REVIEW: Crusader Kings II: Charlemagne

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014

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Crusader Kings II | oprainfall
Title Crusader Kings II: Charlemagne
Developer Paradox Development Studio
Publisher Paradox Interactive
Release Date October 14, 2014
Genre Grand Strategy
Platform PC
Age Rating ESRB – Teen
Official Website

Coming from humble beginnings, Crusader Kings II has grown to become something greater than your average grand strategy game. Released in February of 2012, the developers have continued to support the game, releasing tons of updates and DLC over the years with plenty of tweaks and new content. The most recent of this is the Charlemagne expansion, which adds even more new content to the already expansive game. For this review, we’re going to be looking at Crusader Kings II, and seeing if it’s worth all the hype and if the Charlemagne DLC is worth the money.

It’s hard to describe this game succinctly and do it any justice, but, if I had to try, I’d say that if you tried to distill the essence of Game of Thrones into a video game, Crusader Kings would be that game. In fact, the two are similar enough that there’s even a Game of Thrones mod for the game which keeps the same mechanics, but changes the setting to Westeros.

For those of you haven’t heard of it, Crusader Kings is grand strategy game that takes place in medieval Europe, the Middle East and India. Unlike most games in its genre, though, instead of taking control of a country, such as France or Egypt, you play as the head of a dynasty such as the Habsburgs or the Saffarids.  At the beginning of the game, you pick a character. Whenever this character dies, you continue on playing as their direct heir. This goes down through the generations as you attempt to keep and expand your holdings as you steer your dynasty towards glory.

Crusader Kings II | World Map

The world of Crusader Kings II in 769 CE.

This creates a different dynamic than in other grand strategy games, such as Civilization, because, in Crusader Kings, you have to work with dynastic and internal politics, as well as international politics; something you’ll notice as soon as you see the massive number characters within your own realm. In this game, it’s not just other countries you need to worry about. What Crusader Kings II doesn’t always tell you is that you’ll need to secure beneficial alliances by forming political marriages with other dynasties, both inside and outside your realm. You can also get claims on their titles via inheritance, which you can then press in war. Although you’ll have to worry about them getting claims on your titles from the same.

You’ll also want these marriages to result in a strong heir to your dynasty, because, if you run out of heirs, it’s Game Over. Of course, even if you do have heirs, that’s not the end of your problems because then you also want them to be good heirs with high stats. Certain traits pass on through generations, so, if you have a kid who has the “slow” trait, that could end up plaguing your dynasty for generations. Likewise, having a child with the “genius” trait could be a boon to your realm for decades. Even your children who don’t inherit — usually younger sons — still have a claim on your titles as pretenders, and can cause a lot of trouble for your realm if they start angling for your throne.

If your heir, pretender or unrelated claimant looks like they’ll really mess up your Kingdom when you die, you can always have them “taken care of.” Of course, try this too often and you might just take out your last heir, which would spell Game Over for you. Plus, your subjects tend not to like their rulers having people murdered on a whim, especially their own children, so getting caught might hurt your reputation.

Another thing that separates Crusader Kings from the average strategy game is that you also have to worry a great deal more about the internal politics of your realm. This is because much of your realm will actually be controlled by various vassals who serve under you, each of whom has their own interests and ambitions, some of which may conflict with your own. You’ll have to be careful of vassals gaining too much power, forming factions to campaign for independence or to get another claimant put on the throne. Some may even attempt to usurp your throne for themselves. More than conquest or domination, a big part of the game is maintaining your relationships with your vassals and subjects.

Crusader Kings II | Disloyal Vassal

And vassals with the “Ambitious” trait will always be assholes.

Lowering your government’s “Crown Authority,” or the power of the central government, will make them happy, but weaken your own power. Conversely, raising your Crown Authority will increase you personal power and entitle you to a larger share of your vassals’ troop levies, but, at the same time, it will anger your vassals. You can try to placate them with feasts and bribes, but that costs money you could use for other things. It’s a very delicate balancing act.

Of course, you can choose to play as one of these lower-tier vassals, as well. There’s certainly some fun to be had in starting as a lowly Count or Duke serving under a more powerful King and, over several generations of warfare and deception, working your way up the ranks before finally usurping his throne. Of course, if you yourself have your titles usurped, you might end up playing a low-tier vassal whether you like it or not. The player being knocked down from a King to lowly Count is par for the course for this game.

The game is also astounding in exactly how much historical detail has been put into it. Basically the entire feudal hierarchy of Medieval Europe, the Middle East and India is simulated in the game. If someone owned land between 1066 and 1453, they have a counterpart in Crusader Kings II, and you can play as them. You can play as pretty much anyone in the world and guide their family to glory from the Kings of Europe to the Raja of India.

One of the most fun parts of the game is seeing how you can change and mess around with history. Do you think the Roman Empire should have survived past the end of the Middle Ages? Take control of the Eastern Roman Empire, reconquer your lost lands and force the west to acknowledge you as the rightful continuation of the Roman Empire. Unhappy with Christianity as the dominant world religion? Take control of a Norse pagan chieftain, reform the faith and make it the dominant religion of Europe. Take over the Middle East as a Buddhist Persian Empire. With this game, there are very few limits with regard to the things you can do.

Crusader Kings II | Aztec Sacrifice

Yeah, I just had my Irish Count sacrifice a Catholic priest to the Aztec gods. What of it?

You might notice that I mentioned “claims” a few times before. The reason for this is because, in Crusader Kings, unlike a lot of other strategy games, you can’t declare war on someone whenever you like for no reason. You have to have a valid “casus belli,” or reason for war. Without a proper casus belli, you can’t declare war. In most cases, this will be because you have a claim on someone’s title, and you can choose to press that claim by force.

Religion also plays a big factor in this. You can declare holy war on anyone who is a different religion than you without even needing a claim on their lands. Of course, they can do the same to you. Some religions, assuming you have the proper DLC, also have other special features which helps them to feel more unique. And, of course, any vassals who have a different religion than you will probably not like you very much. So you have to worry about those things, as well.

Crusader Kings II | College of Cardinals

As a Catholic Ruler, you can exert influence over the Papacy by getting bishops from your realm elected to the College of Cardinals.


The crusading continues on Page 2 –>

About Colin Malone

Colin has been playing video games since he was very young and is a fan of several genres including RPG, strategy and platformers, among others. He graduated from Southwestern University with a degree in communications and currently writes for Wii U Daily, Operation Rainfall and Inspectioneering Magazine. His long term goal is nothing less than to become the Hunter S. Thompson of games journalism.

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