I noted in my original review of Civilization V that I expected an espionage system of some sort to be added in an expansion. I also stated, in a February edition of the Civilization Polycast webcast that I expected an expansion to be announced soon. I was right on both accounts!
I’ve spent a lot of time with Gods & Kings in the few months since its release, but I’m disappointed to say that it hasn’t quite lived up to my expectations.
Table of Contents
The changes I can’t live without
The expansion isn’t a complete let-down though. It does include some significant enhancements to the core experience.
Rebalanced combat and better tactical AI makes wars more fun
Despite the tactical combat of Civ V being a step up from the previous iterations’ stack-based wars, the base game contained some considerable flaws. The AI was never particularly good, navies were mostly useless, and too many units could be focus-fired to death with just one-to-three attacks.
Combat has now been completely rebalanced so that all units have 100 hit points instead of just 10, and strengths and damage have been adjusted so that units are no longer being one-hit-killed nearly as often. A majority of units will now survive multiple combats with any contemporary unit, giving the player (and AI) time to swap front-line units with reinforcements. It’s now a bit harder to keep a 10-to-1 kill rate against AI units going.
Cities do seem to have been buffed considerably, but siege weapons have not been buffed accordingly. Siege weapons are now almost useless unless they have the Cover promotion (reducing damage from ranged combat), as any city can now kill an unpromoted siege weapon in just two or three hits. Considering that siege weapons will usually have to spend a whole turn getting themselves into position and taking bombardment without being able to return fire themselves, this is a significant problem for would-be city conquerors.
[LEFT] Sieging cities is considerably harder since siege weapons do not stand up very well to the bombardment from cities. You want to bring in an already-damaged unit in order to divert the city's attention long enough to get your siege weapons set up and get a few shots off.
[RIGHT] At least the Hunnic Battering Ram doesn't need to be set up before attacking the city.
Fortunately though, navies have been buffed considerably, and are now a viable way to harass and capture cities. Melee ships have been added to the game, which can directly attack (and even capture) coastal cities, as well as capture defeated enemy ships. Naval units can now also be stacked with embarked land units, and a new Great Admiral unit has been added. The Admiral is only mildly useful. He provides a passive combat bonus to nearby naval units and can be sacrificed to auto-heal a fleet of adjacent ships. He would be a much more useful unit if he weren't considerably slower than late-game naval units and if he also provided slow passive healing to nearby ships (since naval units don't start with the ability to heal outside your territory).
If you’re stuck trying to capture a land-locked enemy city, and can’t bring your navy, then you’re stuck having to sacrifice a few siege weapons or bring extra cannon-fodder.
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More dynamic, but still not life-like City States
The changes made to City States ends up being the most universally-positive change to the overall game. New City State types have been added to the game to offer more variety. In addition, gold gifts have lost most of their influence with City States, and they can now offer multiple quests simultaneously, so you’re not stuck with all the nearby City States demanding that you kill each other, and then getting mad at you because you killed too many City States. In fact, the "capture City State X" quest seems to have been completely removed; it has been replaced with a "demand tribute from City State X" quest. Demanding tribute is now a powerful new tool at your disposal. By intimidating rival City States with your armies, you can demand that they give you gifts of gold or workers. This will, of course, lower your influence with them, as well as draw the attention of any civilizations that might be friendly with that City State. But at least you finally have a recourse for dealing with pesky City States other than capturing them and then being stuck with paying for their upkeep.
[LEFT] City States can offer multiple quests simultaneously, but later in the game, many of them are very passive and don't require any active effort from the player in order to accomplish.
[RIGHT] Harassing City States with your armies and navies gives you something to do when not in active war. Too bad you can't demand that they give you military units, culture, luxuries, etc.
These few changes make City States more dynamic, and the way they interact with other civilizations now ebbs and flows a little more naturally over the course of the game.
Another subtle, but significant improvement to the way City States work is there is now a "resting point" in your relationships with them that is slightly different than your "influence". Basically, the "influence" can change at the drop of a hat, but the "resting point" is permanent unless you do something to change it. It basically acts as a minimum influence level which you cannot fall below under normal circumstances. In the base game, if you were very friendly with a City State, but then another civilization that you are at war with buys an alliance with that friendly City State, they will suddenly declare war on you and will hate you even after peace is made. Now, if that same situation happens, the City State will still declare war on you (nothing you can do about that), but assuming you don’t do anything else to provoke them (like nuke them into oblivion), once the war is over, your influence will return to its pre-war resting point. I’ve had situations in which I was an ally of a City State, then an enemy of mine became their ally, the City State declared war on me, we made peace later, and they immediately went back to being my ally.
The changes to the City States are an almost universally-positive change to the game, and almost single-handedly make the expansion worth having. I was a little disappointed that their behavior wasn’t made a little bit more lifelike, and that they weren’t given more fleshed-out diplomatic options (such as being able to open trade routes with them, or demand that they move units out of your way, or request that they assist you in a war).
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In Sid we trust!
The Byzantines' unique ability is that they get an extra religious belief.
One of the primary new features is the new religion mechanic. This mechanic differs greatly from the version offered in Civilization IV, in that it is based on the acquisition of a new game-yield called "faith". When you accumulate enough faith (through buildings, City State relations, or other factors), you can adopt various religious beliefs. Once a particular belief is claimed by a specific civ, it is no longer available to others. This means that the early game can be a race to obtain the best beliefs.
The religions can offer some powerful abilities, but overall, the feature isn’t very well integrated into the rest of the game. While you can use religion to supplement a particular victory goal, you often have to go out of your way to develop a religion. It’s rarely a natural or organic development of your growing civilization the way that the other yields are. And since religion isn’t a path to victory in and of itself, it ends up feeling kind of tacked on, and it can be completely ignored without jeopardizing the potential for winning the game. The particular beliefs you chose also tend to be very automatic and mechanical decisions that are based on the map you’re on and availability of nearby resources, so it doesn’t require much thought.
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In her majesty’s mostly-useless service
Sadly, the other major additional feature in the expansion isn’t all that much more useful. In my review of the base game, I made a big stink about how the lack of any sort of espionage or active spying left a gaping hole in Civ V’s mechanics. Despite an espionage system being added to the game, this hole still isn’t completely filled, and the mechanic itself just isn’t very engaging for the player.
Spies aren’t units anymore. Espionage is handled completely through a menu widget. Once any player reaches the Renaissance Era, all players are given a spy. Prior to the Renaissance, you’re dependent on Open Borders treaties (moved to require Civil Service instead of Writing) and missionaries to perform reconnaissance of your enemies. Once you have a spy, you can assign your agent to a rival city in order to conduct a mission. The type of mission depends on which city you send your spy to.
Surveying rival cities and stealing techs
By sending a spy to a rival civilization’s city, you can conduct surveillance. Over time, your spy may learn secrets about this civilization’s plans as well as providing passive visibility to the city the spy is stationed in. Your spy may learn some juicy gossip, such as that the rival civ is planning on attacking another civ (or even you). If you learn that rival civs are plotting against each other, you can even warn them, and will earn their gratitude. Unfortunately, this mechanic doesn’t work in multiplayer (for obvious reasons).
Once surveillance is complete, the spy will attempt to steal a technology from the rival civ (if that civ has any technologies that you don’t have). This is a valuable ability, but it quickly loses its value once you catch up to everybody else in techs. In fact, if you are so far behind that stealing technologies is a crucial part of your strategy, then you probably should just give up, because you’re doomed to lose anyway.
That’s it. That’s all your spies can do against rival civilizations!
You can’t sabotage their cities or land improvements. You can’t damage their armies. You can’t poison their population. You can’t steal money from their coffers or launder it from their trade routes. You can’t spread propaganda amongst their citizens to cause civil unrest. You can’t even lie to other civs about whether or not they are really plotting against each other!
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I'm ahead in tech and have the Great Firewall defending my own techs from being stolen, so my spies don't have much to do except rig elections. It's all very passive, and doesn't require me to actually do anything.
So once you get caught up with everyone else technologically, there’s no real reason to keep your spies in rival civilizations’ cities. Instead, you can send them to City State cities. Here, they can "rig elections" every few turns, which can shift your influence with the City State and lower your rivals’ influence. You can also have the spy immediately trigger a coup, which will supplant their current ally and allow you to become their new ally. The longer the spy has been in the city, and the higher your current influence is, the more effective they will be at this.
But this is also the only thing you can do with your spies in City States.
You can’t influence what quests they offer. You can’t manipulate them into declaring war with other players or City States. You can’t sabotage them (to prevent their allies from using their resources).
Counter-espionage and overall boredom
Lastly, you can assign your spy to work in one of your cities. This will cause the spy to start performing counter-espionage. While performing counter-espionage, if another spy attempts to steal a technology from you, your spy has a chance of stopping the theft and even killing the rival spy. Spies gain experience as they successfully steal technologies, which makes them more effective in any future missions, so having a spy killed can be a devastating set-back.
But again, there’s really not much for you to do here.
This espionage system does fill an essential need of being a viable catch-up mechanic for players that fall behind technologically, but it's probably not going to allow you to stage any epic comebacks, especially if you're also far behind economically.
In fact, the whole espionage system is pretty boring. It’s all very passive. You just sit your spies in cities and wait for something to happen. Missions will often take very many turns to complete, and there’s nothing for you to do in the meantime. There just isn’t very much player engagement. You can’t move your spies around to scout out enemy territory, or sabotage specific units or do anything that might feel particularly useful or genuinely damaging to your enemy.
Even the newly-added Privateer unit doesn’t allow you to actively harass your rivals unless you’re in an active state of war. It makes the Privateer unit feel worthless, which sucks, because it was one of my favorite units in Civ IV and Colonization.
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Lack of overall player engagement cripples the appeal of the late-game
In fact, this lack of player engagement actually becomes a huge problem later in the game. If you’re not in a perpetual state of war with someone, then the second half of the game can get incredibly boring and drag on forever. Once you’re done settling all the land, exploring the map, and cementing your diplomatic relations, all you have left to do is either start killing everybody, or just set up your research and build queues and then hit the "End Turn" button over and over again, stopping every so often to select a new Social Policy or deal with an expired diplomatic agreement.
The new features in the game didn’t do anything to address this problem. I had high hopes that the City State quests and spying would give less aggressive players something interesting to do during the later eras of the game beside pound on the other players, but they don’t. City State quests usually just reduce to "acquire the most of yield X". They don’t give you anything particularly active for you to do. It’s all very passive: “whoever generates the most of some yield gets influence points.”
Spying is the same way, you just set your spies up, and then sit and wait.
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Other changes are hit-or-miss
I was very pleased to see that the Diplomatic Victory has been subtly (but significantly) changed. Civs can no longer vote for themselves in the UN. Instead, AIs will vote for whoever they are the most friendly with, so your relations with other civs actually has an effect on this victory path. The Diplo Victory was the stupidest and most exploitable victory path in the base game, and I often disabled it. Now, with this change, and with the weakening of gold influence to City States, the Diplomatic Victory is now much more balanced and realistic, and actually requires a little bit of “diplomacy”, rather than just lots of money!
Some of the new civilizations are pretty cool.
The Maya [LEFT] use the Mayan Long Count Calendar after Theology is researched.
The Dutch [RIGHT] have a very powerful unique improvement called the "Polder" that can only be built on marshes and flood plains and which synergizes exceptionally well with certain wonders. Their ability to keep half the happiness from luxuries that are traded away is also a fantastic ability!
Despite the Diplomatic Victory being rebalanced, the Cultural Victory is still a bit unfair. Social Policies are a direct path to the Culture victory condition, but the Social Policies themselves are still not counted in the player score at all. However, number of cities, population, world wonders, technology, and land area all are. Which means if you were going for a Culture win (which generally requires you to have fewer cities and therefore less land, population, and science), then you are handicapping yourself in the event that the game ends prematurely.
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Diplomacy still not improved much at all
Another very nice addition to diplomacy is that AIs will not automatically approach you to extend an expiring deal. It’s a nice touch, but there are still some problems. Sometimes, the AI won’t accept any extension of the deal, so going to the diplomatic screen was just a waste of time. You also still have to extend the deals one-at-a-time during the AIs’ turns! This means that if several deals expire on the same turn, you don’t have an opportunity to look at what resources the other AIs can offer before you have to commit to trading with each of them. Since the deals were originally-struck on my turn, they should be renegotiated on my turn.
A better way of handling this (IMO) would be to group "Expiring Deals" as a notification on the turn that they expire. You should then be able to click on the notification to be taken to the "Current Deals" screen of diplomacy, which should have an extra header titled "Expiring Deals". From there, you should have the option to either "extend this deal" (grayed out if the AI won’t accept it anymore), "renegotiate this deal", or "allow deal to expire".
[LEFT] Diplomatic notification spam is still a big problem. The least they could do is group them based on deal type (i.e. Open Borders, trade deals, etc), or by civilization (i.e. group all notifications about Rome).
[RIGHT] Compare those to the City State notifications, which are grouped together and are less annoying.
There's more diplomatic modifiers and a few new ways to improve relations, and relationships are much more stable than they used to. All that is good. I also like the new embassy option that reveals each other's capitals on the map and allows Open Borders and other treaties. It's a very good source of intel early in the game and helps to fill out your map.
The few new diplomatic changes still don’t resolve the core issues with diplomacy.
AIs don’t feel any more like real people or nations. You still can’t make a friendly request (i.e. "Could you spare this resource for a good friend?") - you know, like the AIs can do to you! Still can’t sanction AI behavior. For example, when I denounce someone, I can’t give any sort of reason for why I am denouncing them, and all denouncements are treated identically by other AI players. So if I have a legitimate reason to denounce another player (for example, they attack a CS I am friendly with), denouncing them will cause diplomatic penalties with other civs regardless of how heinous the denouncee’s act was. This happens to be numero uno on my AI wishlist! AIs still are unwilling to offer any spoils when trying to negotiate peace after about the Medeival era. You still can’t see your relationship status when on the actual Trade screen nor can you open up the diplomacy window on top of it (to see the status of active trades and relationships with other players). There’s also still no options for international trade routes.
I'm also not a big fan of the new unit upgrade paths and some of the rebalancing of unit strengths. I particularly dislike that Longswordsmen now upgrade directly to Musketmen. I liked the old upgrade path better, since I feel like Longswords and Musketmen should be contemporary units with each other, and Musketmen should initially be pretty weak against direct melee attacks. Personally, I think Musketmen should be pretty weak, but they should have a "first strike" bonus that gives them an opening round of non-reciprocated combat when defending against a melee unit.
Developing coastal cities is unnecessarily slowed by the ridiculously low priority given to sea tiles (even ones with resources).
Lastly, coastal cities seem to have been severely nerfed by the fact that sea tiles have extremely low priority with regard to culture expansion. It's so bad that sea tiles containing resources (like Fish or Whales) have lower priority than empty grassland tiles, despite having strictly superior yield. This needs to be fixed, as it unbalances certain civilizations by forcing coastal cities to have to spend gold to annex these valuable tiles, whereas landlocked cities will automatically annex valuable tiles (like Wheat and Cows) as soon as possible.
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Gods & Kings adds some nice wrinkles to the gameplay, but nothing really game-changing
If you’re a fan of Civ V, then Gods & Kings is a must-buy. The changes to combat rules and City State interactions alone make the expansion worth having, not to mention the fun new civilizations and scenarios.
The new features and mechanics add some fun and interesting wrinkles to Civ V’s gameplay, but they’re just wrinkles. Nothing here is a real game-changer, and if you are one of the people who refuses to touch Civ V because it’s not as deep and "simulation"-like as Civ IV, then Gods & Kings isn’t going to change your mind.
In the developers' defense though, the changes that were made for the expansion are directly pulled from the requests of the fans on the forum. People wanted religion and spies, and that's what they got. So I definitely do want to give Firaxis and 2K credit for listening to the feedback of the fans. In addition, if you haven't touched the game since the first few months after its initial release, Firaxis has done a pretty good job of addressing major problems through patches and hotfixes. The game is considerably more playable than it was on release-day. If you think commenting on game forums is a waste of time because the game-makers don't listen to you, Gods & Kings is proof that your voice does matter! Thank you, Firaxis, for listening. But better luck next time.
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