As a series, Sid Meier's Civilization has had a rather unique view of humanity. Though it glories in our diversity and celebrates our greatest achievements Civ is, at heart, a cutthroat game. The latest installment, Civilization VI, is no exception, and its new expansion, Gathering Storm showcases both humanity's greatest achievements and the enormous prices at which they are won. Gathering Storm is Civilization VI's second expansion, adding expanded diplomatic options, new civilizations, a new Future Era, and dynamic environmental effects modeling everything from volcanic eruptions to drought to climate change. A river of content that threatens at every turn to burst its banks, Gathering Storm delivers on its promise to make Civilization VI the most compelling and richest installment in the series to date.
On the sunnier side of things, starting in the Medieval Era, the civilizations of the world will meet in the World Congress, a beloved feature from Civilization V's Brave New World expansion that didn't make the cut for VI. At ever-shortening intervals, the Congress will convene to vote on two Resolutions and, occasionally, one-off shared projects like the World's Fair or a vote to diplomatically elect one civilization as world ruler for the newly-reinstated Diplomatic Victory.
Resolutions are themselves split into two competing options - a Mercenaries Treaty, for instance, could either dramatically increase or reduce the cost of producing military units. Each Civ is guaranteed one vote but can purchase additional votes through a new resource called Diplomatic Favor. This can be accrued through government, suzerainty over city-states, and even bought and sold between players like any other resource. This means that an effective diplomatic strategy involves actually interacting with the other civilizations in the game, buying up their precious Diplomatic Favor to cash in once Congress is in session. This isn't to say that Favor is useless for warmongers, however. Having clout within Congress is an excellent way to quash any attempts at declaring your rise to power an international emergency, letting you pick your enemies off one at a time.
The civilizations themselves show signs of a design team hitting its stride, as well. Like the Shoshone or Venice from Civilization V, new factions like the Maori and dual-civ switch hitter Eleanor of Aquitaine represent interesting new breaks from the traditional Civ formula. The Maori, for instance, begin the game at sea, taking the first few turns of every game to scout out the ideal place to make landfall. Eleanor represents a change in a different direction altogether. Vanilla Civilization VI established the idea of decoupling civilization abilities from leader abilities, and Eleanor takes the idea one step further by being a leader playable as either England or France. These are novel ideas well executed, but aren't in and of themselves worth the price of admission. If you're going to be hooked by Gathering Storm, it will be by an even bigger change. Climate change, to be precise.
As Alister MacQuarrie over at Rock, Paper, Shotgun pointed out in their review of Rise and Fall, Civilization VI's first expansion, Civilization has, as a franchise, endorsed a philosophy of almost limitless expansion. Settling a new city, building a new factory, clear-cutting forests to strip mine the hills on which they grow - these are all, in game terms, almost unequivocally good. Your resources can be strained, but never truly exhausted. Questioning the inherent goodness of human progress, however broadly defined, is left to Civilization's sci-fi spinoffs, Alpha Centauri and Civilization: Beyond Earth. Here on terra firma, it is a question of whether or not growth is desirable right now, not at all.
In previous Civ games, it's a question of whether or not growth is desirable right now, not at all.
Gathering Storm tweaks that, albeit only somewhat. Alongside a new system whereby resources like coal, oil, and uranium are consumed by power plants a player needs for high-tier buildings, Gathering Storm introduces climate change. Every little bit of carbon that civs put into the atmosphere begins to ratchet up the global temperature, and as the mercury rises, so too will the oceans, first flooding and then eventually completely submerging coastal tiles all over the map. What's worse, as the climate grows more unstable, the hurricanes, droughts, and other natural disasters grow more intense, threatening to make the planet increasingly uninhabitable for anyone without the resources to extensively prepare. Without late-game tech and a significant investment of time and resources, the harm players do to the world will often as not be irreversible.
Carbon output is calculated collectively and over time, meaning that even if you managed to cover your territory with enough solar farms and wind turbines to never have to see a smokestack again, your less-scrupulous neighbors will still happily burn the planet down with you in it. This is both a depressingly accurate analog to how the politics of climate change operate in the real world and also led to one of the most poignant moments in my time with Gathering Storm when I stared, helplessly, as my rapidly-industrializing neighbors carried the planet well past the point of no return. In fact, in none of my games did humanity avert the in-game maximum of 3.5C warming. In game after game, swathes of land were swallowed by the sea. Mother Nature is the secret bonus civilization added in Gathering Storm, and she is as capricious as she is cruel. Above all, if Rise and Fall was Civilization trying to focus in on telling the story of one civilization, Gathering Storm is the game's attempt to narrate the life (and death) of an entire planet.
Ultimately, it's hard to say that Sid Meier's Civilization VI: Rising Storm isn't worth the price of admission, but at $50 CAD for an expansion, I would be remiss in my review not to admit that it's a very steep price. If what I said sounds irresistible, I can't tell you that you won't have fun with Rising Storm. If that price tag gave you pause, though, I advise you perhaps hang on for the first sale before giving it a shot. When the flood waters subside, you'll find plenty of fertile ground waiting for you.
Overall score: 4/5. Interesting climate mechanics and satisfying diplomacy, but with a daunting price tag.
A copy of this expansion was purchased by TheGamer for this review.