The Old Gods is an expansion for Crusader King 2 that focuses very heavily on the Vikings and actually adds in a new start date for the game, allowing the player to start in the year 867 and play as one of the five sons of Ragnar Lothbrok. I found that this expansion is very rich in history which actually interested me a lot as I have been quite enjoying reading and learning about Scandinavian history in recent weeks. If you notice on the site I have been indulging on the Vikings TV series which follows Ragnar Lothbrok, so this game resonated quite a lot with me.
If you choose to start playing this expansion in Scandinavia you can choose between many of the different territories. My favourite character to start with in The Old Gods was Bjorn “The Ironside” and it was mainly because I knew who he was having watched his character appear in the Vikings TV show throughout season 1 and 2. Bjorn is Ragnar’s first born son, but there are still other sons you can choose from if you want to go the Ragnar historical route. Of course you don’t have to play as one of the five sons, you can play as anyone in the world (Kingdom of Mercia perhaps), they are just the more interesting characters you can choose from out of this expansion which I thought were worth mentioning as they are quite central to the period the expansion is set in. Please note though that the expansion also allows you to experience the founding of the Kingdom of Rus by the Viking Rurik and it also allows you to experience the Zoroastrian religion as well as the Norse.
If you’ve chosen one of your characters to be one of the sons of Ragnar Lothbrok you may be in the first initial war which is the invasion of Northumberland (this is a historical war). You can decide how much you want to help out with this war or not, I found it much better to help out with the war because it’s easy to win and you can get some prestige from it as well which is good for a new king to have. As a king in the Old Gods wars are not something that is an occasional thing, they will be quite constant, in fact as a Pagan it’s encouraged to go to war with someone. If you are at peace for way too long the people in your kingdom will grow restless so it’s best to keep playing aggressively.
The reason why you won’t get much chance for peace in your kingdom, particularly in the early parts of the game is because everyone wants to be king. When you start off as say Bjorn “The Ironside” who is a king, you aren’t really a proper king you are what is called a petty king. You are not king of all of Sweden (yet) however you can set one of the ambitions to be King Of Sweden if that’s what you’d like. To become the king of Sweden you will need to take many of the neighboring territories until you have enough power to form the kingdom and become a proper king. While you are playing in Scandinavia you will notice as well that many of the landed areas that comprise of modern day Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland are all named other things and these countries have not formed yet and will slowly form as you go. For example you could play in Norway, eventually form Norway and become the king of Norway and the same goes for Denmark, Sweden and Finland. Of course as the game plays out and depending on how powerful everyone becomes it’s possible not all of the countries form. As was the case in one of my games, all of Scandinavia was either Sweden which is what I chose to play as (having started with Bjorn “The Ironside”) or it was Denmark. Denmark was not limited to its territories as it also had managed to get some areas of England over the course of the game, this contributed to making it very difficult for me to take over all of their regions because they could source troops which after some time would arrive on my shores, it did not help either that they had some very powerful allies. It’s important to choose your conquests wisely.
You might be thinking at this point that you could just keep expanding and expanding and expanding until you had every region, there is nothing to stop someone once they take Scandinavia for themselves! Well you are only partially right, you see the Pagans have one weakness which limits their ability to maintain everything in the hands of their heir. Once your king dies, no matter how great he was and how much titles you hold if you have more than one son, in your next playthrough you won’t have the same size kingdom as you once did. This is because the Norse religion is unreformed, unlike the Catholics there is no central head to the religion and until you can reform the Norse religion you are going to be stuck with gravelkind succession laws. Under gravelkind succession your land will be equally divided amongst your heirs and while you can kill some of your heirs so you only have one to inherit everything, this might get difficult if your vassals don’t like you or your heir is too powerful to kill. Or you simply die before a time comes that you can assassinate them all.
As you can see in the slideshow above, once my current king dies I will not maintain all of my landed titles that I currently have. When I play as my next heir I will likely have to take back all of Finland and some counties I might like to have which I don’t have anymore. This makes the game very interesting and I felt that there was a large focus on managing your family dynasty as a result of gravelkind succession. If you didn’t manage your family well and designate your heir’s titles in the right way you might find that your new brother will be far more powerful than you. I guess it’s a lesson you learn by playing through the game, since then I have been more careful in managing my heirs.
Religion plays a very important role in The Old Gods expansion and not just because the pagans have gravelkind succession and you need to reform the Norse religion so that you can change it, but also because you’ll have to face numerous holy wars and events like Catholic revolts in your lands if Catholicism spreads too much in your kingdom. These revolts and holy wars can be a major pain especially if you are looking to expand your kingdom. For example my biggest problem was that Catholicism spread throughout my kingdom through Denmark, as when I took their lands I gained catholic regions. I found as well that they would revolt during the worse possible time just when I went to war and typically when I went to war with someone powerful. For example when I decided at one stage to launch a subjugation of Denmark which was about the same level of power as me, not so shortly after did the Catholics revolt causing me to lose quite the amount of troops and therefore costing me my subjugation war. But even though it’s something that does annoy me as I planned for that war for some time, it’s also the thing that I love about Crusader Kings 2 so much. Just when you think you are ahead and about to secure all your goals something can come up from nowhere, strike you down and put you right back in your corner and if you’re not careful a surprise could knock you out for good and out of the game completely.
I really enjoyed the Norse religion and the aspects that were different from the Christians, I particularly enjoyed holding the great blot as it allowed me to make sacrifices to Odin. Why was it so good being able to hold sacrifices? Well it just so happens I have a lot of people in my jail cells and when I hold a great blot I can get rid of them all and gain piety and respect for doing so. The Norse religion is very good, however it is not reformed, you can’t just start holy wars like the Christians do so you are at a disadvantage for some time. To reform it takes a lot of effort and you need at least 3 of the holy sites and a lot of moral authority to do so. Once you do you can get rid of gravelkind and do a whole lot of things, but reforming the religion is where the difficulty comes to play maintaining religious territories can get difficult as well as bishops will come to your lands to try convert you Norse people to Christian, luckily you can jail those bishops for doing so.
Money is another interesting thing in this expansion, Vikings as you probably know love to go on raids and in if you are playing as one of the Scandinavians you can do just that. Raids are the best for gaining a quick source of funds and they are very easy to do. You just need to raise your troops, toggle raid, put them in a boat and go down to any city anywhere on the map and if it’s got gold in it, you can steal it as long as that city is not Norse (or pagan) as you can’t raid your own people. You just need to watch out for the other countries armies! The best places I found that were great for raiding were Rome, Pisa, Venice and Constantinople which always had more than enough gold for me. Gold is important I found because with constant wars going on you may need it to hire mercenaries or pay off your vassals to keep them in line. It’s also important for buying new buildings in your holdings which allows you to get more troops or improve your kingdoms wealth.
The final thing I would like to mention is the great new layout for when you play The Old Gods. Character screens or any of the screens have this cool new wooden look, just like what the Vikings would have had. It’s a minor cosmetic change in appearance but I did appreciate it being added in there, it’s much better to have this and I wish for more of this for each of the different regions or cultures it just adds so much more feeling to where you are playing as at a particular time.
Overall I really enjoyed playing the Old Gods expansion for Crusader Kings 2, it is actually my favourite of the expansions for the game and as I was interested in the history of the period in the recent weeks my interest in the game grew to almost that of obsession. I could not wait to get back to the game each day and grow my kingdom and having to manage my heirs and my eventual successor really made me focus on the family aspect of Crusader Kings 2. I found myself having a lot of fun with the religious aspects of the game and I enjoyed raiding the christians and taking all their money. I feel as if The Old Gods had the perfect mix of gameplay in the historical period it was set in which for me makes it a great historical strategy game, if not one of the best of all time.