Crusader Kings II Review
With a distinct flare all their own, Paradox Interactive has released the second iteration of their Crusader Kings series: Crusader Kings II. Playing Crusader Kings is like watching a silly medieval soap opera where you are the star– but you could die of consumption by the end of your playthrough. Paradox Interactive has the pedigree to create some of the most engrossing, albeit difficult historical strategy games money can buy. But, you ask yourself, “Why would I want to take the role as a decrepit ruler in the Middle Ages?” Well, that’s a question that you need to look deep down into your soul to find an answer for, but there is an answer and I believe I have found it.
Crusader Kings II — or from here on in, CKII — loads up the features early on and never looks back. Of course, when you first encounter a game of this size and scope you would think that the tutorial would be a refined experience, aiding new players into sweet, smooth gaming; oh wait, you’re wrong! If there is one major complaint about CKII it’s that the learning curve is incredibly steep, and without any useful tools to teach you how to play you better learn to rule your fiefdom pretty fast. The task of ruling your duchies with an iron fist or even dolling out land amongst your vassals isn’t as intuitive as the game wants it to be; but don’t worry, after 5-10 hours of gameplay the machinations of your kingdom will start to come together gloriously. After you’ve successfully taught yourself to play, or better yet, understand CKII, I found that the game is treasure trove of exciting gameplay and creativity; But, if you have to understand one point of Crusader Kings its that you must keep your vassals in the green — green is equitable to happy vassals, court members, kings, dukes, and all other forms of stuffy dead Westerners. Sometimes all it takes is a nice pile of gold coins to sway your followers into liking you more.
Instead of choosing a traditional story mode, or maybe even a list of scenarios to play from, you instead are given free reign to choose from the absolutely monumental list of Western kings, dukes, and other noble characters between 1066 and the mid 15th century. Caveat: there is a notable character list from each of the four time periods to choose from — 15th of September, 1066 (Stamford Bridge), 26th of December, 1066 (William the Conquerer), 1st of January, 1187 (The Third Crusade), 1st of January, 1337 ( Beginning of Hundred Years War) — with characters ranging from William the Bastard to King Guy of Jerusalem. Most of the aforementioned characters are interesting in their time period and usually offer some sort of specialized goal or unique prospect on the lands around them. Even though these characters are appealing to play as, the real fun comes from choosing a small county in an obscure area of the map and trying to propagate your glorious blood line. The best way to ensure that your familial heritage is passed on efficiently is far more difficult than I could have imagined. True pleasure is realized when you utilize the most creative aspects of your gaming brain, and CKII practically demands that you have to do some work on your end to truly realize the bigger picture. Crusader Kings is like a book; the pages are crinkled around the edges, but that old book smell is what keeps you coming back for more. Every game feels like a unique descent into the mind of another landed elite in the Middle Ages.
The difficulty of CKII comes in varied forms, all of which derive from the core structure of CKII: Succession, vassals, demesne, and prestige. With these core tenants CKII allows you to change the course of history for your county or country. Making sure that all goes according to plan in your tidy little holdings is aided by the copious amounts of tabs that border your screen. Wether it’s a tab to single out duchies, or another tab to let you know which religion is dominant in a specific region, you will be switching through these tabs multiple times per sitting until you find which one works best for you –and don’t worry, there are only 32 tabs to choose from… Maybe you want to marry one of your vassals to the daughter of another king whose duchy borders one your duchies, or maybe you want the duke of Flanders to aid you in one of your holy wars against Muslim or Pagan countries.All of these possibilities are completely open to the player, but the only thing that could stop you from fulfilling your genetic goal is your own imagination; and the soiled tutorial system. Sadly, without mods it is impossible to play as non-Western/Christian country at this time. But, for Paradox Interactive, the ability to only play as the Western country doesn’t really come off as a hinderance as there are more than enough characters to choose from.
You really have to admire a game developer that actually makes the gamer wait for something important to
happen instead of barraging the game with queued perks or achievements. How often do you play a game where you aren’t receiving active bonuses or game defying power ups just for getting to a certain point?
CKII does an excellent job at recreating the tensions and, more often than not, the utter hilarity of family feuds. How many other games let me put my wife and jail just to have a chance with her daughter from a past marriage. Obviously, these types of occurrences aren’t necessary for the game to work but it does add a nice touch of medieval high-jinks to CKII. With the light-hearted tension of torturing your brother in prison also comes the more unnerving tension of realizing that CKII has around a 70% fail rate; those numbers are reflected evenly amongst all of the difficulty settings. I have endured countless numbers of playthroughs where my lineage ended at the hands of Pagan intrusion; I will never forget! Even with the enormous difficulty, massively time consuming campaign, a well realized tech tree, military tactics, religion, and claims, there still is so much reasonably shallow fun to be had with Crusader Kings; I say shallow because with such deep and intricate systems of strategy it’s nice to be able to still play CKII and not have certain aspects bearing down on you like the memory of executed bastard son.
Crusader Kings II has so much to offer but, like this review, there is just not enough time to encapsulate it all in one sitting. The grand-strategy moniker is a title that isn’t given out easily, especially once you have played the behemoth that is Paradox Interactive’s most recent outing. I have easily sunk 30 hours into this game within the last week and I still feel that I have only scratched the surface of Crusader Kings II — luckily, I am completely fine with the notion of dedicating more time to try and defame all those who stand in the way of my glorious genes.