For a game as large and as indepth as Civilization 5, an expansion pack looks like overkill. And yet, thatâ€™s exactly what Sid Meier and the team at Firaxis have produced.
Civilization 5: Gods and Kings is the first true expansion pack for the series and, from what little of it weâ€™ve seen, it packs quite a punch.
Building on the gameplay of what, in my view, was one of 2010â€™s best games, Gods and Kings adds a whole new layer of strategic gameplay, tactical warfare, and turn-based play.
For those that are unfamiliar with Civilization 5 and the Civilization series, shame on you. One of gamingâ€™s top-tier franchises, it's considered to be one of the most addictive games ever made (and I make that claim knowing full-well the power of World of Warcrack). What makes this turn based strategy title so addictive is the range of strategic options available to players, and the sheer complexity of the civilizational gameplay on offer.
Gods and Kings adds to this in a number of important ways. Making its return to the series is the addition of religion and - unlike the somewhat failed experiment that the series attempted in Civ 4 - this time it is integrated into the game far more smoothly.
Like culture, gold, and science, "faith" points can be collected by civilizations as they develop and advance. These points can then be "spent" on customisable religions that provide additional buffs for your citizens and economy. When I say customisable I mean it; the choice on offer is large, and the level of specificity is impressive - you can even name your religion after yourself if you want to.
Thankfully, whatever you choose isnâ€™t going to have negative effects. Unlike in previous versions in the series, your choice of Zoroastrianism, or Catholicism, or the beneficent and enlightening Conradism, isnâ€™t going to piss off your friends and neighbours.
But don't worry, Firaxis has come up with a panoply of new ways to do that.
In Gods and Kings, spies and espionage play a central part in the gameplay. This is a game element that Firaxis have tried before in the Civ series, but this time it's very different. Unlike previous versions, where spies had to be researched and then purchased, in Gods & Kings spies are earned and allocated as your civilization grows. This means that everyone has them, and they are all trying to put them to good use.
Your nest of sneaking spies is managed through an in-game advisors menu, and each spy can be assigned to different enemy cities (or even to city states). There they can snoop, steal technology, or even incite revolts and rig elections. Itâ€™s an interesting addition to the series, and injects a solely missing element from world politics in the Civ universe that, so far, has been a little undercooked.
Aside from the obvious gain you get from having your spooks all up in your neighbours sh*t, they also impact on the expansion's diplomacy mechanic, which appears to have been significantly improved from its parent title. AI appears to have been improved (but the jury is still out as to how much) and the choices and actions you can take towards other powers have been added to. The ability to create foreign embassies to solidify support has been added, as has the ability to tell enemy spies to get the hell out of dodge.
But the most interesting additions are the options to enter into friendship packs, or to make denunciations of fellow civilizations. Is Germany amassing panzer divisions on your polish border? Denounce the hell out of them, and quickly. But not before locking in a friendship pact with Britain first. You might need it. Because who knows what could happen next turn...
In addition to these new tactical and strategic additions, there are the standard expansion pack goodies. New units, new buildings, new civilizations (including those already released as downloadable content), and new combat animations. Firaxis have also taken a leaf from the modding community and have bundled some more inventive special scenarios. A particular favourite is the steampunk inspired â€śEmpires of the Smokey Skiesâ€ť. There are airships, steam-tanks, massive land leviathans, new units, resources, and factions. It's an interesting break from the more traditional Civilization 5 experience.
Civilization 5: Gods & Kings is shaping up nicely. It's an in-depth expansion that reworks new mechanics based on familiar themes back into the series. It looks like no stone has been unturned, or at the very least, uninspected. From tweaks to city states, to entire new strategic options, Gods & Kings is shaping up to be an interesting addition to one of this decadeâ€™s most engrossing strategy titles.
Gods & Kings should be shipping soon, but there's no rush. Civ fans are a patient bunch, and until it makes it way onto the steam store or shopping shelves, they will surely be content with one more turn. And then another one.Then just one more after that. And then maybe a just a final one more. Seriously, last one. I promise.
The Good: An expanded Civ experience
The Bad: Niggling concerns about foolish AI
The Ugly: Getting invaded by Mahatma Gandhi