Civilization V: Gods and Kings Review

Sid Meyer’s Civilization franchise is the most beloved turn-based strategy game franchise on the market. By blending historical figures such as Genghis Khan or Augustus Caesar with the ability to build a nation however, the player sees fit, the developers were able to create a truly addicting formula. Civilization has always thrived on choice. Do you want to build all the world wonders, reach and new planet, or murder all of your enemies and make a throne of their skulls? You can do all of these things. Civilization games give you the discretion to play however you see fit. There is a reason that the Civilization spawned the phrase “one more turn”. There is always another enemy unit or city to take out, deal to broker with nearby civilizations, or city to build. Gods and Kings is Civilization V’s (CiV) first expansion and it adds a whole host of features to the game, chief among these being religion. Civilization IV was a fine game when it was released, but after it was expanded, twice, it reached the level of complexity and fun that truly makes it worthwhile. Is the same true with CiV? Has this expansion fixed notable problems, and made the game more fun to play?

Sid, you don’t have to put your name on everything. Even Peter Molyneux doesn’t do that.

CiV was released to very warm reception from critics who found it probably the easiest Civilization game for new comers to get into. New additions like Social Policies were a welcomed change and brought an added level of strategy. CiV also introduced the mechanic of only one unit for each tile. This was intended to allow for more battle tactics instead of just lumping all of your units together and overpowering the enemy. Graphically, the game was also praised as being the best looking game of the series, but that means very little for a strategy game. Tons of customizable features, easily accessible, new focus on combat and tactics, what could possibly be bad about this game?

This is almost like foreshadowing.

As we know, internet, fans often do not agree with professional review scores. This is especially true in a series lauded for its complexity, which requires a certain amount of delving into that reviewers generally don’t have the time to do. Fan reaction to CiV was extremely negative. Chief among fan concerns was the enemy AI. It simply wasn’t able to effectively play the game.  One unit per tile works really well… for the player. The AI on the other hand does not know how to cope with this system and sends wave after wave of unprotected archers at you. Diplomacy is also a crapshoot. No matter how friendly an AI is, they will always declare war against you if you are near them. However, the biggest problem is that pretty much every game of CiV is the same. Instead of making each game totally unique, CiV ends up being a war game nine times out of ten. You will war at roughly the same time periods, with the same units, and the AI will always perform the same. There are more criticisms, but I think you get my point: CiV lacks complexity and its AI is terrible.The real question is whether Gods and Kings was able to fix all of the main game’s problems with its host of intriguing features.

Thumbs up or down Caesar?

Religion is the name of the game in Gods and Kings. By building shrines and temples you will accumulate faith as a resource. After accumulating a certain amount, you can found a pantheon for your civilization, which gives you a static bonus. You get to choose from a large list of bonuses so you can tailor your pantheon to your situation, like choosing to get +1 production from worked fish for costal civilizations. Each bonus can only be taken once, meaning that if an enemy civilization founds a pantheon earlier than you, they can choose the bonus you want and you’ll have to stick with another one. After founding a pantheon and accumulating much more faith, you will spawn a Great Prophet to found a religion. Once again you pick from a whole host of bonuses, which can be picked by the AI, so speed is of the essence. Unlike the minor pantheon bonuses, religion bonuses can be fairly major, like being able to buy early units with faith or gain +1 gold for each 4 followers of the religion (Seems minor, but trust me that this thing is crazy powerful). When founded, you can choose two bonuses as well as the icon and name of your religion, which are ornamental only. The first bonus is a founder bonus which only the founder civilization will enjoy like the +1 gold bonus mentioned earlier. This usually encourages the founder to spread their religion. The other bonus is the follower bonus, which applies to each city following the religion (Whatever religion is most prominent), including enemies. A second Great Prophet can be used to enhance a religion which will let you pick another follower bonus and an enhance bonus which usually leads to improving your ability to spread the religion. Enhancing a religion will stop all other civilizations who had not founded a pantheon from ever founding one, so there is another speed element to religion.

Bismarck cares not for your puny religion. 

Faith can be used to buy religious buildings or units, if the ability to buy them was your follower belief. However, the main use for faith after founding a religion is buying missionaries to spread your religion and inquisitors to stop the spread of other religions in your cities. Each missionary can be used a couple of times and can convert cities or portions of cities to your religion. Each city with a religion also exerts pressure, with your holy city, generally, exerting the most. This allows nearby cities to convert without the use of a missionary.

Oh Monty! You spread religion with missionaries, not the sacrifice slab.

Religion is a really fun new aspect to the game. The bonuses aren’t game breaking, but they are significant enough to strive for, and an early race in the game adds a lot of tension. However, religion does fizzle out. After founding, spreading, and enhancing a religion, there isn’t really anything left to do with it, and because of the emphasis on speed, you will likely accomplish all of these before the mid-game. AI also really doesn’t care too much if you follow the same religion. They will still doggedly attack you if you are close to them, even if you are both religions zealots of the Zoroastrian faith. This is a bit better than Civilization IV’s religion system where AIs with the same religion were your absolute best friends, and AIs with the opposite religion were your worst enemies, but there should be a middle ground between caring too much and not caring at all.

When a guy dressed like this says the world is ending in 2012, you don’t believe him, people! You give him a sandwich.

The new addition for the mid to late-game is the return of espionage, which has a theme now of popping up in expansions. You will accumulate spies in the mid to late-game, which you can send to cities and attempt to steal enemy technologies, or simply enjoy info on the AIs plans, as you will get certain announcements like “Napoleon is planning a sneak attack agains Boudica”. This is very useful if you are Boudica, or if you want to take advantage of a war by sneaking in your troops while one civilizations forces are away. Your spies will gain ranks as they preform their tasks which make them more effective at their job.

This is way less interesting than I’m making it out to be.

Espionage is never a particularly fun or engaging system. It certainly serves a purpose, and can be leveraged to an extent, but it is extremely underwhelming and boring. This doesn’t mean that the game would be better without it, as it wouldn’t, but it was a missed opportunity to add something with the same level of thought and fun as religion, but for the later aspects of the game. As it stands, it is a mild diversion, you will likely completely forget exists.

We want espionage more like this.

Like any proper Civilization expansion, Gods and Kings brought in a host of balance changes and new civilizations to play as. The new civilizations are really well done and fun. While Civilization is as Euro-Centric as ever, this expansion does try to expand that focus by adding civilizations like Ethiopia or the Maya. Several of these new civilizations were designed around the religion mechanic like the Byzantines or the Celts, and all of them lead to unique playing styles with interesting unique abilities. Interestingly, many of the new leaders are female, bringing Civilization as close to gender equality as its ever been. This is a good move most of the time. Dido actually ruled Carthage unlike Hannibal, but it can be somewhat confusing like putting in Theodora instead of Justinian for the Byzantines. It is a nice touch that should be praised, and none of the female leaders are totally undeserving of the role unlike Joan of Arc in earlier Civilization games.

I’m sorry Joan, but you won’t even make it into my top 100 French leaders list.

The biggest balance change is that all units had their health changed from 10 to 100. While damage has been increased as well, this leads to much longer battles. Cities have been beefed up as well, making them far harder to simply rush. This effectively put an end to several early game rush strategies like the four horseman strategy. There is nothing more game breaking than the fact that four units can conquer an entire continent with so much ease, so this is a welcome change. Social Policies got a change around with faith rightfully seeping into the Piety tree. Effort was also put into making Liberty less attractive and Tradition and Honour more attractive trees in the early-game. Many units were changed around, particularly siege units, which now are resourceless and are generally more effective, especially now that melee units are garbage against cities. This makes army composition all the more important. Muskets are finally on the upgrade path meaning that your old dusty swordsman can now be upgraded to them. Some leaders also got a change in their unique units, or, more often, their buildings with the addition of faith bonuses. There were some technologies removed from the tech tree, but more were added so it balances out. There are several new scenarios and the Crusades and steampunk inspired future world scenarios are a fun change of pace, but nothing revolutionary. All in all, the changes were entirely welcome.

When will science learn that flashy, over-designed steam technology is the wave of the future?

The major problem with Gods and Kings is that it does not address the major problems in the original CiV. The AI is as useless as ever, and diplomacy is also just as bad even though religion should have improved it. The enemy will still ram useless, weak units at you, and it will still declare war no matter how much it likes you. Religion is a great system, but it stagnates like the rest of the game. You will find yourself going for the same bonuses over and over agains, making each game the same as the last. Why the developers didn’t simply attack the main problems head on instead of throwing out new systems to cloud the problem, I don’t know, but it is frustrating that the same broken game is hidden under all the new bells and whistles.

Don’t call Boudica flat. She doesn’t like that.

Gods and Kings is a complete improvement to CiV. Religion is a ton of fun in the early game. Espionage, while forgettable, is a positive addition, and all of the balance features and scenarios are fun and change up the pace a bit. If you are a gamer who still plays CiV, I wholeheartedly recommend this game. It is a total improvement and I would have a hard time going back to Vanilla CiV after playing it. However, if you gave up on CiV long ago, this game will not change your mind. The game is as broken and vapid as every, and only has a fresh coat of paint added to it. Both viewpoints are accurate. CiV is a great addition, but it doesn’t do enough to fix the major problems the fanbase had with the game. As I would give this game an 8 for CiV fans, and a 6 for non-CiV fans, I’m averaging the score.

Pros:

As addictive as ever
Religion is a great system
Balance changes make the game seem fresh


Cons: 

Does not address the major problems with CiV:
        – The AI is still horrible
        – Diplomacy is awful
        – The main game is too repetitive
Religion loses its lustre too early
Espionage is a missed opportunity



7.0

– Mistranslations for the Modern Gamer

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