I Lost Sleep Waging Holy War In The New Civilization V

So, I have to be honest: I’ve spent two years avoiding Civilization V on purpose. It’s not that I have anything against the evolution of city-states into empires, or that I find resource-gathering, diplomacy,and warfare uninteresting. In fact, it’s exactly the opposite: I am deeply, painfully susceptible to the classic Civ player crisis of, “Just… one more… turn!” There’s a great wide hex-gridded world out there, and I have to be responsible for all of it.

With the new Gods & Kings expansion content for Civilization V, there’s even more world to manage. And so it came to pass that very late last night, my spouse eventually gave up and went to bed without me while I sat by the PC’s pale glow, muttering to myself about just how many Roman spearmen it would take to sack Manila, anyway.

(The answer? More than I had. And I really should have timed that war differently. Maybe if I just load up that save file and…)

Earlier this year, Firaxis promised an enormous pile of new features with the expansion. From what I’ve been able to tell so far, they deliver, and seamlessly so. Without a list of near features near to hand, I would never have known what elements were new to Gods & Kings.

I was playing for Rome, in the person of Augustus Caesar. My first several turns built up slowly, as generally happens; when every society is out trying to discover farming and the wheel, global politics take some time to snowball into a major concern. And then, suddenly, I was offered the chance to form a pantheon.

Naturally, I did. After all: what is Rome without her gods? Then for a time I thought no more of it as I progressed, researching physical and social improvements, building up my capital, founding new cities, and generally exploring the world. And then I was offered the chance to form a religion.

I went with Zoroastrianism. My empire was the first to choose a religion in this game, so all options were available, but somehow for Rome Christianity was just a little too predictable.

Of course, as with the various great leaders, cities, and monuments available in any Civilization game, the religions are a player-driven hodgepodge of beliefs, chosen for qualities that are likely to bolster the player’s assets. Since Rome was in the middle of a desert, my Roman Zoroastrians were desert worshipers. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Though once Zoroastrianism was firmly established — the only religion on its continent, for a short, lovely time — I didn’t see the point. Occasionally a Great Prophet would spawn, or I would create missionary units to spread the word through my empire, but other than making my people into a devout flock, I couldn’t see what was being accomplished, if anything. Religion created faith, which could be used to… purchase more religion. A reasonable and self-sustaining system, to be sure, to what end in the wider world?

Then my triremes found Bucharest. And Marrakech. And Warsaw. And a half dozen other city-states lying across the ocean, half of which had not only religious inclinations but also Zoroastrians living there. Likewise, the rival empire on my continent had adopted Zoroastrianism in all its cities. Suddenly, the arc to a medieval-style religious dominance seemed a lot more clear.

(If I had tried to send more missionaries to the cities around Manila first, instead of sending the warriors… in fact, what if I line up more scouts and a missionary unit, I could boot up the game right now and just…)

My Zoroastrian Roman empire began to thrive, driven not so much by religion but by policies of liberty and honour… and by a high number of workers able to farm the land and build roads efficiently. But the empire to my west, and its capital Goa, were growing awfully quickly and they had the Great Wall to boot. I was not comfortable with their leader’s sneer, and his strange choice in trade terms. If only, I lamented, I had a way of finding out what was going on behind those stones!

And then Rome’s first spy presented himself to me and asked for an assignment. I shipped him off to Goa without a second thought. There, I was told, he could eventually get inside their AI leader’s head and tip me off as far as 15 turns in advance if my surly neighbour was planning to turn on me.

Well, he was a crappy spy. Goa turned on me before Servius could file his first report, and that was the end of the Roman Empire.

Gods & Kings promises so much that I wasn’t able to experience in a short preview. Civilization V is an enormous game, and I could let it suck me in again so wholly that even emerging to write up my opinions a month later would be nearly impossible. There are new leaders and new empires, on top of the systems of religion and espionage that I only just barely scratched the surface of. Diplomacy is a fine art that my neighbours mainly didn’t want to let me practice, and while I wanted to fulfil more quest demands from unaffiliated city-states, those Barbarians were just plain on the wrong side of the map for me to reach anytime that century.

I loved Rome, but I would like to see how the newly added empire of Sweden, one of the underrated badasses of Western history, looks. In fact, I think I will. As soon as I load yesterday’s saved game and try the sack of Manila again. Just one more turn…

Civilization V: Gods & Kings is scheduled for release on June 19.

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