The Highs and Lows of Crusader Kings 2

This is for my fellow Paradox fans.

There isn’t another strategy game quite like Crusader Kings 2, and I think that most can agree that it is at the tip top of Paradox’s list of achievements. That achievement being, its ability to insert life into a genre that suffers from dead feeling AI. Not one single game of Crusader Kings 2 can go by where the AI doesn’t invariably make you scream, laugh, and punch the air in pride as you bring down a dynasty that had been pestering you for centuries.

The sheer amount of options both you and the AI have to battle each other is what makes it feel so alive. You may try to invade your enemies, but if they have a good standing with the Pope, he may demand you make peace. Your greatest enemy may have just taken the throne and made you their subject, but a few years of garnering the favor of the kingdom (and strategically marrying off your kids) will topple them soon enough.

This is all in stark contrast to the typical grand strategy game. In these games you simply pick a country to play as and you stick with it for twenty hours until you’re so powerful that you quit, knowing you have the game won.

This doesn’t happen in Crusader Kings. At any point in the game, even when the entire world has been united into your empire, your vassals are undoubtedly scheming together to overthrow you and annihilate your whole dynasty. You don’t play as a country, you play as a family, and each of your enemies has their own family to battle yours.

Other popular grand strategy games, although fun, all have a similar feeling of the countries you fight being the puppets of the computer, and they all exist to provide a barrier between you and victory. When they attack each other, it’s halfheartedly and not very often. You don’t see the kind of preparation and political play that you get from Crusader Kings 2. The assassinations of your best commanders and the assurance that other countries and dynasties are placated before a declaration of war.

A few games have attempted the family style of grand strategy that Crusader Kings has employed, you can see the core of it present in Rome: Total War. Your decisions on the overland map would affect how your family is viewed in the eyes of the Roman Senate. A drunken little brother? Pack him up and send him to the army. Ruthless cousin making you look barbarous in how he treats slaves and the conquered? Reel him in and make him govern a province.

The problem with this system though is that you have absolute power over your family and every aspect of their lives. In Crusader Kings 2, your family might not be all that united. With your brother perhaps desiring the throne, or worse yet, be more qualified than you are. In Rome: Total War, you would simply have him go on a suicide attack. However, in Crusader Kings 2, he may very well run off to a foreign kingdom to ask for assistance in stealing your throne, or even go to your other dynasty members.

If more strategy games adopted the system of you controlling a single character at a time, rather than being the omnipotent god, controlling a country with puppet strings, more drama, this would result, overall, in more fun for the player. This obviously isn’t right for every strategy game, but considering the jackpot that Paradox hit with Crusader Kings 2 that they haven’t matched up to since (although they came pretty close with Stellaris), I’d say it’s worth some investigating.

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