Almost a month has now passed since the release of Paradox Interactive’s latest brainchild, Crusader Kings 2. For those who don’t know, Paradox is a creator of an incredibly long lived series of strategy games titled Europa Universalis. The EU series has always been notorious for its attention to historical details, intense learning curves, and incredibly rewarding (if you’re willing to beat the learning curve) gameplay sessions.
Crusader Kings 2 is the latest iteration of this series, and by far reflects the amazing amount of talent and creativity that goes into each of these games. The graphics are very good, and the sound and music hold their own, but gameplay has always been what an EU series game is all about, and Crusader Kings 2 is no different.
However, like its predecessors, there’s a reason it took me almost a month to get to writing this review. After 80+ hours of play time with this little gem, I can confidently say I finally grasp all the fine details of what is by far one of the heftiest learning curves I’ve ever experienced. Make no mistake, Crusader Kings 2 is probably the easiest of all the Paradox strategy games to get into, and with some dedication you will learn the ropes, and experience one of the most fun game experiences in a long, long time.
The best way to explain the gameplay, is to illustrate my most recent play session. I started out playing as the Duke of Moray in Scotland on the eve of the Norman Invasion of England (literally, right down to the day). You can start out playing as one of four levels of characters throughout ANY of the Christian (unfortunately you can’t play as pagans/barbarians/Muslims yet), nations of the day. The lowest of the pecking order is the Count. You manage at most one province, you might have a vassal or two under you, and (at least in the beginnings) the prospects look tough. However, despite your low standing on the power structure, you’re the most free to do political maneuvering, games of intrigue,scheme and connive your way to eventually controlling your own dukedom. Its easily my favorite so far. The next is the Duke, who has a couple of Counts under him, and is usually in a decent position to begin expanding his territory and (if he’s lucky enough to build a good force behind him) set his sites on the next stage of social awesomeness: The King. Becoming the King of a realm (rather than start out as one) is one of the most rewarding (and complicated) experiences in the game, and its only the beginning!
As I said, I started out as the Duke of Moray. I had a few counts under me who respected me, but really were no one I’d consider friends (I caught one trying to off my wife… twice). I held feasts, summer fairs, hunts, sent my chancellor to their counties to improve our relations with them. It took a lot of time and determination, but eventually in the eyes of my vassals I could do no wrong. I spent the next couple of years building up my provinces infrastructure. Expanding our ability to raise our levies and armies. I caught one of my vassals who was supposedly a friend trying to plot against me for control of Moray. He LOVED the view of the world from my oubliette as well.
I could literally go for 10 pages about this entire experience so far. But I’ll sum that up with, after YEARS of scheming, plotting, planning, arranging marriages, etc. I was one of the leading powersin Scotland under the King. William The Conqueror was busy kicking the shit out of England, except history took a different turn and the Godwins escaped to Wales in the southwest, and are slowly rebuilding their powerbase. I finally had universal respect from my vassals, and took a chance. I sent a letter to the King, declaring that I am the rightful ruler of Scotland, and I was going to take the country by force if need-be. In 10 days, I had a reply from the King himself. He was unwilling to have a civil war, and shed Scottish blood, and to my total shock, handed the crown over to me and became a loyal vassal.
This is just one of easily thousands of possibilities your game can take in that situation. The best part about this game is that once you start playing, history is not set. Sure, historical figures will generally behave like they did in real life. And if you start the game later in the timeline (be careful though, the game ends in the 1400s), historical events are entirely reflected in exact detail prior to whenever you choose to start a game. But once you start, history is an open book. And no two games are ever the same.
I feel like I’ve done this game no justice. I can’t begin to explain how much fun I’ve had playing this game. Again, this is not an easy game, not in the slightest. There’s not even an official way to “beat” the game. Its simply, how far do you want to go in your gain of power until the game’s official end date (or until you die, and no longer have heirs to take over your dynasty when you do). It makes for some really challenging and unique playthroughs.
If you are willing to put in the time, love intense and in depth strategy games (think the EU series, Hearts of Iron, etc) and don’t mind tough love style learning, Crusader Kings 2 is one of the most rewarding and fun games out currently. Multiplayer works well enough, and the randomized events and actions after a game is started offers almost infinite replayability.
Games like Crusader Kings 2 do not come around often, especially games that challenge as much as this. But there is no reason whatsoever that this game should not be considered a classic, and is one of the best strategy titles to come out this year.
Huge learning curve, but intensely rewarding gameplay
That’s my take, take it or leave it.