Civilization V – Gods & Kings Expansion Review
Jake “Kibeth” Winters, OnRPG Journalist
Anybody with an eye for retro gaming might have fond memories of the very first Civilization game, released way back in 1991. Twenty years and countless gaming awards later and Sid Meier’s Civilization series is one of the most popular and profitable strategy games in the world. Civilization V – the latest incarnation of the series – was met with largely positive reviews from critics worldwide when it was released in late 2010, and things have only improved since.
Among the list of revolutionary features in Civilization V were the brand new combat system, a plethora of new leaders and civilizations, and a unique hexagonal-tiled map. Despite the rave reviews, some critics were wary of the overly aggressive and unpredictable AI, and the lack of features from previous games such as espionage, religion and corporations.
Civilization V is technically the Eighth Wonder of the World.
Gods & Kings, the first expansion for Civilization V, goes a long way to fix many of these issues. The biggest selling points are the introduction of a revolutionary religion and espionage system, while other features include nine new civilizations, a host of new technologies and units, an overhaul of the previously lacking naval combat system, and a handful of exciting new scenarios. A recent massive patch has also gone a long ways towards improving naval AI, balancing the game, and releasing all the tools a modder could dream of to let the community keep the game fresh and unique for years to come.
Religion & Espionage
Undeniably the most exciting feature is religion. A new resource – Faith – was added to the game and can be generated by map tiles, buildings, or random world events; collecting enough Faith allows your leader to establish a new religion. Unlike its predecessors, religions are totally customizable and allow a player to choose from a wealth of benefits to both the founder of the religion and to individual cities that follow it. Playing a civilization hell-bent on world domination? Pick religious traits that encourage warfare! What about a peaceful cultural victory? Pick culture benefits instead. Trying to get a leg up on early warfare or a tech lead? Ignore religion entirely and rush ahead while your enemies are busy building shrines.
Depending on your play style, the addition of religion might be a good or bad thing. Having a different religion to a competitor in previous Civilization titles was almost a guaranteed herald for war, but religion feels a little watered down in Civilization V. “You have a different religion to me?”, cries Spain. “That’s slightly irritating but not enough to go to war over!” It just feels a little bit wimpy, like there’s not enough conflict around religions to really match the real world’s history of Holy Wars and bloodshed. Not that wars aren’t fought over it, of course, but the conflict tends to be more peaceful as you and your enemies throw Missionaries at each other in a vain attempt to convert one another to your respective religion.
Re-writing history by capturing London as the Germans…
For people who prefer to shy away from war, religion does have many other benefits. Unlike previous games where religion was tied to who could jump through the technology tree the quickest (religion based on scientific progress? Talk about realism), Civilization V actually allows religions to be established by those gathering the most Faith. The benefits of establishing a religion are pretty strong, especially around the mid-game, but even if you miss the mark (there are less foundable religions than civilizations in a game so somebody will always be caught short) it’s not the end of the world.
The system does fall off late-game, though, and religion becomes little more than a means of purchasing other Great People (such as merchants, artists or engineers) or dotting the landscape with Holy Sites, but this is a small price to pay for how much it dominates the mid-game eras.
But where religion fades, espionage takes charge in a big way. After hitting the Renaissance Era every civilization is gifted with a Spy (two if you’re English) which can be stationed at any city in the world (enemy or ally) to perform espionage missions. Spies in allied cities perform counter-surveillance to ward off enemy spies, while those stationed in enemy cities gather intel about AI’s intentions for warfare as well as to steal technology. They can also be stationed in City States to rig elections and potentially overthrow enemy influence.
…At least until Haile Selassie of Ethiopia got involved.
As exciting as this all sounds, however, the espionage system feels a little bit bland. Everything is done through a series of menus and apart from which spy is stationed where, the player has very little control over the turn of events. While intelligence gathered from enemy civilizations can be shared with other competitors to gain favor with them diplomatically, the espionage system just feels like an after-thought on top of the already complicated diplomacy system. While catching a spy (or being caught) might start a ‘national incident’ and get some tempers flared, the AI are usually slow to respond and prefer to sit at home throwing snide insults around instead of actually going to war. While spies might turn the tide for a weaker civilization by stealing better technology, ultimately the spam of (largely useless) intel you’ll receive end-game with your handful of spies is more of a hindrance than a help, and the diplomacy benefit for sharing such intel with allies isn’t really worth the time.
Fall Patch 2012
Speaking of AI, Civilization V saw a massive game update in the fall patch early in November, and this has fixed many of the nuances that used to plague single-player games. Previously the AI tended to be overly aggressive, declaring wars they could never win, spawning massive armies from seemingly nothing, and then surrendering by handing you their entire civilization on a plate. Diplomacy was never particularly accurate, as the AI was difficult to read and even the most faithful of allies would backstab you eventually.
The AI has been made smarter, and now evaluates more readily before going to war, as well as put a larger amount of their budget into defensive plays. A key change is that AI will no longer found cities anywhere (including the middle of the Arctic Circle surrounded by nothing but snow), but are more tactical in their city placements. Certain leaders have been modified to match their real life personas, such as Dido being more backstab-happy and Ethiopia being less willing to go for world domination; Gandhi – on the other hand – still loves nukes and is more than willing to melt faces with them should you cross him (homage to a bug in the original game that made Gandhi more aggressive than he needed to be but was left in for comic purposes).
Bad Luck Boris: Spy killed in action.
Diplomacy has also seen some love, with AI now more willing to make peace treaty settlements when they’re losing a war. Gone are the days when an enemy AI might give up everything they owned but their capital just because they lost a war lasting a few turns, and the AI now has a variety of ‘levels’ of backing down ranging from ‘White Peace’ (peace treaty but surrender nothing) to ‘Unconditional Surrender’ (give up everything). While this adds a chunk of variety to the game, it does seem to make the AI more willing to surrender too easily; in a recent fight with England I slaughtered a few of her units only for her to give me England’s second largest city as part of the peace deal. While the AI still thinks a little too hard on numerical military statistics rather than military realities, it’s an improvement even if it needs a little more touching up.
While a few units have been tweaked for balance changes and AI priorities have been shifted so they’re less awful, the fall patch doesn’t really add any new content. With that said, everything that it changes is for the better, and playing against AI feels slightly more challenging knowing that they won’t throw the game for themselves by making terrible decisions early on. The full patch list (and it is huge) can be found on the Steam Website.
Too lazy to research your own stuff? Steal it instead!
Naval Warfare (and why not to mess with England)
Asides from religion and espionage, one of the most pronounced additions is the re-work of naval combat. While naval warfare was never particularly bad in Civilization V, having your embarked (at sea) units unable to defend themselves left them incredibly vulnerable, with nothing more frustrating than your entire platoon of modern-era soldiers being conquered in open waters by a Stone Age trireme. Gods & Kings now allows embarked units to share tiles with battleships and the like, which is a welcome exemption from the one-unit-per-tile rule exercised on land, and allows a moving army to safely be escorted around the world.
A new Great Person, The Great Admiral, is similar to a Great General but confers his benefits to naval combat; additionally he can be expended to heal all ships in a large radius as some type of miracle engineer martyr super move.
Certain melee-based naval units now have a host of new promotions that enable them to fight better against other ships (even going so far as to convert them to your side), as well as be able to directly attack and capture enemy cities without land units even being involved. The fact that this means coastal cities now have to defend themselves on two fronts brings a whole new level of tactical gameplay to Civilization V, and breathes new life into the previously mediocre naval civilizations such as England and the Ottomans.
The AI now puts greater emphasis on capturing important resources like oil.
Austria, Byzantium, Carthage, the Celts, Ethiopia, the Huns, the Mayans, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Spain all join the roster of civilizations available to play, each bringing their own unique passives to the game. Austria, for instance, can ‘buy’ city states, while the Mayans get a free Great Person at the end of each calendar count (including, I assume, the end of time count of 2012). Of course the sooner you research the calendar the sooner you can take advantage, adding a quirky strategic gambit to their civilization.
Research has seen some love, too, with eight new discoverable techs available, while the tech tree itself has been reworked to include the Faith system, along with thirteen new buildings and nine world wonders. In addition many items have been moved and rebalanced, most notably the ones required for game victories like the UN and Space Ship parts being pushed to the furthest edge of the tech tree to prevent games ending prematurely. Social trees have been balanced too, with Piety becoming the defacto Faith tree, and Commerce providing a number of Great Admiral buffs. Completing later trees also allows the purchasing of Great People with Faith, ensuring that the religion mechanics don’t become totally (just mostly) redundant in the late-game.
With the addition of new civilizations come new close-to-realistic scenarios, including watching Rome fall from grace two millennia ago, or a Middle Ages Holy War against the Ottomans.
Take a break from reality with some Steampunk action.
Perhaps most gloriously is the inclusion of a steampunk fantasy called Empires of the Smoky Skies, a totally unrealistic (but incredibly fun) game mode where steam-powered airships and tanks rule the world. Players start with a number of Settlers and other units, and begin with all research up to Steam Power already discovered. Smoky Skies has a brand new tech tree, steam-powered units and buildings, and five unique civilizations to play as. Unlike the vanilla game mode, where winning is as simple as world conquest or sending a rocket into space, Smoky Skies requires the player earn Honorable Titles from the supreme world rulers (known as the League of Empires), and these are earned by meeting criteria such as a strong military or the largest amount of gold.
Multiplayer and Modding
Since the very first game Civilization has always tried to include elements of multiplayer gameplay. While playing against AI of any difficulty provides endless hours of fun, being able to pit yourself against a real player is something quite different. Unfortunately, multiplayer feels like a big commitment in terms of time, with some matches lasting hours or days. While the game cuts out many of the ‘time-consuming’ aspects such as combat and movement animations, in a game with six or more people it might be up to twenty minutes between turns. The new intrigue mechanic also falls short with multiplayer, as spies lose the ability to predict what enemies are plotting.
Germany boasts some of the strongest war capabilities. Almost realistic…
Catherine also has some huge weapons at her disposal… being that she gets double Uranium resources.
Not that multiplayer isn’t a nice addition, but anybody short of a Zen master might find themselves frustrated at how long games take to play. Even single player games tend to drag on during the end-game period; Civilization isn’t the kind of game one can play ‘in a spare few minutes’, but instead greedily demands all of your time like an overly attached girlfriend, just without the added benefits.
Girlfriends aside though, even if playing with other people isn’t your thing then perhaps one of them might have a way to contribute to your game through the infinite collection of mods recently released via Steam’s Workshop.
Now, I’m going to go off on a tangent here, but I absolutely love game developers who let people mod their game. It’s great because no game is going to be able to keep my attention forever, there’ll be a point where I’ve done and seen everything (even in a game as big and varied as Civilization), and that’s when the community takes over.
The tech tree has seen a huge overhaul in the latest expansion.
While some of the mods are pretty minor and might change a unit or building or some equally minimal thing, other mods totally overhaul the way the game plays. Famous map packs such as Skyrim, or Middle Earth, brand new civilizations complete with unique bonuses and units, or massive scenario packs ranging from the Three Kingdoms to World War Three; no matter how tiring the vanilla experience gets there’ll always be something extra to do.
What else is there to say? Civilization is one of the best-selling game series of all time and utterly, utterly deserves its place at the top. While Civilization V had a shaky start due to a supposed lack of content, Gods & Kings has brought every shred of glory back to the series. With patches being released regularly to tweak AI, and a regular stream of new content from both modders and Firaxis themselves the game just keeps improving. The learning curve isn’t particularly steep, the price isn’t particularly high, and the enjoyment you get out of it is immense.
Even these guys think you should give Civilization a go.
The number of criticisms is pretty small, to be honest. Espionage could be a little more exciting, and religion could be more useful in the late-game era, but they’re pretty small issues compared with the overwhelming list of good things about the game. If there was one thing I had to complain about it’d be that games take a long time to play, but even then that’s only a half-hearted moan because much of the fun comes from seeing eight hours of your time unfold into glorious victory (or defeat). And of course game speeds exist if you want to adjust just how long the game takes to play out.
While having to pay for both the base game and the expansion might put people off, let me be the first (probably not) to say that it is worth it. So many hours of my spare time have been sunk into this game and it’s remained enjoyable for the whole journey. The final verdict is simply that Gods & Kings was a massive improvement to an already epic game and with a free demo available on Steam there’s absolutely no reason to not give it a go.