Crusader Kings Review

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Publisher: Paradox Entertainment
Developer: Paradox Entertainment

Platform: PC
Reviewed on PC
Windows System Requirements: Pentium II 300 MHz, 64 MB RAM, 120 MB free HD space, 4x CD-ROM 16 bit graphics card with 2 MB RAM, Windows 98 or more recent operating system

"Europe is in turmoil. The Viking raids have ended, but the lands are fragmented into petty fiefdoms and the Emperor struggles with the Pope. Rumor has it that another Scourge of God is rolling in over the Steppes of what would become Russia. Yet at this very moment, the Pope has declared that those who go to the Holy Land to liberate it will be freed of all sins."

Kyle Ackerman

Crusader Kings is a rich strategy game that takes the same engine and style of play honed in Europa Universalis II, and extends it back into a different historical period – allowing players to vie for power in medieval Europe. That is both its strength and its weakness. Players who are familiar with and have enjoyed the Europa Universalis games will find more of everything they loved in Crusader Kings. But those who have never explored the Europa Universalis games will be dismayed by the sheer complexity of the game.

New Rulers Struggle To Stay In Power

If you haven't played any of the past titles (including Europa Universalis II), there has been no effort to make Crusader Kings substantially more accessible. The game is in desperate need of a set of tutorials and explanations that could bring this rich game's strategic depth to a broader audience. Even experienced strategy gamers may be intimidated. While the manual explains the detailed effects of many advances and structures that can be made, it spends very little time explaining basic game dynamics. Start a game, and you're immediately bombarded with the world's politics, and requests from your vassals and courtiers that may not be immediately comprehensible.

Fortunately, if you are willing to dedicate a few long play sessions to the game, you will puzzle out the game's inner workings. It's simply that if you haven't played a Europa Universalis game, you will need to do everything wrong at least once, and it may take you a long time to figure out why you should indulge in one strategic marriage rather than another, or even just to learn how to make war. Unfortunately, the fun is in playing the game once you understand its dynamics – the process of puzzlingthem out is tortuous. The trappings of the puzzle have to be fun and Crusader Kings bears no shiny graphics to entice new players, nor magnificent victories for novices. Rather it is a familiar and highly detailed map of Europe that serves as the overlay for a wide range of hierarchical menus.

Political Acumen is Required of the Paradox Veteran

Given that the audience for Crusader Kings is effectively limited to Paradox Entertainment's established customer base, it's easy to see why Paradox decided to self-publish Crusader Kings. For fans of the Europa Universalis series, Crusader Kings is a must-have. It explores the military and political situation in Europe from 1066 to 1453 in unprecedented detail.

While martial prowess is an important element of the game, the core of Crusader Kings is political. Not only must you maintain relationships with other courts, it is vitally important that you keep order in your own house. You will need to keep various factions content while ensuring that vassals remain loyal and the members of your court (such as the local Bishop and Spy Master) are both competent and serving your interests. You will need to marry to ensure your royal line continues, and an advantageous union can further your political schemes. Your attributes will affect relationships and can change by way of your play style or certain events. You can reward subjects with titles, replace those already in high positions or even take out your subordinates in a craven and underhanded manner. Does a barren wife threaten your succession plans? Have her assassinated. If you dare.

An Excuse to Invade

Particularly if you begin as a smaller power in Europe, you will want to expand, and will almost certainly need to make war to do so. You can add to your lands by Crusading, but to expand your kingdom without going to the ends of the world, you will need to do so at your neighbors' expense. Unlike many strategy games, you can't simply march across the neighboring kingdom's border with an army. You need a pretense. To gain that excuse for invasion, you will need to luck into or generate a claim on the title to neighboring land. Then your war machine can go to work annexing new territory.

Throughout the nearly 400 years of gameplay, you'll need to respond to the political demands of Europe as a whole; the ravages of disease; Crusades; and even invasions from the East. You'll micromanage your own kingdom, from your family to the members of your court, and improve various provinces along with the technological infrastructure of your kingdom. The game runs in real time, but the speed can be adjusted or even paused to give you a moment to survey the world. Occasionally, if you are lucky (or playing a major power), you might stalk Europe with a horrific army in a massive land grab. If you survive four centuries of scheming, you can export your game into Europa Universalis II and continue through another segment of history.

Fans of the Paradox's Europa Universalis series have known this game is coming, and should decidedly get it. What Crusader Kings does not do is expand the Europa Universalis audience by making this style of play comprehensible to those who have never played a Europa Universalis title. The game does suffer from the occasional crash or mysterious glitch, and while the graphics are hardly new, neither of those will be significant impediments to the dedicated fan base – as long as they save often. There is tremendous depth to be savored in Crusader Kings, once you learn to navigate its decidedly Byzantine dynamics.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on September 16, 2004 8:45 PM.

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