The Average Gamer

Crusader Kings II Review (PC)

This is a guest review from Frank Wyatt. Frank is a middle aged man with an aversion to reality so has been a space commander, a general, an admiral, an adventurer, a king and a 50′ death dealing war machine. He loved being all of them.

As a generalisation, there are two styles of strategy game that have evolved since the days when computers first heaved themselves out of the 8-bit primeval swamps; one-night games and one-month games. Crusader Kings 2 definitely falls into the second category, like its Europa Universalis progenitors. This is not a game to sit down to with a sandwich and a bottle of pop. This is a game to sit down to with a supermarket delivery inbound and a stack of empty jam jars in case your incarceration should end with you having to drink your own urine.

I have always been torn between Europa Universalis and its obvious stable mate, the Total War series. I think this a subjective matter and one does not preclude the other. CK2 certainly seems to have drawn a line slightly away from the micro-micro-management of choosing species of hedgerow for your estate but without devolving into a Risk strategy level. I admit to being thoroughly excited at the chance of seeing a country through 400 years of conflict and intrigue.

The tutorial is slightly bitty but you have the option after each module of progressing higher in the same subject or moving sideways into another subject at the same depth, which is a nice touch. Once you have been toured around the interface and got to grips with how you manage your peasants and how you deal with those uppity neighbours who keep claiming a few feet of your turf, you settle down to the main fun of starting a game.

This is where you consider who you want to rule; the male equivalent of deciding how purple you want your character’s hair to be in an MMO. The range of options is vast and runs from raising some poverty-stricken Count to Imperial Majesty, or starting as the Holy Roman Emperor and watching your realm burst into division and rebellion almost before you’ve said hello to your wife and counted the kids.

Being a romantic Englishman (if that’s not an oxymoron) I started with Harold Godwinson and tried to hold off the invasions of England in 1066. However Harold barely had time for a cup of tea and a digestive, post-investiture, before Harald Sigurdsson appeared off the coast of Northern England. Being fresh regal meat and with no tactical level control, I couldn’t raise enough support to fight back effectively. The clue might have been in the “Very Hard” designation on the opening menu, but this highlighted the main disappointment that arose. Commander skill and morale have too little influence on the battlefield, so almost every battle is actually just a straight trade-off of numbers. This is a logical mechanic though, given the lack of tactical control, and it’s not a game breaker.

Numerous attempts later, I turned coat and started as Duke William of Normandy in December 1066. Before long my inexperienced political decisions were coming back to haunt me, and rebellion was sweeping England like someone had distributed a tapestry of me throwing cats into wheelie bins behind the palace. The happy and exciting discovery was that the repeated failures merely fuelled my urge to play and learn, which bodes well for the longevity of this game on my hard drive.

Crusader Kings II is a sandbox that is exciting and daunting in equal measure. Pleasingly, your failings will often find you out, and any political naiveté is likely to be exploited by a fairly canny strategic AI. The kingdom management is both interesting and detailed, and you can just start a war because you’re bored. Just don’t expect everyone to like you for it.

Crusader Kings II is out now on PC.

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