Civilization V: Gods & Kings review

  • Spreading your religion throughout the world
  • Stealing tech from your enemies
  • Little upgrades to the core game
  • How none of the additions feel game-changing
  • Focusing on religion only to have its benefits taper out
  • Being late for everything, blaming it on Civ V

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.  

More Info

Release date: Sep 21 2012 - PC (US)
Available Platforms: PC
Genre: Strategy
Published by: 2K Games
Developed by: Firaxis Games
Franchise: Civilization
ESRB Rating:
Everyone 10+: Drug Reference, Suggestive Themes, Violence, Mild Language




  • KidJustKid - June 18, 2012 9:19 a.m.

    As a fairly long term Civ V player, THANK FUCK the new mechanics are limited in scope - we don't need an even more broken core game. After about a year, the patches went from "polishing a turd" to "throw the turd at a wall to make it more consistent-like". It's an awsm game and massive time sink, just play it with Thal's VEM mod ( and be thankful. Well reviewed as well ^_^
  • MasterBhater - June 18, 2012 8:11 a.m.

    I might be getting a gaming PC in a few months, so I'm just wondering: I've never played a game like Civ V and would like to try it out. Is it easy to learn when you're a new player?
  • Kieran712 - June 18, 2012 8:40 a.m.

    I was in the EXACT same situation as you lol. Just got my gaming PC and saw this when it was cheap on Steam. I was worried it would be too steep a learning curve but its really a game that's easy to learn but super hard to master. Go for it!
  • TheCakeIsaPie - June 18, 2012 8:44 a.m.

    Yes, they have tutorial modes (including a "learn as you play" option and the game has several advisors who give you hints during gameplay. There are also 8 difficulty levels, so jumping right in shouldn't be too big a feat. My advice, though, is to play Civ IV first, because (I think) it's easier to understand for beginners, and then move on to Civ V.
  • Pwnz0r3d - June 18, 2012 10:12 p.m.

    I don't mean to come off as a rude douche by putting down your suggestion of playing Civ4 first to make 5 easier but; In all honesty, that's a horrible idea. If we're talking about the CORE game (no expansions) you got espionage, religion, army stacking, and simplified city combat. All of those huge parts of Civ4 are thrown out in the core version of Civ5. Navigation is in a honeycomb style grid, cities can only garrison one unit at a time, and can still defend themselves regardless of whether or not there's a city garrison, religion and espionage are non-existent, it's just radically different on a direct level. Meaning the core game mechanics are almost the same, but everything about them has been refined. I just suggest going into V on easy, and listening to your advisers.
  • ParagonT - June 18, 2012 8:45 a.m.

    I personally think so, but mainly the experience you have with older installations rolls-over into the newer one in the franchise. Hmm, my experience with it was that when you put it on easier difficulties it will supply you with tips and your "supervisors" opinion on things. From that you slowly learn over the course of a game or two what you can do. So in all I would say its easy to learn, but of course it would take you a full day just to read a tutorial guide, but instead it supplies you with a "We'll show you the basics, and then you'll learn advance things on your own through playing." type of tutorial.
  • ParagonT - June 18, 2012 8:46 a.m.

    my mistake, "advisors".
  • jmcgrotty - June 18, 2012 1:58 p.m.

    Easy to learn if you're even just a bit patient. One important thing, though, is to not have that pathetic ego that lot of gamers have. Use the manual and tutorials. They're worth it.
  • ParagonT - June 18, 2012 7:24 a.m.

    This expansion is a total buy for me....when the price drops. Having the price set at nearly half of the games price is weird for me, especially a game that's nearly two years old. I doubt the whole development team was working on this for years upon years compared to making the actual game, so I'm a bit lost when it comes to the pricing, and how they figured it. I thought you would at least get a slew of more stuff with it since it's practically half the price of the game itself. I know its more difficult than other games dlc's since they have to integrate this into a universal experience and make sure balancing is good, but technicalities are not what consumers should pay for, content is. I've waited a year and a half for a decent expansion, I think I can wait another year or a half a year more for a price drop. I love the game and the expansion, but this looks like a 15 dollar buy at most for me personally. Just for me although, to each there own.
  • TheCakeIsaPie - June 18, 2012 8:46 a.m.

    Civ IV had 'Warlords' and then 'Beyond the Sword,' so it could be that V will have a second Expansion Pack. If that's the case, I think I'll wait for the second one and see which I should buy, or buy both then.
  • ParagonT - June 18, 2012 8:48 a.m.

    I hope it has a second as well.

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