Crusader Kings II Review

by Mario Figueiredo on February 27, 2012 in Gaming

Politics, intrigue, assassination and plotting. Going to war against infidels and pleasing the Pope. Claiming land from your neighbors and getting rid of inconvenient family members. That’s good old Middle Ages, for you. Read through Mario’s review of Crusader Kings II and please, please, do not attempt at home the things he’s done.

Introduction & Gameplay

So my wife doesn’t want to give me any male descendants. We have 2 daughters and now she’s decided to become chaste. At the age of 44 and fighting every day to keep my house clean and well feed, I’m not a young man anymore. Neither is she a young woman. And I’m stuck with her. It’s only natural – and you will understand – that I have made arrangements for her assassination. I’m not a bad person, but I need to protect my bloodline. Besides, she should see it coming, that heartless witch.

David Attenborough said that one of the most important survival characteristic of mammals and what leads to their success is the strength of their family ties. Crusader Kings II, the new grand strategy game from Paradox Interactive, is here to finally tell us that humans aren’t mammals.

That means we are special. Like no other, we trick, lie, assassinate, imprison, strip of any title, or otherwise take offense, of any family member that stands in our way or that of our heir. It wasn’t only my wife that I had removed while playing as King Sancho II of Castile. My younger brothers, Alfonso VI of Leon and Garcia II of Galicia, had to eventually be disposed of by other means, because they had claims on my kingdom and were being adamant on using them.

Crusader Kings II

But let’s get to the review proper. Crusader Kings II isn’t about you playing as an Emperor, King, Duke or Count; that is just one of the many titles you may hold at some point in the game. And it certainly isn’t about you playing as the King of Scotland, or the Count of Angermanland (the coolest title ever); these are just titles, conquered or passed on to you or down your descendants as the game progresses.

No. Crusader Kings II is about you playing a Middle Ages European dynasty. Your task is to protect it and accumulate the highest prestige when the game ends in 1453. You have since 1066, roughly 400 years of gameplay, to do so. During that time you will die of old age, sickness, injury or become a victim of an orchestrated plot by one of your vassals, military enemies, or family members. But you will keep playing as your heir, as long as you could secure one while in life.

You may gain or lose land and titles. It matters little; or a lot, depending on your play style. As long as you can guarantee a successor from within your dynasty, you are in the game. And what a game!

Crusader Kings II offers you the whole of medieval Europe to play with, including the Middle East and coastal North Africa. Close to 1000 provinces to choose from and an absurd number of historical characters between the Counts, Dukes, Kings or Emperors of the era. You can choose to start playing as far back as 1066 when William the Conqueror (at the time William the Bastard) gets papal permission to invade England, or as close to the end game as 1337, on the onset of the Hundred Years’ War, the end of which signaled the beginning of the Early Modern Age and the definite end of the Middle Ages.

Crusader Kings II

With it, comes all the baggage of medieval culture and conflict: Your house is a complex network of family members and claims to land titles. Your vassals add yet another dimension to the internal politics with their own claims, ambitious and family ties. Your court (the best of the best chosen by you) is also a potential stage for hard-to-make decisions and conflicts.

At the center of your concerns sits the Catholic Church and its ruler, the Pope. Your loyalty to the Church and your desire to fight and eliminate or convert the Pagans and Infidels surrounding you may be a precious source of new land and titles, or the downfall of your dynasty. Your decisions can affect how your bishops view you and heretics can surface in your land at any time.

The maintenance of your dynasty is a complex matter. You must raise yourself – or choose an adequate tutor for – your sons and daughters and, depending on the succession laws of your domain, you must plan ahead, securing good marriages for them that can help increase your claims to foreign land, eliminate dangerous claims to yours, or increase the prestige of your family.

Crusader Kings II

Every character in the game holds a deep and rich set of attributes and traits, many of which are gained or changed during their lifetime. These help create the character personality and influence greatly his or her abilities as a ruler, as well as how much others like or dislike him or her.

Page List

1. Introduction & Gameplay
2. Graphics, Presentation & Final Thoughts

  • Marfig

    Crusader Kings II comes with great music. Like many games by Paradox, the pieces are original and composed specifically for the game. With Crusader Kings II, Paradox once again requested the talents of Andreas Waldetoft, a game, film and TV composer who has already worked for Paradox on other titles (Victoria, Europa Universalis and Hearts of Iron). The choir is the little known but excellent Herrestads Church Choir, a Swedish assemble managed by Hanz Blomdahl.

    However, I’m not entirely a fan of Andreas work. I certainly recognize his talent. And some of his compositions are indeed great. But I’ve been growing tired of a certain tendency of games, no matter the genre, to produce music that is often qualified as heroic epic.

    After a little while I feel inclined to just set the music level to 0, or replace it entirely with a playlist of my own. That’s exactly what happened to Crusader Kings II, not even 2 hours into play. I eventually started adding songs to my playlist and am here to share the final version for you.

    This playlist is mostly comprised of Lorenna McKennitt work intersected by other great musicians and composers. My only warning is: you may lose the game if you pay much attention to these small masterpieces.

    Loreena McKennitt – The English Ladye and The Knight
    Loreena McKennitt – Banquet Hall
    Loreena McKennitt – She Moved Through The Fair
    Jordi Savall – Le Royaume Oublié (the video is an excerpt)
    Loreena McKennitt – Blacksmith
    Loreena McKennitt – The King
    Loreena McKennitt – Kellswater
    Jordi Savall – Greensleeves
    Loreena McKennitt – Sacred Shabbat
    Omnia – Fairy Tale
    Loreena McKennitt – The Highwayman
    Al Qantarah – In Hoc Anni Circulo
    Loreena McKennitt – The Seasons (can’t be found on YouTube, except for a cover)
    Jordi Savall – Hespèrion XXI (the video is an excerpt)
    Loreena McKennitt – Coventry Carol
    Loreena McKennitt – Dante’s Prayer (not entirely suitable, but one of my favorite of hers)
    Loreena McKennitt – The Mystic Dream
    Conrad Paumann – Mit Ganczem Willen
    Loreena McKennitt – Santiago
    Jordi Savall – Folías de Espanã
    Loreena McKennitt – Bonny Portmore
    Loreena McKennitt – Between The Shadows
    Omnia – Fidhe Ra Huri

    I just set the game music volume to 0, and run the playlist in loop random mode.

  • Marfig

    As said on the review, Paradox isn’t exactly known for its comprehensive manuals. Similarly, if — and when — they do add tutorials to their games, these are usually very simple and introduce only key game concepts, leaving aside any considerations regarding gameplay.

    For the gamers in general this can be a problem, since grand strategy games of the scope of Paradox titles are very rich in features, some of which are deeply ingrained in the engine, and not at all apparent from just looking at the data presented to us. Likewise, the data that is presented to us is often complex, very rich in terminology and tightly integrated with the rest of the game. There’s load and loads of numbers and terms that need to be learned and understood; both their meaning and the vast web of consequences of messing with them.

    Truth be said, not every information is meant to be taught to the player. An intrinsic part of playing any grand strategy game is to learn the innards of its engine. But this isn’t possible to do if we don’t have a basic knowledge of the gameplay. It’s very easy to look at a title like Crusader Kings II, Victoria or Hearts of Iron (all Paradox games) and quickly lose interest because the player finds the game unplayable without the knowledge of how to play it.

    Thankfully Crusader Kings II isn’t a hard game to get into. Paradox did an excellent job abstracting the whole complex affair of internal politics in a feudal system into an easy to understand set of game features. At first glance the game looks as daunting as any other Paradox title, with the exception of Hearts of Iron (possibly the most complex game ever conceived). But once we get a helping hand, we realize that things do fit in, make a lot of sense and can be easily understood.

    That helping hand is the players community, who had been doing a great job publishing all sorts of material to help others learn the ropes of Paradox games.

    What I’m going to present next is the set of links that I personally used to learn how to play the game. With the material below, I was able to understand the gameplay to its fullest. With a little free time in your hands and a bit of perseverance, you will find too the pleasure of playing Crusader Kings II.

    What introduced me to the game and pretty much taught me how to play it were the excellent tutorials by TekkorGJC. He has a pleasant voice and demeanor and guides us through the game in 5 tutorials followed by two Q&A videos. After going through all of them I was essentially introduced into the gameplay and could play it on my own.

    TekkorGJC also has a Let’s Play Crusader Kings series on his channel that you may want to follow too. He explains many of the things he does in the game and you get to see the game being played in its fullest.

    Crusader Kings 2 – Tutorial Series (5+2 episodes, running time: 2 hours and 10 minutes)

    Crusader Kings II – Let’s Play

    Another excellent source for learning the game is Das24680 Let’s Play series. Another good communicator that is easy to follow and won’t tire you. Das, explains the game as he plays it in 11 episodes. He doesn’t fear making mistakes, talking about them and learning (him too) how to play the game as he goes.

    I watched Das series a fair bit after I started playing the game on my own. And it was worth it since it introduced me into yet more game concepts.

    Let’s Play Crusader Kings 2 Series (+11 episodes; running time at the 11th episode: 6 hours and 25 minutes)

    The game forums are an essential resource for any game of this type, as you well know. There, you can learn about everything there is to know about the game, as players share their experiences and accumulated knowledge of the game. There’s however an invaluable resource in there in the form of a sticky thread in the FAQ subform for Crusader Kings II that gets into a somewhat deep analysis of the key game concepts. This is the In-depth Guide to CKII thread, managed by Meneth.

    In-depth Guide to Crusader Kings II

    There is also on that FAQ subforum a PDF conversion of this Meneth guide.