For the first time since its launch nearly two years ago, Civilization V released an expansion pack that does more than simply add in scenarios. Dubbed Civilization V: Gods and Kings, this product adds in new features to the game, including a new religion system and the addition of Espionage to gameplay, as well as new Wonders to strive for and new civilizations to conquer. But is this amount of content worth the $29.99 price tag, especially now that the game has been out for so long?
Because this is an expansion pack, Gods and Kings doesn't so much upgrade the visuals and sound of Civ 5 as it adds to them. The new civilizations have beautifully new rendered art for their leaders, but it's very much in the same style as the original game. I suppose there might be a couple more polygons in Gustovus Adolphus' beard than in Washington's quaffed wig, but it's pretty hard to tell. I did enjoy the music that the new civilizations brought into the game, if only for variety while I waited for my poor little laptop to load the cut scenes.
As far as art for the new Wonders is concerned, those icons are pretty small, so it's difficult to really appreciate them. For the few that you see on the map, I suppose it's nice to see them rendered out into the world. I wish there was more of this sort of thing in the game, but wishing doesn't make it so.
Gods and Kings is all about the gameplay when it comes down to it. You have several new systems adding into the game here, broadening the experience of the original Civ 5. the biggest of course is Religion, which brings with it a new resource, Faith. Your citizens mysteriously start accumulating Faith at the start of the game, and there seems to be no real reason for them to do so. The policies you adopt and the actions you take seem to have very little affect on this resource. Once the citizens reach 20 Faith, you can select a basic God from the Pantheon, several of which grant bonuses to your civilization in things like Production or Happiness. At 100 Faith, you can choose to adopt a formal religion from ten available. I like the idea that you can rename your Religion and customize its affects. Later on you get the opportunity to Upgrade the Religion, which sounds a little strange outside of the gameplay experience.
Religion appears to be replacing, at least in part, the role of the Culture Bombs in the original game. There's definitely some pressure to spread your Religion throughout the world, and to protect your civilization from the Religions of others. You can send out Great Prophets or Missionarys to essentially Religion bomb cities, but the other leaders won't be too happy about it. The spreading of your Religion does provide you with more bonuses based on how many people are Followers, but there really isn't much of a significance beyond that. It seems that the system is completely separate from the rest of the game, tacked on last minute to provide additional content. At no point was I able to sweep a city into a religious fervor and have them overthrow their heathen masters, as I expected, and once you reach the Renaissance religion just stops being important. There's a lot they could have done with this system if they had thought outside of the Civ 5 box a little, but that seems to be the overarching dilemma with this development team.
Take for instance the Espionage system, a clever way to steal technologies and secrets from your neighbors. Once again its a completely random and largely passive system, since you can't actively recruit spies. At higher difficulty levels there is a chance that your spies will be found out and killed, in which case you can apologize to the offended leader and see how they take it. But the Coup button never popped up for me, so I wasn't able to test out what it would be like to overthrow another civilization, and the spies themselves were so sporadic that they didn't really affect gameplay all that much.
I found little issue with the quality of playthrough in Gods and Kings. In fact, I found that the new opening cinematic and many of the ingame elements loaded much faster with this expansion than in the first game. I played Civ 5 and Gods and Kings on my work laptop, which is not known for its processing power. The original game cinematic stuttered so bad I couldn't really watch it, so I was pleasantly surprised with whatever tightening they did on the background engine to make Gods and Kings run smoother.
The only quality issue I saw was in the interaction with world leaders in regards to the new systems. While they can yell at you for sending your faithful their way, there doesn't seem to be an option for you to do the same, which is frustrating.
The trouble with adding in these two particular systems -- Religion and Espionage -- to the game is that we know so much about them. The majority of the world is in one religion or another, some incredibly deeply, and their Faith affects more than just passive bonuses in their lives. Espionage too has been the subject of movies, books, and television for decades, and we expect spies to have a true affect on world events from the fiction we've absorbed over the years. While these systems broaden the gameplay of Civ 5, they don't deepen it, and that is ultimately what the game needs most. For an expansion that promises to provide hours of new gameplay experiences, Gods and Kings falls sadly flat. I was happy about the streamlining that happened on the backend, but I'm sure any of these features could have been provided at no cost to the players and they wouldn't have felt so hollow. It's the expansion pack price tag that galls me, knowing I have to play thirty bucks for a couple new models and a Great Prophet.