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Ozzy's Review of Gods & Kings

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  • Ozzy's Review of Gods & Kings


    No doubt like most people reading this review, I don't play Civ5 all that much. So it will be difficult to review Gods & Kings since beyond the big ticket items I can't quite tell you what has changed in the game. So consider this review to be from the perspective of a casual gamer, not one who has explored and mastered all the intricacies of the game. Just a regular Joe who doesn't have strong feelings about Civ5, but decided to give the expansion a shot.

    When Civ5 first came out I was pretty excited. I've been playing the Civ franchise since the beginning and love Civ4 dearly. So I followed news of Civ5's development closely. I don't buy many games, but my loyalty to the franchise was strong enough that I went out and bought a copy of the game the first day it was available. In fact, after driving 9 hours from Indiana to Maryland, I went straight to my local Best Buy. Unfortunately Civ5 was sold out, so after my long drive I got back in the car and spent another hour driving to the only other Best Buy in the area with a copy.

    Over the next few days I played a several games. I liked it well enough, but I didn't really have strong opinions about it. Everyone else though had extremely strong opinions. The criticism of the game was fierce and immediate. As I was still making up my mind about the game the venom toward Civ5 seemed quite knee-jerk to me. Just a bunch of Civ4 players who couldn't handle change. There are plenty of folks out there who refused to embrace Civ3 or Civ4 and years later continue to play Civ2, what they consider the peak of the franchise. The criticisms Civilization 5 received seemed to be much the same. So I defended it every chance I got.

    Once the newness of the game wore off however, my interest waned. I never hated the game, I just didn't really play it much. I was much more likely to reach for that Beyond the Sword shortcut then the golden art deco V. There are many reasons for that I suppose. For one, the game was just slow for me. No doubt I need a better computer, but I'm not alone in pointing this out. Heck, even starting up the game was a chore. First Steam had to start up, then you had to sit through the various developer logos, and then the opening movie. I don't know if I'm alone in this, but even when I turned the movie off the screen just stayed black for a similar amount of time before the game finally started. Half the time when I'd decide to play a game of Civ5 I'd lose interest by the time I reached the main menu.

    Once I got a game started I was always frustrated with the lack of information it provided me. I don't understand why the Civ5 people decided to stop providing information when you mouseover an icon. It is such a simple, common sense thing to make information easily accessible. Even in the Civilopedia when you mouseover icons it will tell you its name but nothing else. Same thing when playing the game. If I'm staring across the border at an enemy unit I'd love to know how much strength it has, or what promotions it has, but there is no way to figure it out. I can't mouse over it, I can't click on it. Nothing. All it tells me is "Chinese Knight" uh.. thanks jackass. Very frustrating. This is completely different from Civ4 where you could find out plenty of information on enemy units.

    See, I can even add tool tips to pictures, this isn't rocket science.

    If they can do it in the tech tree, why not throughout the rest of the game?After going back into the game to grab some screenshots I had a great discovery. In the tech tree there are wonderful tool tips. Why they are missing in the civilopedia and on the main map I have no idea. It seems like an oversight, but after many patches and an expansion pack these essential tooltips are still missing. Especially since they already exist in the tech tree it seems like it'd be quite easy to add them elsewhere.

    As for actual game play, I agree with much of what Robert said in his Civ5 review. There just weren't many interesting decisions. The buildings, the wonders, the improvements, the resources just all seemed weak and uninteresting. Why bother spending 15 turns building something to get an extra 2 production? Who cares? The one unit per tile rule is a favorite punching bag of Civ5 critics and I share some of it. On the one hand Trip was quite smart to solve the stack of doom problem from previous titles. On paper it seems like a brilliant idea. In practice it is just another small frustration. So many units to move, one by one, across the map. Frustrations with zone of control, frustrations with terrain penalties, frustrations with the lack of roads, frustrations crossing rivers, frustrations with the logjam posed by a carpet of doom. Inexplicably, a game that doubled the movement points of units seems slow. I don't think I'd recommend scrapping it altogether, and I don't have any ideas for fixing it, but it can just get damn annoying sometimes.

    Gods & Kings

    Well, I spent a while talking about Civ5 in general, now what about the thing I'm actually supposed to be reviewing? Sadly, nothing I mentioned is any better. The game is still slow, it is still very difficult to find information about parts of the game, the wonders, buildings & improvements are still uninteresting, and one unit per tile is still annoying. The only issue I mentioned above that seems to be fixed is the opening movie. I no longer have to look at a long black screen. Yay!

    With all that said, I've been enjoying the last few days of playing Gods & Kings.

    I've only played three games so far, but I'm starting to get a better feeling for the game. I really do like the new religion feature. While none of the bonuses (beliefs) are terribly exciting on their own, there are so many to choose from it adds some interesting decision making to the game.

    Wanting to really try out religion, I picked the Byzantine Empire for my first two games. My first game I screwed up the whole religion thing. I wanted to spread my religion as far and wide as I could, so I picked a lot of beliefs that helped the religion expand. Then I realized, oh crap, my religion spread far and fast but didn't really DO anything for me. I put all this effort into building the world's biggest religion, but I got almost no bonuses from it. I had a huge amount of faith, but I couldn't do anything with it. Crap. What a waste. I gave up on this game early on.

    My second game I decided to be smarter about it. My Eastern Orthodox brand of Christianity had a 10% bonus to growth (from the fertility rites of its old pagan roots), a +15 bonus to influence with City States from Papal Primacy (a must for someone who loves City States as much as I do), +1 happiness from Shrines and +1 happiness for every 5 followers of this religion in non-enemy cities (since in my first game I was constantly having happiness problems). Since in my first game I had all sorts of faith piling up with nothing to do with it I was smart enough this time to pick the Holy Warriors belief which allowed me to spend faith on buying units. That was awesome. I also picked up a 20% combat bonus near enemy cities that followed my religion. Good stuff. While I was a bit disappointed by the Peace Loving belief that gave me happiness for my religion being in foreign cities, I was rather pleased with my choices. Religion ended up being quite an important aspect of my game. Especially with the Piety tree, I got a lot of use out of it and, amazingly, it was quite a lot of fun! I admit it, I had fun playing Civ5!

    I won that game with a diplomatic victory after allying myself with every City State on the map. My third game I decided to try a militaristic game. I decided to go with the Aztecs. While I liked the extra policy from the Byzantines I wasn't terribly impressed with their Unique Units. Of course, I only fought one real war, so I didn't have many opportunities to use them. On the other hand, I liked just about everything about the Aztecs. Of course, they aren't a new Gods & Kings civ, but since I've only played less then half of the civs in Civ5 they were new to me.

    I planned to focus on war, but still pick up some religion & plenty of city states along the way too. That proved to be far more difficult then I expected. It was relatively easy to get a religion in my first two games, so I built one or two shrines and just figured it'd come in time. I was well on my way to that 200 faith I needed to grab a Great Prophet (and thus a religion) when I realized, oh crap, all religions were already founded. Yikes! I missed my chance! Damn. It ended up being a tough lesson that yea, in this game you do need to prioritize. You can't have everything (or at least you need to be smarter about it). I choose military and thus was left out in the cold when it came to religion.

    Religion still existed though, and various ones spread to all my cities. I didn't think much of it, but later on I realized that I was getting some religious benefits. I could use faith to buy pagodas in some of my cities, in other cities I could buy mosques. Oh cool, cities with a religion in it benefit from that religion's beliefs whether you founded it or not. Fantastic! I went to the Religion Overview screen to check out all the bonuses the three or four different religions were giving me. Once again I was confronted with Civ5's terrible information problem. The screen listed all the beliefs of the various religions whose founder was still alive. Since I had been busy destroying civs all game three of the religions I had in my cities (and whose bonuses I was benefiting from) weren't listed. What? If those religions are still around, and their beliefs can still be taken advantage of, why does the game just erase all information about them? Very frustrating.

    You better believe there are more then two religions in this game.  Why aren't they listed here?

    My eternal war was a lot of fun. It took me a while, but I wiped out Austria, then the Iroquois, and then the Netherlands. I loved those Jaguars. All their bonuses stayed with them as I upgraded them to swordsmen, musketmen, rifles, etc. By the time I finished off the Dutch I had a nice handful of level 6 to 11 former Jaguars that were nearly invincible. The pride of my army though were two crossbows that were both up to level 11. Of course with this many promotions you can't mouse over them all in the info box.  Where else can you see all the unit's promotions?They could shoot twice every turn and reach units three tiles away. Amazing. I resisted upgrading them to Gatling guns and machine guns because the three tile range was just incredible. Half my game was just figuring out where I could position these two crossbows so they could see the enemy city and not be touched. It was hardly fair. Find some hilltop and rain death upon everyone within three tiles, outside of the range of the enemy. So perfect. It seems the English replacement for the Crossbow starts out with a range of three... oh my. I'm going to have to try the English next.

    While I spent a lot of time fighting, I couldn't get over 600 experience without help. The Honor tree under social policies was that help. In all my previous games (in both vanilla and G&H) I went straight for Liberty. I hear that some changes were made to Social Policies, these two branches in particular, but honestly I don't remember enough about how they used to be to offer a credible comparison, but I loved Honor in this game. With the Aztec unique power and the honor policies I got a lot of culture from killing barbarians early on. It was fantastic too, with my Jaguars, the Aztec trait and a completed Honor tree I was getting culture & gold for each unit I killed, plus 25 points of healing. So awesome.

    As usual I went after the Patronage line as well. In every game I've played in Civ5 I just love grabbing all the City States I can. And in every other game I played, I do. This time it was more challenging. Like with my failed search for a religion, my loss of focus on city states hurt me in this game. But more then that, it was the AI. In my second Byzantine game my opponents were the Aztecs, the Huns, the Mongols, the Persians, the Ethiopians, the Chinese, and the Romans. They were all busy fighting each other and had little focus on City States so I gobbled them up as easily as previous games. But in my third game I was up against the Arabs, the Romans, the Indians, the Mayans, Austria, the Iroquois and the Dutch. I suppose these civs have a different strategy then my previous opponents and it has been far more difficult to maintain City State alliances. At some points I would have an influence over 150 with a City State and still not be their ally.

    This is one area of the game that has changed in G&K. I love the City State quests. There were quests in Vanilla, but I think there are many more now. Instead of having to constantly buy off City States, like in Vanilla, these quests are of increased importance. On the one hand, it makes it easier since you can gain influence passively, like having more culture or faith then your neighbors. On the other hand, it makes it harder since your neighbors can win influence the same way. The biggest change though is espionage. In my Aztec game City State elections are rigged constantly. All the AI are putting their spies into taking over City States. That boosts their influence and reduces yours. It is too much to keep up with. As opposed to previous games I've only been able to maintain alliances with half the City States in this game.

    Overall though, Espionage hasn't excited me. Of course, I haven't really used it much so far. Then again, I never used espionage much in Civ4 either. I've just defended a few of my cities from tech theft and rigged elections in a few city states. For me at least it has been a generally passive feature. I tell a spy where to go when I first get one, and then forget about them entirely. I'll try to put more focus into them when I play England. But overall I don't have much to say about it. As someone who never used espionage much in Civ4, I'm glad I don't have to move a spy unit across the map or give it much attention to get a use out of it. I'm not yet sure though whether I even can get much more of a use out of it if I did give it my attention. Time will tell.

    I've heard some people say that happiness is too easy to come by in Gods & Kings. That hasn't been my experience at all. I'm always grasping for happiness and am barely able to stay around even. Of course in both my second & third games I had a good number of cities, perhaps if I had just four or five things would be different, but by no means was I ever flush with happiness. I have no idea what, if anything, has changed about that over Vanilla.

    There was some talk before G&K came out that there would be some changes to one unit per tile, I haven't noticed anything. It seems to work exactly the same as before. There might be some changes to the AI's ability to fight a war, but I'm too casual a player to notice anything like that. Likewise with the change to 100 HPs per unit. I'm sure it has an impact on the game that is noticeable for the number crunchers (or to those people who played Civ5 more then a handful of times), but I didn't notice much difference.

    One difference I did notice was changes to Great People. Only the Great Artist can create Golden Ages now. I remember there being discussion a while back about Persia's permanent golden age, I suppose that is nerfed now. Scientists supposedly were changed to no longer grant whole techs, just an amount of research. The great and mighty Aztec Empire (the red).I didn't notice that. I bulbed a modern era tech in one shot. I did notice however that research agreements don't give whole techs. I suppose that is a good thing. I don't usually do many research agreements though. Another change to great people is the artist can no longer do a culture bomb, instead that ability has been granted to great generals. When they build their citadel improvement all bordering tiles flip to the owner. Considering how many fricken great generals I was tripping over in my Aztec game I should have built citadels more often, but I didn't want to piss off the friendly civs to my west and didn't need the citadels to wipe out the non-friendly civs to my east. It does make sense though and I'm glad they boosted the great general. While I don't like that all the other great people were effectively nerfed by losing their golden age, I suppose it is better for the game to provide more unique abilities for each. It is less fun if you just use every great person for a golden age. I do wish the tile improvements weren't so lame.

    I don't remember if I ever waged a modern era war in vanilla Civ5. Typically I'd get bored and give up half way through, play peaceful builder till the end (like in my Byzantine game) or the game would crash and overload my video card in the later eras. After my Aztecs killed off all the civs to my east I built up a solid front of WW2 infantry, machine guns & artillery and prepared to invade India. The turn before I launched my invasion though.. the game froze up my computer. *sigh* I started it up again, opened the autosave and tried again. Same result. Well, I guess an expansion pack can't fix everything...


    In summary, I think religion is a fantastic feature. It gives players some interesting choices to make and opens up some more diverse strategies. As I found in my Aztec game there is indeed a trade off to be made. Espionage is so-so. All the other tweaking and balance changes are a bit under the hood for me, so I didn't really notice them. Overall the expansion is decidedly an improvement. But not enough of one to ultimately fix a flawed game. That said, I did enjoy the few games I played. So perhaps some of those tweaks, taken together with the new features, provided enough of a change that I really did have a good time playing the game. And in the final analysis, isn't that what it is all about?

    Whether I will still enjoy playing the game a year from now (or a month from now) is another question altogether that I can't yet answer. Even with the improvements in Gods & Kings I highly doubt Civ5 will remain a go-to game seven years later like Civ4 has. Of course their next expansion pack could change things. Overall my conclusion is that if you hated Civ5, Gods & Kings is a nice improvement, but probably doesn't address the things you hated about the core game. If you were on the fence about the game before, well this expansion may be the thing to push you over to the side of loving the game. And, of course, if you loved it, you'll only deepen your love for the game with all the extra goodies in this expansion. Whichever camp you belong to, you should give it a shot. Like I said, I'm just a casual fan, no doubt something I didn't mention (or notice) means the world to you. Try it out and let me know what I missed.
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    Last edited by OzzyKP; June 23, 2012, 22:21.
    Captain of Team Apolyton - ISDG 2012

    When I was younger I thought curfews were silly, but now as the daughter of a young woman, I appreciate them. - Rah