If you've never played a Civilization game before, don't start now. Seriously, do yourself a favor and avoid playing any of the games in the series because you'll lose whatever free time you had to conquering the world in one of the most addictive turn based strategy games of all time. Civilization V came out in 2010 to mostly positive reviews, revitalizing the series with some pretty drastic changes to several core systems. Like every Civ game before it, Civilization V has gotten an expansion pack that tightens and balances gameplay, adds new units and features, and makes the game even more addictive. Let's see what Civilization V: Gods and Kings has to offer.
Civilization games have never been about story, in fact, there is no story. Instead you simply "play a game of Civilization" much like you'd play a board game. Winning comes in a variety of conditions - you can conquer all other civs through force, you can win the space race, you can build the Utopia Project via social policies, or you can use diplomacy to convince other nations you are their leader. How you get to these victory conditions is done through a variety of basic strategic elements that boils down to: science, money, army, diplomacy, and new to Gods and Kings is - faith or religion. While previous Civ games included a religious aspect, Civilization V: Gods and Kings utilizes faith as a resource much like culture or gold.
The level of complexity that faith adds to the game is quite astonishing, because you can really turn the tide of your empire just by having a lot of religious adopters. Let's start at the basics. Certain buildings will increase the faith of your empire. Once you amass enough faith, a Great Prophet will be born which allows you to create a religion. You'll start with picking a few bonuses for the religion - perhaps you worship harvest gods and gain food bonuses for followers in cities. Maybe you worship the war gods so any battle won near a city gives a growth bonus. Every city that is under your religion's influence, whether its your own or an opposing, will give you benefits. Later on you can add secondary benefits to your religion and you can even perform some religious espionage on opposing cities by sending in a special units to gain converts. You can even use faith to purchase units and buildings, provided you have enough.
There are nine total new Leaders and Civilizations to choose from in the expansion, including some which have bonuses to the new faith system. I played three different games with these leaders including Dido of Carthage, Pacal of the Mayans and Boudicca of the Celts. Each civilization has their own look and feel (as well as music) and all civilizations have two unique items only available to them - one unit and one building.
If all of that wasn't enough new for you there's a revamped diplomatic system that involves the return of the Spy unit, though unlike previous games, you don't create them. Instead the Espionage system is like a subgame within the game itself. The first step is to establish embassies in foreign nations via diplomacy, once completed you can send in a spy to find out what's going on. He'll feed you all kinds of information like whether a leader is amassing an army, stockpiling a resource, or various other dealings. If you choose you can have the spy attempt to steal technology but risk being caught damaging relations. You'll need to move your spy from city to city and as he carries out tasks he'll level up and become more efficient.
The final change is the city-state system has been revamped. Now these one city nations actually serve a purpose instead of just eating up territory. You'll get "quests" from them - a simple clear this barbarian encampment or asking for investments. Completing these quests in a timely manner will earn you some sort of tangible reward, usually in the form of a unit.
The saying, "just one more turn" still rings true for Gods and Kings. The Civilization games have this surreptitious ability to make you lose all track of time and become completely sucked into the game world. The game comes down to a series of small goals you constantly set for yourself and you'll find yourself trying to power through each turn to see the end result. While many purists had a lot of problems with Civilization V (I wasn't one of them) - it does feel like Firaxis has listened to fan feedback and really focused on things like balance, usefulness, and AI. Tactics that used to work for me, especially when conquering cities, no longer feel as effective. Overall the combat lasts longer, with unit to unit battles lasting a handful of turns rather than just one or two. There's also a reduced focus on the Golden Age, something I used to take advantage of in the original. Because of this a great person's special ability (and the expansion of added great people) make them feel more worthwhile to keep around instead of sacrificing them to a golden age.
Civilization V: Gods and Kings keeps all of the updates from the original, which means Hot Seat Multiplayer is here for some good old couch co-op goodness. You can set the game up in any configuration you wish for up to 12 players and set up teams to go against AI or other players. Teams can be imbalanced so if you want to do 4 players vs 2 AI players, you can do that. This rings true to the game's online play as well which supports all the same options as the local co-op play.
Co-Op play adds some really neat strategies to the series, the biggest has to do with the sharing of technologies. When one player unlocks a tech, all players on the team unlock it. If two players are researching the same technology, the time to research it is cut in half. Because of this players can basically divvy up the technology tree and work their way through it much faster. You can also utilize the diplomacy menus to gift items and resources where needed. Conquering the world together is definitely great fun.
All in all Gods and Kings continues the tradition of creating compelling expansion packs with just enough content to justify the cost. In the age of DLC, something Civilization V had plenty of, expansions have become a rarity. For $30 you are getting a ton of great content as well as near complete overhauls of many of the core systems, which is something you couldn't have seen i a $5 or $10 piece of DLC. Overall Civilization V: Gods and Kings will keep you addicted just as much as the original, and with more ways to have just one more turn, you'll be losing plenty of time lost in its fun addictive nature.
The PC version of Civilization V: Gods and Kings was provided by 2K Games for review purposes. The full version of Civlization V is required to play.