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E3 2011: Crusader Kings II hands-on preview – war is the easy part. Running the rest of the country is hard

The skull-crushing depth of Crusader Kings II initially threw us off when we spied it at E3. RTS fans who have grown fat (metaphorically) and lazy off of strategy games like StarCraft II will, likewise, be thrown off. To put it in the simplest terms possible, Crusader Kings II is based in medieval Europe and it focuses on not just open warfare, but on all of the behind-the-scenes stuff as well. For instance, our demo had us playing as William the Conqueror and aside from having to wipe out a couple Pagan tribes, we were tasked with finding a wife, siring an heir and making good with the Pope.


These initial moments of deceptive simplicity quickly gave way to a hurricane of problems. Our wife turned out to be a close cousin and gave birth to inbred twins who quickly began vying for our crown, the Pope got pissed at us for committing incest and some long lost bastard child we’d apparently fathered in our younger years came out of nowhere and demanded his royal birthright. At this point, we named the bastard as our rightful heir only to piss off our cousin-wife, who then began plotting with neighboring enemies to usurp us and place the inbred idiot-twins in power.

If this is all starting to sound a little convoluted...well, that’s because it is. But the game pulls off this snowball effect of choice and consequence in an incredibly intriguing way. There are no strict winning conditions for a game. Instead, you’re tasked with gaining as much prestige as possible with your chosen royal dynasty. Players can vie to play as anyone from a Pagan tribe leader to a French king. Likewise, it is up to players to keep their line of succession going by siring heirs.

The game plays kind of like a turn-based RPG with a giant world board depicting the geography and political affiliations of all the surrounding terrain, but everything takes place in real time. Every province on the board has a church, which holds a bishop. If these bishops like you, you’ll end up getting tidy sums of money to raise your armies, enforce laws, lead wars, etc. All of these actions are accomplished through a system of text-based menu screens that seem to go on into infinity.

Combat plays out as a numbers game as opposed to a real-time battle with actual player involvement. Armies are represented by large soldier avatars moving around the world board and will clash with other soldier avatars if you decide to go to war. A number of factors will determine victory such as: the size of your army, troop morale, quality of your weapons, etc.

The exhibitor for the game pointed out that only two things are constant in any game of Crusader Kings II - the holy crusades (as implied by the title) and Genghis Khan showing up to wreck everybody’s shit with his Mongol armies.

Try as we might, it’s really difficult to describe a game as extensive as Crusader Kings II. It’s massive scope and unapologetic complexity is sure to please the more die-hard PC strategy enthusiasts out there. Look for the game’s release later next year.

Jun 16, 2011

Topics

E3

8 comments

  • kyle94 - June 17, 2011 9:48 p.m.

    @Festafreak: Well, one of the nice things about the other Paradox games is that they do allow you to play as any country in the world. (Except for Crusaders Kings and EU: Rome. Those are Europe-only.) For example, the latest expansion for EU3, Divine Wind, is focused on the East. It's not exactly as easy as playing as England or Castille, but it is possible to unite Japan, conquer Korea, and then colonize California. Or play HoI, play as Canada, and lead an invasion of Italy. Again, not as easy as doing the same as the US, but not impossible either. Though, I do agree that there is quite a bit of focus on Europe. But I guess it's just because of all the wars, all the social changes, and all the craziness that went on there for centuries. And I also agree, they do take up A LOT of time. Plus, they're not always very...stable. Last time I played EU 3, I played as the Golden Horde. I managed to rebuild ~95% of the Mongol Empire and conquered Scandinavia, and then...the game crashed. So I loaded up a save...and it crashed on the exact same day. And crashed again. And again. So, yea. That was fun. Recaptcha: Why is the first word in the recaptcha window in bloody Devangari/Hindi? It at least looks like it. *Refresh* And now it's asking for letters with accent marks. *Refresh* Ok, now it's good. Though that O does look a bit like a sideways Omega. Oh well.
  • ZigzMagoo - June 17, 2011 8:52 p.m.

    looks pretty dece. kinda like a cross between the Total War and Civilization games
  • festafreak - June 17, 2011 8:37 p.m.

    I love strategy games but these paradox games always seemed to be a little too niche for me. I really wanted to get them but never could bring myself to get them. I only have so much time and the Civ games and Gal Civ II eat up a lot of my strategy time. I did buy sword of the stars by paradox this week for under $10 and so far I like it. It seems simpler than Gal Civ II but still just as deep somehow. I know SotS isn't what this article is about but I like what paradox does. I think, as a Canadian (even with our British heritage) I just don't connect with european battlefields all that much. Guess I'm not a history buff. I prefer to make my own history in strategy games like the ones I mentioned.
  • Typhoon4545 - June 17, 2011 8:30 p.m.

    @Reaver_Beaver Yes, I would heavily recommend the original Crusader Kings, or EU 3. Speaking of, Europa Universalis 3: Chronicles is currently on sale on GamersGate. That'd be the comprehensive version of the game, if you were interested. Err... If you hate history, though, you may want to give these games a miss...
  • kyle94 - June 17, 2011 8:22 p.m.

    @Reaver_Beaver: As I mentioned, Paradox made several games like this. Crusader Kings (and it's expansion pack) concentrates on family dynasties and has the whole "Your heir is an inbred idiot with leprosy!" thing. Europa Universalis (the latest being the third one, with three expansion packs) concentrates on exploration and is set in the Renaissance. (You can get all of the games for 30 bucks or so.) There was a spin-off of Europa Universalis, called EU: Rome. However, it's kinda flawed. With mods, it's good. But the base game has it's problems and isn't very balanced. There's Victoria, which concentrates on the Industrial Revolution and economy. It's the most complicated one by far. (The latest is the second one.) And then there's Hearts of Iron, which concentrates on warfare and is set during World War 2. (The latest is the third one, with one expansion pack.) There's also some other, less complicated games. Paradox has made some other games kinda like it (For example, off of the top of my head, Pride of Nations is an example.) As I said, they're less complicated and has less nations that you can play as. However, I don't know how good they are, and have never tried them myself. Paradox also allowed other teams to take their old engines and basically remake them. (For example, For the Glory is based on EU 2, and Arsenal of Democracy is based on HoI 2.) Finally, a couple of other companies have made similar games, such as Making History. Basically, just look for anything described as a "Grand Strategy Video Game". Oh, and one more thing. The games are extremely complicated. HoI 2 was the first one I played, and took me a few tries to get used to. EU 3 is probably one of the easier ones to get into, though. And Victoria is the most complicated. In addition, don't forget to take a look at some of the mods at the Paradox forums. They can make the games much better or have whole new experiences. (For example, one HoI 2 mod does something simple, bringing the startdate from 1936 to 1933. However, another mod for HoI 2 turns it into a Fallout strategy game where you can play as the NCR or the Brotherhood of Steel, etc.)
  • Reaver_Beaver - June 17, 2011 7:50 p.m.

    I'm really interested in this and this style of RTS. Is there anything similar to it that's come out already?
  • kyle94 - June 17, 2011 6:59 p.m.

    I'm looking forward to this, as I'm a fan of the other Paradox strategy games (Europa Universalis, Victoria, and Hearts of Iron). I never played the original Crusader Kings, though it can't be more complicated than Victoria. (I still have fond memories of the first time I tried to play Victoria. I played as Sweden. It wasn't long before I was bankrupt and had constant revolts and revolutions. Good times.)
  • ChrisCultista - June 17, 2011 6:58 p.m.

    "Our wife turned out to be a close cousin and gave birth to inbred twins who quickly began vying for our crown, the Pope got pissed at us for committing incest and some long lost bastard child we’d apparently fathered in our younger years came out of nowhere and demanded his royal birthright. At this point, we named the bastard as our rightful heir only to piss off our cousin-wife, who then began plotting with neighboring enemies to usurp us and place the inbred idiot-twins in power." Why does this make me want to play a game? Looks awesome for a deep RTS. Any news on price?

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