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.

Graphics, Presentation & Final Thoughts

Combat and conquest is a secondary element to the game. The focus resides on diplomacy and politics. Not to say that combat comes as a second thought to the player strategy to secure their bloodline through the 400 years of gameplay, but combat is just one of the ways the player has to achieve their goals and likely not the one where they will be spending most of their time playing around. It becomes obvious very quickly to anyone playing it, that Paradox went to great lengths to produce the deepest and most engaging set of rules for diplomatic gameplay in any strategy game to date. It set the bar so high that I personally risk it will probably be many years before any other grand strategy game focused on expansion can reach this depth.

At the center of this tremendous effort to present players with a game of internal and external politics is intrigue. And you aren’t the only one plotting. Everyone else is, including the Count of Zaragoza that you forgot had a claim for your Duchy of Leon that he inherited when you left his loving father die in your dungeons for treason. That probably explains why you’ve been visited by assassins twice the past year and why the King of Castile, your brother and rival, is so suddenly interested in being friends with that lowly foreign Count.

Crusader Kings II

And just as in real life, many of these things will happen behind your back if you don’t pay close attention to relationships and events around you. Before you know it, St. Peter is going to welcome you with a hole in your back and your eligible heirs will soon join you, thus ending your dynasty; and the game.

But the web of intrigue and deceit is so deep that your vassals will also plot among themselves to secure their bloodline, fulfill their ambitions, or increase their own prestige. Sometimes you’ll just watch bemused as they fight it out between themselves with their personal armies and change the political landscape of your realm. Other times, you’ll be concerned if one vassal isn’t just becoming too strong, gains a claim to a part of your demesne, or if all this bickering is getting in the way of your desire to raise their levies to go to war and expand your realm, or answer the latest papal call to go fight in the Holy Land among the other Crusaders.

The political and diplomatic aspect of Crusader Kings II is so deeply entrenched in its design and so central to the gameplay, that you will have no doubts this is a game of diplomacy and intrigue. The best you ever played, by far.

Crusader Kings II

Graphics and Presentation

The game graphics are excellent for a grand strategy game and help transmit a medieval aura. They won’t also neither distract or tire you. The maps sport a nice 3D look. Some players (yours truly is one of them) do prefer grand strategy games on 2D maps, but Paradox was careful not to overdo it, although there are a few situations where altitude tends to partially hide domain names at certain zoom levels.

Characters’ pictures change as they grow old. White hair starts to show as well as wrinkles. The art team did a good job creating thousands of face combinations. Characters with certain traits like “Ugly” or “Lisp” may show visual defects on their picture. With future DLC it can be expected an increase on the current artwork for Crusader Kings II. There’s already one called Crusader Kings II: Mongol Faces and includes thousands of face combinations just for the Mongol culture.

Crusader Kings II

The vast amount of information available to the player is well organized and easy to reach. It’s also superbly presented. There’s hardly an excuse to say “I didn’t know”. Everything concerning the diplomatic and political state of the game world is there at any time. One just needs to look and interpret the information. If a claimant to some title of yours likes your ally better than he likes you, maybe that’s writing on the wall. Don’t underestimate the game ability to plot against you. It can if the conditions are met; and often in ways that will make you look like an amateur.

Learning and AI

Grand strategy is often a complex genre to get into. There’s a good amount of time that needs to be dedicated just to learn how to play the game. This tends to drive some players off. Paradox has historically been a developer of this type of games, but unfortunately, never recognized for its comprehensive manuals. Eventually it gained some sort of reputation also for this that surprisingly has served them well. But nonetheless it can be a problem to new players who don’t necessarily like to, or can, invest much time learning how to play a game.

The player community has been instrumental on helping in this matter. Most of the information is generated by them. After-Action Reports (AAR), Tutorials and Let’s Play, are all instruments a new player can use to get into Crusader Kings II. But the game also comes with a tutorial that will help at least to introduce some of more important game concepts to the player.

Crusader Kings II

Crusader Kings II is not however a difficult game to play. In fact, it is surprisingly easy. Micro management is something that Paradox mastered in taking away from players. And many of the daily events are handled by the excellent AI representing the player vassals. It is actually a viable learning strategy to play the game and learn as you go, not being afraid to mess up and lose miserably; just understanding the first few games as a learning process.

The game AI is nothing short of masterful. It’s rare to see a game of this genre and dimension to have been launched two weeks ago and for the references to the AI in the game forums as a bug or an annoyance being so few in number. Nothing seems out of place in the game as vassals, enemies and allies follow reasonable behavioral patterns and can often in fact surprise you with very good adaptation to new circumstances.

The game also went through a surprising polished launch. Not many visible bugs and very few of them with the potential to be game changing. Clearly Paradox did a great job with Crusader Kings II and made sure it released a quality product that could please customers from the very start.


Crusader Kings II is a masterpiece in which domestic and foreign diplomacy, family ties, intrigue, and the accumulation of prestige, take the central stage of a grand strategy game that will almost certainly be considered in the future one of the best ever written.

Crusader Kings II

Henrik Fähreaus, the project leader and co-designer has been with Paradox since Europa Universalis II in 2001. It’s this type of experience – and a decade of accumulated know-how of a company that always concentrated its efforts on a single genre – that permitted this accomplishment of a computer game.

Want to play a game of gut-wrenching diplomacy like nothing you’ve seen before?

Crusader Kings II
Crusader Kings II

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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.