|Dev: Paradox Interactive|
|Pub: Paradox Interactive|
|Release: February 14, 2012|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Alcohol Reference, Mild Language, Mild Violence, Sexual Themes|
by Robert VerBruggen
Crusader Kings II occupies an interesting place in Paradox Interactive's catalog of strategy games. As you might have guessed by the title, it's primarily intended as a successor to 2004's Crusader Kings—a well-received title that put players in control of a European dynasty in the era of the Crusades. It's also, however, a follow-up to last year's Sengoku, which was set in Japan's Warring States period.
While Crusader Kings II is a dramatic update of the original Crusader Kings—it covers the same time period, but includes many more features and upgraded graphics—it looks and feels like an expansion pack to Sengoku. The map, history, and cultural practices of Europe have been subbed in for those of Japan, but otherwise the game gives a sense of déjà vu. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it's something to bear in mind if you already own Sengoku.
If you're not familiar with the way Paradox has been making strategy games lately, here's a quick primer. For each game, the developer meticulously researches a location and period of history—in this case, again, it's medieval Europe—and models it. This means that many of the characters you'll encounter are real historical figures; in fact, you can often click a link to read their biographies on Wikipedia. Various historical forces, from the power and motivations of various rulers to the influence of the Pope, are also present, though by playing well you can change history. And you can play as a wide variety of leaders, who face a wide variety of situations—you might be able to navigate your challenges easily, or you might have to work your way up from a tiny territory to bigger things. Since each game you play can be completely different than the last, the replay possibilities are endless.
And even beyond that, Paradox titles are no ordinary strategy games. The strategy genre typically focuses on war, with diplomacy as an afterthought or, at best, a secondary option. For Paradox, however, the entire point of your existence as a ruler is to manage your relationships by picking options from a menu—in a weird way, Crusader Kings II is almost more like The Sims than it's like Total War or Civilization.
You need to choose the right people to handle your armies and administrative tasks. You need to deftly manage requests from other leaders. You need to keep the religious authorities happy—or else overthrow them. You have to decide how to handle dissent within your own territory. When important people become frustrated with you, you can try to appease them, or you can simply have them killed (with the risk that your involvement will be uncovered). You can also engage in various plots to undermine enemy nations. Most important, you need to make sure you marry and have children who can serve as your heirs—if your character dies and you have no heir, the game is over.
Even when you do go to war, you don't just click on your army, click the enemy, and then watch your soldiers slaughter the bastards. No, if you're going to fight another country in Crusader Kings II, you need a reason, or casus belli. The reason might be offered to you on a platter—maybe they're occupying territory that rightfully belongs to you, or maybe they're a Muslim or pagan nation that the Pope has targeted for a crusade. But otherwise, you'll need to send a spy to the country to stir up trouble so you have an excuse to attack.
When war happens, it's nothing special, though the developers have made some improvements since their previous games. You raise armies with various types of units and direct them to move around the map, as you do in any other strategy game. And, new to CKII, your armies are divided into three "flanks," and you can assign them to use different tactics in battle—how your flanks match up to your opponents' will help determine which side wins.
Further, unlike in many strategy games that run in real time, you won't have to master the art of super-fast clicking to win battles; you can simply pause the game, enter as many commands as you like, and then unpause. Also, all fighting takes place on the world map. There's no Total War-style switch to a more detailed view that would allow you to outwit the enemy on the battlefield.