It was with more than a little trepidation that I recently sat down for the first time to play "Gods & Kings," the first expansion for "Civilization V." I wasn't worried that the game would disappoint -- on the contrary, I was concerned that it would rekindle my unhealthy obsession with the long-running strategy series.
After six hours of nonstop gaming during that initial session and countless hours since, my initial fears were confirmed. "Gods & Kings" is every bit as good as I had expected, which means I can kiss my free time for the foreseeable future goodbye.
"Civilization V" was an outstanding strategy title in its own right, a game that I had poured more than 100 hours into over the past year. But it was lacking a couple of key features that had long been part of the series, namely religion. "Gods & Kings" corrects this oversight, returning religion to the forefront of the "Civ V" experience. The art of espionage also returns and is a much more powerful tool for aspiring world conquerors. Toss in a handful of new civilizations and leaders to play as, along with some minor tweaks to other areas of gameplay, and "Gods & Kings" stands as a must-own for any "Civilization" fan.
The additions of religion and espionage have major implications on how "Civ V" plays. Religion affects everything from your nation's happiness to its military, and the race to found a religion -- and reap the benefits that come along with it -- is every bit as important as rushing to build a World Wonder. Likewise, utilizing your spies to steal technology, rig elections in nearby city-states in order to gain their favor, or uncover enemy spies hidden within your borders can alter the course of your civilization's history.
Thankfully these new features are integrated into the core game without adding additional stress on the player. Yes, there are major decisions to make when it comes to choosing where to send a spy or picking the bonuses associated with your religion, but much of what happens with these new tools -- especially religion -- occurs under the hood and doesn't require a great deal of babysitting on the player's part.
The aggressiveness of your AI rivals, something I had hoped would be addressed here, remains somewhat lacking. Capturing cities doesn't appear to be a priority for some reason, and often I saw attacking forces retreat even though they had a clear tactical advantage. Also, AI leaders still seem to have a penchant for ignoring expansion, especially in the early stages of the game. These issues should come as no surprise to longtime "Civ" players and didn't hamper my ability to enjoy the game, but it's still strange to see how the AI reacts sometimes.
While one could argue that much of what is included in "Gods & Kings" should have been originally incorporated into "Civilization V," its arrival now by way of an expansion pack is nonetheless welcome. Whether you've already mastered everything "Civ V" had to offer or are just starting out down the road to virtual world domination, the "Gods & Kings" expansion is well worth exploring.
"Civilization V: Gods & Kings"
Publisher: 2K Games
Available for: PC ($29.99)
Rating: E 10 for everyone 10-and-up