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Civilization 6's Aztec civ is the least-evil kind of pre-order bonus

We've seen some pretty slimy pre-order incentives in recent years, and even the least offensive methods have basically become commonplace for big budget games. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided's now infamous "Augment your Pre-order" campaign was so egregious it had to be scrapped entirely. The new trend: Gears of War 4 offered exclusive skins and even access to the game four days early if you ponied up $40 more for the special edition, and Battlefield 1's "Early Enlister Edition" offers items skins and access to the game three days early for a $20 higher price tag.

So in a world where pre-order incentives can sometimes feel exploitative, tempting gamers to buy before we even know if the game is any good, Civilization 6's pre-order bonus stands out as a surprisingly decent compromise. The Aztecs—a civ that's been in the base version of every game in the main series—will be exclusive to those who pre-order Civ 6, but only for 90 days. Approximately three months after release, Montezuma and the Aztec people will become free DLC, essentially being incorporated into the base game at no cost.

Huh. So it's a pre-order exclusive, and sort of gated day-one DLC, but it will eventually be available to everyone. And not just available, but completely free. That seems OK? It's certainly not an appealing idea to pitch to those who are deadset against pre-ordering, but it's not nearly as offensive as the pre-order schemes we've seen before it, where the Aztecs would eventually become available to purchase. And it's certainly better than if pre-ordering was the only way to get them.

This seems like 2K and Firaxis attempting to have their cake and eat it too—trying to incentive pre-orders while also placating those who would condemn any sort of exclusive content gated behind doing so. The only difference in content between pre-ordering or not is how much patience you have to only play the 19 other leaders Civ 6 has to offer for the next 90 days. But for people who've grown attached to the Aztec civ and were understandably expecting them in the base game, I get how this could be frustrating, too.

It's a hard balance to find. We almost always recommend against pre-ordering—especially since games on Steam often drop to half price within seven months—and it's very easy for day-one DLC, loot boxes, and other microtransactions to feel exploitative. But at the same time, publishers of big games are desperate to make up for their massive budgets, and game prices have stayed at $60 since 2005. We have to recognize that games are expensive to make while still calling out scuzzy pre-order incentives and microtransactions when we see them.

And if pre-order incentives must be a necessary evil, I hope to see more games handle them in a similar manner to Civ. Adding gated pre-order content is almost never a player-first decision—it's a marketing tool used to boost pre-release sales—but this is probably one of the least-bad ways you can do it. And while we've really enjoyed most of the changes in Civ 6 so far (especially its music) it's always prudent to patiently wait for reviews when it comes to spending your hard-earned cash on a game. Unfortunately, that patience also has to extend 90 days past launch for Aztec fans.

When you do start playing, be sure to check out our Civ 6 guide, and our breakdown for each of Civ 6's leaders and their unique stuff. 

Tom is PC Gamer’s Associate Editor. He enjoys platformers, puzzles and puzzle-platformers. He also enjoys talking about PC games, which he now no longer does alone. Tune in every Wednesday at 1pm Pacific on to see Tom host The PC Gamer Show.