food leaning over income). The Mountie is a pretty interesting unit – A Modern Cavalry unit, this unit is able to establish one National Park without being consumed. Although slightly weaker than traditional cavalry of the era, Mounties gain +5 Combat Strength when within two tiles of *any* National Park, and an additional +5 if that park is Canadian, and they ignore an enemy’s zone of control, so that’s alright. Welcome to Canada, Civ!

All the new leaders have been fantastically realised as 3D models, with careful consideration to each’s actual appearance (where possible) as well as their time period and culture. Each new civilisation also comes with a variety of wonderfully composed songs, both ambient and thematic.

The expansion adds 7 new Natural Wonders, and 7 constructed wonders to the game. The natural wonders include the Chocolate Hills, Gobustan, Ik-kil, Mato Tipila, Mount Vesuvius, Pamukkale and the Sahara el Beyda. The constructed Wonders include the Golden Gate Bridge, Great Bath, Machu Picchu, Meenakshi Temple, the Országház, the Panama Canal, and the University of Sankore.

For the Natural Wonders, we have: The Chocolate Hills are a four-tile series of passable, curved hills that provide +1 Food and Science and +2 Production per tile, with the set up of the wonder being ideal for a National Park; the Gobustan mud volcanoes are three tiles in size, are passable, and provide +3 Culture and +1 Production per tile; the Ik-kil fresh water sinkhole is an impassable 1 tile wonder, but provides a massive 50%+ Production to creating wonders and districts in surrounding tiles. The Mato Tipila is a 1-tile, impassable butte that produces +1 Faith and Production; the volcano, Mount Vesuvius, is a 1 tile impassable +1 Production bonus. Mount Vesuvius is curious in that, whilst it’s arguably the most risky and least rewarding wonder, it’s also the only one that really takes advantage of the expansion’s gimmick, being a volcano and all (Gobustan doesn’t function as a traditional volcano, as it is a mud volcano). At any rate, there’s also the Pamukkale hot springs, which are a sprawling, 2 tile impassable wonder that provides fresh water to surrounding tiles, as well as +1 to surrounding Amenities (+2 if adjacent to an Entertainment Complex). And finally, the Sahara el Beyda formation is a passable, four tile wonder that is arguably one of the expansion’s best: Good for a National Park, each tile also provides +1 Science, Culture, and +4 Gold! Not bad for a series of unique calcium structures out in the desert.

The constructed Wonders cover a vast array of time periods. In the Ancient era, we have the Great Bath at Mohenjo-daro – A relic of the Indus civilisation that inhabited Pakistan, this wonder provides +3 Housing, +1 Amenity, Flood resistance to the river its built upon (Resulting in -50% Production and Food yields from Flood damage), and +1 Faith for each time a tile belonging to the Great Bath’s city has been flooded. The Classical Era offers Machu Picchu, hailing from the Andes of Peru, providing a boost to income with +4 Gold, but also an adjacency bonus to all mountain tiles, which is kind of neat.

The Medieval Era provides two wonders – The first of which is the Meenakshi Temple of India, which provides a +3 to Faith, +2 Gurus, cheaper Gurus, and +5 Religious Combat strength to Religious units next to Gurus (And +1 movement speed). But this isn’t super useful as it might first appear, because Gurus are still kind of useless, even with this Wonder. On the completely other end of that spectrum, though, is the other Medieval Era Wonder, the University of Sankore. This esteemed Mali house of learning is pretty generous with the bonuses: +3 Science, +1 Faith, +2 Great Scientist Points per turn, domestic trade routes to the housing city provide +1 Faith and international trade routes provide +1 Science and Gold – And all trade routes provide a separate +2 to Science. Goodness, is it the global warming, or is this one hot wonder..? It does, however, require a desert AND a pre-existing University to be built, though.

The Industrial Era grants players access to the Panama Canal wonder of, well, Panama. The canal acts as one of the new canal improvements do, that is to provide passage over land for ships, and provides two additional canal improvements on either side – so really, it’s just a time saver if anything. The Országház is another Industrial Era Wonder, and is infact the Parliament House of Hungary – It provides +4 Culture, and 100% Diplomatic Favour per turn if the Suzerian of a City State.

The final constructed Wonder of the expansion is the Golden Gate Bridge from the US’ West Coast. It joins two land hexes that are separated by one tile of water, allowing units to cross without embarking and creates a road on the tiles it begins and ends at. The bonuses for the Wonder don’t completely make a lot of sense to me though – it gives +100% Tourism to Tile Improvements and National Parks (Which, ok, bridge, travel, and providing something more useful than 1 tile water travel), but it goes on to give +3 Amenities and the frankly absurd +4 Appeal to all tiles within its city. Why? It’s a bridge, Firaxis. One that can’t even be built on lake tiles, making a very situational wonder.

The World Congress from Civilization V’s expansion, Brave New World, returns, but with some changes. One major change is just how early this Congress can begin – You no longer have to have met everyone and be in the Industrial Era; instead, the Congress forms at the very end of the Classical Era, and players you haven’t met will simply be obscured as unknown leaders. That’s a little quick, but I guess they want to make sure you really experience this part of the expansion. Sessions take place every 30 turns in standard play, and have their own phase (So you won’t have to juggle your turn AND voting at the same time).

Resolutions this time around are random, but based off player actions in the world – Nations that are pushing up against each other, for example, may have the ‘Border Control Treaty’ resolution come up to vote. There will be two Resolutions to vote on, and the targets available for the Resolution can be decided by the players. And when a Resolution is chosen for voting on, it must pass in one of two distinct and opposing ways: Something will either benefit the matter greatly, or work completely against it. Let’s go back to the Border Control Treaty example for a moment – You have the option to vote for shutting down border growth via Culture, or the option to vote for making any new districts Culture bombs. There’s no ‘Oh, it just didn’t pass’ this time around. The dynamic is a little more interesting than Resolutions in the Congress of the past, but at the same time it feels a little odd to have to vote for such extremes. Still, the potential to screw over other players by sabotaging matters important to them is very much there, and Resolutions will only last until the next Congress session anyway, so it’s worth it in my opinion.

That being said though, something myself and other players have notices is that AI players don’t care what you vote for in Congress – Even if it affects them directly. It seems a bit weird to be able to actively screw an AI over and them just… Let you get away with it. I hope this is something that gets looked into soon, to be honest. But with multiplayer matches this obviously isn’t an issue.

The total number of votes allowed to a nation is determined by that nation’s Diplomatic Favor – A new currency that represents influence with other nations. The more Diplomatic Favor spent during a Congress session, the more votes one gets for the resolution on offer. Easy. Diplomatic Favor is earned by having a Government type (1 point per turn for the base government, 2 for the next tier, 3 for the last), being the Suzerian of a City-State (+1 per turn, per City-State), and having active Alliances with other players, with stronger alliances providing more Diplomatic Favor. Diplomatic Favor, just like any resource, may be traded with other civilisations (Even before the World Congress founds, actually), except in Peace Treaties… And when voting for a Resolution, if your picked option doesn’t win, you get all the Diplomatic Favor you spent on votes back; if your option wins, but it’s a different target than what you wanted, you only get 50% back.

As the Eras progress, the Congress will also have the chance to offer what are called Discussions – Essentially, additional Resolutions that create World Games or Nobel Prize competitions, each offering various bonuses upon placing. A third Resolution will also pop up around the begining of the Modern Era, allowing players to give – or take – Diplomatic Victory points from other players. This is how one achieves a Diplomatic Victory now; by gaining 100 Diplomatic Victory points in the Congress. Cozy up to those city-states!

Another thing that can happen is that special sessions can be called in response to an Emergency – Be that a particularly aggressive player, or being hit by a devastating natural disaster. Rise and Fall’s Emergency mechanic has thus been retooled into the Congress as a result. To bring the matter to a vote, a player needs to spend 30 Diplomatic Favor to raise the Emergency session, and Emergency sessions can only take place 15 turns after the previous regular session. That being said, the Emergency options you’re able to call to a vote do not expire so long as the initial conditions are still valid – You can raise an Emergency a whole Era or two after the fact, in this case.

Requesting Aid in Emergency sessions doesn’t create a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ Resolution either – Instead, it creates something similar to the World Games, a competition to see who can help out the most, with small bonuses for the highest donors. Always good to give people a reason to help their enemies.

Although not the focus of this expansion, the World Congress mechanic is certainly a welcome addition, and one that feels a lot more impactful than Brave New World’s. That being said, the lack of retaliation and even the Diplomatic Favor refunding isn’t ideal in my opinion – The first should definitely be patched, and the second kind of removes a lot of risk from the whole voting process. Perhaps a 50% refund would have been better? Still, better to have the Congress than not!

With this expansion, we also see the return of the Future Era – An era based on cutting edge technologies, as well as ideas of what tomorrow could bring. There are 8 new technologies to research in this era, and all have random pre-requisites; players can research self-aware AI, to nanotech materials, atmospherically stable habitats, and off-world missions to name a few. Some future-y units, like high-speed carriers or laser infantry, would have been cool, but we did at least get the return of the Giant Death Robot!

There’s also a variety of new civics and, three new government types: Digital Democracy, Synthetic Technocracy, and Corporate Libertarianism. Digital Democracy provides a bonus +2 Amenities to cities, and +2 Culture per district, but -3 Combat Strength from units; Synthetic Technocracy provides +3 Power to all cities and +30% Production, but -10 Tourism; Corporate Libertarianism provides +1 Resource per Improved Resource, +10% Production to all Commercial Hubs/Encampments, but -10% Science.

There’s also been an overhaul of the general resources, too. All resources have been categorised as one of two things: Materials, and Fuel.

Materials cover all the traditionally finite resources used to construct units and to trade – Sources such as marble, iron, and the like. Fuel, however, is the much more important category: Fuel is used to power a lot of things in the late game. From the Industrial Era onwards, players will need to begin harnessing at least one of the three main Fuel resources: Coal, Oil, and Uranium. These resources may be used similar to Materials, being set aside for the production of specific units (eg. those Giant Death Robots), or used to power cities. And you *will* need to power cities: Without power, buildings from beyond the Industrial Era will only work at 1/3 capacity!

In order to utilise fuel for cities, an appropriate Power Plant needs to be built-in a city’s Industrial District. Each Power Plant will require resources to maintain it – The good news, though, is that, with the proper placing, one Power Plant can power more than one city at a time! The bad news is, the more power that’s needed by multiple buildings, and multiple cities, the more Fuel is needed. This can be problematic as, should you run short, the entire Power Plant will simply not power anything instead of only some things. I can understand why the devs went this route, but still, darn!

As the game progresses, players will be able to research renewable energy sources, allowing them to free up vital Fuel where it’s needed more. Players can create Wind Farms, Solar Power Plants, and Geothermal Plants (On the new terrain feature, Geothermal Vents). This energy is only used to power cities, and each city ideally needs its own renewable to work effectively. One good thing about renewables though, is that they don’t raise global CO2 levels at all.

And now we reach the core aspect of this whole expansion: The Disasters!

When first creating a game using the Gathering Storm ruleset, you’ll see a new option available: Disaster Intensity. This sets the frequency, and impact, of the natural disasters in the game, especially before the Modern Era where your own actions affect these rates more. The game can be set to 0 – disasters off – or up to 4. At this level, natural disasters will be a much more common occurrence, and disasters like Volcano eruptions can effect up to two whole tiles away – The game starts off with the suggestion of level 2, and I’d certainly recommend this level unless you’re after a difficult challenge from the very terrain itself. I bet you play on Diety with Barbarians on, though, don’t you?

Disasters are largely tied to their climate, and their terrains. For example, you will only get blizzards closer to the poles, whilst tornadoes will harass you around the equator. But some can happen anywhere: Any river at all can flood, storms don’t care where you are because they’ll have a variant for that (Hello, Sand Storm), and whilst droughts will mostly hit arid lands, they can occur in other places too. All of these disasters will span a few tiles in size (With a flood bloating naturally along a river’s path), and will take a few turns to clear. They will damage, if not destroy, improvements, Districts, and even units. If a disaster hits a city, it may even permanently reduce population. Most of these disasters will stay where they occur, but storms will happily drift about during their existence.

But, as there is danger, there is also benefit: Many disasters also bring benefits with them. Floods and recent volcanic eruptions bring more fertile soil with them, increasing yields; storms can similarly fertilise, or help unearth previously unknown mineral deposits. Even droughts can allow you to call for aid in the World Congress, providing the potential to make far more than you lost at cost to your enemies.

But perhaps the most drastic, and certainly least beneficial, disaster is coastal flooding. Coastal flooding occurs when that pesky, immovable ice around the poles of the map begins to melt due to climate change, raising the global sea level. Tiles initially at risk of falling victim to Coastal flooding will be marked with a little wave icon, designating them as Coastal Lowland tiles, so you can have a general idea where things will begin; when a tile is flooded, it becomes unworkable, and will require a flood wall (Modern Era tech) built around it to restore it. But if you don’t salvage these tiles, and the water level rises again, that tile is lost forever, with all improvements on it destroyed (With the exception of the ever-invincible Wonders, which presumably just become underwater ruins for scuba divers to explore). Submerged tiles act like regular coast tiles, though, so you can still build any appropriate improvement on them to recover the space, at least.

As previously mentioned, before the Modern Era, disasters will be more or less dictated by that Disaster Intensity scale you initially set at the start of a game. But bets are off when the Modern Era rolls around. You see, the game tracks a lot of what you’re doing in the title, and quietly calculate the CO2 levels based off that. You guys been deforesting a lot? That’s a climate change. Had a billion coal factories in the Industrial Era? That’s a climate change. Generating a lot of Fuel-reliant power? Oh, you better believe that’s a climate change.

Climate Change will progress along seven different stages, the more CO2 is around and thus more ice cap melting: At Stage 2, those Coastal Lowland tiles will flood; by Stage 3, the tiles higher than them will. At Stage 4, Coastal Lowlands will be Submerged; at Stage 5, the tiles higher than the previously flooded tiles will flood. At Stage 6, the second set of tiles will Submerge, and at Stage 7, you’ll be left with islands made from what were previously mountains. And all the while, disasters – both their occurrence and severity – will increase. As you look at the Climate Change graph, you’ll be able to see what sorts of disasters are affected by what stage. Neat, but ominous. This graph also shows how the climate has changed since the Ancient Era, as well as allows you to view a record of every previous disaster (Including Nuclear Fallout).

I’ve found these additions to be exciting challenges, and a real breath of fresh air for the franchise. I’m kind of surprised they never attempted anything similar, looking back – To see a map transform into a living world, whose shape you help dictate, is pretty amazing, after all. It is also a sober reminder of what could lay ahead in our own future, should our own civilisations fail to act.

Overall, Civilization VI: Gathering Storm, is not only a great expansion pack, but truly a game changer for the franchise. Deeper diplomacy returns with the World Congress, the new Fuel mechanics work well, and there’s so many great Civs, both returning and new! This expansion pack is excellent, but does have one or two issues regardless – The lack of reprisal from Resolution voting, and the missed opportunity of more Future Tech stuff in particular. But those aren’t the main features of this expansion, it should be noted – And what is the main feature works wonderfully well.

8.1 / 10