When you crush someone, even an entire civilisation, it's always best to wipe the slate clean of everything they believed in. To help with this, a mysterious city state has revealed itself close to Civilization V's borders – an expansion that's ready to introduce religion to an already tumultuous world.
Two years on from the Meier stable's last missive, Gods & Kings can be seen as an act of appeasement. It reintroduces systems such as Faith and Espionage that many Civ IV acolytes felt had become part of the game's bedrock – and who thought that the successes of Civ V in combat and game flow rang slightly hollow in their absence.
Firaxis's approach to religion provides a nuanced and personal approach to a monolithic subject matter – letting you tend to your religion from its earliest origins. Faith is a resource like Gold or Culture, and can be gathered from the things you build and the social policies you take on – ultimately letting you create a Pantheon and choose from a long list of potential Beliefs. Each belief can provide bonuses to your Civ (say, a God of the Sea who can help with your food supply), and when a Great Prophet starts knocking around you can make your kooky belief system official. I call mine Awesomeism – and delight in strapping extra founder and follower beliefs to it, and of course using it to infect the cities of non-awesome infidels.
It's a hugely customisable system that genuinely redirects the flow of early diplomacy, and neatly plays into advances made with City States. Formerly the favour of these mewling mini-Civs could be bought with cold hard cash, but they now provide a wider roster of potential quest hoops for you and your rivals to jump through to secure their love. These can be global (say, rewarding whoever generates the most culture in 10 turns) or applicable to you alone (perhaps building a specific Wonder, or spreading Awesomeism). It forces you to narrow your focus, and makes you properly riled when rivals try to butter up your charges.
Espionage is a little less tactile; an overlay rather than a story played out with units. Spies are ordered around the map in a separate window – providing sneak-peeks at enemy city screens, interfering with City State elections and stealing tech. Irritatingly, of course, these aloof chaps can also be used against you. Of all of Gods & King's advances, this feels the least well integrated, but anyone who says it doesn't come in handy has never shared a border with Hiawatha. The two-faced git.
Gods & Kings re-energises Civ V, providing a much stronger feeling of direction and personalisation to the way you rear your society. For those who, after an initial foray, retreated back to the ever-fertile fields of Civ IV it may have come too late, but those who have shown faith will be richly rewarded.