We gamers are
always talking about the “stories” in our games, like how so-and-so RPG had a
great one, and this other game’s was pathetic. But usually we’re really talking
about canned plots, prefabbed rollercoaster rides dreamed up by the designers. Unfortunately,
it’s rare to find games that give you the freedom to experience your own unique
stories. The Sims is a prime example, and now it is joined by Crusader Kings
II, Paradox’s latest and possibly greatest medieval fiefdom simulator.
takes place between 1066 and 1453, and there are literally hundreds of characters
throughout that span that you can play as. Being a king is very different than
playing a count, but neither’s journey is less interesting.
spring up effortlessly. We first noticed when playing as Kaiser Heinrich IV of
the Holy Roman Empire, around 1070. We
royally pissed off, as kings by definition do, Duke Lothar-Udo II of
Brandenburg, who was next in line to the throne. Not only did we fire him as
chancellor when someone better came along, we also installed our newborn son as
our preferred heir under the empire’s agnatic-elective succession laws. He
quickly gained the majority of the vassals’ votes, putting the Duke out of his
future dream job.
around the time that our spymaster starting reporting that the Duke was
plotting to murder young Heinrich Jr. Confronted with the evidence, the Duke
politely backed down, apologizing for any trouble caused. Sure, no problem. A
few months later our spymaster burst in: Lothar-Udo, murder plot, Heinrich Jr.
Again: so sorry, my bad. This cycle occurred three times before Heinrich Jr.
turned six, at which point we sent him off to be educated by the Duke. This not
only struck us as hilarious, but the good feelings engendered by this seemingly
reckless act of poor parenting finally stopped the Duke from wanting to murder
his new pupil. Or at least he stopped acting on those feelings, and our heir
got a good education in diplomacy: win-win.
play out constantly, whether you play a provincial count or a godlike emperor.
While your goal is ostensibly to sustain your dynasty as long as possible,
Crusader Kings II is more about the journey than the goal. Getting there is
more than half the fun.
complicated mix has a substantial learning curve, so it’s not exactly the type
of game to pick-up-and-play. The vocabulary alone will give most non-medieval
studies scholars pause. Among the terms we had to grok: demesne, de jure,
agnatic-cognatic, gavelkind, primogeniture...the list goes on. And do you
really know exactly what a prince-bishop is, or how a duchy differs from a
county? You will after playing CK2 for a day or two, but it’s pretty scary at
definitely touch and go for our first few sessions. CK2 is unabashedly complex,
and the tutorials explain perhaps a third of the stuff you’ll really want to
know. After a week of play we still have burning questions about major game
systems that just aren’t covered in the tooltips or manual, so we’ve been
spending some serious time on the official Paradox forums. Help is abundant
there, but we’ve still got a ways to go before we’ll be weaving intricate webs
of deception that’d make Machiavelli proud.
potential is totally there, so long as you can stick with it and conquer the
sometimes-overwhelming interface. There are little buttons everywhere, and
while the interface is pretty useable once you get used to it, it’s never as
easy to find specific characters or visualize their relationships as it probably
should be. This in particular makes the game feel impenetrable at first. The
text and icons are pretty small, too. The game runs happily at 1080p but we
actually reduced it to 1366x768 just so we could read the text and see the
icons without squinting.
the game disappoints slightly is in its Eurocentrism. While this is
understandable given its already-immense scope (seriously, why have we never
noticed that Europe’s so vast?), it’s still unfortunate that you can’t play as
Muslims, pagans, or really much of anyone who doesn’t worship the Christian
god. Modders were all over this for 2004’s original Crusader Kings, so we’re
sure DLC or mods will address it soon enough.
II can be a heck of a lot of fun. For us it was a slow burn; the more we
understood, the more fun we had. Once you start getting past the learning curve
you’ll find yourself more and more absorbed by all the complex little dramas
that swirl around your nobles; you’ll know you’re getting there once you start
feeling the urge to fill in other people on your crazy, possibly immoral