Civilization V: Gods & Kings review
Tue, 26 Jun 2012 3:00p.m.
By Dan Satherley
On its release in late 2010, Civilization V was a bit of a mess. Coming three years after the second and final expansion pack for Civilization IV, the critically-acclaimed Beyond the Sword, fans of the series expected more.
Civilization V was touted as a new beginning for the series, stripping back the bloat and making the game more accessible.
Instead its focus on the "gaming" aspect of the Civilization experience – an AI which plays to win, hex tiles and the removal of things like health, vassals and religion – alienated those who preferred to immerse themselves in the minutiae of running a vast empire.
Chuck in the game's relatively high system requirements, various bugs and sluggish performance on release, it's a small wonder a year-and-a-half later, Civilization V is in as rude health as it is.
Various DLC packs and some whopping great patches fixed the most glaring of the game's shortcomings, and now comes the first fully-fledged expansion pack, Gods & Kings.
So what's in it? First of all, you get nine new civilizations and leaders – some like Pacal of the Mayans and Boudica of the Celts we've seen before, others are making their debut in the series – like Ethiopia's Haile Selassie and Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden.
With new civilizations come new buildings and units, like Austria's coffee house, the Huns' battering ram and the Celts' Pictish warrior.
There is also a bunch of new city states, maps, resources and technologies.
But this is all just stuff – it's nice to have new stuff, of course - but none of it really changes the game. It's how Gods & Kings actually changes the game itself which makes it a must-buy for anyone still playing Civilization V, considering getting back into it, or taking it up for the first time.
The biggest change is of course the long-awaited return of religion. In Civilization IV, religion played a big part in diplomacy, often dictating who were your friends and who were your enemies. But apart from giving some culture bonuses here and there, it often didn't really do a lot else.
Part of the reason for this was a reluctance on the developers' part to offend, so all the religions were exactly the same – Islam was no different to Buddhism, for example.
That changes in Civilization V – each player's religion is now completely different. Each begins as a single belief called a 'pantheon', such as 'Desert Folklore', which benefits civilizations with cities in the desert, or 'Goddess of Festivals', which favours those with wine and incense resources. There are 23 to choose from.
Once you get a great prophet, the pantheon can be turned into a fully-fledged religion with further beliefs, each depending on what kind of strategy you're playing. It still doesn't matter what you call your religion – it's quite feasible to set up a religion that boosts warfare and converts the heathens, and call it Buddhism, if you want.
But what it does mean is now there is much more to do in the early phase of the game – do you want to spend precious time and resources building shrines and missionaries, concentrate on libraries and research, or try an early land-grab and pump out a few swordsmen? Remember if you don't spread your religion, someone else will bring theirs, and it will probably benefit them more than you.
Another big new addition to the game is espionage, though it's not nearly as vital as religion. No longer do you control spy units on the ground – instead it's all conducted in a menu which is about as exciting as doing your accounts.
It's so simple, you can quite easily stick a spy in an enemy city and forget about it, and it'll still be doing something for you – whether it's collecting intelligence on the AI's future war plans, or stealing technology. If you want to spend more time in the espionage screen, I guess you could, but unless you're well behind on technology or in a particularly tricky political situation on the ground, it won't really be a gamechanger.
It's so undercooked, what you should do with your spies is pretty much a no-brainer – if you're ahead on tech, stick them in your own cities to stop enemies stealing knowledge off you; if you're behind, stick them in their cities to catch up.
The other option is to leave them in city states to rig elections, which could work if you were going for a diplomatic victory, or trying to prevent the AI from getting one.
I hope this aspect of the game is expanded on in future patches or DLC – for example, in previous Civilization games you could poison the water supply, incite revolts or even detonate a briefcase nuclear weapon.
Speaking of the diplomatic victory, one of the main criticisms of Civilization V has been how underwhelming it can be. Essentially, the turn before the UN vote, just dish out money to all the city states, and you win. The AI was hopeless at this – often it would have a stash of 30,000 gold and be only one city state short of victory, and inexplicably do nothing.
That's been changed in Gods & Kings – you can still buy favour with the city states, but they now place much more emphasis on being a good friend – carrying out quests, following the same religion and protecting them from their enemies now counts for much more than cash.
I've had three full games so far, and the AI seems to understand this – two of them were won by diplomatic victory (the third I rage quit from after the Ethiopians trashed my capital). In the second, it was amazing to watch coup after coup happen in the turns leading up to the vote, as civilizations fought for crucial votes.
The diplomatic AI has been vastly improved too – previously, it was only a matter of time before the AI would reveal it was planning to attack you all along, no matter how friendly they were to your face. Now there are many more ways in which to interact with the AI – they like it when you tell them what your spies have found out, they don’t like it when you send in missionaries to convert their people, for example.
It no longer seems so schizophrenic – virtually every time I was attacked over the weekend, I understood perfectly well why (usually because I'd been stealing their land and picking on their friends).
And the combat is also much improved. Gone is the relatively blunt 10-point health scale, which lead to the bizarre situation of a stealth bomber losing 10 percent of its health every time it attacked a stone age warrior.
It has been replaced with a 100-point scale, which allows for much finer tuning. Many of the combat units have been altered for balance reasons, and battles now last much longer and feel more strategic.
It's now possible to even come back from a losing position in a war if you position your units well, something I found virtually impossible beforehand.
There are several little things in Gods & Kings that improve on the base game that to be honest, should probably be in the base game. They include things like a shuffle map option that randomises things like sea level and climate, the button that lets you find a city state from its diplomacy screen and bundling several declarations of war into a single notification.
Little changes like these just make the game seem that much smoother and intuitive, it's strange they're included in an expansion rather than a patch.
Alterations like the improved AI, revamped naval combat and changes to great people are also welcome, but again, could easily be grafted onto the vanilla game in a patch without discouraging anyone from buying the expansion pack.
A cynic would argue that Gods & Kings brings the game to the level it should have been on release, and considering some of the amazing work modders did on Civilization IV after Beyond the Sword, it's a reasonable position to take.
But I think the switch to hex tiles and an AI that played to win at all costs fundamentally changed the series, and the developers probably had no option but to strip the game back to its core elements to manage the change. Considering just how different the base Civilization V game is to what it was in 2010, it's hard to imagine how they would have fixed it with the added complications of religion and espionage on top.
With the base game having undergone a year-and-a-half of fine tuning in the wild, now is the perfect time to take it to the next level, and that's just what the developers have done with Gods & Kings.
It's arguable that it does for Civilization V what Beyond the Sword did for Civilization IV, so if there is a second expansion after Gods & Kings, it would seem Civilization V is well on the way to claiming its spot as the best game in the series, just as each game before it has done.
(Note: I haven't had time to play the scenarios just yet, but they're by all accounts very good – just not my thing.)
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27/06/2012 1:14:20 a.m.
Don't forget to send your missionaries, prophets and inquisitors with your invasion fleet lol.
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