I am a huge Civilization addict, so here's my review of the latest Civilization V expansion, Gods and Kings. Like many Civilization addicts, I was disappointed to see religion disappear in Civ V. Gods and Kings attempts to correct this omission. After losing many days to this game (just…one…more…turn…), I'm ready to give my verdict on whether or not the expansion was successful at doing this. I have mixed feelings about it.
Start a religion
The addition of religion goes without much fanfare in the game. In the early stages of the game, you have the ability to build a shrine, and that's pretty much it. Cities with shrines will start producing a new resource, faith, and when you have enough faith, you can start a religion.
If you want, you can skip religion completely and go on with your military/cultural/whatever domination. There are a limited number of religions that can be founded in a game, and if your civ doesn't have one, you might be at a disadvantage later on -- especially in the early parts of the game. But it's not a requirement.
Once you found a religion, you can choose special bonuses, and as your religion spreads and gets bigger, you can choose more and more bonuses. Your religion can spread to other civilizations as well, either passively or through the player's actions. To push your religion further, you need to build units such as the missionary or the inquisitor, and you can do this only with the faith resource. Missionaries will turn citizens who don't have a religion into followers. Inquisitors will remove followers of other religions.
Why go through all the trouble? If you convert a city to your religion, you will get -- yep, you guessed it -- more bonuses, and these can make a significant difference. Also, civilizations that have the same religion are more likely to play nice with each other. Of course, if you're a complete jerk to a civ, having the same religion won't help you. They'll still declare war on you.
It's all a big game of cat and mouse. Mostly, it works. And it serves to make Civ V's already rich gameplay even richer. More decisions to make and more complexity are a good thing in this case.
On the downside, this new religion system fails to significantly drive gameplay. Here comes the inevitable Civ IV comparison:
I remember having holy wars in Civ IV when one player's city became the Holy Land. Every player just had to have that city, and it felt realistic and historical all at the same time. Don't expect this from Civ V's religion system.
Religion in Civ V is a fun diversion and it can impact your civ (or others') in a positive way, but in Civ V, what drives gameplay/starts wars/pushes your economy/tells a story is still the city-states. Making an effort to use religion will, of course, make the game about religion, but you have to go out of your way and try really hard. Most of the time, religion in Civ V is a side dish. A yummy side dish.
Spy Versus Spy
The other big change in Gods and Kings is the return of espionage. Instead of having spy units that you move on the map, you get a whole espionage screen. Your first spy unit appears around the renaissance, and you get an additional spy every age thereon. Also, some wonders will give you an extra spy.
From the espionage screen, you can have your spies go to other civs' cities. Once there, you can gather information about the civ and steal technology. This takes a long time though, unless your spies are high level. (They gain level when they complete missions.) They can also go to city-states where they can influence elections and help you to become allies. Or they can stay in one of your cities to do some counter-espionage together with some counter-espionage buildings.
It's nice to see espionage back. But I really miss the old way espionage was done with a sexy spy unit walking around the map. The espionage screen feels like a separate game that has been glued on top of Civ V. I appreciate being able to steal technology again, but I'm a bit disappointed by espionage.
Third World Nerd Verdict
What are you waiting for? Download it.
Civ V: Gods and Kings is both a success and not. It successfully brings back some old concepts in new ways. These new ways are far from perfect and don't necessarily change the core gameplay of Civ V. On balance though, religion and espionage are positive additions that add to the fun and give players new strategies to play the game. New leaders like Boudica and Dido of Carthage also enrich a game that's already bursting at the seams with wealth. At the very least, Gods and Kings is a great excuse to return to Civ V. Do you need another reason?