With hugely successful titles like King Arthur 1&2 and the critically acclaimed Europa Universalis series, Paradox Interactive have built up a name in the Grand Strategy genre for always delivering deep and complex games. Crusader Kings is no exception, learning from the previous Crusader Kings they have attempted to both streamline the CK experience whilst adding a large amount of content, allowing the player to carve their name into history as they play through the years 1066-1452. Crusader Kings 2 with its steep but rewarding learning curve gives the player a meaningful experience they would only get from a handful of other games in the Genre.
Being that the detail and depth of the game comes from the menus and not from the movement of units on the map, it is vital that the menu system is as intuitive as it is. The player doesn’t have to trawl through dozens of sub-menus to find the required page for sending his spies to foreign lands or beg for a loan. This makes for a smooth experience and prevents you being overwhelmed when moving more units later in the game. There is also plenty of information provided to find out whether your next action will throw your kingdom into a state of disarray. Despite the smooth operation of the menus, planning your next move can be a slow and laborious process. However a few hours in and you will begin to know by experience the effect certain actions will have, you know how furious this action will make the Earl of Sussex and frankly you don’t care, you’re a King you can do what you want.
For a game with so many complex systems Crusader Kings seriously throws you in the deep-end with its limited tutorials and demanding AI. Along with the aforementioned number crunching this leads to an incredibly steep learning curve that will last a while making for a rather tedious start filled with pouring over tutorials and bouts of confusion. Trial and error is the way to learn, as painful as it is to lose your entire army to fifteen guys with sticks you pick yourself back up, tax your peasants a little harder then try again. During my time with CK I never found myself in a position where I was unable to get back to my previous strength from a royal blunder, however there can be a long time if you fully wipe your army and funds which soon leads to your once loyal subjects losing faith in you, stalling the process of getting the army back up and running.
The law making system is one of the most influential in the game. Making an important law or changing an already existing one is risky business. If you are making a positive change for yourself or for the kingdom as a whole you will undoubtedly anger some upstart Lord. In the short run angering a few barons doesn’t mean too much if you are in a large Kingdom but in the long run, constantly upsetting your subjects is not the way towards a successful kingdom as seeds of dissent and revolt sprout. One of the biggest laws you can change is the inheritance laws as this leads to everyone under your influence to either love you or despise you, but it is sometimes essential to ensure that your lineage is carried on to the correct heir. Taking a big step like this often takes a while, checking to see if the people you are going to upset are the people you need the most, finding a balance is essential to being a good King.
Ruling is challenging. Even when you have low population of peasants and nobility, they all want something from you and they will not hesitate to revolt or go to neighbouring Kingdoms if you don’t fulfil their wishes. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of being a benevolent ruler, loved by peasants and nobles alike, right up until some ruler strolls along and destroys your loving kingdom because you have no army. Finding a balance between taxing the public and keeping them from rising up against you is difficult, when you are conquering other countries or crusading the cash really needs to keep flowing, however when all your focus is on killing the heretics you can often find dissent sprouting in your home nation.
You can choose to have a Holy rule, answering all the calls to Crusade from the Pope, this pleases your Bishops greatly if they are Catholic, plus the Vatican will sometimes send you a little cash to keep the wheels spinning. However the unending requests from the Pope are easy to ignore without huge negatives, the bishops don’t do a whole lot and I found myself losing money fighting the Pope’s Crusades, even with the pocket money he sent me. The majority of the game is spent trying to expand your territory and pleasing your Barons, this makes for a severe lack of Crusading leading me to question the title of the game, as Crusading can so easily be an incredibly small part of it or neglected entirely.
Keeping your aristocrats happy and loyal is vital to running a successful kingdom. Each named character has a rating based on their love or hate for you ranging from 100 to -100, the higher their rating the more use they are to you as a ruler. Whether it is your spy master allowing you to discover plots, or your barons providing units for your territorial wars keeping your subordinates willing to do as you command is essential. The AI is great and reacts how you would expect them to if they were real subjects within your domain, making it easy to work out how they would respond with some experience.
The feeling of ‘real people’ is prevalent throughout the game. Once you stop seeing the inhabitants of the game world as number and menus, and start seeing them as fully fledged human beings each with their own desires, don’t take a break! You aren’t going mad I promise you, you are experiencing how Paradox wants you to play the game, like a true medieval King trying to please his loyal subjects and casting down those who would do him wrong. In truth I think I got a little too into the role as a King, I felt a swelling of pride when my son burned his first group of infidels on the cross. That is what makes Crusader Kings so enjoyable, the level of immersion you wouldn’t at first expect from a game that could so easily been entirely text based. Although I would say an inability to play for the Muslim or other non-Christian countries leaves me thinking Paradox has missed a chance for some really great content. Playing from the other side is always an interesting experience and could have opened up some more multiplayer options. Regardless this is just wishful thinking for future development of what is in its current instalment, an excellent franchise.
Disclaimer:All scores given within our reviews are based on the artist’s personal opinion; this should in no way impede your decision to purchase the game.