The new expansion to Civilization V, Gods & Kings, has been out for less than a week and I have already played it longer than most full-sized AAA games. Even crazier, I have a lot left to learn, experience, and do in the game, because I feel like I have barely scratched the surface. Overall, this expansion changed several elements of the original that were definitely in need of balancing, it added a couple of systems that add a lot more replayability, and is a must buy for a fan of the series.
Let’s get started with the improvements to the base game. First of all, Great Scientists have finally been put in their place. I don’t know if you had a chance to play with the Babylon civilization, but their special power combined with the horribly overpowered ability of the Great Scientist to instantly learn any technology allowed for some serious slingshotting. With the right combination of wonders and tech choices, you could easily skyrocket your technology far beyond the reach of any AI competitor.
Second, Trading Posts were pushed back further into late game. I especially love gold in Civilization V, as its versatility for expanding, building units and buildings, or influencing a city-state is immense. As such, I tend to build almost nothing but Trading Posts in many of my games, which does lead the game down a repetitive, not at all strategic path. With this change, I at least have to make some different decisions and choices on where and when I build an improvement.
Third, city-states and diplomacy combine to make the game’s most important changes. The biggest issue with the base game is the stupidity of the enemy AI, the passive and boring gameplay of city-states, and the limited interactions possible with other civs. Civilization V helps to make all of those things better by making the AI a little smarter, city-states far more active and dynamic, and throws religion and espionage into the mix of Ways to Piss Off Your Angry Neighbors.
Of course, these changes are not as comprehensive as I would like. City-states still feel a little boring, and I really wish they had more aspirations than one city even if that just meant pillaging raids and actively sending in military support to allies. The AI seems improved, but will still turn on you far too quickly. Still, Gods & Kings improves the base game dramatically in all of these areas, which is really all you can hope for in an expansion.
And finally, Gods & Kings does some careful editing and streamlining of the early naval and ranged unit gameplay that really help improve the early game dramatically. Before, Archers didn’t have a real upgrade path, which has now been rectified. I personally love the ranged units, in general, and never shook off that Civ IV habit of garrisoning archers as my primary defensive unit in my cities, so this change is very well loved. Additionally, the first siege weapon no longer requires Iron which, while it doesn’t solve getting resource fucked in the early game, does help to at least make it possible to launch a calculated assault in an early game rush.
My favorite change, however, is the changes to the first naval military unit, the Trireme, into a melee ship that can gain gold from raiding cities. One of my biggest peeves from the base game is the moments when your units are on the coast, and Barbarian ships constantly poke at you. Sure, they do no real damage, but I don’t want my screen to jump back to that spot every turn for inconsequential gameplay. The ability to actually launch a city assault from the sea in the early game really helps make Naval civilizations a little more fearsome, and adds to what is for me the most consistently bad area of gameplay in the Civilization series (and honestly most RTS games). Civilization V’s strides to make the naval side of the military equation have made me a real convert to using ships as a primary force.
In addition to base game changes, this expansion adds a multitude of civilizations to play and two new gameplay mechanics.
Most of the civilizations I have played have been pretty solid and they definitely bring new, much appreciated flavors to the game. My favorite thus far has been the Celts because I really like their more militant approach to religion and faith gains. I have had trouble utilizing some of the other civilizations, however, such as Austria. Their ability to annex or puppet allied city-states with gold seems like a good option to have, but with rapid city expansion being relatively easy to pull off, I don’t see the point in acquiring random ones around the map. Perhaps that is just ignorance on my part, however, because I am not the world’s best Civilization V player.
Religion is an interesting overall addition the series, but it hardly captures what I loved about it in Civilization IV. Honestly, until you can start buying Great People with it, it just seems boring. Instead of making them Beliefs that you have to choose over others, I think that Faith should always allow you to build specific buildings. At least allow the Founding belief to determine a small set of options that you can buy with Faith. I also would have appreciated some sort of religion-based victory condition to mirror the early diplomacy victory of the Papal wonder in Civilization IV. Perhaps something like ‘Spread your own religion to x amount of city-states and a Great Pilgrim will be born, Great Pilgrim must build x amount of wonders in x amount of city-states, you win.”
The Espionage system is a little too passive for my tastes. I like what it tries to do and I definitely like that it gets rid of the spy unit, but I wish I had a little more control over it. As it is now, I send a spy off to a semi-important to important city and forget about him until he is discovered, and someone is suddenly pissed off at me. I would much rather it be something more deliberate and calculated on my part, with spies being VERY expensive to re-obtain, but not quite as easy to dispatch (at least not passively so).
Overall, Gods & Kings is the type of expansion that DLC wishes he could grow up to become. Firaxis has done a splendid job in adding a lot of improvements, depth, and balance changes to an already solid game. Civilization V has stolen days away from my lifetime, and with this expansion, it looks like it has many more to take from me. Civilization is still one of the greatest gaming franchises ever invented, especially when it comes to how much value you get out of each game. Gods & Kings keeps that tradition going.