When it comes to strategy, I’m all about the turn-based games. No matter how crazy overwhelming it is, no matter how many systems in play, it’s always a fun game of wits and strategy that I can do at my own pace- and that makes me a happy boy. Civilization always seemed to be the one that was most daunting, though; I heard it whispered about as being so deep and strategic, so when Civ V was on sale, I snatched it right up and loved it deeply. Yet the same whispers persisted, talking about depth and AI improvements in previous games that this one didn’t have. Was I missing out on something? Was religion really that important? Regardless of that, though, everyone still wanted more, and Firaxis has heard. Gods and Kings, their new expansion, is looking to bring the depth up to par with previous entries in the series, hopefully assuaging any doubts that others may have had.
And these additions are pretty awesome.
I assume you already know about how Civ plays if you’re reading about the expansion (but if Johnathan’s reading, keep trying, man! You’ll get it eventually!), so I’ll just try to keep it to some of the big changes without divulging too far into minutiae. This expansion focuses on 2 main improvements: the addition of religion and the expansion of diplomacy.
You’ll run into religion early enough, first founding a pantheon, and then establishing an actual religion (which can be improved later). It’s a whole new resource, and some things have been geared towards giving faith instead of culture, and the Piety tree is now a split between culture AND faith. Religion works basically as a giant buff- a new way to really focus your empire towards a specific victory condition. So the beliefs you choose can do things like give you the ability to buy units with faith, or give boosts to culture based on pastures owned, etc. The beliefs are shared by all religions, but only one religion can have each at a time, i.e. if Shinto has a belief, then Hinduism can’t choose that belief. You can also rename your religion (Dudeism is the best religion), and prophets, inquisitors, and Great Prophets are there to help you spread and shape your religion as you see fit. These new units and the way the beliefs work are fun because they make religions dynamic and competitive- your religion probably won’t be the same every time, and it’s a fun race to get your religion first to make sure someone else can’t get your favorite belief. Or you can always just screw someone else out of what you know is their favorite!
Diplomacy has been rehauled in quite a few ways, but the most obvious is in espionage. Once you get to the Renaissance era, spies open up to everyone and you can enter into the spy tab and send them to any location. In City-States, you can rig elections to keep your influence high with them. You can set up counter-intelligence in your city to stop enemy spies, and you can send them to other places to steal their techs, keep track of international intrigue, and find out if they’re working on any wonders (to keep the other Civs from getting angry at you). I believe you can also steal their intelligence on other places, as I’ve had my spies tell me about people I’m not actually checking out. They’re a great addition, and it does a lot to change how you spec your Civ in response to other leaders, and add a new wrinkle to the diplomacy.
City-State diplomacy has also been redone a little. While you can still just pay them 1,000 gold and get yourself some sick influence over them, there’s also a lot more options for what you can do with them. In regular Civ V they would ask you for certain things, but now there are more on top of that, giving you more ways to get influence, even if you aren’t rolling in the gold. These new ones include bullying other City-States (instead of straight killing them) or competing with other Civs to see who can make more of a certain resource. And like I mentioned with espionage, there’s just a lot more to do to make City-States come under your wing and stay there (which will hopefully keep Wu Zetian from unfairly stealing a diplomatic victory from me!).
Aside from that, this is an expansion in that truest of senses- there’s just a lot more. You wanted it, and you got it. More leaders? You got it! More wonders?! YOU GOT IT! There have also been some important balance changes, like retooling the leader’s AI routines and giving ranged units an upgrade path all the way through to the end of the game. They even included new types of Great units (Admirals for sea-faring troops and the earlier mentioned Prophets), 3 new scenarios, and a new opening video (which is skippable this time. Rejoice! Now you and your sons will never be welcomed back again).
Unchanged. Did you think Civ looked good? Well, then it still looks good. Did you think it looked bad? Well, then what’s wrong with you? Why don’t you appreciate beauty?
The biggest change is a little in the UI, making it a different kind of Art Deco look. The other one is in the Steampunk scenario, which brings in new units, leaders, and victory types, all with special art for that. It continues to look really good, though, so don’t be afraid that these changes will hurt the game. It’s still good! So have fun!
As much as I loved regular Civ V, I ran into a problem with how I play. There were too many turns where there was just nothing to do. It’s nice that I had some downtime, but when it’s going for 20 turns in a row, that’s unfortunate. These new changes are perfect though- they give me more to do. Much more, and it does a good job of killing that downtime and keeping me active.
Working and spreading religion is very fun, definitely, and can really help you shape your civilization. I’ve been able to get some great buffs and extend my resources a lot more. Espionage is also great, for all Civs. They’re a good way to catch up with more advanced rivals, or keep yourself in the lead, or do whatever you want to do. It’s a great addition to the game, and a lot of fun to work with.to the game, and a lot of fun to work with.
Though great in the early parts of the game, though, religion does eventually fall by the wayside and become much less important. The units you can buy get too antiquated to really be useful, it can get too difficult to spread the religion to new places, and towards the end of the game it’s kind of easy to forget about it while you’re doing other things. In one of the trailers, the developers said it was a design choice to make room for espionage, but it still feels like the eventual irrelevance of religion is some sort of Nietzschean commentary on religion over time. It’s a bummer to see it get less used, though, especially since some of the new leaders specialize in faith.
Espionage, however, stays awesome. I love sending spies in to places and having them come back with something new to report. I delight in strengthening my cities against other spies (and seeing other leaders grovel with apologies when I catch them!), and I thrill whenever the Spy tab pops up with some new report. Gandhi is planning a to betray Pacal? That’s awesome, and it’s like watching some giant, global soap opera of betrayals, plots, intrigue, and stolen technologies unfold. It’s a little risk-reward, though, since your spies getting caught can anger another leader (especially since it’s all dice rolls), but it’s a lot of fun to get into. The only downside is how few spies you get. You get one per era, after the Renaissance era, so that’s not too many. There are more eras in this version, but still, it would have given me a lot of joy to be able to set a spy hideout up in every single city in the game.
There are even some fun little things that Firaxis through in for no reason other than their attention to detail. Lord Pacal of the Mayans, for example, has it where when you research the calendar, the game calendar is replaced by the Mayan Long-Count Calendar (AKA the one that’s about to end and kill everyone), which is so cool I didn’t even know how to process the information when it happened. Or Attila, the consummate conqueror, who doesn’t have his own names for cities. He just still names from other civilizations and uses them for himself, like he’s already taken over or something. Even thespies are given names that would have been used in that civilization, be it Austria or the Celts. They’re a lot of neat, small additions that just go to show how much Firaxis really puts into these games, and they’re a lot of fun to notice and see how they affect your play.
All of these little changes go a long way to help make the game feel different. It’s still that same great Civ experience, but it adds a lot more and does some smart things to change up the balance. This is a highly polished package that goes a long way to add a lot more lasting strategy concepts to Civ V, making it more of the experience people wish it was- a deep, more rewarding game. The hardest part of this review truly is fighting the temptation to fire up another game of Civ V and wasting away a whole day slowly dominating the planet. And, now that this review is done, if you’ll excuse me…