Civ V Expansion Preview: Gods, Kings, and Custom Religions

 

I’ve always had a soft spot for Civilization intro cinematics. They show some violence, sure, but in contrast to so many other games, they also celebrate human achievement, in the form of art, science, and architecture. There’s something really sublime about the way the series turns the entire scope of human experience into a game, and I think it explains their enduring popularity almost as much as the stellar game design does.

Sitting in 2K’s well-appointed PAX booth (complete with cushioned, cinema-style seats), I got chills as I watched the cinematic that introduces Civilization V’s new expansion, Gods & Kings. Galileo peered through his telescope, pausing to scribble notes that would change the arc of history. A Florentine dignitary watched the sun set behind the incomplete dome of the Duomo.

Thanks to lead designer Ed Beach and his team, Civ fanatics have a lot to look forward to in Gods & Kings, including 9 new civs, 27 new units, and 9 new wonders. When it comes to combat, certain historical eras have been fleshed out; units like Great War Infantry and the Landship (a primitive tank) will bridge the gap between 19th century forces and World War II-era technology. The once-bare archery unit tree has received particular attention, with the addition of Composite Bowmen, as well as Gatling and Machine Guns later in the game. Naval combat has also been redesigned, creating a “melee” class of ships that can capture coastal cities.

The City-State system was also the focus of a much-needed overhaul. Hard cash now has less of an influence; in its place, players will curry favor by completing AI-generated quests that help various city-states achieve their goals. Two new types have also been added: “religious” city-states produce faith, while “mercantile” city-states produce luxury goods.

 

As befits the expansion’s title, the new religion system is a centerpiece. Masterfully handled in Civilization IV, religion in Gods & Kings is significantly more complicated. Cities will have a new yield, “faith,” which will be earned gradually like currency, found in ruins, or generated by buildings and wonders. At certain faith milestones, civilizations will choose a god for their “Pantheon” from a finite list of 30 or so abstracted deities. Each primitive god provides a tangible bonus, so shrewd players will look for synergies — the “Goddess of the Hunt” is a useful choice if you have a lot of nearby deer resources, for example. Once a deity is picked from the list, it becomes unavailable to other players, so engaging in rapid, early polytheism can reap significant benefits.

Later in the game, players will be able to found their own religions using Great Prophets. Founding a religion entails three choices: the icon (selected from a list representing the world’s major religions), the founder belief (which gives benefits to your civ for every converted city), and the city belief (which benefits converted cities directly). The number of possible religions is finite — limited to half the number of civs in the game — and again, it’s helpful to found them early and often. Like in Civ IV, religions will affect diplomatic relations, so players will do well to monitor their success. Missionary and Inquisitor units can promote or restrict the spread of religion.

When civilizations first enter the Renaissance Era, they gain access to Gods & Kings’ brand new espionage system. Spies are no longer built; each civilization receives a set number of spies based on its current historical era. Spies can engage in the usual skulduggery, poisoning wells and stealing technology, but they also have the ability to build up city-state influence by influencing elections (which take place every 12 turns) or even staging coups. Successful agents will level up over time, increasing their chances of future success. Most interestingly, spies can now report on what a particular civilization is planning, providing a wealth of strategic and diplomatic possibilities. If the Germans are planning to invade France (to pick a historically unrealistic example), players can choose to warn the French (gaining a diplomatic bonus with the French, and debit with the Germans) or try to exploit the coming war to their overall advantage.

 

By introducing two popular new systems from past games, along with a host of sensible small-scale changes, Gods & Kings will please active players while also tempting Civ veterans who lost interest in the game after its rocky launch (yours truly included). Though it’s a shame that successful Civ IV features like religion have only been made available as paid DLC, the expansion is certainly a step in the right direction. It will be available June 19th.


Game Front was on-site at PAX East all weekend (April 6-8), bringing you daily news, hands-on previews, interviews and pictures. Stay tuned for more PC gaming-focused coverage!

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