It's been five months since Civ VI was released, and if you thought — like with Civ V — that you'd be waiting years for the game to get better, boy have I got news for you.
Through a combination of official content and the tireless work of the modding community, I've spent the last week playing a version of Civilisation VI that is already a lot better than the one I played last year and loved so much.
First, the stuff that has come from Firaxis themselves. We're still a long way off a proper expansion, the kind of thing that makes dramatic changes to the way the vanilla Civ experience works, but since launch we've seen two new Civs released, both of which are excellent.
As I've discussed, Poland is solid, straightforward pick for the kind of person who wields their Civ like a blunt instrument. And the recently-released Australia might be (WARNING: INHERENT BIAS) even better, if not for the uniqueness of some of its abilities (the way outback stations let you colonize the desert is a game-changer) then for the fact some of its traits, like coastal housing, are a solid dig at the country's current socio-political woes.
ancient australian proverb: mate we're not playing for sheep stations
— Luke Plunkett (@LukePlunkett) March 13, 2017
And I know scenarios can often be overlooked by Civ players, but the Viking effort is one of the best in years, maybe the best since the classic WWII one included with Civ II. It's got a great map, and its narrow focus on raiding and combat makes the most of the units at your disposal.
The biggest change to Civ VI post-launch, though, has come with the long-awaited opening of Steam Workshop support, allowing the game's modding community to step out of the hardcore forums and into the mainstream.
While it's still early days, there are already a number of notable mods available that you should be installing ASAP. Some, like the venerable R.E.D. Modpack, are just the latest installments in hugely-popular Civ V mods. Not that this is a bad thing; by changing the way units are displayed on the map, R.E.D. is an essential mod, and it's cool that it's up and running so early in Civ VI's lifespan.
The mod I really want to talk about, though, is CQUI, which is a complete user interface overhaul. I can't say this enough: if you only ever get one Civ VI mod, make it this one, because it makes a big difference to how you play, learn about and enjoy the game.
Here's a passage from my review of Civ VI, talking about one of the game's few sorepoints at launc:
There are systems in Civ VI that seem fantastic (and which are integral parts of the overall experience), like trade and religion, but which go woefully under-explained by both prompts and tutorials, and thus go under-utilised until you bury yourself in FAQs and tips, which is very unlike Civ.
There are menu screens — like diplomatic actions — which are important to the game and which you have to get through a lot over the course of 50-5000 hours, but which take 2-3 too many clicks to skip and dismiss.
CQUI fixes this, and more. The idea is that it attacks Civ VI's vanilla UI from two angles: it wants to make it faster, but it also wants to provide a lot more information to the player.
CQUI's city screen brings the more complex city systems menu up into the main view. You can also purchase with money and/or faith from the one screen as well.
It accomplishes the former by stripping the game of its annoying tendency to make you over-click. The discovery of new tech, for example, cuts out the screen showing you what you've just learned, and instead simply plays the audio in the background so you can go about your business.
And it gives you more information by removing the sub-layers of Civ VI's menus and just dumping everything in front of your face. You notice this most in city screens, but it trickles in all over the game.
No more pointless scrolling across the Great People screen!
This sounds like minor stuff, but in a game that you play for thousands of hours, these tweaks are life-changing, not just for the time saved itself, but for the extra knowledge you're picking up on screens that you might not have otherwise clicked on, or even gradually forgotten existed in the first place as your muscle memory kicks in.
I've found that by playing with CQUI installed, my games tend to flow more, with less static interruptions. I've also found myself learning a little more about how some of the game's systems operate, especially the factors involved with how a city grows and stays happy, and some of the finer points on international commerce courtesy of a cleaner trade screen.
Builders get this handy colour-coded display indicating what they can do on each tile.
Most of all though, as someone who already has a handle on the basics of the game, I appreciate the little tweaks and additions that just make the game easier to stay on top of. Having all the information I need only a click away, instead of 2-4, isn't just saving me time, it's making me feel like I've got more control over my decisions and how the game is unfolding.
Oh, and CQUI also introduces a production queue. So even if you're not down with all the UI changes, that might be enough to get you installing it on its own.
CQUI gives you a snapshot look at each Civ's score, research-per-turn and military strength which is updated in real-time. It's very handy.
So yeah! If you haven't played Civ VI in a while, I can definitely recommend jumping back in and trying some of this new stuff out. And while you're doing it, keep this dread thought in mind: as good as a couple of mods and pieces of DLC are, imagine what's going to happen when an actual expansion hits...