Review:- Crusader Kings II

Game: Crusader Kings 2
Format: PC
Developer: Paradox Interactive
Publisher: Paradox Interactive

I seriously hope you guys can appreciate me sitting down to talk about this game, because it means I’ll have to stop playing it right now… Yes, yes, it’s that good, at least if you are into this kind of thing, but I guess that first you’d like some background info on it, huh? Well, don’t let it be said that I don’t give you what you want! :-)

Crusader Kings 2 (CK2 from now on) is a sequel to Paradox Interactive’s own Crusader Kings from back in 2004 (boy it’s been a long time!), and it’s another of their long standing IPs of grand strategy games, their specialty dish. In this case, Crusader Kings 2 covers from 1066, the Norman invasion of England, to 1452, the fall of Byzantium, which means it covers roughly the Low Middle ages.

What makes CK2 different from other strategy games, and even other Paradox titles, is that instead of playing as a country of nation you play as a Dynasty.

This makes perfect sense for the time period, as in the Middle Ages countries as we understand them today did not exist. Instead you had nobles that owned land and the titles associated with that land, and they where most often vassals of higher nobles, all they way up to a King or Emperor, who, “de jure” at least, controlled all the land.

This led to a confusing form of politics and frontiers which constantly fluctuated (or were non-existent) thus stability was much appreciated by those living at the time. This is what brought the changes that led to countries, as we know them now, begining to take form.

What this means for the game is that at the beginning, where you start in one of various important points throughout this historic era, you choose a member of a Dynasty with at least a County under his control, and as years progress you take control of the heir to your dynasty at the highest title achieved by your previous character. Confused? Don’t worry, it’s easier to understand than it seems, just assume you are playing as a King and his direct descendants and you’ll be OK, even if it’s not entirely true. ;-)

Crusader Kings II takes place across most of Europe.

This way of playing makes you care more for your court than international politics or the usual land ambitions. Your Dynasty grows in power as you aquire important titles all across Europe whilst, at the same time, requiring you to keep your nobles in line and securing your holdings for your preferred heir.

Each character in the game has a set of skills, like stewardship, martial skill or diplomacy, and also traits, like content, ambitious, and / or cynical, that modify his stats or give him special reactions to other characters and situations. At the same time everyone has ambitions, and your relations to other characters will be coloured by them, as will be plots, assassination attempts, imprisonment and rebellions.

The game’s biggest problem is, as with all Paradox games made in-house, the interface and lack of tutorials. Don’t get me wrong, the improvement on previous games here is huge! But it still leaves much to be desired. Simple things like your spy master coming to you with the warning that he’s discovered a plot, but instead of letting you act there and then on this insight, you need to close the message, go into the intrigue screen, find the plot, go into the main plotter’s character screen and then either end the plot, assassinate him or imprison him, a click-fest, basically. It’s not as bad as it probably sounds, but the design here could be much more intuitive.

Also, some players, accustomed to the usual flexibility of playable choices in Paradox games, have felt a bit annoyed that non-Christians are unplayable, as are Republics or the Papacy. This actually makes sense though, the game is concerned with medieval European politics, and the system would not work with the aforementioned groups, but it’s definitely a good focus for an expansion or DLC.

In terms of sound and aesthetics, the game works well but it’s nothing groundbreaking or really impressive. You’re presented with a good looking and very detailed 3D map of Europe, northern Africa and the Middle East, and have different views in which to plan your actions. The music is a selection of era appropriate instrumental musics which really set the stage, but at the same time grows a little old after a while since there really aren’t that many of them. Sound effects are again good if fairly standard, and long time Paradox fans will recognize several sounds from their other games.

What it lacks in sound and art design it more than makes up for with a compelling, non-scripted, narrative.

All in all, it’s a brilliant game, and one that you should play if you have the time, and believe me, it’s a very time demanding game.

Few other games allow for the following scenarios, all of which I experienced; In a scene that was completely unscripted, my old and beloved King of Leon was ill and probably would die soon, his ascent to the throne had been difficult, his life marred with plots from vassals and rivals and in his later years he threw his lot in a crusade for Alexandria. The crusade succeeded, but everything was at the brink of ruin, the heir was… not really apt, let’s say.

His second son, a crusader and duke of recently conquered Alexandria, was too ambitious for his own good, assassinating and plotting against his brothers and grand-nephews. He had succeeded in assassinating his older brother and gaining a claim to the throne, however, he was so universally hated that the kingdom was going to split apart, which led to him rebelling against his own father, which proved his undoing, as he ended up in jail. But he was still heir. So the king, acting for the good of his people ordered his death, making his grandson heir, a diplomatic and strong young man experienced in the ways of recently conquered Alexandria.

The infidels wouldn’t let the king die in peace though, and they launched a jihad to take back their lands, but in his last month of life the king recruited an army of 20,000 crusaders thanks to his fame and piety, and died as the crusaders marched to Alexandria to defend it from the coming horde.

Now how’s that for non-scripted, huh?

Review Round-Up

Graphics: 3/5 – Nice enough to look at, but nothing groundbreaking.

Sound: 3/5 – Again, good, but nothing that will make you fall off your chair or hum along after closing the game.

Gameplay: 4.5/5 – Fantastic game with lot’s of interesting directions, the only reason I don’t give it a 5 is because the interface, while better, still requires work, and the tutorials still need to improve.

Longevity: 5/5 – As with all Paradox strategy games, if this clicks with you, you’re in for hours upon hours of fun… don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Overall: 4.5 out of 5

Paradox is getting closer and closer to that 5 out 5. Gameplay wise, they’ve already nailed it, now they just need to make the experience even more approachable and they will even start getting people without any real interest in history excited about their excellent games.

- Jose Luis Pérez Zapata

Fri, February 24 2012 » PC/Mac, Reviews

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