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Civilization V: Gods and Kings

Civilization

Despite being one of 2010′s most critically acclaimed PC games, Civilization V is something of a black sheep for fans of the series. Civilization has always been an incredibly complex game with tons of tiny little details to fine-tune. It’s also been a tad impenetrable for people unprepared to read the large manuals each game came with – being complicated definitely isn’t a bad thing, but it’s not great for making new fans.

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Civilization V made great strides in making the game more approachable with its sharp user interface design and changeable levels of computer assistance, but it smoothed over too many things. Religion and espionage were nowhere to be found, and seemingly small changes like being unable to trade technologies made many fans feel like the game had been simplified too much. It’s not like Civilization IV was broken, it was just unforgiving for newcomers and so in some ways, its sequel felt like two steps forward and one step back.

Gods and Kings, along with several patches released before it, do a lot to make up for the base game’s initial shortcomings. Religion and espionage are back in new, compelling forms, and there are many small balance changes and game fixes that go a long way towards making Civilization V one of the most addictive games on the planet. There are the small things: units now have more than 10 hit points, making for more interesting wars. There are finally animations in multiplayer, making the online experience feel more like a video game and less like a board game – although if you value your free time you might want to turn them off anyway. It’s certainly nice to see that goofy problem fixed, though. There are new civilizations, too, with interesting special bonuses like Ethiopia’s incredible defense buff or Carthage’s ability to send units over mountain ranges.

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Religion is the star of the show, though. It now exists as its own generated score, similar to culture in the base game. Specific buildings create different amounts of faith per turn, which can be spent on founding pantheons of gods, creating missionaries to spread the good word, and buying traits for your custom religion. These traits are all drawn out of a communal pool, which can lead to some interesting spiritual arms races. It’s a great addition to the game, and frankly, it’s also nice to have religion back in a game called Civilization. Considering its importance in history, for good and ill, its exclusion stuck out like a sore thumb in the original release of V.

Espionage is back again too, and is just as poised to ruin friendships as it was in the past. Alongside the new diplomacy option to build embassies in competing civilizations, it allows you to keep tabs on what other leaders are up to, as well as sucking some resources away from them on the sly. Getting caught can lead to some political bitterness, and it does a good job of changing the nature of the game for everyone, even players who don’t use it – after all, it’s perfectly reasonable to suspect that someone else is using it. Nothing says Civilization like paranoia! Unfortunately, it hasn’t received quite as impressive an overhaul as religion – espionage was even more wonderfully rage-inducing in IV, where it could be used to do more than just pilfer technology – but it’s still a more than welcome addition.

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Gods and Kings does a fantastic job of making Civilization V the strategy game equivalent of a black hole it always should have been. The game now features a slick, helpful interface and an absurd amount of depth and content, as opposed to feeling slightly hamstrung by its own attempts to reach out to newcomers. The classic Civilization quirks still remain – completely illogical backstabbing AI players included! – but the game now provides a much richer toolbox for budding conquerors.

9 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in October 2006.

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