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When Sid Meier's Civilization V was released back in 2010, it met mixed reviews. The revamped combat mechanics and hexagonal game board kicked military strategy into high gear. The lackluster AI, civ-wide resource management and system-taxing game engine sent many longtime fans scurrying back to 2005's Civilization IV, a game that holds up exceedingly well.
A trickle of downloadable paid add-ons for Civ V (mostly new civs and custom scenarios) did not impress fans. Many decried this DLC should have been included in the original release, and that the game, on the whole, felt half-baked.
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It seems Firaxis and 2K Games got the message. A full expansion pack titled Gods & Kings drops tomorrow, and it's not a mere addendum. In addition to shiny new units, wonders, leaders and civs, Gods integrates deep new mechanics that will completely change your strategies for world domination.
New Civs, New Leaders, New Tactics
Gods & Kings introduces nine new civ/leader combinations. Like their rivals, each has his or her own special abilities, units and buildings that smart players will craft a strategy around. There are some familiar faces as well as newcomers to the franchise.
- Austria / Maria Theresa: The 18th century Austrian sovereign can use the "Diplomatic Marriage" ability to annex or puppet an allied city-state -- for a price, of course.
- Byzantium / Theodora: The 6th century empress rules the only civilization that can add an additional belief modifier to its founded religion. (More on this later.)
- Carthage / Dido: The founder and queen of Carthage gets a free harbor in all coastal cities. The empire's famous war elephants replace standard mounted units, and can cross mountains after the first Great General is born.
- Celts / Boudicca: Forest tiles give the tribal queen extra Faith points through the "Druidic Lore" ability. (More on Faith below.)
- Ethiopia / Haile Selassie: The emperor and spiritual leader receives a combat bonus when fighting larger civs.
- Huns / Attila: The ruler of the Asian warrior nomads can lay waste to opposing cities at twice the normal speed thanks to his "Scourge of God" ability. Bonus production points for pasture improvements.
- Maya / Pacal: Pacal receives an extra Great Person at the end of every Mayan calendar cycle -- that's 394 years.
- Netherlands / William I: William of Orange can still enjoy the benefits of luxury resources even after they're traded away thanks to the mercantile acumen of the Dutch East India Company.
- Sweden / Gustavus Adolphus: Sweden's "Nobel Prize" ability increases the likelihood of Great People under certain conditions.
Religion Is Back, Thank God
One of the most compelling mechanics of Civilization IV was religion. After all, few cultural forces are more powerful in shaping human history.
The complete absence of it in Civ V was disappointing. Gods & Kings heralds the glorious return of spirituality, and it will test your empire management skills. Much like the race for technology and culture, founding and improving a religion is a cut-throat endeavor. Missing your chance to establish one of the world's 11 great dogmas will put your civ at a disadvantage.
First, you must accumulate Faith. It's a civ-wide resource, the same as Gold, Culture and Science. Generate it with early buildings like shrines. You must hit a Faith threshold in order to establish a Pantheon -- the core beliefs of your future religion. But if you're heading down the religious path, be quick. Each time a rival civ establishes a new Pantheon, the Faith cost for the next one goes up, pushing it further and further out of your reach.
When you hit the threshold, choose your Pantheon wisely. The options will affect the prosperity of your civ in different ways, and many are contingent on the terrain and resources near your cities (just as the natural world influenced early religious cultures). If you inhabit an arid climate, it would behoove your civ to choose "Desert Folklore" (+1 Faith from desert tiles). If your empire grows on a river delta but lacks luxury resources, "Sacred Waters" grants +1 Happiness for each city on the banks. "Religious Idols" grants +1 Culture and +1 Faith for each gold and silver resource you posses.
Choosing a pantheon so early in the game can be difficult. Playing as Lady Dido of Carthage, my capital was located deep in the jungle. "Sacred Path" granted my small empire +1 Culture for every jungle tile worked within my borders. It was a nice Culture boost in 2040 BC, but it made me think twice about clearing that wilderness to build key improvements. As with all things Civ, balance and foresight are critical.
Enjoy the benefits of your Pantheon as you bank enough Faith to generate a Great Prophet (the threshold in my game was 200). When he appears, use him to found a proper religion in the city of your choice. Here's where theology really gets fun.
Religions are completely customizeable. Choose a symbol from one of the world's historical faiths and click to rename it if you so choose. I turned the eight-spoked wheel of "Buddhism" into "Mashism," the glorious new faith of the Carthaginian empire.
Then, create a belief system that suits the strengths and strategy of your civ. Like your Pantheon beliefs, these modifiers will affect cities empire-wide based on the spread of the religion and the number of followers in each city. For Mashism, I chose the core tenets "Pilgrimage" (+1 Faith for each foreign city following this religion) and "Liturgical Drama" (Amphitheaters provide +1 Faith in cities with three followers) in the hope of generating as much religious capital as possible.
Religion is not simply overlaid on the existing game. It seeps down deep into every other mechanic, which is why this expansion is so successful. Considerations once religion takes hold in your game:
- Use Faith to purchase religious units and buildings. Missionaries spread your faith to other cities. Inquisitors stop the spread of opposing religions. Temples and shrines increase the Faith output of cities.
- Religion spreads naturally and by will. Cities with a faithful majority exert religious pressure on tiles within a certain radius. Friendly and rival cities alike are subject to it, and will convert over time. Cities feeling pressure from opposing faiths will flip-flop, depending on a variety of factors. Players can also send missionaries to convert citizens -- angering leaders of other faiths, of course.
- Religion affects diplomacy. City-states can be influenced by religious pressure and the work of missionaries. Occasionally they will even crave your religion, and bringing them the word of the Gods will endear them to you. As the game progresses and religious blocs begin to form up, civs who agree on God are likely to be amicable.
- Social policies influence religion. The policy tree has been tweaked to accommodate the new mechanic, and branches like "Piety" now offer Faith bonuses. Military attributes can also be tied to religious fervor, making your armies more effective with the wrath of God behind them.
Like the wonders of the ancient Civ world, the strategic value of religion tapers off as players approach the modern era. Critical scientific advancements make religious policies obsolete or untenable. While I did not have the opportunity to play past the Renaissance era, it will be fascinating to see how the mechanic weaves into late-game strategy.
Espionage -- The Invisible Chess Game
The absence of spies in Civ V was also cause for concern at the initial release. Embedding stealth units behind enemy lines in Civilization IV: Beyond the Sword remains a highlight of that expansion.
Gods & Kings brings espionage back, but completely re-imagines it. Spies are no longer units on the map, but agents tasked with missions in rival cities. You start with one spy the moment any civ reaches the Renaissance era, and earn an additional agent for each subsequent era. Spies improve their rank with each successful mission.
Your entire spy network is managed in the Espionage Overview menu. Use your secret agents to:
- Establish surveillance. Once a spy gains a foothold in another civ's city, you'll be able to peer into that city as you would your own. There you can see all of its buildings, output and what it's currently producing. This is valuable in anticipating a military ramp up, but also to scope out any wonders in the works. No sense commissioning the Sistine Chapel if Gandhi is three turns away from completing it.
- Uncover the plans of your enemy. When your spy establishes surveillance, he has a chance to reveal another civ's intentions. In sending a spy to a small Egyptian settlement, I learned Ramesses II was plotting a sneak attack against my ally, Ramkhamhaeng.
- Steal technology. When spies have invested enough time in a city, they will be able to steal a rival's technology (assuming they have one you have yet to research). Large, heavily populated cities have a greater "potential" score, meaning it will be easier and faster for spies to steal technology there.
- Counter enemy spies. Spies stationed in your own cities make it much harder for enemy agents to establish surveillance and steal tech. Spies can be thwarted, identified (implicating your civ in covert operations!) and killed. Killed spies will automatically be replaced after a certain number of turns.
Thus, espionage becomes an invisible game of chess played just beneath the surface of the larger game. You want to protect your most vulnerable cities while acquiring intelligence and tech from rivals. Where and when you position your spies and the balance between offense and defense is critical. Are you willing to risk your experienced spies on high-value targets, knowing your enemy could be laying in wait?
A Lot to Consider
Civilization V: Gods & Kings introduces new civs and leaders, each with their own special abilities and units, new wonders, and two deep gameplay mechanics: religion and espionage.
Gods & Kings feels like the puzzle piece missing from the original release of Civ V. Die-hard fans will get a lot out of it.
If you're a Civ fan who lost interest in V, this expansion will rekindle your faith. If you never liked Civ V to begin with, the added features here probably won't address your core complaints.
My suggestion? Hold out for the inevitable Steam bundle sale and nab the full game with all its DLC and expansions at a discount. You'll have a new computer by then, and Civ V will finally run as smooth as butter, just as the Gods intended.
Sid Meier's Civilization V: Gods & Kings will be released for Windows and Mac OS X on June 19 for $29.99. Save 10% when you pre-order from Steam.
This story originally published on Mashable here.