Hyper-complex medieval strategy game and one of our 2012 GOTY nomineesCrusader Kings II has a new expansion on the way, and the announcement trailer just hit the web. Old Gods will place you back in good ol' 867 AD, when Vikings ruled the land and seas. This pagan-themed jaunt will offer "hundreds of new events," and more of the dense, challenging gameplay the series is known for.
With new armies and empires to control, and hundreds of new years to do it in, Old Gods will presumably steal more hours of your life than ever before. For those of you who've been waiting for some Viking drama of sex, politics, bloodshed and sweet helmets, look out for Old Gods on your PC later this year.
Niche PC publishers Paradox held a big event earlier today, unveiling a range of new titles and DLC for existing ones. The one I'm most excited for is The Old Gods, a Viking expansion for my 2012 GOTY nominee Crusader Kings II.
In the game, until now, the Pagan and Zoroastrianism religions had been denied to player characters; they're now on the table, with particular attention given to the Vikings, who now get all kinds of fancy features like looting, pillaging and sacrifices, along with a new earlier 9th-century start date for the game (it previously began in 1066).
Due out in Q2, it'll cost $15.
Other things announced at the event include some new DLC for medieval combat game War of the Roses (starring Brian Blessed!), an expansion for Victoria (involving the race for African possessions in the 19th century), a tablet version of Magicka and a new game, top-down strategy title Leviathan Warships.
You may have noticed. I like Crusader Kings II. I like it a lot. But I like it for all kinds of reasons, many of which I didn't get space, or time, to dwell on last year.
Like the way that, very quietly, the game has been continually and fundamentally updated by the development team since its release almost a year ago. Sure, there's been paid DLC expansion packs, but even for the regular user who just bought the game and nothing else, there have been so many tweaks, changes and additions to the core experience that update notes, traditionally something to worry about with PC games, are with Crusader Kings II something to look forward to.
Take, for example, the latest notes, updating the game to v1.09 (in preparation for a new paid DLC pack). Yes, there are bug fixes, but there are also things like this:
If married, women now fool their husbands about the parentage of children born from the bastard birth event
Louis d'Evreux now has the correct mother
Tweaked deathdate of Mubashir, Duke of Mallorca, and made him eunuch
There is now a small chance that the Golden Horde will convert to Nestorianism
Fixed error in polygamy event
So good. So, so good. The best part is that, as hilarious as they are in isolation, in the context of the game they make complete sense.
The folks at Paradox seem to have cottoned to the similarties between their game and the world of George R.R. Martin, seeing as how they describe the expansion thusly:
The second expansion for the critically praised strategy/RPG Crusader Kings II: Legacy of Rome will focus on the Byzantine Empire - the Greek continuation of the Roman Empire - as well as on the Orthodox Church. Crusader Kings II explores one of the defining periods in world history in an experience crafted by Paradox Development Studio, the masters of Grand Strategy. Medieval Europe is brought to life in this epic game of knights, schemes, and thrones.
Oh, I see what you did there, Paradox. WELL PLAYED.
Here's what will be added in the expansion, which is slated for a release in "Q4 2012."
Explore the intricate Faction System: Join a faction to put pressure on your liege, and keep track of factions in your own realm
Raise standing armies: You will now be able to use retinues to have standing armies in your domain: the size is determined by technology
Experience Factional Revolts: No more easily defeated rebellions. Disgruntled vassals will now band together in revolt against your rule through their faction
Appoint Orthodox patriarchs: Orthodox kingdoms and empires can now control their own heads of religion and their powers, instead of being dependent on the patriarch of Constantinople
Streamlined mobilization: You will always raise a single, larger levy from your direct vassals; no need to worry about the opinions of the lower vassals
Leader Focus on Combat: Appoint your generals wisely, their traits& skills are now of vital importance on the field of battle. More commander traits are now added to increase the importance of your choice of military leaders
Explore Byzantine Events &Decisions: Legacy of Rome includes many specific events & decisions to make the Byzantine Empire come alive
Improve your ruler: You can now actively strive to improve your skills or traits through the new Self Improvement Ambitions
But will there be bathhouses and pornographic graffiti? Time will tell. Here, dig some more images:
Having been first released in May, a major update has just been made that not only fixes a bunch of bugs and crashes (the mod is still in beta, remember), but also introduces playable Wildlings, and a beefed-up Night's Watch to combat them.
A few less exciting changes were also made, including some improvements to the mod's visuals and the addition of a few new quests.
Given the fact most big games are made by Westerners for Westerners, we don't often get the chance to assume the role of a serious, proper Islamic (or even Middle Eastern!) character. And no, Ubisoft, a fairy-tale, clichéd ideal of a Persian Prince doesn't count.
So it's awesome seeing Paradox give Crusader Kings II players the chance to do just that with an upcoming expansion for the game called Sword of Islam.
The Islamic factions, once walled off as unplayable in the game (and more often than not the enemy, given the time period involved), are now there to be played, with Paradox going the full authenticity route by changing how the game's titles, marriages and laws work to better accomodate the differences between Christian and Muslim realms.
The map has also been expanded to include more of the Middle East and Eurasia as well.
Over the weekend, the first playable release of Crusader Kings II: A Game of Thrones was made available for public download. And it is already pretty much the perfect Game of Thrones video game.
I mentioned in my review of Crusader Kings II earlier in the year that the systems put in place by developers Paradox seemed ideally suited to George R R Martin's fantasy universe. While there are larger things going on like Kingdoms falling and wars being fought, CKII places just as much importance on the more personal side of feudal rule: marriage, politics, alliances and back-stabbing. Which just so happens to b the same blending of the big and small picture that that makes GoT that much more appealing to a wider audience than your standard fantasy tale.
Beginning during Robert's Rebellion against the mad King Aerys, CKII:GoT lets you play as any title-holder in Westeros. And I do mean any. The mod team has certainly done their research, as going beyond the big names like Aerys, Robert and Ned Stark are hundreds of lesser lords and officials, some featuring as characters in the books/TV show, others only mentioned briefly or in passing.
What does this mean? Everything I said about the main game in my review applies here, only everything I loved about CKII is now magnified, because I'm not playing as some random English Duke, I can play as Ned Stark. Walder Frey is there, and he has 100 kids, and they can all be married off to unsuspecting husbands/wives/victims. Even The Wall and the Night's Watch are there, though without Wildlings in this beta release, they're not doing much.
Honestly, it's worth a download just to use it as an interactive Game of Thrones encyclopaedia, clicking through the family trees and lineages and histories not only learning about the world, but admiring the amount of work that's gone into this mod.
In terms of what it adds or changes to the vanilla CKII, there's nothing too different. There's a new war system in place to better handle the nature of the conflict (since it's one giant civil conflict), a new assassination system and the incorporation of knights into the character system. Aside from that, and some welcome (and extensive) re-skinning of CKII's graphics, things play mostly the same as they do in the standard game. Some added, extra events - winter is coming, prisoners demanding trial by combat - are a nice touch.
I haven't run into too many issues so far, but I've only been playing as the Starks, and I've only been playing over the weekend. I'm sure something will pop up sooner or later, this being the first beta release of a mod, but whatever. It works, and it's stable enough to enjoy. Know though that it does need some balancing, especially with regards to how strong King Aerys' forces are early on. Get past the early wars, though, and things seem to settle back down to a more normal pace.
If you're a strategy game veteran, you'll have no problems here. Those who are big GoT fans but who haven't played a game like Crusader Kings II, don't panic; it may look complex, but it's surprisingly easy to get a handle on, and you can have enjoyable games only knowing the very basics of its structure. Later playthroughs, where you can dig a little deeper, will only get better.
You can download the mod at the link below. Note that, being a mod, you'll need a copy of Crusader Kings II first, which you can get here.
On April 17, developers Paradox will release Crusader Kings II: Ruler Designer, an optional add-on that will let you either customise existing rulers or allow the user to create news ones. In other words, it's a character creation tool. You know, the type everything from FIFA to Skyrim packs in as an essential part of the game.
Here, though, it's going for USD$5. And you don't even get a fancy 3D model or new set of animations for it. You get to tweak a 2D portrait and move your ruler's stats sliders around.
I was playing as the King of England. I ruled for over thirty years, sometimes a tyrant, other times a hero. When I died, I could keep playing, because I was now controlling his son. Who, it turns out, not only had a lisp, but was gay, whose arranged wife hated him and wanted him dead, whose brothers instantly declared war and whose holdings were soon being picked over by Frenchmen.
That would be fairly entertaining if it was a scripted occurrence. Or the result of dramatic writing. What makes Crusader Kings II so amazing is that it's not.
For years now, Paradox has been toiling away on its grand strategy games, releasing a number of series that, while differing slightly in focus and in historical setting, are all generally about the same thing: taking total control of a people or nation. From continental invasions to building a market in some backwood village, you control everything that goes on in your lands.
Crusader Kings II is no different in this regard. Anyone who's played a Paradox game of this ilk before will be right at home with things like its interface, battles and movement. What may not be familiar is the way the game has you managing not just places, but people as well.
WHAT I LIKED
Getting There. There's never been any question there are some incredibly detailed and flexible mechanics running Paradox's grand strategy games. The problem has always been in the terrible way those mechanics are presented to the player. While CKII is still far from perfect in this regard, most of the really important stuff can actually be accessed and understood using the game's own tutorials, a first for these kind of games (normally you need community-driven FAQs to help you get your head around things).
WHY: It's like being the Game of Thrones. You build castles and invade Kingdoms, but you also get to bang courtiers and humiliate that disappointment of a son you banished to Wales .
Crusader Kings II
Developer: Paradox Interactive Platforms: PC (Version played) Released: February 14
Type of game: Real-time Kingdom Simulation.
What I played: Played a number of singleplayer games as England, Scotland and The Holy Roman Empire. Will update with multiplayer impressions if I can find the time/opponents.
Two Things I Loved
It's an all-encompassing simulation of the management of a medieval kingdom, breathtaking in its scope.
It's an all-encompassing simulation of the management of a medieval kingdom, breathtaking in its scope that also has a soap opera bolted onto the side.
Two Things I Hated
The game is reliant on you clicking hundreds of different buttons, regularly. Unfortunately, dozens of them are buried in places that are tough to find.
There's so much to learn and do that the game needed a good tutorial. It doesn't have one.
Made-to-Order Back-of-Box Quotes
"Medieval Europe, why do you hate gay people?" - - Luke Plunkett, Kotaku.com
"The most fun you can have with your breeches on!" - Luke Plunkett, Kotaku.com
People Power. Despite the fact I had a Kingdom to rule, I found myself spending most of my time worrying about the King's court instead. Through its emphasis on dealing with individual inhabitants of the game, CKII lets you conduct diplomacy, arrange marriages, educate kids, plot assassinations, bully vassals, piss off the Pope, claim other people's land and hook your 2 year-old son up with the 51 year-old Queen Mother of Norway. You can even award someone the title "Keeper of the Swans". It can be exhausting, but it also gives the game a very personal feeling. Sure, you're spending time looking down on Europe like a God, but you spend more time knee-deep in real, human politics, a rarity for a video game.
Randomly Generated. You can start the game from pre-defined moments in history between the 11th and 15 centuries, and when you do, the people and places of Europe are locked in. Everything that happens after that first click, though, changes every time you play. A son who loved you dearly and supported you as Chancellor in one game could literally stab you in the back in another, meaning even repeating the same game as the same ruler in the same place twice never gives you the same game. It's a blast seeing the politics of a Kingdom unfurl anew every time I start a new game.
Grand Scope. This emphasis on personal relationships bleeds over into the larger strategy of the game, and enriches the whole experience like few other games of this type can manage. You become invested in the relationships you're forging, and because they're often extensions of diplomacy, you become inordinately passionate about their outcomes. I mean, on one hand, all you're doing is sliding numbers around and adjusting values, but good god, when those numbers are represented as catty Spanish princesses trying to kill my wife while I'm off subduing Belgians, it just sucks you right in.
WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE
What? As I said above, the game's UI is... better than usual, sure, but there's still plenty of room for improvement. Paradox really needs to get some help in the field of "put buttons and commands people need to play the game where people actually need them".
Huh? Paradox also needs help in the field of "OK, so our systems are complex, so let's make our tutorials thorough and easy to understand". Because they're not, which is a shame, because that's going to put off a lot of people who, with the right hand-holding, could really get into this game.
THE FINAL WORD
I can finally, after years of only talking about these games with people who play military strategy board games in their spare time, recommend a Paradox grand strategy game to more "casual" (warning: relative term!) gamers. Crusader Kings II still has serious issues with accessibility, but once these are overcome - and they are worth overcoming - you'll find one of the most challenging, entertaining and rewarding strategy games you've ever played.