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
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.