Crusader Kings II, developed and published by Paradox Interactive, is the sequel to the 2005 in depth strategy game, Crusader Kings. The first game was a monster of a dynasty game, meaning that a player doesn’t control an entire nation like they might in the Total War series, but instead controls the heirs to the throne. Paradox Interactive is by no means a new contender to these extremely complex and deep strategy games. They have released titles such as Hearts of Iron and the Europa Universalis series. Both of these games have a cult following as does the first Crusader Kings, due to the sheer depth of the style of game and inapproachability it doesn’t exactly appeal to the mainstream gaming audience. This is actually the first time I will be reviewing or playing a strategy game of this much depth and scale. So don’t get offended if the only thing I can compare this to is the Civilization and Total War Series.
While booting up the game I noticed the simple graphical layout. The main map is straightforward, with a map of Europe and its territories, dotted with small trees, hills and mountains. Units don’t appear on the main map, giving the impression that building an army is not the main focus of this game. That or the budget just wasn’t there to render them. One of the other things I noticed was the interface, which wasn’t very user friendly and pretty daunting at first glance. Even when I eventually figured out how to effectively use it, it was very stale looking, without too much life. Most of the game is just bland in general, and isn’t too pretty to look at. While getting into this game for the graphics is definitely the wrong idea, the UI still could have been spruced up a bit to make it not so much of an eye sore.
The tutorial was very vague and not super helpful at getting across what each button in the game did. To be fair, there are a lot of buttons and a tutorial would take a tedious amount of time explaining each and every single button to the player. Hints throughout a player’s first game help out a lot and were much more useful than the tutorial but, the worst part about the steep learning curve is that the game seems to not have any form of in game manual. Seems like a major overlook on the developer’s part considering more and more games these days come with a manual.
All games begin with choosing a leader and an empire during a certain period of time. The time period can be chosen between the 15th of September 1066 and the 1st of January 1337 and pretty much anyone who was in power at the time in real life can be played. What is more impressive is the family trees are all represented very accurately and a leader or lineage member can be displayed on Wikipedia through a link in the game. It is obvious the developers spent a ridiculous amount of time in making this game historically accurate. To make setting up campaigns simpler though, the most interesting characters to play are highlighted for easy pickings during set up phase.
Crusader Kings II is a real time empire game that can be paused or sped up to a variety of speeds. The pause menu is very helpful for when all goes to hell and a player really needs to get a grasp on why a country just declared war on them. While war works fairly well in the game, the main draw of Crusader Kings II is the uniqueness of controlling a lineage as opposed to an empire. The interface is mainly set up for this, so that figuring out diplomatic marriages is never too hard. Finding a suitable heir to the throne isn’t too hard from the few games I have played, but keeping them alive is a real challenge.
The game ends in 1945 or when a player loses their dynasty or loses their last piece of land. This gives the player unlimited options for win conditions and play styles. Although their progress is stacked up against real life dynasties, so that could be used as a scoring system for the less creative players. All these options make for a ton of replay ability. This begs the question if custom player made win conditions could ever be added to this game. I feel at some point in the future I will play as a small dynasty in a lonely single Arab nation and just try to only marry British ladies, because anything a player can make up can happen.
The pace of Crusader Kings II is very slow and plotting. As mentioned before the speed can be adjusted, but it can take in game years for anything truly interesting to happen. This of course could be because I am not really a huge fan of these kinds of games, but I like to see progress in my empire fairly quickly. One other grip I have about the interface, besides being ugly. Is that when the game gets going, it basically turns into finding that one button you want to press in that one menu. It is not really intuitive at all and could have been a lot more user friendly. That said it wasn’t game breaking at all.
While I didn’t play through a whole game, from what I could tell is the multiplayer is the same as the single player basically, except one is playing with people from around the globe. There really isn’t anything more to say about the multiplayer besides the fact that it works fairly well and has LAN support.
Crusader Kings II is more or less the Grape-Nuts of games. It’s really bland and hurts when you first try it out, but after a while it grows on you. Putting your own spin on the game makes it more enjoyable, like adding fruit on Grape-Nuts. Sometimes all the sugar in the world won’t fix something that’s too bland for them. Some players will just find this game excruciatingly boring no matter what spin they put on it. If you find micromanaging people’s relationships and historical accuracy to tickle your pickle then this game is probably for you. On the other hand if you desire a slick interface, fancy graphics and some kind of instant gratification, you should most likely avoid Crusader Kings.
Graphics - Every graphic in this game is adequate except for the menus. The menus are so ugly an extra point gets taken off.
Sounds - Music in the game is pretty decent and captures the atmosphere of the game quite well. The sound is pretty average and does its job.
Gameplay - This depends on the type of gamer you are. For those who have the patience to sit down and figure out these menu buttons, they will be rewarded with a deep and satisfying strategy title. For those craving explosions and instant gratification, they will probably get too frustrated with the interface to enjoy anything.
This review was made possible thanks to www.gamersgate.com.