Crusader Kings II Review: Deus Vult
Paradox are a developer that have made some of the most niche games on the market, yet they are also some of the games that have appealed to me most. The Paradox brands of strategy games are typically deep and layered with multiple systems that need to be micromanaged. They are far from appealing to a mass market and are difficult to access as a new player, but for those who are looking for this type of weird strategy game there is no developer quite like Paradox. Crusader Kings 2 is the latest release from Paradox, and focuses on a more narrow period of time than my favourite Paradox series, Europa Universalis. However, Crusader Kings 2 manages to easily stand on its own two feet and differentiate itself from other Paradox series in a number of key ways which make it a compelling experience.
Crusader Kings II puts players into the role of an individual character rather than the manifest will of a nation as in some other Paradox Strategy games, and this has the effect of adding a lot of personality and investment to the game that its peers have not had in the past. There are several starting dates, and you can assume the role of a noble who is either a count, duke, king or emperor, with the objective of keeping your family and House in power and extend their influence. When your character dies you will assume control of your dynastic heir, meaning that the way to lose is to either not have an heir or not hold any land to pass on. Despite being anchored in historical scenarios, they are merely used as starting points, and the game is well capable of taking off on its own alternate histories. Your character can craft their own destiny through your actions, and it is this that serves as the games story. It is certainly not an established or set in stone storyline, but Crusader Kings II weaves its own player driven story through the political intrigue and family infighting that occurs throughout its grand campaign.
Each time you play the events can be very different, with some characters living in a playthrough and suddenly dying in another. I think the best example of what can happen to your character story in Crusader Kings II is one of the campaigns I played as the Norman royal family of England. My King, Robert II, grandson of William the Conqueror in my campaign, was on crusade in the Holy Land to establish the Kingdom of Jerusalem. My infant son was murdered back in England by my ambitious younger brother, who was now my heir. If I killed him in revenge I would be heirless and it is this kind of scheming and character driven intensity that make Crusader Kings II a potentially brilliant story experience on a personal level.
It also helps a great deal if you have some level of knowledge of medieval history before you play Crusader Kings II. You do not have to be a history buff, but basic information on the Norman Invasion of England, the Crusades, Byzantium or the Reconquista would absolutely enhance your experience and let you get more out of your time with this game.
The graphics are nothing really to go crazy over. The vast majority of the game is spent looking at a map of Europe and North Africa, though there is a lot of detail given to terrain, more so than any other Paradox strategy game that I have played. The water looks similar to what Shogun 2 did with the sea on its campaign map, but beyond this Crusader Kings II is a very tame game visually. Battles are done on the map, this is certainly no Total War where you take control of an actual battle. However, Paradox did do a lot of subtle work on making its menu interface look stylish, and this is appreciated because you will be spending a lot of time in the menus of this game. The music of Crusader Kings II is also quite nice, with an especially rousing theme that really makes you ready to start killing enemies in a medieval setting.
The actual gameplay of Crusader Kings II is all about climbing a steep learning curve to get a grasp of the multiple layers of systems that are interacting in real time. Once you understand them you can really begin to have fun, but this is normal for a Paradox strategy game, and I found it to actually be a less complex initiation than the likes of Victoria. The is a taxation system, levies, vassals and a fully functioning feudal system mechanic, succession laws, crown authority, inheritance systems, fleets and armies, awarding of titles, building of castles, cities or religious sites, diplomacy, dealing with the clergy, religious conflict, family relations, marriage pacts, the list just goes on. This fully realised medieval world is a magnificent playground for trying to expand your power and influence, but if you want to go to war you will need to balance your finances and military capabilities while managing to construct a legitimate reason to start the conflict.
Crusader Kings II is also played in real time, and while you can slow down or pause the action there are no turns like you would find in the Total War games. This makes things more interesting when you are at war as you need to carefully watch out for what your enemies are doing, and keep in mind that your own nobility are in check and not plotting against you. It is a complex mix of things but it is so addictive once you know how to control all of the things that can happen in the gameplay of Crusader Kings II.
It is also a brilliantly designed game, and Paradox have done an incredible job of polishing and ironing out any bugs or oddities from the experience. They are a developer that I have almost always had serious technical issues of some kind with their games, but not so with Crusader Kings II. The patches have hugely improved the AI behaviour and overall experience that is provided, and DLC like the sword of Islam and the Republic have been seamlessly integrated into the original core game.
The menus are easy to navigate and are quite intuitive, and the glitches that I had in Europa Universalis 2 and Victoria 2 are not at all present here. There is also great mod support, including a fantastic Game of Thrones mod that needs to be played if you are a fan of a Song of Ice and Fire, and I really appreciate the inclusion of Wikipedia links for the historical characters, which is something I wanted from these types of games for a long time now. Unfortunately, the game has pretty useless tutorials, forcing players to learn the hard way how things actually work. Large numbers of armies can also be a bit clunky to manoeuvre around the map, but these issues do not detract too much from the overall experience.
Overall, Crusader Kings II is a game that looks simple on its surface but has an incredible level of depth to its mechanics. It is therefore amazing to me that Paradox managed to make it so much fun to play, and this is primarily driven by how polished and smooth the entire experience is. I would like the load time when you first boot the game to be shorter and the tutorials to actually be useful and teach players how the game works, but besides that there is not a whole lot of ways that I could imagine Crusader Kings II could be improved. A total triumph for Paradox, Crusader Kings II is probably my favourite Paradox game ever, and should be played by anyone who enjoys fantasy or historical games. It is a game that embodies the "just one more turn" effect that the best strategy games have, and this is what makes Crusader Kings II so addictively good.
- Complex and deep systems in harmony
- Open ended and personally driven experience
- Seamless and easy to navigate menus
- Excellent DLC content and high level of polish
- Clunky controls for manoeuvring large armies
- Poor tutorials
- Technology and economy aspects are weak
- I killed my brother and married his wife, then divorced her to marry her mother....
- 9/10 - Amazing