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Civilization VI: Gathering Storm brings climate change to the world’s attention

In its latest expansion, Firaxis takes Civilization into our immediate and terrifying future

Surprise! Civilization VI is getting a new expansion. Alright, fine, it’s not terribly surprising – it’s tough to shock you hobbyist generals, weaned as you are on Sid Meier’s decades-long lesson in preparation and patience. It’s especially tricky on this occasion, given that Civ VI’s second expansion was leaked in detail nearly a month ago.

Not everything is already known, though: back then we thought the pack was going to be called Vesuvius – the mother of all leaks, in a sense – but now we know its true name is Gathering Storm.

That’s a rather more ominous title, but don’t fear: we’re here to explain exactly what’s coming in that dark cloud of new content, out on February 14 next year. For the first time, Civ is taking on geology and climatology, in the form of floods, eruptions, and major climate change.

Yep, Gathering Storm introduces fossil fuels, and with non-renewable power comes grave responsibility – if you’re not careful you’ll reshape the map, with knock-on consequences for every nation. In this land grab, the land is shrinking.

Welcome (back) to the World Congress

We’ll answer the most urgent question first: yes, perhaps the most prominent traditional Civ feature that was missing from the base game returns. The World Congress is a key path towards diplomatic victory, where all the civilizations of the world are represented by delegates ready to chat it out. The main currency there is diplomatic favour, which you’ll earn in many ways: through Alliances, trade deals, city states, or keeping those annoying, petty promises the AI asks of you – not to settle near them, take their stuff, or park your tanks on their borders. Reasonable enough, I guess.

As before, the Congress meets for ordinary sessions at regular intervals, where you can vote on motions like banning luxuries or starting international projects. Firaxis says these will be more flexible than before, and the system will learn from Civ VI’s innovations too – emergencies, introduced in Rise and Fall, will now trigger special sessions, in which members will decide whether to actually trigger the relevant emergency event. That’s when all your Favour will come in handy, voting down delegates determined to punish you for dropping a nuke on another nation. Just to pick a morally reprehensible example.

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Be diplomatic, and keep it up

As the World Congress returns, so does the diplomatic victory. As in previous Civ incarnations, this requires you to be elected everyone’s BFF – actual title unconfirmed – at the World Congress. The difference now is that you’ll have to win several votes. Each one will award you a certain number of points towards your victory, and you’ll only be crowned world leader once you cross a particular threshold. The finish line is still being painted – Firaxis says it’s currently balancing the numbers to ensure that a diplomatic victory is roughly as hard as the others.

What’s especially exciting about this approach is that other leaders can propose motions to dock you world leader points, so it’s best not to get up to any scurrilous shenanigans in the time between votes. That means diplomatic victory is no longer a big one-and-done blowout after bribing city states – it might actually require sustained, non-military engagement with other powers. A little, dare I say it, diplomacy.

The wise man built his city away from the volcanoes

Ah – here’s where Vesuvius comes in. Natural disasters such as volcanoes, floods, and different kinds of storms (sandstorms, hurricanes, etc) are here to mess up your cities. They operate on a controlled random system: a given river will have a set number of times it ought to flood per game, with the likelihood of it doing so on any given turn increasing if it hasn’t yet, and vice versa. So there’s a steer towards a certain rate of disaster. An unhappy medium.

Firaxis says it doesn’t want to make these disasters feel too arbitrary – nobody likes it when games throw obstacles at you that are beyond your control. You’ll be able to tune the severity of natural disasters in the game settings, and the UI will give you plenty of information about environmental risks, such as the chance of flooding. And if you choose to build a city on the slopes of a volcano – well, you’ve really only got yourself to blame if it suddenly attracts more ash than the smoking area of your local pub.

You can mitigate the impact of some of these disasters however, with…

World-class engineering projects

You’re now able to alter the world map more directly than ever before. You can build new terrain improvements such as canals, tunnels, railways, bridges, and dams, and some of these are available nice and early to give you a bit of protection from the elements. Dams, for example, unlock in the Classical era, and can later be upgraded to their hydroelectric equivalent to power your cities. Because that’s a thing now…

A literal kind of power

Come the industrial era, you’ll be able to build a coal power plant. Most of the powerful late game buildings after this, such as the research lab, will draw on your city’s power. Funnily enough, there’s no actual downside to failing to supply them with electricity – they’ll still provide yields, but in paltry quantities. Those yields will be much higher if your citizens can charge their smartphones. You’ll need to track the quantity of coal and oil you’re burning each turn, too – which might trigger some ugly resource wars once nations reach that particular tech level. Oh, and while we’re on subjects a little too close to home…

Climate change comes to Civ

That’s right, Gathering Storm will model the effects of climate change. Burned fossil fuels in your power plants will belch carbon into the atmosphere, which will cause it to heat up over time. Keep this up into the late game and it will melt the polar ice caps, raising sea levels.

If you want to minimise your carbon footprint you’ll want to upgrade your power plants, pushing towards solar, wind, and hydroelectric energy. But saving the planet might not necessarily work towards your strategic advantage – if a rival has founded lots of coastal cities, rising seas might suit you.

In which case, drill baby drill.

Climate change pushes Civilization VI into a brand new era, and I mean that literally – a brand new Future Era extends the game another 30 to 40 years, bringing new, speculative technologies, such as carbon recapture and oceanborne habitats, into play.

Humongous scale

Firaxis claims Gathering Storm will be the “largest expansion ever developed for the series”. It will add nine new civs with eight new leaders, as well as 15 global units (compared to Rise and Fall’s four), nine new buildings, five new districts, two new city sets, nine new techs, ten new civics, seven new world wonders, and seven new natural wonders. There are also two new city sets, which sort-of hints that the new civs may hail from very different parts of the world.

Civ always was the game for megalomaniacs, and you know what they say about megalomaniacs – they think big.