Civilization V puts history into perspective, all within its beautifully encapsulated experience. It perfectly captures the glee of discovering a new world, and the horrors of finding it already settled. It replicates the paranoia of being surrounded by strangers, and the thrill of conquering their lands. With Civilization V: Gods & Kings, Firaxis expands on the formula established with the 2010 release with a hefty helping of new additions, and while they don’t prove to reinvent the experience, they certainly give fans an excuse to start some new expeditions through history.
Gods & Kings brings with it nine new playable civilizations, over two-dozen new units, and a slew of buildings and wonders. There’s also a completely new scenario called Empires of the Smoky Skies, which veers away from reality in favor of a Victorian-era steampunk future filled with airships and men in top hats. These additions are all wonderful, and flesh out the minute-to-minute gameplay with new options, but they’re completely eclipsed by the two largest bullet points on the box: the return of Religion and Espionage, both of which found homes in previous incarnations but were left out of the initial release of Civ V.
Religion finds its roots during the early years of founding a new society, allowing civilizations to specialize in faith – a new resource pool tied to many of the new abilities. After enough faith is gained you’re able to form a full-fledged religion, which comes with customizable bonuses to let you build the belief-system around your play style. Those looking to win a game through might can buff their holy warriors and purchase units with faith, whereas those interested in scientific or cultural victories can adapt their religion to those.
But besides picking and choosing the passive buffs you want, you’re also able push your religion onto others with Great Prophets and Missionaries, who can be placed outside of cities to spread the good word. Cities, too, passively spread it themselves, creating “pressure” on nearby towns that slowly converts their people. This can have a nice domino effect, and there is some fun strategy to attempting to convert a rival’s people to your religion in hopes of being able to use your passive buffs against them.
The power of religion fades in the later years of the game, proving to be less important as the world puts down their crosses and picks up powerful firearms. It’s here that the other new arrival, Espionage, begins to build steam. During the Renaissance, players will unlock spies, who can be sent to infiltrate rival cities, rig elections in city-states to raise favor and steal technology and information from cities.
Espionage has less of an impact against real-life players – as spies progressively lose the ability to leak information on motives and plans in the cities they inhabit – but it still piles more options and strategy into the already-established diplomacy mechanics to create a more robust experience.
The expansion’s weaknesses and strengths are one in the same: they fold too neatly into the Civilization experience to the point that they’re sometimes unnoticeable as “additions.”We played full games of Gods & Kings without remembering that we had the option to use Espionage, and even when we went all-in on the new mechanic we didn’t feel as though it was deep enough to really change anything. Religion was a good deal more complex, and we loved the ability to customize our own faith, but the lack of new end-game conditions for either means that they won’t drastically change the core experience.
You really can’t build around either, as their effects are complementary, not supplementary. Other additions, like new units and the ability to capture coastal cities with sea-based vessels, have the same benefits/problems. It just all fits together so well that after a game or two we had problems remembering what was new and what was added.
These criticisms can easily be taken as accolades, though – many strategy game expansions have botched new additions by making them too important, unbalancing the core game and moving far away from what made it so successful in the first place. Gods& Kings avoids this by being more of a massive content pack than a true expansion, and we think most people would rather that than the alternative.
The rippling effects of the Espionage system, Religion’s modifications to the early and mid-game, and the abundance of changes and other bits of new content more than justify the price of the expansion. While it might feel a little lackluster in the short term, the amount of variation it will add to the hundreds of more hours we plan on putting into Civilization V will undoubtedly prove worthwhile.
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