Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Looking back at Civilization V: Gods & Kings

When Civilization V was released back in 2010, there were grumbles from the fanbase. While it was critically acclaimed and sold fairly well, hardcore Civ players complained that in terms of depth, it was a step down from its predecessor Civilization IV. Not only was religion removed from the game, but Civ V seemed to have an increased focus on combat. This clashes with the series’ selling point, that you can conquer the world however you want–through military power, scientific discovery, or diplomatic prowess.

The game’s first expansion, Gods & Kings, seeks to remedy that. It adds espionage and religion back into the mix as game mechanics, and further refines Civ V‘s existing ones. In addition, we get nine new civilizations to play as, and three new scenarios. It’s everything a Civilization addict could ask for!

In the age of downloadable content, modern expansion packs for computer games sit in an awkward position. Ten years ago, expansions were the only way to add more to a game. Today with digital distribution, microtransactions and lots of little downloadable content is the way to go. So it’s not often that we see a big, fully-priced $30 expansion pack anymore. Even Civ V itself has had its fair share of map packs released. Thirty bucks is a bit steep, but if you’re a fan of Sid Meier’s work, Gods & Kings is completely worth it.
On the surface, the three new scenarios to play are the most exciting addition. There’s “Into the Renaissance,” which emphasizes the game’s new religion mechanic. There’s “Fall of Rome,” which focuses on… the fall of Rome. And the most high-profile is “Into the Smoky Skies,” which re-imagines the game’s technology tree in a steampunk direction. These are all fun distractions, but long-term Civ players know this isn’t where the bulk of the gameplay is. They all warrant a couple play-throughs, but where Civilization thrives is its standard customizable matches.
Really, where Gods & Kings shines is the nuts and bolts. Religion and espionage are great additions to deepen the gameplay–religion can affect your influence on other civilizations, and espionage lets you gather intelligence on enemies (or friends). But to me, the greatest change is in the player’s relationship with city-states.
This isn’t going to make much sense to non-Civ players, which is very telling. If you’re not already a fan of CivilizationGods & Kings is definitely not going to win you over. The expansion is aimed squarely at people who are already fans of the franchise, both current Civ V players and fans of Civ IV who were turned off by the relative simplicity of the new iteration.
Previously in Civilization V, your interactions with city-states (small NPC-controlled civilizations that never expand past one city) were limited. You could give them gifts, or they could give you a simple task to complete such as “discover a natural wonder” or “destroy a nearby barbarian encampment.” This would affect your influence on the city-state, which would determine who they would side with in your interactions with the bigger civilizations.
Gods & Kings totally overhauls the city-state system. Religion and espionage both impact your influence on a city-state, and their requests from you are now much more diverse and change more often. Now, they’ll seek investors for 30 turns, or they’ll ask you to bully another city-state. It keeps the city-state interactions fresh, and ensures you can pour another 200 hours into this game without getting bored.
When it comes to the game’s meat and potatoes, there’s a lot of new material to explore. In addition to all the existing civilizations, Gods & Kings introduces nine new playable civs: Austria, the Byzantine Empire, ancient Carthage, the Celts, Ethiopia, the Huns, the Mayans, the Netherlands, and Sweden, as well as Mongolia and Spain (which were included in previous Civ V DLC). I only wish the developers would’ve completed the job and included all the other civilizations from previous DLC: Babylon, Denmark, the Incas, Korea, and Polynesia are all absent from Gods & Kings. Fear not, though; if you’ve already purchased these other civs, they’ll integrate into Gods & Kings, too.
The expansion also a bunch of new units, buildings, and wonders for your cities to produce. This is in the interest of further balancing the game, as well as creating a more fleshed-out “modern” era; previously, players jumped from the industrial era to the modern era to the future era, and that was that. Now, there’s an atomic era and an information era, with units and buildings to reflect them such as bomb shelters and internet firewalls.
Overall, if you’re not already into Civilization, you won’t be converted by Gods & Kings. But if you like Sid Meier’s franchise at all–whether you’re already a Civ V player or your last outing was IV–it’s well worth $30 of content.

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