Paradox Interactive’s “Crusader Kings 2” is not your typical strategy game. It’s part of a series of games made by Paradox that often get the label “grand strategy game”. It is insanely complex and almost impossible to learn without a guide, walkthrough or experienced player helping you along. Jumping into a game with no prior exposure you’re going to find yourself assaulted with a ton of words you sort of know but actually have no idea of their meanings. Gavelkind? Agnatic? Cognatic? Demense? Dukedom? What’s the difference between a title and a claim? I myself picked it up around November last year after seeing some gameplay footage of it on YouTube and by playing it on and off for the last 8-9 months I can finally say I somewhat understand all the little nuances and mechanics and could call myself a decent player.
Crusader Kings 2 on first glance looks like another world domination game. You pick a player and control a piece of land in medieval Europe and try to gain as much land as you can. In fact you could play the game just like that and could possibly be happy just doing that. But you would find yourself fast running into game over’s, or losing all your land spontaneously or wondering where this giant stack of Mongol horsemen came from and why they’ve chosen to devour your entire kingdom.
Crusader Kings 2 doesn’t play like any other domination style game. When you start the game you pick a character, he may be a Count who only controls a single province of land, or a duke who controls several provinces, or a king of your own kingdom. It’s entirely up to you where you start and the game gives you several scenario starts and gives you free reign to be a one province nobody, or lead France into England as William of Normandy. It’s then up to you what you do next. The rules of the game are simple: play until you have no heir of your “dynasty” (family line) remaining, or until you don’t own any land. Now you may be saying to yourself “where did this heir business come in?” Well, Crusader Kings 2 is a game that focuses around your family, your “dynasty”, and this is what makes the game so unique and interesting. The character you start as isn’t going to live forever like may happen in other games. It’s up to you to make sure you marry someone, and produce children, and keep your family line going. Now you may be saying to yourself “but how do you decide which person becomes your heir?” And that is where the game starts to dive into the main bulk of its strategy elements.
So let’s say you’re the King of England. You own everything south of Scotland and a piece of Ireland. You’ve led a full life and you’re laid on your deathbed. Your 5, maybe 6 sons are all legitimate heirs of your kingdom, yet only one can get the title of king. When he inherits the kingdom on your death suddenly you become this son, and you’re still king of England, but now you have a bunch of brothers each saying “well, actually, I should be king”. And now you have some serious problems.
Crusader Kings 2 is based around families and it becomes very important to make sure you’re doing the best job you can to keep your family line strong and powerful. Whether this means sending off your daughter to marry the daughter of the Kaiser of the Holy Roman Empire, or killing off your brother because he was born with a hunchback (you don’t want your family to be full of hunchbacks do you?). Then it comes down to: do you want your family to inherit land all across Europe? Or would you rather keep all the land to yourself and make your kingdom the only one in the lands? Better make sure to have the right succession laws or upon your current characters death you may find large pieces of your land suddenly no longer remain yours. If you’re unable to stop your family from taking your rightful land you better have the army to repel them and their allies when they come knocking at your palace for your crown. And they will come knocking. The game gives you several ways of keeping an army, starting with the castles you own in the provinces you control. You start with a reasonable amount of troops in each castle but if you want more you’re either going to have to spend the gold and time to build more structures to recruit more levies, or hire mercenaries and have the income to sustain their fees less they suddenly turn on you in the thick of battle due to not being paid the last 2 months.
Crusader Kings 2 features an epic-sounding soundtrack that at first kind of sits in the background as good music, but eventually you begin to notice it seems to have 3 or 4 songs that appear to repeat over and over. This is actually a problem is most Paradox games. It doesn’t bother me at all but it may begin to grind on some players nerves. Thankfully the game is more or less open to modding however you see fit so you could add in your own music if you wanted, or just mute the game and play your own stuff. None of the sounds are integral to the game, merely there to add flavour. Crusader Kings 2 also features a multiplayer system but to be honest if you’re not playing a LAN game (actual or otherwise) it can be a complete pain to set up. It features a direct IP connection which is easy enough, as long as you know how to find your public IP address and know how to forward your ports so outside people can access them. Crusader Kings 2 also features a metaserver but not only is it a pain to get into and set up, it appears to not work at all. If you care enough you can get it working but for many people it’s not going to be worth their time if they’re not playing LAN.
I could go on for hours about the different mechanics of Crusader Kings 2, and I’m not just saying that. I haven’t even touched on claims, baronies, bishoprics, republics, prestige, intrigue, levies, garrisons, holy wars. The list is many, many mechanics long. If you’re looking for a game to pick up to keep you entertained for hours at a time with an almost infinite replay value, pick up Crusader Kings 2 on Steam. The base game gives you access to all the Christian nations in Europe, and there’s 6 DLC’s that either unlock different religions to play as (Muslim, Pagan), introduce hordes (Mongol, Ilkhanate, Aztecs in a “what if?” scenario), or different ruling styles (Replublics). It can be a bit pricey to purchase all the content the game has to offer at once, so either pick it up slowly or wait for the next big Steam Sale. The most recent gave all the DLC’s except for the most recent along with the base game for $20 USD.