Crusader Kings 2 Review
The game also provides plenty of enemies, along with ways to deal with them. In this respect, it exhibits a realistically amoral streak, blithely allowing you to plot to kill your wife or even assassinate children. Despite its obsession with sin and eternal damnation, Medieval morality was quite different from our own.
This is hardly the only cultural difference that takes getting used to. Developers Paradox Interactive buttress realism with careful research and authentic terminology, and new players will grapple over unfamiliar concepts like “desmesne,” “Gavelkind,” and other particulars of Medieval succession law. The game tries valiantly to explain as much as possible, even including in-game Wikipedia links next to the portraits of important historical figures.
All the action plays out on a brightly-colored map of Europe. Depending on where your chosen dynasty is located, CKII can be instructive on the subject of geography as well as history; it’s interesting to see how feudal heritage affects modern national borders, and zooming in and out reveals different, sharp-serifed labels. Specialized overlays, like the one pictured above, delineate rebellious counties, religious heresies, and “de jure empires.”
In general, the UI is useful and well-designed, despite the avalanche of information it has to convey. Players will inevitably spend a lot of time navigating menus, though when it comes to this kind of strategy game, that’s the nature of the beast. Most pages have a browser-style “back” button to help keep you sane. Nevertheless, mastering the interface requires both time and patience. Reading all the tooltips is essential — the game uses them to hide a lot of information that should be more visible, a problem compounded by the abundance of tiny, tiny typeface.
The tutorial is extensive and detailed, but contents itself with describing the UI’s myriad features. A couple of tutorial scenarios exploring basic game tactics would have been welcome, even to experienced strategy gamers. Veterans of Civilization and Total War will be puzzled by the combat system. — you can’t just declare war on whomever you want. You need a claim to their land (unless they’re an infidel, of course), which results either from your dynastic history or else from the dedicated efforts of your Chancellor, dispatched to fabricate one.
Units are not built, but rather “raised,” provided largely by your vassals as part of their feudal obligation (see why its important to keep them happy?). You can’t raise units until after you’ve declared war, and if (when) they die, you’ll have to wait for a while until your levies replenish. Despite this complicated system, when armies actually clash, it’s mostly a case of “whoever has the most guys wins.”
Most disorienting is the fact that games of CKII have a beginning, but no real end. Players simply pick a start date (down to the specific day!), pick a character (there are literally hundreds available at any given time) and dive in. Some characters, like William the Conqueror, have intelligible goals. Others do not. When your character dies or, when defeated, abdicates, you simply take over as his heir, and the game continues. The more prestige you earn for your dynasty, the higher your score — period. If you sit there and do nothing but dismiss pop-up messages, the game is happy to play out around you, like some sort of gigantic Medieval science experiment, self-destructing only in 1453, when the conclusion of the Hundred Years’ War coincided with the invention of the printing press.