The Civilization series has created an interesting addiction for turn based strategies fans who prefer free scenarios instead of the historical accuracy offered by a Total War game. And almost two years after Civilization V hit the store shelves, Firaxis decided to give us another dose of the „drug” in the form of Gods & Kings, while at the same time reintroducing an element ignored in the previous iteration of the series – religion.
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Like any add-on, Gods & Kings doesn’t completely overhaul the gameplay, only adding some „meat” all over to justify the entry fee (30 euros). So we get nine new civilizations with just as many wonders, 13 buildings, three scenarios, some 27 new units, said religion and some espionage on top, plus all sorts of modifications for existing buildings and units.
The tech tree also got 8 new improvements (like Guilds for the medieval era, Architecture in the Renaissance or Telecommunications for the Information age) and a hefty list of changes for the existing ones.
In the end though, the game is the same and the turns will unfold in the same manner towards the final victory. You won’t even feel a lot of the changes and additions if you’re not a huge fan who analyzes if a unit or another now has a + or -1 to attack, but most players will be affected and forced to adjust their strategies depending on religion.
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Together with the idea of a superior being comes a new resource, Faith, alongside the existing gold, culture and happiness. At first, getting faith is slow, with altars and temples, eventually discovering bonuses in various ruins spread all over the map. Then you get to a little pantheon and after that you choose a real religion from the 11 available. Advancing from pantheon to major deity and from altars to cathedrals is done by specifying Beliefs, each with their own advantages (on the religious side or for the economy).
Beliefs come in four flavors: Pantheon (bonuses for resources and terrain), Founder (dedicated to the first civilization that founds a religion), Follower (bonuses and/or structures for any city that pledges to a religion) and Enhancer (cheaper missionaries to spread easier and faster your own faith). A nation can have up to five Beliefs, which cannot be reused by any other religion on the map.
Beyond bonuses, religion, just like in real life, creates factions, majorities and perhaps conflicts. If at start a pantheon is limited to a single city, advanced religion spreads beyond borders (1o hexes around a faithful city) and if the majority of the citizens adopt it, it becomes the main faith.
It thus generates a pressure that spreads, and you want it to spread, because a union in faith helps city relationships and it’s easier to use diplomatic acts while you prepare for war. And to make things easier, there are missionaries available, while the Inquisitors stop the spread of a religion or even eradicate it (Remove Heresy). And for both actions Prophets were introduced, one new type of Great People.
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Besides the obvious use to create and spread religion, Faith can be also used to buy buildings, units or Great People (personalities that offer bonuses depending on the chosen social policy – for example, if you choose Autocracy you get a Great General or a Great Admiral , while Freedom has a Great Artist). All these actions are recommended and efficient up until halfway into a match (around the Renaissance), just to become penalties afterwards when considered into diplomatic decisions and a rival asks you to stop preaching and you refuse.
Not that it really matters though, because the AI is almost the same. There are some changes, true, at least you don’t get spearmen killing off tanks anymore, but it’s just as hard to get a cultural win. Even if you get there, you still have to support some serious army if you don’t want to go out in smoke and be a footnote of history – the AI will judge you fast and attack if you don’t defend well right from the start.
At the other end, if you move fast and recruit a sizeable army (not necessarily swarms of troops, but with superior tech), the AI will just mind its own business, coming at with you only with trade requests. Even if it denounces you or creates alliances, when it’s obvious you got the bigger guns, you have your back covered.
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The second notable novelty is espionage, but this isn’t about NPCs on the map, only a menu with dedicated options. Since behind the visuals it’s probably a formula that calculates what the spy does and when to advance him to the next level. In theory, the idea is good – at the start of each age, you get an agent to sneak into enemy cities and steal information, tech, war plans or eliminate enemy spies if they’ve set up shop settled in your own capital. They can also rig elections or set up coups to bring a more friendly leader to power.
Practically, I didn’t really notice an influence on the gameplay. My spied rigged elections, but I didn’t get a gift, nor a welcome. Though I had agents in my capital and some other cities, I never caught an enemy agent, though I was the victim of tech theft. When I occupied a new city, the enemy spy ran, without giving me the great opportunity to catch him and execute him for treason. Just for fun.
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While on the subject of cities, two new types of city-states offer special bonuses – Faith and luxury items (Jewelry and Porcelain) – at the same time changing the measurement of health to 100 units. Because of this, the sieges are way harder to sustain and an advanced city is difficult to conquer just because it’s enough to have walls and garrisoned troops to decimate the attackers.
What’s truly interesting are the three scenarios – Fall of Rome, Into the Renaissance and Empires of the Smokey Skies – each with a special approach and big changes for troops, buildings and strategies, especially for the last one. Victory is based on 5 categories (of which the winner must control at least three) and in Empires of the Smokey Skies the tech tree is totally different from Steam Power onward, with flying and terrestrial vehicles, modified social policies and no religion. The three scenarios are really interesting since they come with a different approach in the Civ universe based on familiar mechanics, a step towards more experimentation for Firaxis.
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The visuals are still just as good, with the same choices for DirectX 9 or DirectX 10/11, where the differences are significant. The soundtrack didn’t catch my ear and I had no freezes or crashes many players complained about. I only deactivated the intro movie after the first showing since it had indeed the tendency to crash the game in the first loading screen, but after that Gods & Kings rolled out smoothly, with no technical issues or frame rate drops.
The multiplayer is also the same, with long loading times as the game advances. It’s true that all the turns are simultaneous, but you still have to wait for the other players and staring at the clock isn’t such a good idea for spending your time. So competing with other people is fun if you really know the players and you can scold them for being late the next time you all go out for a beer.
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On the other hand, everything that could drive you nuts in Civilization V is still there: the unit micromanagement eventually gets very tedious, small islands turn into a crowded madness and if you let the units go their own way, they’ll take the most scenic routes you’ve ever seen.
So the bottom line is that, depending on how much you love the franchise, Gods & Kings can be seen as a sum of natural improvements for an add-on or a breath of fresh air for the series as a whole.