The Civilization series is a staple of the strategy genre, dating back to the release of the original in 1991. Now, twenty five years later, developers Firaxis have crafted a beautiful new iteration of the formula with the idea of exploration and writing your own historical tale at its core. During a recent event in Sydney I was able to play almost the entirety of the game’s first 150 turns in a solo campaign, getting a taste for what this instalment will offer fans come launch day in October.

Sarah Darney, Civilization VI’s Associate Producer, was also on hand to talk about the development of the game. “We took the foundation that we had – most of what we had in Civilization V complete – and built on it,” she said. This was evident from the moment I sat down to play. Civilization is historically a complex game with a lot of options for players, but once again returning players will feel well at home with the menus and interfaces. “Doing that was a really good way to start to create a balance for the new things; and we’ve changed some things very much!”Civilization-VI-2The game’s engine was built from the ground up for Civilization VI, and you can see it in the presentation. It ran just a little slicker and felt more modern than the previous Civilization V, and quite notably looked great too. The new art style is almost fantastic, with a brush-stroke painted style to the characters and cartographic map approach to the world. While some of the historical characters seemed to look a little over caricatured, it all blends together into a neat style.

Easily my favourite new addition to the game though is the solution to fog of war on your world map. There’s no ugly greyed out areas or mysterious fog over areas you’ve explored but can’t see – rather it looks like an old, hand drawn map. Peaks mountain ranges are beautifully simplistic, and the ocean and coast looks almost more alive in its papery glory.

All of this comes down to the development of the game, working on a system of tradition, revival and addition.“We have a formula – we take a third of what we have, what we love, and that’s the foundation we build from. We take a second third, update it and freshen it up, then the final third is all brand new,” explained Sarah.txty7_civilization_vi_brazil_carnival_estadaCivilization has quite a dedicated fan base, so seeing the developers respecting the past but having the drive to do more with the series is quite refreshing. “That’s really helped us to make these successful titles, and to keep them balanced with the old and the new,” she concluded.

While any veteran will know that 150 turns in Civilization is barely scratching the surface of a grand campaign, it offered me plenty of time to get in the flow of a game and set up several cities along the coast. The map in Civilization VI becomes hugely important to the way you play, to where you place your structures and grow your city.

Mostly, you see this come into effect in the new ‘district’ system for VI, as cities are now unstacked. Each development offers a choice and has different requirements tied to it, and even varies faction to faction. “The adjacency bonuses and requirements keep it all tied together and you see your cities expand out,” noted Sarah. “It’s so alive and there’s a lot of decisions to make – creating a cool puzzle to put together.”txty7_civilization_vi_brazil_pedro_heroI chose to play as Brazil, lead by Pedro II, to explore the civics, culture and district systems more during my playthrough. One of his unique districts, the street carnival, benefited greatly from being next to rain forest tiles and offered huge cultural gains. Over 150 turns I’d developed quite a decent economy and began collecting influential people in my quest for scientific and cultural growth. As this is often the style I play his bonuses spoke to me right away, and considering his strengths the basic military developments he gained performed quite well.

He’s just one of several Leaders featured in the preview build, with France’s Catherine DeMedici proving an expert in espionage style play and Montezuma’s Aztecs offering a more combat focused campaign. For instance, Montezuma might not have as many districts, The but they do come with a special ability where eagle warriors can gain builders after killing units. It becomes a very powerful trait for the faction, with plenty of new faces and styles offering powerful abilities to promote their playstyles.CkdYVBKUoAA7WViWhile previous titles have often fallen to the military route of playing, Sarah confirmed that work had been done to open up the game for more victory conditions and stronger civic trees. “There’s always going to be warmongers, it’s a fun way to play,” she admitted, “but as a cultural player we’ve opened things up a lot through the civics tree. Governments and policies have become really powerful, as is diplomacy with other players. There’s plenty of options for players without just going the military route.”

By the final turns of the game I was left with a sense of open-endedness. Civilization campaigns are far from a quick affair, but it felt a shame to abandon the progress I’d made on laying out my cities and exploring the continent. It had a great ability to put you in that explorer mindset, making you wonder what resources or new faction could lie further down the coast or behind those peaks in the distance. For now, the series seems to be as strong as ever on its 25th anniversary, something Sarah suggests is due to that immersion I found in my time with the game.

“The 4x genre, people love it. There’s a base foundation there with very cool mechanics, but for me, Civilization as a franchise is very empowering because it lets you start at the beginning of time,” she closed. “Being this leader and expanding through history, writing your own story is a very cool draw.”

Civilization VI launches October 21st for PC.