Heavenly Faith and Earthly Intrigue: A Review of ‘Sid Meier’s Civilization V: Gods and Kings’

Turn 194: the unique religion, ‘Horriblism’ is spreading across the globe. The Egyptian Gatling guns are in place, as we prepare for the annihilation of the Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital. Everything seems to be going fine…wait. What? The Iroquois have just stolen our knowledge of banking, and are plotting against us? Change of plans……

Prepare to lose sleepless nights in never-ending diplomacy, construction and conquest yet again. And this time, the intrepid gamer gets to be both pious priest and nebulous spymaster. This is Civilization V: Gods and Kings, the latest expansion to the original Sid Meier’s Civilization V.

Those who already own a copy of the original Civilization V should feel right at home with the latest expansion; fundamental controls and goals are exactly the same as the original. For those who have yet to purchase the original (and you should pick it up before purchasing this, as the expansion requires the original Civilization V), the premise of Civilization V is simple. Pick a map that will serve as the playing field, one of the great leaders and nations of history, settle cities and manage their production, and achieve victory through diplomatic, scientific, cultural or military means.

In that regard, Civilization V plays as a turn-based strategy game, and although it comes with an excellent tutorial system replete with tooltips and advisors to ease new players into the game, fans of pure hardcore straight-up action in their video games might want to give it a miss.

But back to Gods and Kings. Much of the additions here are standard expansion-pack fare: new civilizations, buildings, units and wonders. The two major overhauls to the original game, however, are the long-awaited systems of Religion and Espionage, reminiscent of the times from Civilization IV, though largely changed since then.

Gods and Kings sees the introduction of a new resource, named Faith, generated by various means, such as buildings, wonders, or a new type of City-State called a Religious City-State. The accumulation of Faith allows the player to eventually pick a Pantheon for a civilization, which grants largely circumstantial bonuses, ranging from increased science for every city connected to the capital via a trade route (Messenger of the Gods), to increased healing for units adjacent to a religious city (Faith Healers), to increased culture and faith yields for certain tiles, etc.

These pantheons can then be upgraded to full-fledged religions via Great Prophets, a new type of great person, also earned through faith, introduced with Gods and Kings. Religions have both founder beliefs, with benefits such as gold for each city following this religion accorded to the creator, as well as follower beliefs that benefit all cities following the religion, such as increased production per citizen following the religion. The combination of these two attributes cause a tactical conundrum; should the religion be spread to take full advantage of the founder beliefs, knowing that your enemy might benefit from the follower beliefs as well? Spreading a religion that increases city defenses to the enemy’s city while in the middle of a hotly contested war is something no player ever wants to do.

The effects of religion should start tapering off around the Renaissance or Industrial era, when their bonuses start to become relatively small as compared to city output. And that’s where the Espionage system starts to kick in. At the Renaissance era, the player will receive his first spy, and an additional spy will be gained with advancement through each subsequent era. Spies have a plethora of uses; they can be planted in other major civilization cities to steal technology and gain hints on what those players might be plotting, or planted in city-states in order to generate influence by rigging elections. An additional feature, the coup, can also be used to supplant the existing ally of a city state; however, this high reward also comes with high risk, as there is a chance of failure and the spy’s death, which like all other options, decreases with the rank of the spy.

In addition, counter-intelligence can also be performed, and by planting your spy in your own cities, there is a chance of catching the enemy’s spy and killing them in their nefarious acts. All these add up to a wonderful game of cat and mouse, with each player jostling to plant their own spies and catch opposing spies in order to gain an advantage in the shadowy world of espionage. And nothing is more satisfying than learning that your special agent had offed another civilization’s recruit as they were attempting to steal precious technology.

In addition to these two major systems, Gods and Kings arrives with a profusion of minor changes and additions. Existing wonders, such as the Stonehenge, have been overhauled, and new ones, such as the Mosque of Djenne or the National Intelligence Agency, have been added in keeping with the themes of religion and espionage. To this effect, new buildings, such as the shrine and the constabulary, have also been incorporated, and new units, such as missionaries and inquisitors, afford the player a greater control over his religion. A whole new tier tree which upgrades from the ranged crossbowman, including Gatling and machine guns, have been added to ensure that crossbowmen do not become obsolete in the late game; these units are unique in having a one tile range while still being considered ranged attackers.

Diplomacy has also been overhauled to accommodate these changes, with modifiers based on existing and attempted spread of religions, an additional option to share espionage intel with your allies, and new feature such as embassies which reveal the civilization’s capital whilst also allowing the more advanced diplomatic treaties such as defensive pacts or research agreements. New resources have also been added, and a mercantile city state which provides some of these unique resources as well as happiness. And last but not least, nine new civilizations are available to the player: Austria, Byzantium, Carthage, Celtic, Ethiopia, Huns, Maya, Sweden and the Netherlands.

All these features combine to bring new life to the old Civilization V franchise, adding not only tactical complexity to the field, but also political intrigue behind the scenes. Choices now warrant more thought and effort; should my warrior defend my worker or my missionary, should my spy steal technology or organize a coup? But behind the scenes, Civilization remains a fundamentally unchanged game, with its simple learning curve, its easy interface, and its stress on ingenious tactics and diplomacy.

The verdict, therefore, is simple. If you were a fan of Civilization V, Gods and Kings promises to breathe new life into the fields of civilization, allowing you to be hooked onto the game yet again. If you haven’t played Civilization V but are a fan of the turned-based strategy genre, pick up a copy of Civilization V and try it first, and purchase Gods and Kings after you become interested in the game. And if you’re a fan of pure action, that USD$50.00 can probably be better spent elsewhere. Buying a few more rounds down at the shooting range, maybe.

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