Civilization V: Gods and Kings: Civ finds religion again

July 27, 2012

When Civilization V released in 2010, it was one of my most anticipated releases, and with good reason. It brought a lot of sweeping changes to the formula we knew and loved, and I really feel they made it feel like a whole new game, and not just another iteration of the same formula. Gods and Kings offers a return to the religion system which was so popular in Civ IV, though adjusted to fit the gameplay style of V, along with a host of changes and all the new content you might expect from an expansion pack.

Nine new civs and a leader for each are included. As is usual, each civ in the game has been rebalanced with the additions in mind. As a result, many of the added civs take advantage of religion for their unique units and structures. Gods and Kings also includes two civs previously available as DLC, Spain and Mongolia.  Mongolia was released for free previously, and both are automatically included in the Game of the Year release of the base game.

The religion system is the main mechanic change of the expansion, and works as a hybrid of Civilization IV religions and science or culture, in that it must be generated in a city to gain its full effect. Like in Civilization IV, religion can spread, and will influence your relations with neigboring city-states and AI-controlled players.  One aspect of religion I enjoy is how they can be customized for your play style.  In Civilization IV, religion was very much about picking which religion was the most useful diplomatically, though all were essentially carbon copies of each other.  Firaxis didn’t know what to do about religion, but knew it didn’t want to give players such direct control over diplomacy this time around, which was why it was conspicuously absent from Civ V.   Much like Civilization IV (and, of course, history itself), religion has a much bigger impact in the early and mid-game, and it drops off in favor of espionage and diplomacy in the late game.

Diplomacy has been reworked as well, giving added value to religion, your social policy choices, and especially with the addition of espionage in the late game. Espionage and spies are given to a player when certain conditions are met, and cannot be trained. This generally gives much more value to the individual spy, and a player is less likely to simply send them off en masse on suicide missions, hoping for a lucky dice roll leading to success.

City-states have also seen changes, largely in making them more valuable to the player and expanding the rate at which they give out quests, allowing the player to build influence with them without simply buying their friendship.

Combat has added more depth, especially to naval combat, which adds a Great Admiral unit. The biggest change to war at sea is that ships can be melee (close range) or ranged, adding more value to strategic placement of your navy, much like arranging your forces on land. The early modern era has been greatly expanded as well, allowing more time to use World War I-era units before moving on to the endgame phase. Again, I am reminded just why I feel that one unit per tile, along with moving to hexagons as opposed to a grid, are probably the best things to happen to the series.

As with any Civilization expansion, Gods and Kings also adds an assortment of new scenarios, pre-set games which add constraints and conditions to challenge the player. The expansion comes with three: “Fall of Rome,” covering the decline of the Roman Empire, “Into the Renaissance,” covering religion in the middle ages and “Empire of the Smoky Skies,” a fictional steampunk scenario. While these are interesting, I’ve always enjoyed playing the scenarios that came with the expansion packs, and I was surprised when they didn’t add in a far-future science fiction scenario, changing a world map into something out of Master of Orion. It’s something that has been done frequently in the past, and I always found it very interesting to see how far they could stretch the game engine to make things like that work.

When Civ V released and the DLC started to appear, I was afraid that the expansion pack was a dying breed, replaced by one-off additions to the game here and there. I am thankful that Gods and Kings has shown that this is not the case, and that there is still a place for a full game expansion in a marketplace that is continually inundated with microtransactions.  In fact, thanks to the workshop support for user-generated content (which is compatible with Gods and Kings), Civilization V dispelled a lot of the fears I had regarding DLC on Steam, as despite what some feared, it did not spell the end of the Civ modding community. Modding and user-created content are one of the biggest selling points for PC gaming, and I am glad Firaxis and Valve seem to be embracing it and making it much more accessible.

Like its predecessors for earlier Civ games, Gods and Kings adds a mountain of content, and really does improve the game for the better in almost every way. After playing a game with the expansion, I think it would be difficult to return to the vanilla version of Civ V. And like every Civ game, it still has a tendency to eat six hours of your life if you aren’t careful. Just one more turn. I mean it this time.

Pros: Lots of new content, religion well-implemented, weak spots of original reworked
Cons: No sci-fi scenario, new elements sometimes take over for old ones

Score: 5/5

Questions? Check out our review guide.