Review: Crusader Kings 2 (PC)


Crusader Kings 2
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Developer: Paradox Development Studio
Genre: Grand Strategy Game
Release Date: 02/14/2012

I am a huge RTS fan. I started playing them back when Orcs and Humans came out in ’94, and it’s stuck with me ever since. So having the opportunity to test one out and write a review was a privilege, something I somewhat regret once I obtained this title. Now, I never paid attention in history class, learning enough to pass tests and get by with basic fundamentals, so once this game was installed and I began to dink around a bit, I realized that the entire core revolves around our world’s somewhat recent history, and global events that changed kingdoms and wiped out races.

Story

Now the premise of Crusader Kings 2 is simple: survive. Your bloodline must survive until the end of the game, the year 1453. Throughout this time, history will not follow the traditional path, as the choices you make will alternately affect the choices the surrounding countries will make, so on and so forth. This spiderweb effect persists until the endgame, where once you were trying to survive now may become a race for superiority or conquering supremacy. Building your armies, amassing defenses, and creating treaties and alliances with whomever you can – the game is so complex it nearly gave me an aneurysm.

When you first start a new game, a large map of Europe, Northern Africa, and Western Asia presents itself, and you begin the arduous task of selecting your kingdom. There is a box with historical dates that can guide you, giving you options such as playing William the Conqueror in 1066, or as King Edward III in the Hundred Years War in 1337. I became excited, knowing these historical dates and those leaders, which were sticking out in my mind like a flaming brand. However, the depth of Crusader Kings 2 is not limited to the proposed options.

You can, rather, choose to be a baron of a small community, a vassal controlling your own state within the umbrella of the king, or the Pope himself. The options are nearly endless, which gives rise to almost unlimited gameplay. We will get to that later, however. Once your choice is made, the game begins and almost immediately you’re inundated with an insane amount of data. The interesting tidbit here is that history will change for every minute thing that you accomplish or change, sometimes for better or worse. There is no linear progression, it is entirely up to you.

Graphics

For a RTS, the graphics are substandard. As you stare at a map the entire game, it feels like an interactive, complex game of Risk. The textures are crisp and clean, and the mini-map at the bottom of the screen can change your viewable area from terrain, independent realms, diplomatic relations, religious reach, even revolt risk and economic superpowers. There are 12 options in all to change the dynamics of your map, pertaining to whichever portion of the game you’re currently working on. The artwork in avatars and the like feels like it’s straight out of the 90s as well, not adding any appeal factor whatsoever. It gets worse as battles begin to erupt around the continent, the awkward swinging of swords from giant pixel models abandoning all hope of a graphically pleasing experience.

Sound

I rather enjoy epic music. Soundtracks from movies like Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, anything from Hans Zimmer. Hell, I remember popping my Warcraft 2 game CD into my CD player and listening to the embedded soundtrack constantly (CD players were devices that played round discs with holes in the middle). So when the game started up and the loading screen presented itself to me, and the score in all of its glory and might began blasting through my Bose speakers, a smile cracked across my face.

This game has it. There is an energized feel that grips your senses, as if you were in the center stage as the orchestra played in front of you, booming and roaring through your eardrums and tickling down your spine. It pushes you on, driving you to your next objective as you unknowingly begin to hum along to the tune.

Gameplay

Once you’ve spent the three to seven hours it takes to decide upon your starting area, the game begins in pause mode with a number of tasks that pop up. You have options to wed a vassal or yourself, should you not have a wife, in order to increase relations or destroy them. You can begin the process of assassinating someone that threatens your future. You can create laws, assign titles, raise armies, build castles… do whatever a king would do, literally.

Now, there are twenty-seven tutorials to choose from, should you need the help to get started. I typed that number out so you could be sure there was not a numerical typo. Twenty-seven. Me being the brute war commander that would raise a small village because it happens to be in my path, knew my ornery self would not be tolerated by my people in this title, thus I spent the time learning the game from the pros. The tutelage is not only appreciated, but downright necessary to progress through this game and win… or live, rather.

Statistics in Crusader Kings 2 has everything: diplomacy, marshal, intrigue, learning, they’re all valuable attributes that design or maintain the makeup of your experience. When arranging a marriage, these values should be assessed, as they can benefit or harm your decisions, as well as start confrontations or end them. There are opinions of you from your spouse or vassals, as well as leaders outside of your territory. As oddly complex as I am making it sound right now, the game is exponentially rich in intricacies.

As the game progressed, and new empire lines were drawn, I became quite fascinated at the turn of events. Now, to expand, you obviously need money, which you can only obtain from lands you directly control, so giving land away should only be done in extreme circumstances. I learned later on after I had given away some titles that I needed to be an Indian giver. Shame on me. Now, I had a few options ahead of me… wait for the current leader to die, passing the rights to one of my vassals, or assassinate the target and move me up the chain a bit.

I have sunk a good fifty hours into this game so far, and still have a difficult time meandering through its complicated nature. As much as my brain cringes when I load this game, the addictiveness relieves that pressure.

Replayability

There is no end. You cannot live long enough to explore all options this game has to offer. It is impossible. You are not Tithonus, you are not immortal.

This game has more replayability than I’ve ever seen. Most RTS games have a curve, depending on how aggressive or passive you are, your enemies will effectively respond in kind. However, over the months and years of playing the same title, you will have repeated yourself many times over. You will not have the option of this in Crusader Kings 2. Prepare for the long haul.

Balance

The game is perfectly balanced, in my opinion. You are as aware as you prepare yourself to be. Do your research, play the tutorials, and consult experts before you start a game up and try your luck with one of the “recommended” leaders. Or, be like me and choose a small country with an “easy” rating and learn the ropes from scratch. Either way, the more you play, the easier the gameplay will become.

Originality

I have never played a title as rich and as complex as Crusader Kings 2. From a strategy game nut, this title had my head swimming not only in possibilities, but in the gameplay itself. The only game that even comes close to resembling the functionality and depth here is the first Crusader Kings, still a far shot from its successor. Because the story changes every time you play, the richness presented is original in the very primal sense of the word.

Addictiveness

I was embarrassed and cowardly when I began the tutorials of this title, afraid I would not be able to play the game and learn what I needed to for this review. However, the more time I put in and more Wikipedia links I clicked on (they are available as options in the game itself) the more comfortable I became. When the initial rush of complacency wore off, I became hooked.

This is a game I see myself playing for a very long time. Who were the Dukljas? I don’t know, but I’ll be playing them next.

Appeal Factor

This game is for the extreme. If you are a hardcore history buff that likes to experience the morphing of history, or imagine alternate realities as that episode of Fringe plays in the background, this is the game for you. I am not a fan of using the word “epic” ,as I believe it has lost its meaning in recent years, but this game definitely embodies the true definition. This is a game for anyone that wants a challenge and has disposable time on their hands to learn the intricacies presented, or is willing to stretch their game over weeks and months at a time.

For the casual gamer, pass on this title. You will curse the day you bought the game, and end up scouring the web for places to write your scathing, unfounded reviews.

Miscellaneous

Since release, Paradox has multiple DLCs to give even more options for the player to choose their origins, twelve in all. From the Byzantine Empire to North Africa, the developer understands the wants of the community in the form of content, but may not grasp the concept that this game was already endless in replayability and content before. But, if you are interested in being a Turk or Egyptian, those content options are now available.

The Scores
Story: Incredible
Graphics: Mediocre
Audio: Very Good
Gameplay: Amazing
Replayability: Unparalleled
Balance: Great
Originality: Classic
Addictiveness: Great
Appeal Factor: Above Average
Miscellaneous: Good
Final Score: Incredible Game!

Short Attention Span Summary
For anyone who has the History Channel bookmarked on their DVRs and is compulsive about RTS games, this is the title for you. Creating a hybrid of feudal leaders with strategy and the complexity of ruling a nation over many centuries, all while keeping your bloodline intact; this game has no end within the realm of possibilities. It will keep you enthralled and entertained for hundreds and hundreds of hours. However, if you are new to the genre or don’t know simple things such as why the United States fought the revolutionary war, steer clear of this game and go visit a library.

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