It’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything about Civ 5 and, frankly, it’s been a long time since I’ve played Civ 5. However, at long last a Civ 5 expansion has finally been announced. Civilization 5: Gods and Kings. A rather catchy title, actually.
The official announcement post is HERE. A forum thread collecting all known information and links to a bunch of previews is HERE. I suggest you check both of those out.
The crux of the expansion are two large new features: Religion and enhanced diplomacy which will include espionage.
Religion was probably the most complained about omission from the original release of Civilization 5, especially after players discovered some unused religious art assets that showed the developers had at least been tinkering with it. Holding religion back as a major selling point of the expansion was probably a good business decision though it did cost 2K a lot of criticism. In any case, religion is back in a whole new way. Once again 2K is avoiding using historical differentiation of religions, instead choosing to more or less offend all religions equally by turning them into one more tool for backstabbing, power-hungry players.
Still, from a gameplay perspective the actual implementation of religions looks really, really cool. Religions in Civ 4 were all nearly identical, effecting the game only by their spread and distribution. Religions in Civ 5 are going to be drastically different from each other, in ways determined entirely by the civilization which founds them. Religions will use an advancement and customization system which unlocks different bonuses (called “beliefs”) tied to that religion, all of which will be unique. The earlier religions will get first pick, basically. Check out the links above for more information and the single screenshot. Essentially religions are fully customizable, even down to their name; while the “historical” religions will be there as defaults and will retain their icons, it looks like you can found Christianity, rename it to “Jedi”, and then choose a bunch of combat focused beliefs to turn it into some weird martial arts religion. If you wanted to. There will be the traditional missionaries to spread religions around, and it seems like in this game religions might be an exclusive, only one-per-city thing.
Religion is going to have some sort of faith resource which will probably be generated by various new or re-purposed buildings and ideas and will also have a secondary use of “rushing” great people, meaning it will be universally useful. There is even mention in one article of units and buildings that can be purchased only with faith. Cool idea. The new resource is going to result in a lot of new and re-done buildings and technologies which will probably affect the overall flow of the game quite a bit. I gotta say though that from looking at screenshots the resource row in the upper left of the UI is getting pretty crowded…
I’m really, really glad religion is back and I’m also glad Civ 5 is taking it to a whole new interesting place. It’s also a new opportunity for City-States to shine as spreading your religion and influence to city-states might end up being a big deal for some Civs. In addition, some beliefs will effect all civs that practice that religion so there will actually be strategic reasons to change religions and religious blocs will have more in common than just an icon. There are many levels of cool to this and tremendous potential.
Improved Diplomacy and Espionage
Civ 5 was supposed to have a more interesting, dynamic, and unpredictable diplomacy model in comparison to Civ 4. The focus on the opposing leader as an avatar of their civilization through impressive full-screen graphics, along with the hiding of all the number crunching, would supposedly make diplomacy feel more “realistic”. Instead the AI just turned out to be insane, replacing the sometimes stupid but at least predictable diplomacy of the Civ 4 AI with a series of seemingly unrelated complaints, statements, and actions that often felt like they came out of nowhere. 2K applied a few changes via patches to improve the visibility of the AI’s actions but that didn’t go too far to fixing the issue.
So Gods and Kings is planning to improve this by returning religion back to a key component of early- and mid-game diplomacy. Once again we should see blocs of friendly religions forming in the game which will perhaps return a little bit of the predictability, though certain AI personalities will of course be less influenced by these factors. Not a lot has been said on this so we’ll have to wait and see how much of an improvement there is, I suppose.
Late-game diplomacy is supposedly going to rely much less on religion and much more on ideology, with the 3 key ideologies all forming their own blocs; Freedom, Order, and Autocracy. Interestingly, this seems to correspond to the ideology pyramid from the Hearts of Iron series of games used to define the three major power blocs in the WWII period. There are some interesting possibilities here and certainly some historical precedent. Again, we’ll have to see how it’s implemented.
Espionage was a late addition to Civ 4 and, frankly, a poor one. It’s one of those features that players are always clamoring for but which in reality proves kind of difficult to implement. Civ 4 espionage was terribly clunky and required an enormous amount of repetitive micromanagement and bombarded the player with annoying messages. I quickly turned it off and just stopped playing with it as it caused an already slow late-game to drag even further. So far from what has been revealed Civ 5 may be cleaning this up considerably. There are no spy units, per se, spies are dispatched on missions via a window and then work away on their mission until it is complete. Failure may result in the spy’s elimination after which you have to wait for a replacement. Technologies and probably some wonders or buildings will unlock new spy “slots” so certain civs will have more spies active than others. Spies even have names and levels so if you lose a high level spy you will be back to a low level replacement. This seems to offer a lot of interesting gameplay choices while at the same time minimizing the annoying micromanagement. I’m cautiously optimistic.
Once again, it offers yet another area for City-states to shine as they can be a major target for spies, with options to “rig elections” which apparently increases your influence while decreasing others and “coup” which does… something that we don’t know yet. It’s one more way for players to interact with city-states and engage with other players for their favor.
I’ve already mentioned that city-states should be improved and made more dynamic by the inclusion of religions and espionage. It’s also worth mentioning that there will be two new types of city-states, mercantile which offer unique resources and religious which will provide the faith resource.
The main new feature for city-states is a redone version of the quest system, moving them away from simply mercenaries who are bought with gold as they basically are currently. The new quest system will supposedly make gold less influential and make interacting with city-states to gain their favor more interesting. This is all well and good, my main concern is that city-states don’t spam players with messages anymore than they already do. I would rather interact with city-states less and have the interactions mean more than to get spammed with yet another slew of “come do this menial task for me” messages. I also think the UI for keeping track of city-states needs a lot of improvement so fingers crossed for that also.
Artificial intelligence in strategy games matters a LOT to me. Game developers that actually talk about their AI and treat it as an important feature score a LOT of points with me. As Brad Wardell of Stardock says, 90+% of strategy gamers are playing games against the AI pretty much all the time and a poor AI can really ruin the long-term interest in a game. Civilization 5 was knocked down considerably by a lot of hardcore players on release for having a poor AI, particularly when it came to diplomacy and combat. Though a number of patches have been released, there hasn’t been a large amount of improvement in the AI play. I have wondered if the AI was essentally at a dead end. Well, according to the new info on Gods and Kings, that’s not the case.
In fact, the AI has been specifically mentioned quite a bit in connection with both diplomacy and combat… the two points at which it is currently the weakest. More than that, there has even been talk that espionage will be tied in to the AI behavior and planning… if the AI decides to attack someone it will start planning 15 turns in advance and your espionage might be able to discover this and even give you the option to warn the intended victim. Conceptually this sounds really cool, though its hard to imagine what the actual implementation will look like.
In any case, the fact that the AI is getting focused development is perhaps the best news out of the entire expansion for me and is the thing most likely to have me back playing the game again. Ok maybe it’s tied with religion…
Other Stuff, i.e. The Usual
Of course any Civ expansion comes with the usual bunch of new civilizations, new units, new buildings, new wonders, new technologies, etc. The difference with Civ 5 is that all of these (except technologies) have been released already in small packets via DLC so that raises the bar somewhat for what the expansion will provide. The numbers are pretty impressive… 9 new civilizations, 27 new units, 13 new buildings, and 9 new wonders. Though of course many of the new units and buildings will be specific to the new civilizations.
In addition to the new units combat is getting a bit of a balancing overhaul, units will have 100 health now and there will be new naval units that can melee and even attack coastal cities. I’m not sure what the point of the increase to 100 health is, though it’s been suggested it will reduce rounding and make combats more predictable. I’m not even sure that’s a good thing but I’ll withhold judgement till I find more out. The increased emphasis on naval combat is a good thing and having naval units that can project more power against coastal civilizations sounds excellent. The Civilization games have always struggled to make naval trade and control as important as it was historically so hopefully this will be a step in the right direction.
There was also a mention of changing the “pacing” of combat in the game, not sure what that means. New early air units have been announced and probably some other units that will fill in gaps but we’ll have to wait to find out more.
All in all a lot of potentially very, very exciting additions to the game. Just about every major criticism is being addressed by the expansion from religion and diplomacy to the AI. Everything will depend on implementation and whether or not 2K can deliver an actual polished, balanced expansion. It’s pretty hard not to be incredibly excited though.
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