Giant Bomb Review

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Sid Meier's Civilization V: Gods & Kings Review

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Civ V's first real expansion is no revolution, but it's as good an excuse as any to take the plunge back into Firaxis' wonderfully addictive strategy game.

I'll spare you the big overarching explanation of why Civilization V, and frankly the Civilization series in general, is a delightfully soul-devouring time suck. Many words have already been written on this subject, many of which are likely to be more eloquent than my own. All I will say on the subject is that if you have extricated yourself from Civ V in the time since its release in 2010, and hope to avoid plunging headfirst back down that rabbit hole of "just one more turn" addiction, then by all means, avoid the newly released Gods & Kings expansion back. Because if you don't, you're going to be sucked down that hole yet again, and God only knows when you'll find yourself able to wrest free of it again.

Choosing your religion is kinda arbitrary, since you'll be formatting it to fit your own style anyway. Just like real life!

It's not that Gods & Kings does anything to especially revolutionize, or even dramatically improve Civilization V. In fact, for an expansion coming nearly two years after the game's original release (with only some DLC civilizations and map packs to supplement the time in between), it's actually a bit lighter on content than you might be expecting. However, the content that is in there is unquestionably good, making this expansion as devious a gateway back into the throes of Civ V addiction as you're likely to find nowadays.

The biggest addition to Gods & Kings is the religion mechanic. Though religion has existed in the series previously, the version of religion built for this expansion is far more detailed and involved than anything previously seen. It's in keeping with the spirit of the game in that it is a concept that can be built out in a variety of different ways that suit your particular play style. All religion is predicated on faith, which like science, production, and gold, you'll earn over time by building items and structures that increase it over time. Early in a game, you'll have the option to choose a "pantheon," a culture-specific religion that allows you one statistical benefit. This could be something as simple as more gold attained from spaces that generate faith, or more rapid border expansion via the "religious settlements" option. Once your pantheon is founded and your civilization begins to grow, you'll eventually spawn a great prophet, a unit that can be used multiple ways down the road, but initially will be consumed to create your religion.

Religion is non-specific in Gods & Kings. Which is to say that there are religions pre-made in the game that run the gamut from Christianity to Zoroastrianism, but it's not as though choosing Christianity will suddenly grant you a Jesus unit you can use to turn lakes into wine vineyards and eventually sacrifice for the sake of some kind of martyrdom boost. The names are just templates. You can name them whatever you want, actually, and the additional benefits you reap from the religion don't have any specificity to the religion itself. They're chosen by you when you first found, and then eventually improve your religion. Again, it's all tailored to how you want to play.

Like all things in Civilization V, religion is really more about expansion and diplomacy than anything especially holy. You can build prophets, missionaries, and even inquisitors to spread your religion and stamp out opposing religions. Making other cities and city states fall under your religious banner helps build influence with them. Likewise, pushing enemy cities into your kind of faith helps reduce resistance should you decide to conquer them. It doesn't mean they won't put up a fight, and in fact it may rile up the opposing leader to do something drastic against you. But if you use religion correctly, you'll be dominating the world in no time.

The other big mechanical change is espionage, a more passive mechanic that allows you to plant spies in rival civilizations' cities and city states. The key benefits to espionage are technology and alliances. Planting a spy in a city state ensures that your spy will continuously rig elections in your favor, and even conduct coups if the city state is loyal to another civilization. For major civs, you can place spies in key cities to both keep an eye on what rival leaders are planning, as well as potentially steal the technologies they develop. It's a helpful boost that gives you a bit more diplomatic interaction with your opposing civs, but truthfully it doesn't do a whole lot to change the overall flow of the game. It's just a nice little bonus that, frankly, you might just forget about as the game goes along.

The nine new civilizations bring the total number up to 34. Which is kind of a lot.

Most of the other changes come in the form of tweaks to the existing game and in the form of new civs and items. There are nine new civilizations in Gods & Kings--including the Celts, Swedes, Carthaginians, Ethiopians, and more--each with their own unique units and abilities. In-game, you'll play Gods & Kings pretty much exactly as you did in the main game, though a few adjustments have made for a smoother experience, especially in combat. Ground units can now be stacked with naval units, making it easier to attack sea-adjacent cities, and combat in general has been switched from a 10-point system to a 100-point system. Opposing A.I. has definitely been improved a bit, though other civs can still be oddly non-aggressive when it's clear that you're about to start wrecking shop all over them. Their strategies have improved in some key areas, but with all the additional tools at your disposal to help depose your enemies, odds are you'll want to stick to some of the tougher difficulty levels if you want a noteworthy challenge.

All of this, plus three new scenarios, including the steampunk-themed Empire of the Smoky Skies (which I've detailed previously here) makes up this add-on. It's a good chunk of content that probably would have looked a lot more impressive a year ago. Given how much time and piecemeal DLC has passed since Civilization V first hit store shelves, Gods & Kings suffers only by virtue of not being overwhelming in its revamping of the Civ V formula. And yet, neither is it underwhelming, given that the things it does add are all distinct improvements, and some are even pretty fantastic. This is a useful and enjoyable expansion to a game that's still one of the great time-stealers of this generation. To put it succinctly: it is more Civilization V to add to your copy of Civilization V. If you still have even a flicker of a desire to play more Civilzation V, that news should be all you need to justify picking up Gods & Kings.

Alex Navarro on Google+
60 Comments
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Posted by Breadfan

Supah Dope

Posted by FriskyBat

Spot on!

Posted by StingerMK2

god damn it, i now have a flicker of a desire to play more Civilzation V! thanks alex, there goes my evenings...

Posted by dvorak

Yep, more Civilization V. Just the excuse I needed.

Posted by Bamsen

Alex you rascal now you got me psyched for some more Civilization :D

Posted by Fattony12000
Posted by crusader8463

Dam it all! Gotta go to work tomorrow. Why won't you release already?!?!

Posted by blastershift

sounds good to me, already have paid for it.

Posted by Pie

Nice review. I'll probably pick this up after I've finished one of my matches (about halfway through on the second to last game speed setting) or maybe after I finish that match I'll be burnt out on Civ 5 again.

Posted by ManlyBeast

I'll pick this up soon.

Posted by Droop

It nice to see more games in the Steam Workshop.

Posted by Bishna

Midnight can't come soon enough. To be honest this was one of the reasons I chose not to take any summer classes.

Posted by Falk

What about the changes to multiplayer? Would be interesting to know if the expansion finally fixes what was pretty much broken in the original release. Also, when are mods gonna work in multiplayer?

Posted by zombie2011

Huh i think i will finally play Civ 5 now, i'm really in the mood for a slow paced game, and if i like Civ 5 i'll pick this up too.

Posted by MordeaniisChaos

I've been playing with friends a lot lately, and I'm looking forward to getting this and finally introducing my friends to non-cooperative civ games.

Posted by PeasantAbuse

Have they fixed the multiplayer with this expansion? Whenever I try to play with friends the game gets stuck and won't advance after a few turns.

Posted by KingHippp0

Must... not.... reward.... punny... byline...

Posted by SmilingPig

It still feel as if it’s a step behind civ 4.

Posted by Draxyle

Whelp, there goes my summer.

Choosing your religion is kinda arbitrary, since you'll be formatting it to fit your own style anyway. Just like real life!

Alex laying down the harsh social commentary!

Posted by BNB82

Here's my excuse to take a break from Diablo III. Down the rabbit hole indeed.

Posted by ThePickle

Can't wait to start playing.

Posted by Vodun

Awaiting this and reading about that guy who'd been playing the same Civ game for nearly 10 years got me playing again...MY SLEEP! I NEEDS IT!

Posted by Hardtarget

woooo living on best coast, comes out at 9pm for me tonight

Posted by CharlesAlanRatliff

I love that first picture caption.

Edited by sear

The biggest addition to Gods & Kings is the religion mechanic. Though religion has existed in the series previously, the version of religion built for this expansion is far more detailed and involved than anything previously seen.

Is this actually true? Everything you've described seems just about the same as religion in Civ IV for example, and Civ IV also had religious buildings. Can I get some clarification on why religion is "more detailed and involved than anything previously seen", like an actual comparison with past Civ games based on play experience? Because to be honest this review doesn't actually offer any interesting discussion, evaluation, or criticism about, say, how religion integrates into existing play strategy or allows for new ones.

I dunno, I guess I find that the vast majority of sites that cover games like Civ are written from the perspective of people who may have played the games once or twice but don't really go deep into the mechanics or history of the series. This was extremely apparent with Civ V and Ryan's review, which was basically just faffing about how good the graphics are and why the UI is "better" (even though it's actually way, way worse than Civ IV's, hiding crucial information and requiring far more clicks to perform basic tasks, without fixing issues remaining from Civ IV).

It just seems like nobody at Giant Bomb really seems to go into any detail about the games because they don't actually play the genre, and it comes across as a bit dishonest. The same can be said of most other mainstream sites that cover games like Civ - it's bigger and better because the marketing says so and because the graphics are great, 9/10! - even though most people in the Civ community agree the game is a massive step back from the previous ones in the series.

Posted by tourgen

great review

kind of a missed opportunity to model the religion game mechanic as a means to control population and build empires, but also as an unnatural and unpredictable time-released disaster.

Posted by Aaron_G

Already purchased on Steam. Can't wait until I get to playing it!

Posted by kerse

cant wait to play it, been looking for an excuse to play this again

Posted by FreakAche

@sear said:

I dunno, I guess I find that the vast majority of sites that cover games like Civ are written from the perspective of people who may have played the games once or twice but don't really go deep into the mechanics or history of the series. This was extremely apparent with Civ V and Ryan's review, which was basically just faffing about how good the graphics are and why the UI is "better" (even though it's actually way, way worse than Civ IV's, hiding crucial information and requiring far more clicks to perform basic tasks, without fixing issues remaining from Civ IV).

Really? As someone who played a decent amount of Civ III, I was really turned off by Civ IV's interface. Concepts that I understood in Civ III seemed much more complicated in Civ IV just because the underlying numbers and mechanics were presented poorly. It also felt complex for the sake of being complex. For instance, why did the game need a convoluted religion system, whereas Civ III handled religion just fine by having it just be a part of the larger culture system.

Now I only played the demo of Civ V, but to me it seemed like a welcome return to the more simplistic, but still strategic style that I liked about Civ III.

Posted by darukaru

No offense, but when the final verdict on one of the expansion's two major bullet points (in this case, espionage) is that it has little impact on the game and is forgettable, it sounds like the expansion isn't delivering what it promised. It definitely doesn't sound like a 4/5.

Posted by Wuddel

@sear: Yes. It actually is. Since it works similar to the Civ4 state-sytem as it has several (6-7) perks combined for founders and followers. You can choose from a long list of perks. You can also gain Faith from wonders etc. It is a similar rssource like culture. How much Civ5 is a step backwards is really only determined by your level of hate for the "stack of doom" and its retarded diplomacy (well, which is equally retarded in Civ5). Really a matter of taste, what simplification you like more. I sunk 1200h in Civ4 and 5 combined, and I think G&K has a got shot of being the best to date.

GB is not really a PC crowd.

Posted by Undeadpool

Oh God...my weekend...

Posted by falling_fast

huh. is the cn tower in this game? *wondering about the cover image for the review*

Posted by Nomin

stack of doom vs carpet of doom...

hmm...I guess I'll stick with beyond the sword.

Posted by cav86

@damnable_fiend said:

huh. is the cn tower in this game? *wondering about the cover image for the review*

Seriously, I was wondering the same thing

Posted by san_salvador

Austria is in it.

I am from Austria.

Instabuy.

Posted by Foxtrot0245

Thanks for the review Alex, my time between now and the Fall release boom has officially been committed to Civ V!

Edited by R3DT1D3

I know this is fairly specific for a review but there was no mention of the city-state revamp that's been shown. The change from just buying loyalty and how missions work plays a much bigger role than much of the smaller changes that I still think it bares mentioning.

Posted by Little_Socrates

So even reading this is enough to make me want to play Civ V.

Just wait until I buy it later on...

Edited by sear

@Wuddel said:

@sear: Yes. It actually is. Since it works similar to the Civ4 state-sytem as it has several (6-7) perks combined for founders and followers. You can choose from a long list of perks. You can also gain Faith from wonders etc. It is a similar rssource like culture. How much Civ5 is a step backwards is really only determined by your level of hate for the "stack of doom" and its retarded diplomacy (well, which is equally retarded in Civ5). Really a matter of taste, what simplification you like more. I sunk 1200h in Civ4 and 5 combined, and I think G&K has a got shot of being the best to date.

GB is not really a PC crowd.

Thanks for the details, appreciate seeing information about the mechanics of religion. I'm sure I could find them elsewhere, I guess my issue was with the quality of the review (i.e. lack of details) rather than the game itself, I haven't played it yet of course.

@darukaru said:

No offense, but when the final verdict on one of the expansion's two major bullet points (in this case, espionage) is that it has little impact on the game and is forgettable, it sounds like the expansion isn't delivering what it promised. It definitely doesn't sound like a 4/5.

Welcome to the world of Professional Game Journalism(TM), where the goal is to put out editorial content as quickly as possible and provide scores and opinions that aren't necessarily informative, but safe. I see this a lot in genres that reviewers don't have real experience with - sports games, strategy and tactics, wargames, more traditional RPGs, etc. - and they tend to go with the almighty 8/10 in those cases because it's a good, inoffensive default that won't anger anyone and hides the fact they might not really know what they're talking about.

Usually the finer details of that score will change based on hype and marketing - if a game isn't from a big publisher or franchise, for instance, or is lacking in polish (what makes up for 80% of most review scores) then chances are closer you'll see 6-7/10 instead. When it comes to these sorts of titles, mechanics and gameplay specifics have almost no bearing whatsoever on the review score or impressions written.

Posted by Arc209

great review, super stoked...come on midnight

Posted by JCHenderson

It's 50 bucks here in Australia. Which seems very expensive for what is described in the review. Especially when the last Total War expansion was a stand alone and about the same price.

Edited by vinsanityv22

Can we please get a Brad/Dave/Vinny Quick Look of this? Any combination of those guys. Vinny and Dave are awesome, and Brad is always good to bring around to strategy game Quick Looks because of his Starcraft perspective. Oh and Drew! PC Quick Looks need the two "D" members of Giant bomb!

The point is, let's Quick Look this baby!

Posted by Cybexx

Religion sound a bit more advanced than CivIV where all religions granted exactly the same benefit.

Really I was just looking for a decent excuse to play more CivV, this will do.

Posted by AuthenticM

@Draxyle said:

Whelp, there goes my summer.

Choosing your religion is kinda arbitrary, since you'll be formatting it to fit your own style anyway. Just like real life!

Alex laying down the harsh social commentary!

Gotta love Alex. :)

Posted by Otzlowe

@sear said:

... even though most people in the Civ community agree the game is a massive step back from the previous ones in the series.

I think you may be spending too much time listening to the Civ "community." All I've seen is people whining without explanation and blowing things out of proportion - as they do with every new installment.

That said, my experience of the UI must be different than yours. Yes, it's not as intuitive, but only by small degrees. Nothing about Civ V is "way, way" worse, so much as it is different and takes some adjusting to when coming from earlier versions. Hell, I've seen people complaining about the lack of unit stacking in this game.

Posted by Stromko

@Arc209 said:

great review, super stoked...come on midnight

Yeah I noticed they're releasing it at 9 PM PST. Just when I'd gotten to sleeping at night again, they have to go and release a Civ 5 expansion before I go to bed tonight ...

Posted by Arc209

@Stromko said:

@Arc209 said:

great review, super stoked...come on midnight

Yeah I noticed they're releasing it at 9 PM PST. Just when I'd gotten to sleeping at night again, they have to go and release a Civ 5 expansion before I go to bed tonight ...

hahah yep, my thoughts exactly.

Posted by Willbo

But did they fix the issues with the vanilla release? Game ran terribly, the city states acted like they were run by small children, the AI didn't know how to control the game and the multiplayer was broken. Not to mention there just wasn't a lot of choice in how to play Civ 5. For everything they added in five it felt like they took two things out that previously worked well. It's a lot to ask to pay for what seems like an incremental update.

Posted by Jace

"Choosing your religion is kinda arbitrary, since you'll be formatting it to fit your own style anyway. Just like real life!"

Alex just became my second favorite member of GB. You're fucking awesome.

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