Dear God, not another game built on the Europa Universalis engine. At least, that was my initial reaction to Crusader Kings, the latest from Paradox. However, despite some annoying bugs and the occasional crash, Crusader Kings is easily one of the most palatable games based on the popular, empire-building engine.
The appeal of Crusader Kings is that your faction has a face and a family about which you will come to care. Unlike other entries in the genre, in which you steer a largely anonymous, economic and military machine to world domination, Crusader Kings places an emphasis on building a dynasty. As such, character management is the key to success.
Compared to other entries in the empire-building genre, Crusader Kings is a bit more streamlined thus making it more appealing to people who may be new to this type of game. There are still a plethora of economic, military, scientific and diplomatic details to manage, but they are kept at a reasonable level, and most every function in the game is sufficiently explained.
The single player game can be kicked off from one of three time periods: 1066, immediately following the battle of Hastings, 1187, the third crusade and 1337. You can choose from a number of Christian kings, dukes and counts from across Europe to control. Multiplayer games are also available via LAN and Valkyrienet.
The best thing you can do for yourself in Crusader Kings is to play at family husbandry. Keep control of your court. Appoint a Marshall, Chancellor, Steward, Spy Master. Also, be sure to marry off each of your kids, hopefully garnering advantageous political capital in the process. Your success will hinge upon your family and your court. The decision to place the emphasis on this aspect of the game was a brilliant one. It adds something for you the player to care about beyond the efficiency of your farms in Skane.
Victory is achieved once the world reaches 1452. The kingdom with the highest score wins. Grant, grab and usurp titles from other counties, duchies and kingdoms. Send out assassins to create your own lucky breaks in political matters. Conquer pagans to gain favor with the pope, and if all else fails, strap on the armor and start whaling on your neighbors.
The entire game takes place on a very flexible, real-time world map. Thankfully, it is not necessary to manually mess with transporting troops via ships. They will automatically cross water after paying a toll in gold.
Some of the highlights of the dynasty system are the character traits. Each character is born with rankings in six attributes: Martial, Diplomacy, Intrigue and Stewardship. There are two hidden attributes for each: Health and Fertility. The character traits, such as 'schemer’, 'scholarly theologian’ and 'lustful’ to name but a few, are acquired throughout the life of the character.
As king, you’ll be presented with numerous scenarios that will determine your standing at court, in the world and even your overall character composition. For instance, when you are propositioned by a loose woman at court, you’re given four possible responses, each spelling out the consequence of the potential dalliance. Lay too many wenches, and you make it more difficult for yourself to achieve your goals.
Blocking your path to victory are a large number of competing of factions, scheming and clawing their way up the same mountain. That and a few bugs that will make you grit your teeth and scream in despair as the game crashes to your desktop. Then, there was the lovely little issue that prevented me from progressing after my king died. You’re supposed to be able to play as your king’s heir at that point. I had a ton of suitable heirs, we’re talking about Catholics after all, but after four attempts to get around the bug, I gave up in exasperation and started from the beginning as another faction.
Had it not been for these glaring and unforgivable errors (I actually played version 1.3), Crusader Kings would have scored much higher in my book. I sincerely hope that these issues are fixed with additional patches in the future.
There is ample cause for empire-building fans to pray for those patches. Crusader Kings will allow you to export your faction at the end of a campaign into the upcoming Europa Universalis II.
As it stands, Crusader Kings has to be considered just another average game. The idea to place weight on the building up of people as well as an empire was a great one, and the comparatively streamlined game play creates appeal for some who have never played an empire sim before.
In the end, all of this high polish is tarnished by the significant, game-stopping bugs that are currently present in the game. If Paradox is able to clean up these bugs, I could highly recommend this game. Right now, I would say it’s definitely a worthwhile selection, but play it at your own risk. It’s quite a cold shower to invest 30 hours of work in a faction only to be stopped dead in your tracks and unable to continue because of a glitch.