Crusader Kings II Review

by on 16th Mar 2012

A foray into the past...

The Crusader King franchise, developed and published by Paradox Interactive, was established in 2004. The highly competent first game was well received and remains popular today due to both its low key presentation and niche appeal. 

Crusader Kings 2, rather fittingly, both matches up to and improves on the first game. The game is marketed as a 'dynasty simulator' and evokes feelings of playing both The Sims and the venerable boardgame Risk.  The in game tutorial describes it as:

'...a grand strategy game set in Medieval Europe. As Emperor, King, Count or Duke lead your dynasty to glory.'

The tutorial itself is thankfully in depth and eases new players into the game gently as well as being completely avoidable to veteran players, a nice design feature. The game is entirely menu driven but there are a multitude of screens and charts, easy to understand icons and useful tooltips. The interface is intuitive and easy to follow. You can pause the gameplay at any time to get a handle on events but actions won't be carried out until it resumes.

The aim of the game is to gain as high an end score as possible by increasing the influence and power of your ruler's legacy if the game ends, and it won't if you have a suitable heir, it will use this score to rate your performance.  This score is judged by Wealth, Prestige and Piety. Wealth is the economic standing of your ruler while prestige is his popularity and what he has achieved throughout his lifetime. Piety is his standing with the religious rulers of the land and his moral peformance while in power. The game also contains multiplayer with up to 32 other players which, sadly, I did not get to try out.

The historical context of the game is fun and a built in feature allows you to check wikipedia for facts about your current ruler and his realm (which as a History graduate makes me cringe a little due to the questionable accuracy of Wikipedia.) The games at least makes an effort to be educational though and I would be tempted to buy it for my young nephew as a stealth learning tool.

The actual events of course are steered away from historical fact as the player takes control of the economy, marriages and political expansion of their realm. The economy is based on ownership of land and your vassals (your most loyal subjects) pay taxes to cover your expenses. You can also divide newly gained land up between your vassals to increase influence and power whilst also staying within the limits of  the amount of holdings you can have.  Within the holdings you can place, rather expensive, buildings such as castles which will give you a large return on tax.

Good Breeding

War and economy is not the main focus of the game, and this is the point where is takes on a rather similar tone to 'The Sims'. The intention is to keep your legacy going through both titles and good breeding. This feature encourages players to match up virtues and vices of characters, a main focus of the games advertising, represented through some cute little icons, by marrying and breeding them.

You can pair up more than just your main character and it's quite satisfying to find suitable husbands and wives for people. I gleefully paired up my son the Prince of Scotland with Princess Emma of France (an act which in real life would have caused a massive war with England, I'm sure, but sadly didn't in game.) Your subjects will gain status if they marry above their station and it's a good way to improve your standing with foreign diplomats. Your ruler will eventually die and you will continue playing as your most suitable heir. If your heir is not popular enough with your vassals this can be a dangerous time for your legacy.

Court Intrigue

The relationship between you and your subjects can be manipulated by your 'council', a team which can be changed and adapted to be loyal to you. This is a rather fun aspect of the game as you send your spy-master off to undermine the claims of other rulers, your head bishop off to improve religious relations or your marshal to improve the state of your troops in an area.

This is tied in with the ambitions of your ruler who will gain fixed stats or time based 'buffs' after successfully offing his wife or holding a feast. It will also improve or damage your relations with your vassals. Intrigue and manipulation of opinion is a large part of the game and can be quite gratifying when successful.

The religious view of your kingdoms is important. In Catholic Kingdoms you have to keep the Pope happy or suffer excommunication, non catholic rulers can also suffer crusades. You can also attempt to replace the pope with your own pawn but doing so will invite war upon yourself. Religious figures in your hold will not pay you taxes unless they have a higher opinion of you than their religious leader, an aim I did not find difficult to achieve through diplomatic appeasement.

A feature of Crusader Kings I found difficult to wrap my head around was the system of titles that decide which of your vassals control certain areas. It is really in depth and the menu system does not lend itself well to managing or keeping track of them easily.

Going to War

Those expecting any sort of action in this game will be sorely disappointed. Raising forces in an area to defend you own holding or attack new ones will summon a  small 3D avatar representing your forces which will then battle another to represent the war. 

It leaves a lot to your own imagination and leaves the player disconnected from the action which may be a problem for those outside the niche audience. Terrain and the type of troops you are using will have a noticeable effect on the tide of battle and you can highlight the avatar to see how it is progressing.

The eponymous crusades were never something that I got around to but apparently they are in there with other leaders avidly pursuing them while I was playing.  

In short if your looking for action along the lines of Age of Empires you will be sorely disappointed as this game is much more focused on eugenics and intrigue rather than warfare.

A View of your Kingdom

The main game welcomes you with pleasant aesthetics which, despite being largely 2D and menu based, are fitting for the genre. Fans of drawn art will love the gorgeous, easy to navigate UI, admittedly let down a little by the detailed 3D character portraits that dwell somewhere in the uncanny valley.

The world map, which changes topographically to allow you to keep track of various different economic and political  overviews, is an eye pleasing 3D landscape. This is the area where the representation of your troops will appear allowing you to keep track of their progress easily. The music is fitting to the medieval theme and is both pleasant and unobtrusive.

A Competent Strategy Game.

Crusader Kings 2 will be great fun for those who have enjoyed Paradox's previous games but may be difficult to settle into for new players. It has a rather abyssal amount of depth and the menu based representation of gameplay can be very dry. It is however a fun diversion and achieves what it sets out to do in a competent manner.

Reviewer's Verdict: 6/10


Add Comment Comments

16 Mar 2012 - 4:23pm
Yeah, it's certainly not immune to bias, but neither are history textbooks, and the advantage of Wikipedia is that being online, it's entirely free and always available to check against other sources, and you can always see where that bias has come from thanks to everything being transparent.

The "Hitler's favourite food was Twiglets" stuff doesn't last very long, with most of it being reverted in seconds.

Not sure about the border colours, looks like the UK has nicked Harry Potter's scarf.  "Every time I commit a rape/murder, I take a trophy..."

The game as a whole sounds a little dry, with there being very little in the way of action, but lots and lots of events.  No doubt it's interesting enough and probably makes you posher.
16 Mar 2012 - 3:49pm
That second bit I quoted in the post above does make me chuckle every time as it's precisely the same reaction I'd have :blush:

I must admit that before Charlie reviewed this I'd assumed there would be an element of controlling armies on the battlefield - I mean, there's a large bloke with a sword on the front of the box - so I was a bit disappointed that it's all played out in a more tabletop fashion but that's just my gaming tastes. I think my temptation was to compare it to Lords of the Realm upon first glance, but it's a very different game altogether.

That said, most of the other aspects do look very interesting and linking it in to Wikipedia is a nice touch, but I'm with the cautious bunch there as it's all too easy for someone to rewrite history on a Wiki - they're a bit of a balancing act. Like you say though, Wikipedia does get a bad press sometimes, but I'm always tempted to check facts against other sources rather than rely solely on it.

Maybe with the Encyclopedia Britannica going online only that could be a good source to refer too as well.

Anyway, I digress.
16 Mar 2012 - 3:20pm
Best use of "stealth learning" to date.

The lineage bit reminds me of The Guild, (although given my penchant for playing 'dodgy' priests it's a wonder there ever was a lineage) except on a grander scale.

I think Wikipedia deserves a little more credit, there are plenty of superb articles on there that are impeccable, yet you never hear anyone say so.  Yes, a lot of articles could use better sourcing and yes, there are some shockers on there, but it's actually a fantastic resource and a great model for other institutions to copy, if they weren't fossilised.


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Game Card

Crusader Kings II Box
Developer: Paradox Interactive
Publisher: Paradox Interactive


An army on the moveAppointing the councilArranging marriagesHelpful hintsSelecting  a spouseTerrain bonuses in battleIntriguingYour holdingsA close-up of the realmsDisplaying independent realmsTeviotdale, 1066Yet more intrigueArranging a betrothal


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