By Tom Hooper aka Atomp
I’m going to start this honestly; CK2 (Crusader Kings 2) can be difficult to get into and this initial learning curve is likely to put a few people off. However let me assure you that it isn’t quite as inaccessible as it first seems and that once the first little bump is done the game will provide many an hour of medieval intrigue and strategising. Like many I came into CK2 new to the Paradox line of grand strategy games, I’d heard great things and seen more than one epic tale around the net. I dived in, and got thoroughly lost and confused (Denmark,I failed you), so I climbed back out again and came across a comment somewhere pointing me towards a series of CK2 videos by a youtuber known as Quill18 (playlist in links). Having watched a playthrough of his playing as Castille I not only had a better grasp upon the mechanics of the game but also the sheer potential for dynamic story creation. That is where the game shines for both those interested in history or even just those that like really good emergent gameplay.
The complexity of the world drives much of the emergent gameplay as well as the sheer level of player choice in how they play within this massive medieval political sandbox. Characters are simulated from the level of mayors of individual cities all the way up to Emperors ruling over vast expanses of land and many many vassals. The great thing is that the start of the game never pigeonholes you into any of these particular roles: It is possible to start a game playing as the Holy Roman Emperor and probably spend most of your time dealing with bickering vassals, or you could start as a count and spend your time attempting to either gain land from your fellow vassals or overthrowing your liege altogether. These are both plausible and represent two ends of the difficulty scale, with just about everything in between also being possible. I started my current game as Duke Robert I of Apulia which gave me a pretty nice spot. The difficulty slider showed it as being pretty much centre and this is understandable as whilst only a duke I had a reasonable holding on the southern tip of the Italian peninsula and a great deal of potential for expansion. I expanded south into Sicily and through that managed to create the Kingdom of Sicily for myself, as such becoming a King which understandably gave me some score. Score in the game is determined by prestige which is gained through a variety of things and builds up for each of your rulers separately, as one ruler dies their prestige is added to your overall score. I’d also like to add that my current ruler is not a King as much a Despot thanks to some Greek influence which overruled the Norman traditions a couple of generations back.
I then expanded out and managed to catch out Sardinia with a casus belli at a time of instability and after some fairly sketchy political dealings and a brutal war that pissed off a lot of vassals I managed to take over Venezia (Venice). Now this leads nicely onto one of the DLCs which is based around the idea of these merchant republics especially Genoa and Venice. If you get CK2 I would advise you get the bigger bits of DLC, the portrait packs are less important but the bigger chunks add significantly to the game. In this case the The Republic DLC allowed me to vassalise Venezia and therefore gain a significant amount of control over trade routes in that area, even more so as many of the ports were being constructed along the eastern coast of Italy, my eastern coast. I then completed a trade war on behalf of my vassal controlling Venezia to remove a great number of Genoese trading ports on the western Italian coast, thus opening the way for Venetian trade expansion and essentially more control for my kingdom over almost all trade in the central Mediterranean. This is just a small example of one of the stories possible, in many cases this would not have developed but due to the dynamic and complex nature of the world it will always be different. Now that I’ve looked at the trade advantages of my particular starting spot what of the other key advantage; smack bang in between Rome and North Africa. Although this particular aspect is from the base game and not DLC (although the first DLC adds playable Muslim races) I found that the positioning between Rome and North Africa means an almost unlimited number of casus belli against Muslims in North Africa and normally with the strong possibility of Papal and other Christian support in both offensive and defensive Holy Wars. This explains my holdings around Tripoli in North Africa, these can be hard fought when the Muslims come knocking.
This is the kind of gameplay you’re looking at from CK2; massively dynamic and deep with simulations of everything from petty squabbles over land to full blown civil wars to conventional wars to holy wars. This game will create grand tales of bravery, intrigue and just plain insanity; literally, I once had an errant insane queen reunite Sicily for me after a particularly painful civil war, oh and she cut my finger off whilst I was in captivity. That is the beauty of CK2, it is a history writing machine where you have as much agency over events as you please. Before long you will have countless tales to tell in a way that only emergent gameplay within such a complex system can produce. As ever though this is not a game for those looking for a story served on a plate gradually dosed out down a series of corridors, so be warned.
The aesthetic, sound and music are great and whilst this is principally a game of interface dialogues Paradox have done a good job at making it a pleasant experience, with the main map being nicely detailed yet portraying a great deal of information. I would like to point out that the music is amazing and is of great assistance in building an atmosphere, which is a true achievement in such a game.
Compatibility wise Paradox have been fantastic; the current generation of the Clausewitz engine that they build their grand strategy games on has been made multi-platform which means that (on Steam at least) CK2 will run on Windows, Mac and Linux. This is pretty great and the Linux implementation is second to none avoiding many of the pitfalls that some ports unfortunately fall into. It’s also worth note that thanks to the engine being cross-platform the upcoming Europa Universalis IV is going to work on all three platforms as well, which is an upcoming review once I’ve played a good deal of that. System requirements aren’t too severe at all; the Steam page states 2GB memory, a Pentium IV 2.4GHz or above (heh) and an Nvidia GeForce 8800 or above. (There are AMD and ATI equivalents but they may as well be written in Chinese for all I know about that side of hardware). Basically CK2 is going to run on a mid-range gaming PC from 5 years ago, so happy days. On laptops and other toaster-esque hardware I would download and try the demo to make sure it works.
In terms of purchasing, it’s pretty pricey as is. I would absolutely and one hundred percent recommend waiting for it to go on sale before purchasing because otherwise you’re looking at £70.00 (approx $106.00) for the total collection, £30.00 (approx $45.00) for just the base game or £58.00 (approx $88.00) for the base game and the big important DLCs. This is pricey, although £60 isn’t too bad for the amount of gameplay you should get out of it, it’s a big deposit on an unknown. Wait for this to go on sale and snap it up nice and cheap and you won’t regret it. The game is available from a million and one stores so it might be worth checking them to find a deal: For example the base game is currently 50% off on Gamersgate dropping it to £15.00 (approx $22.70), buying and playing just the base game for a while and then getting DLC later is probably a good way to do it especially at that reduced price point.
Crusader Kings 2 Website:
Crusader Kings 2 Store List (Your choice of sales, platforms and compatibility):
Paradox Interactive CK2 Website:
Quill18 Castille Playthrough (This will be immensely helpful in learning the game):