Civilization V: Gods & Kings review
Every game of Civilization is basically a game of historical Mad Libs. ‘NAPOLEON built STONEHENGE before fighting AUGUSTUS CAESAR with an army of TRIPLANES’, whilst on another continent, ‘BOUDICCA discovered NUCLEAR FUSION then made a RAILWAY to BEIJING.’ The only consistent element is Gandhi nuking everyone in the end game.
Just me? Fair enough.
Gods and Kings, the first proper expansion pack for Civ V, adds a whole lot more bad history to the game by introducing customisable religions. So now you get things like ‘GEORGE WASHINGTON practised FERTILITY RITES before founding SIKHISM which took over THE VATICAN CITY.’ Much like Wikipedia, The Daily Star and the opinion of that bloke in the pub last night, Civilization V is not a recognised research source.
There’s plenty more to the expansion pack than religion but, despite all the extra comedy, they share the quality of being steady rather than brilliant additions. Both religion and espionage feel like extra things to dabble in rather than vital tasks, and the new units, wonders and national leaders add plenty of colour with a smattering of substance.
Articles of Faith
Most of the weight of Gods and Kings does fall on the Gods side of things. Alongside the key resources of gold, science and culture, faith now makes an appearance. It can be increased in much the same way as the others, through specific buildings or as gifts from city states. In the early game, only a little faith is needed before you can choose from one of more than twenty Pantheon beliefs, such as God of War or Religious Idols, which provide little boosts in various areas.
Things get more interesting once you’ve garnered enough faith to inspire a Great Prophet. This unit converts your pagan cult into a true religion and vastly opens up the religious game. After choosing a symbol and a name, three beliefs can be assigned to a faith, along with the earlier Pantheon belief. The first is for the founding civilisation only and provides bonuses that become more potent as other cities take up the faith, encouraging expansion. Follower Beliefs give bonuses to cities that follow the religion, perhaps allowing for the construction of Cathedrals, Mosques or Pagodas. Lastly, a second Great Prophet grants one of several Enhancer Beliefs, which generally speed up the conversion process.
Citizens who follow a certain religion generate ‘pressure’, which determines how quickly they convert others within the city and beyond to other settlements. Missionaries and additional Great Prophets can be purchased with faith to instantly convert some citizens and Inquisitors can be used to crush heathens in friendly cities.
The problem comes round about the half-way point of a full game, when the weight of pressure from burgeoning cities makes it tough to expand further. In my first game, the faith I started spread across my home continent, but the other great landmasses were home to a few powerful religions already. For the next two hundred turns, the religious game remained largely unchanged. I could have tooled my cities for faith production and prepared an army of missionaries, but the other resources are so much more important for the pursuit of victory.
Shaken, not Stirred
Still, the religious game is entertaining, well presented and nicely integrated with the rest of the game. Espionage isn’t quite so well implemented; all things MI6 are done through a single boring menu. You have a list of spies, a list of cities and a few buttons to click. It’s a shame that the presentation does it no favours, but the mechanics behind spying are reasonable, if a little on the thin side. Your agents can counter-spy at home, infiltrate other cities, pinch tech from smartypants civs, uncover who the AI is plotting against and participate in electoral skullduggery in the independent city states.
It’s all well and good, but there’s a certain detachment to it all given that a lot of espionage involves waiting. It’s easy to let agents stew for a few hundred years without them uncovering anything significant and the recruiting of agents is largely out of your hands. Unless you play as the English (who get two starting spies) or build a National Intelligence Agency (granting another spy), then you’ll get one spy every era from the Renaissance onward. Buildings like the Police Station or the Great Firewall wonder can affect your counter-spying ability, but by and large the espionage game is very much a little feature on the side. It hardly feels essential, but it doesn’t detract from the game either.
More is Good
The extra scenarios are a more surprising addition. For me, Civilization works best when playing the long game, but these custom game modes allow for a little respite from empire building. Into the Renaissance is the closest to the core game, tasking medieval European leaders with holding Holy Cities, becoming a Holy Roman Emperor and sending ships to the New World.
Fall of Rome is more interesting, challenging you to either protect an ailing empire or destroy the Emperors as the Barbarians. In this scenario, the Roman social policy tree actually weakens the empire, cleverly reflecting the decline of the ancient superpower. Well done to you if you survive – the last social policy enforces a -20 hit to happiness, all but guaranteeing rebellion. Weirdest of all is Empires of the Smoky Skies, a steampunk reworking of the game with Zeppelins and landships.
Most of the other additions are useful tweaks or new splashes of colour. There are a few more diplomatic options, the AI has been upgraded and combat has been changed to allow battle lines to last a little longer. New units, buildings and wonders like the Gatling Gun, Amphitheatre and Hubble Space Telescope make the story of your civilisation that bit more entertaining, and the addition of new leaders and nations mean that you can get nuked by Haile Selassie’s Ethiopians, Theodora’s Byzantines or a Mayan gentleman with a terrific hat by the name of Pacal the Great.
Gods and Kings might not be vital to the whole game and may not address all concerns, mostly those relating to the competency of the AI, but it does provide a goodly amount of new stuff. Everything in this expansion pack is something you want to have in Civilization V. Whether you should get it depends on just how much you want it.