After a five year hiatus, the sun-bleached, Hawaiian-shirt clad dictatorial city-builder Tropico series has returned with its sixth incarnation. The franchise is nearing its twentieth anniversary at this point—the first game having released all the way back in 2001—but it’s hard to judge if this new incarnation is fundamentally better than any of the previous releases.
It definitely refines some of the less-popular elements of Tropico 5, but it introduces a few shortcomings of its own. Fans of the series will probably get their money's worth with this release, but it’s time to count five improvements and five missteps made by Tropico 6.
10 Better: It’s Less Streamlined Than Previous Games
Though it retained much of the humorous satire and open-ended gameplay of the previous games, Tropico 5 felt like the most streamlined, least complex entry in the long-running political sim franchise. It stripped a ton of options from the game and more or less railroaded players into one of a few set paths. Fortunately, Tropico 6 alleviates much of these issues and reintroduces a ton of mechanics. It’s a game that lets players forge their own path rather than stick to a relatively predetermined one, and there are more options and things to consider than in many of the proceeding Tropico titles.
9 Worse: Building Roads Is A Pain
The ability to build roads is one of the most basic, essential parts of any city building sim worth its salt. The issue is, while the mechanic certainly functions as intended in Tropico 6, it often feels unnecessarily finicky. It usually feels like a road simply won’t be placed down if there’s anything in the immediate vicinity, and these fussy restrictions can make city expansion much more of a headache than it needs to be.
Plus, it can be doubly frustrating in situations where money is tight and excess funds need to be allocated to making sure that the terrain is perfect for travel. It’s not so obnoxious that it severely impacts the gameplay, but it a nuisance nonetheless.
8 Better: There’s More Variety To The Terrain
Previous Tropico installments allotted the player a small island and asked them to develop and functioning society all while doing their best to stay in power. That may have been all well and good, but there’s no denying that things started to feel just a bit samey once the end game rolled around and most of the land had been utilized. Rather than a standard island, Tropico 6 grants the player an entire archipelago and tasks them with working out complicated transit systems and expanding their rule across the entire chain. It’s easier said than done, and it represents a major shift in the series’ basic gameplay strategies.
7 Worse: It’s Not Easy Being Presidente
This could be either a positive or negative attribute depending on player experience, but Tropico 6 isn’t all that forgiving to new players. The early game can be particularly punishing for those who don’t quite have a grasp on the game’s mechanics, and it can be really difficult to meet particular demands in the introductory years when islanders are just discovering the benefits of a sickle. Rapid expansion is unwise at this point, but that’s a double edged sword, as reaching the other side of the island to mine for coal could provide huge benefits. All in all, it’s just a little too unforgiving in the beginning, though that’s obviously a subjective standpoint.
6 Better: More Diverse Factions
One fault of the older Tropico games was that choices often boiled down to deciding which faction to appease and which faction to upset. Options like these were rarely all that nuanced, and it often felt like the game simply wanted you to pick the lesser of two evils. In Tropico 6, El Presidente will be expected to keep the thoughts and opinions of many different leaders and organizations in mind, and a single decision can have a rippling effect across multiple different alliances. What’s good for the Capitalists will upset the Communists, but it could also anger the militarists, environmentalists, religious groups, etc., and it adds a ton of weight to every choice made.
5 Worse: Balancing Issues, Fussy Laborers
While earlier Tropico entries did feel a good bit easier than this new title, they were also slightly less headache-inducing. A divisive element which isn’t necessarily new to the series, a huge part of the game revolves around developing the nation’s infrastructure and making sure workers can efficiently make it to their job sites. Their utter fussiness, along with some minor gripes which make balancing the government’s checkbook a bit of a pain (particularly early on), can make Tropico somewhat of a difficult game to like at first. While this won’t be an issue for many franchise veterans, newcomers will no-doubt be rolling their eyes quite a few times as citizens and government officials alike refuse to do as their told.
4 Better: More Room To Expand
As previously mentioned, Tropico 6 offers up quite a bit of room in which to play around. Earlier games in the series only allowed for some relatively sparse landscapes which saw the nation’s rapid expansion grind to a sudden halt. Here, however, there’s almost too much room, and it could take a good amount of time to generate a civilization spanning from one shore to another. These are still islands, of course, and land will need to be apportioned carefully, but Tropico 6 allows for more freedom when it comes to expansion. If money were no object, this could be any city builder’s dream.
3 Worse: And Justice For All
The main draw of many of the Tropico games has always been their ability to allow players to step into the shoes of a tropical dictator. There aren’t many sim games which outright emphasize the all-powerful option, but this series asks fans to fully embrace their inner El Presidente. That said, Tropico 6 almost feels like a step backward in that it feels more rewarding to take a humanitarian route.
While experienced players can still manage to run a dictatorship without going under or being overthrown, it feels like this title promises different play styles while emphasizing the moral high ground. We aren’t playing Tropico to right any wrongs, we just want to sit back and watch as the peasants build monuments to our greatness.
2 Better: Piracy On The High Seas
Tropico 6 reintroduces a piracy mechanic which can have a definite impact on the outcome of a particular campaign. While pirates can do quite a few legally and morally gray things, they are perhaps best known for their ability to steal monuments from around the world and transport them to El Presidente’s small island nation. It’s a strange inclusion, but a welcome one. The last time Tropico emphasized swashbuckling adventure was the original game’s 2003 sequel appropriately titled Tropic 2: Pirate Cove. While it’s more or less a passive mechanic which allows players to gain resources without direct input, it’s great to see this kind of thing make a comeback in the series.
1 Worse: The Visuals Aren’t Great
City sims and games focused on diplomacy and strategy aren’t typically known for their visual appeal, but Tropico 6 comes across as noticeably dated on that front. While it doesn’t damage the overall experience, and most of the title’s textures are at least acceptable, this game doesn’t look all that different from Tropico 5 in terms of graphics. This is by no means indicative of overall quality, but it would have been nice to see a definite increase in visual fidelity. As it stands, unfamiliar players would have a tough time telling the series’ two most recent games apart, and Tropico hasn’t really received much of a face lift since the third installment, which released a decade ago. Again, not necessarily bad, but not really a point in the game’s favor, either.