Civilization V: Gods & Kings PC Review

Author: Rory Young
Editor: Howard Ha
Publish Date: Wednesday, June 27th, 2012
Originally Published on Neoseeker (http://www.neoseeker.com)
Article Link: http://www.neoseeker.com/Articles/Games/Reviews/civ5_gods_kings/
Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc. - please do not redistribute or use for commercial purposes.

Civilization is, as most everyone knows, the most popular 4X game in existence. I have a problem, however. You see, in a 4X world I am a 3X player. Exploration, expansion, and to a lesser degree extermination all come fairly naturally to my play style. The fourth X, exploitation, is not my forte – you could even call it my Achilles’ heel. Perhaps I'm simpleminded in this regard, but I can't for the life of me get used to strategic resource acquisition and use, foreign policy (as in plotting and treachery), or worst of all: maximizing efficiency. This means I have difficulty on any difficulty past Warlord or Prince due to my unwillingness to min/max. It also means that the new Civilization V: Gods and Kings expansion, featuring new mechanics like religion and espionage, is a challenge for me to merely grasp the depth of. A challenge I faced head on, and was left wanting.

Here's how a typical game of Civilization V plays out for me. I build a capital, start pumping out settlers, and don't stop until things go wrong. By the time an opposing civilization is so frustrated with me that they declare war, I have a sprawling civilization with an outstanding economy, and I can outright buy or produce enough units to crush my enemies. At higher difficulties, however, the enemy's military will be too strong or intelligent. For example, Alexander will unite the City-States against me. On occasion I'll focus on culture, but obviously opposing civilizations could care less what my focus is or intentions are when I'm expanding so rapidly.

How then will religion and espionage fit into my experiences?  Will the two new systems make my games more enjoyable even if I'm incapable of fully grasping their use and purpose? It's all rather daunting, and that's not even considering the 27 new units, 13 new buildings, and nine new civilizations. Oh boy, my work is cut out for me here.

Finding Faith

In itself, Religion is probably the most complex secondary game mechanic in Civilization V now, but it feels much less rewarding than the investment you put into it. Faith is a new resource, earned through exploring runes or the construction of religious buildings and wonders. As you earn faith you can create your own personalized religion, which as it develops earns Beliefs, small statistical advantages for cities that follow the faith and your civilization in general. Just creating your civilization's religion is a complicated and intimidating process. There are so many Beliefs, each very situational and specific, that the one that makes sense early may be counterproductive to your goals 10 turns later.

Once a religion has been established, it can easily spread. Depending on the number of citizens in each city that follow a religion, Pressure will build up. The more Pressure from local cities, the more likely another city's citizens are to convert. Faith can also be spent to recruit missionaries or prophets, which then can be expended near cities to increase their following of a particular religion. It's an intense, almost combat-like mini-game beneath the realities of war. The problem is, considering how difficult it is to spread and control, the rewards are difficult to justify. Potential benefits include a 20 percent attack bonus against enemy cities converted to your religion or increased influence in city-states that share your belief. I certainly used these rewards, but felt like the results never felt quantifiable. There was no weight behind going this extra distance to spread religion.

Keep in mind that I'm simplifying the process here and that I'm likely not fully grasping the entirety of the system either. How complex or important the growth and spread of religion is on the Deity level difficulty isn't something I could explain or likely even understand. What I can say, however, is that Firaxis Games didn't do enough to make me, a medium difficulty player, excited to use the system. I don't feel invested in it. Yes, I'm required to select Beliefs as my religion grows, but I don't otherwise grasp its worth. This is, in part, due to the lack of visual queues and physical hooks for me to latch onto. A majority of the system is simply background statistics, as in faith gained through city buildings, religious pressure from your citizens and cities, the beliefs you choose early in the game, and the randomness associated with prophet spawns. The idea of spreading religion is exciting to me, but in practice I don't find the mechanics of the system engaging.

I don't doubt that the level of customization Religions offers is ultimately rewarding and advantageous, but my disappointment is in how disconnected it feels from the turn-to-turn experience. For the featured addition in the Gods and Kings expansion, I expected something more impactful, something visceral.

Spreading Lies

Espionage is another passive system to be implemented in the Gods and Kings expansion. Something I immediately found refreshing is that there's really no need to partake in the gameplay created by Espionage, as the system never forces you to use it. Despite this, I found the advantages Espionage provided much more intuitive and enjoyable than the ones found in Religion.

For instance, Espionage will at random times throughout the game produce a spy for your civilization. At this point you can: A, do nothing with them and let them sit waiting for your instructions; B, put them in one of your own cities where they will protect you from enemy spies, but never require your input to do so; or C, put them in an enemy civilization or city-state where they can steal technology, or initiate a coup – again with little to no input from you. It's simple, it's brilliant, and every single action and affect is a direct result of your input. How can you go wrong?

Apparently you can go wrong in a myriad of ways! I mentioned before that I ran into difficulties with the Greek civilization run by Alexander, who has increased influence with city-states. Due to this passive influence buff, and his seemingly unending supply of spies, every city-state in this specific game was my enemy. You see, using Espionage you can place a spy in a city-state where they will passively rig elections every certain amount of turns. In other words, they can control who is able to gain influence with the city-state, though it's not so directly controllable. To counter this, spies are also able to perform a coup in city-states. This is a risky venture, as it's a 1-time, percentage-based event that could result in your spy being caught and executed. Luckily the game tells you your chance of succeeding, otherwise I might have thrown my spies away in a 0% coup to win a city-state back from Alexander.

The important thing is that even in troubling moments I knew exactly how Espionage worked, every single turn. If something went wrong, I was aware why that was, and if something went right, it was due to a decision I had made earlier under the expectation I would get that result. If I wasn't enjoying the system, I could actively not take part in it, or simply set my spies up to prevent espionage from being acted upon myself. It may not have been as impactful or visual as I would have liked from an expansion feature, but it was still a system I felt comfortable and excited to use.

Final Thoughts

Now, I could detail the additional civilizations, the units and the buildings, and so on, but it would all come down to the same point. The Gods and Kings expansion for Civilization V is built to provide a more customizable, personalized experience. In this goal, Gods and Kings flawlessly executes. Suffice to say, if what you're interested in as a player is more of the same Civilization V experience then look no further.

My expectation, however, was that Gods and Kings would introduce a new layer of variety and and creativity to the game, which is simply not the case. Like I initially described, Civilization is a 4X game: exploration, expansion, exploitation and extermination. Gods and Kings' primary focus is on evolving what I consider to be the exploitation aspect of the game with Religion and Espionage. The other aspects, which are certainly affected by these new systems, are for all intents and purposes the same. You'll still explore in the same way you did in vanilla Civ V, you'll still expand the same way, and extermination with new units may seem different it's still essentially the same as well.

So here's the deal. Civilization V is a great game that's extremely strategical, has intuitive gameplay and a compelling visual style. Gods and Kings is an unimpressive expansion that expands on the strategic and highly personalized nature of Civilization V, but not in compelling way. Both Religion and Espionage are interesting despite not being perfectly executed concepts, but overall the expansion doesn't offer anything particularly inspired. Excellence shouldn't be met with mediocrity, but the opportunity to revisit excellence shouldn't be ignored either.

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