I have been trying to keep my excitement for Civilization VI in check ever since its announcement back in May. The struggle has been monumental, though. There is after all the running joke that the even-numbered entries are always the good ones (which does have a ring of truth to it – II and IV were exceptional) and the confirmation that Sean Bean is doing Civilopedia duties had me cheering at ridiculously loud levels. After all, who doesn’t want to hear the dulcet tones of Sharp / Boromir / Ned Stark telling you all about that Pottery technology you just finished researching?

There are more serious reasons why I’m excited, but before we get into them I want to bring up an important point. Despite spending hundreds of hours playing it, Civilization V only really achieved its potential with the release of the Brave New World expansion. Meanwhile, Beyond Earth struggled to keep me engaged in the long term due to its balance issues, despite the fact I liked how the usual progression mechanics had been mixed up. Since then, other 4X strategy titles have come along and left their mark, but only one really gave the genre leader a run for its money – Endless Legend.

I should point out that Amplitude’s title wasn’t perfect. For example, I wasn’t a huge fan of how the in-depth combat was handled (and how the auto-fight system was utterly broken) but the polish on familiar gameplay mechanics along with adding its own spin in other areas made it one of the stand-out games of 2014. Its Winter seasons made sure other factions weren’t always the immediate danger, and faction-specific quests gave replayability beyond just starting on a new procedurally generated map. As for its visuals, the informative UI and colourful world tiles made it more pleasing to look at over long sessions, and the fantasy meets sci-fi feel of its soundtrack was a delight to listen to again and again.

Another personal critique was how set regions didn’t seem to work as well as they could have, but I did enjoy how districts were a key part of a city’s growth beyond their initial tile. It not only gave cities grow some much-needed visualisation but allowed players to focus on specific areas of expertise depending on the available resources. So, upon hearing Civ VI would be doing something similar I was very pleased. Science and tech buildings, as well as wonders, will now take up a tile in the world, meaning everything will no longer be crammed into one space. This will not only give each city a visual sense of progression but allow players to know what other civs have without needing to send an emissary or a spy.

Speaking of the visuals, there has been plenty of debate over the stylised (or “cartoony”) art style that Civ VI is adopting, but I personally love it. The colour of revealed tiles is complimented by the cel-shaded presentation from the fog of war, which I feel will only further encourage exploration (something that’s explored in the latest First Look video embedded above.) I’m also glad that the clean UI of Civ V is mostly unchanged, despite the new tweaked gameplay mechanics for such aspects as city management and civic policies. In fact, the way the series has evolved over time has always been expertly done as the gameplay is familiar enough to jump right in. From what we’ve seen of Civ VI so far I imagine it will be no different.

There are a number of other things I could wax lyrical about – how Workers have limited uses, how fighting units can now be bolsters by others (eg. Artillery backing up Riflemen), how each AI leader will have their own agendas, or how trade routes can now connect up cities without a need for roads first – but what has excited me the most is probably the most superficial thing out of all of them. I am of course referring to the reactive soundtrack. The Civilization series has always been strong in this area (I still hear the midi themes of Civ II play in my head from time to time) but the confirmation that the music will adapt based on who you play as, what you do, and who you meet is an impressive feat both creatively and technically. Then again, I’m a self-confessed audiophile, so I was always going to focus on this aspect.

Of course, the big news this week that composer Christopher Tin is returning to provide Civ IV’s theme is a big deal too. His theme for Civ IV, Baba Yetu, holds the honour of being the first piece of video game music to win a Grammy award, arguably laying the foundations for the mainstream recognition other soundtracks, such as Journey and the numerous Final Fantasy games, have enjoyed since. It also manages to transcend it source material, as shown in the video embedded above of it being used for an extravagant fountain display in Dubai.

Seriously, I shudder to think how much that must have cost to put together.

At this point, there’s not much else we can say, and the question of how it plays over an entire session (which is arguably the most important thing) remains unanswered, but what has been shown so far look incredibly promising. There are a number of games that I want to get this year, but Civilization VI has more or less queue-jumped its way to the top of my list. Come October I expect I’ll be saying “one more turn” and keeping a very close eye on Gandhi once again.