Crusader Kings 2 - A 500 Hour Veteran's Perspective

Written by 4gateftw on Sat, Jan 17, 2015 6:59 AM
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How well optimised is Crusader Kings II for PC? 7.3

Yes, I spent 500 hours (and counting) of my life on this game.

And as such, I probably have a bit of a rose-tinted perspective on it. I will however, try to maintain an even perspective on the game, and also give anyone looking to get into it a general perspective on what the game is, and how to spend as little money as possible on pointless DLC. I will weigh in on how I think the Way of Life system implemented in the latest expansion detracts heavily from the gameplay. Hopefully this will be helpful to anyone interested in the game. This will however, probably be a long review, as it's not really possible to review this game fully without writing a long review. 


Welcome to CK2. Please do not feed the Karlings.

Crusader Kings 2 is a grand strategy game brought to you by Paradox Interactive, the same minds behind Europa Universalis, Hearts of Iron, and Victoria. These guys are widely considered the masters of grand strategy, and many of their games are considered classics of the genre. Crusader Kings 2 should not be overlooked on that list, as it is easily the best medieval intrigue simulator out there. In CK2, the player controls one character, who controls a lordship of some sort. Players can select any character from a lowly count, controlling a tiny scrap of land somewhere, to a mighty emperor, with multiple kingdoms and lists of powerful vassals at his or her command. 


The object of the game is basically to make your dynasty (you, your descendants and relatives) as powerful as possible. The game will not end until you are landless, or your dynasty has died out. The management of your dynasty and your land involves many things, such as council appointments, dastardly plotting, war and diplomacy. All of this and more can be managed and monitored from various tabs on the game's map screen, from which you can also see army movements, borders and country names. 


The interface itself is fairly slick. It manages to effectively allow the player to quickly access any tab they want to, while not distracting the player from what's going on on the map, and simultaneously presenting players with a wealth of information. In short, everything a good grand strat should accomplish with it;s interface. A problem that will bug some is the lack of keyboard shortcuts from many of the game's functions. This can be easily resolved however, with an excellent mod that I'll link below. All in all, the interface is fairly intuitive, and this helps remove some (though certainly not all) of the confusion involved in learning a grand strat. 


Accessibility and other concerns

While the interface helps to remove some of the pain involved in learning a grand strat, they're definitely still there. CK2, like other Paradox games, has an awful tutorial that will probably just put you off rather than help you learn the game. In fact, I would advise just jumping in and avoiding the abysmal tutorial altogether, and maybe watching a Youtube let's play as a means of learning the nuances of the game. In the end, it's going to take you a very long time to learn every nuance of the game, so if you don't want to invest the time there, CK2 is not for you.



Gameplay and Stuff

To fully explain CK2's gameplay would take far too much time, so I won't do that. Instead, I'll just say this: once you understand it (which will take a a long time) CK2 is one of the most satisfying, compelling games you will ever play. If you like watching Game of Thrones, House of Cards, if you enjoy political intrigue with a dose of history in there for good measure, you will really like CK2. If you like games where you can create your own story through the gameplay, CK2 is for you. If you can't stand waiting for stuff to happen, CK2 is not for you. If you don't like games with really basic graphics, CK2 is not for you. If you dislike games where your plans can be unraveled by chance, CK2 is not for you. The stuff about chance is particularly notable. Even after all my hours, I still don't get why my king will sometimes die at age 24 of "poor health" despite having no health problems. I still don't really grasp every nuance of the weird, and honestly fairly lackluster battle system. The battle system is really the weakest part of CK2. It's really just whoever has the most numbers wins. And while yes, that's kind of how it was back then, that wasn't always the case. So if you want a game with really deep combat, you won't find it here.


In fact, that complaint about the combat really being about the numbers applies to almost everything in the game. Although an experienced player like myself can probably make any situation turn out well, if you aren't that experienced, you're going to lost a lot and not really understand why. You will probably make some mistakes that aren't really your fault. For example, it seems only logical that if you are a vassal under a liege, you want to be the spymaster. After all, this grants you immense power in the realm, giving you huge amounts of plot power against your liege, making plots against him/her no-brainers. In reality being the spymaster endangers your life far more than it other wise would be, because if your liege sends you to spy on somebody, and they find out you're spying on them, they will try to assassinate you, and have a 50% chance of success. You can also get sent to jail for stealing technology. This is one of many things that new players will probably suffer several cheap deaths to before they figure it out. Even the technology system has an element of chance to it. All this can be a real pain for players to figure out, and might end up putting them off from the game. All in all though, the gameplay shines based on how unique the intrigue is, and the sheer possibilities that just couldn't happen in any other game. 


DLC: the good, the bad, and the downright stupid

DLC is a major part of any Paradox game, and CK2 is no exception. Let me give you a crash course on which of the five million expansions are actually worth the price tag:

The Old Gods: overhauls the tech system, allows you to play as a pagan, gives you the 867 start point. Absolute must have. 

Legacy of Rome:Enables retinues, lets the Byzantine Empire reform the Roman Empire.

The Republic: Allows you to play as a republic, which is almost an entirely different experience from the base game. 

Sons of Abraham: Overhauls Catholicism, lets you play as a Jew, gives some other features.

Rajas of India: Lets you play as an Indian religion, adds the entire Indian subcontinent.

The Sword of Islam: Lets you play as a Muslim. 

Charlemagne: Adds the 769 start date. Doesn't do much else. 

Most of the other stuff is not worth your money. The extra music is pretty nice, as are ruler designer and the customization pack, but everything else is not worth it. Sunset Invasion does nothing but screw with your late game. Way of Life sucks in a number of ways, which I'll get to later. 



Not much to be said here. CK2's map is certainly basic, but it's got a nice style to it, and the New Borders, Rivers and Textures mod makes it look a bit better. The music by Andreas Waldetoft is in my opinion not as good as the Europa Universalis 4 soundtrack, but it sill suits CK2 very well. These things, combined with nice looking unit models and character portraits, as well as nicely stylized menus that change appearance according to religion makes for an all around pleasant atmosphere that pulls you back to the middle ages. 


The Game Without Way of Life, Summarized

Without Way of Life, CK2 is easily one of the best games I've ever played. The gameplay is incredibly unique and nuanced. Everybody who's played the game has some unique, hilarious and awesome story to tell about their rise to (or fall from) power. It's been described as a medieval soap-opera, and that's a pretty good description. As long as you aren't too bothered by the learning-curve and the amount of downtime in the game, I would not hesitate to recommend CK2 to any fan of strategy games. 


How Way of Life Screwed it Up

Do I really have to talk about Way of Life? I suppose I do. It's the most recent expansion, and have I mentioned how much it sucks? Seriously. It's just my opinion, but I feel that my lengthy play time gives me a good bit of understanding of this game, its nuances, and what makes it fun. Way of Life ruined the fun for me. Let me explain why. 


Way of Life Ruined Character Building and the Ambition System

I liked building characters before Way of Life. There was some satisfaction in taking a character with bad stats, and then slowly building him/her to actually be pretty good, through pilgrimages and through the ambition system. In Way of Life, the ambition system has been replaced by the character focus system, which essentially gives you some flat stat buffs, and some new diplomacy options. It's also incredibly boring. The events that you got from trying to improve a skill with the ambition system were cool. You could buy a bar, and then hire a talking donkey as entertainment. You could maim yourself trying to build an airplane. You could join the local nerds in the dark ages version Warhammer 40K. It was awesome, unique, and often provided some comic relief. The character focus system is none of those things. The new diplomacy options are really just replace stuff that they took out of the game. Carousing lets you have feasts. Intrigue lets plot against people (which you can already do.) All of them are trying to improve skills, which the ambition system already did. It's an awful system which just serves as a boring replacement to old features that were fine in the first place.


'But 4gate, Way of Life helps Roleplaying!'

It does? How does choosing the seduction path and being able to sleep with literally anyone you want as long as you don't give up help roleplaying? How does a 70 year old man having 20 16 year old lovers help roleplaying? It doesn't. It's unrealistic and stupid. Seduction is completely broken.

'But 4gate, feasts and hunts sucked! Character focus lets you spice things up a bit!'

Character focus sucks too. It's largely worse than feasts and hunts. At least there was some variance in how those went down. At least they were fun at times. At least before they were ruined, they actually let you get good traits, with an element of risk. Character focus has little risk. Seduction and Intrigue are overpowered, and the system is generally lackluster.


In Summation

CK2 is a really good game. Even with Way of Life, CK2 is better than most games are. But in order to get the best experience possible, don't buy Way of Life. Again, this is my opinion, and you could probably find people with just as much experience as me who really like Way of Life, but in this users opinion, it's a wasted opportunity and a poor replacement for removed mechanics. I turn it off every time I play the game now. So buy CK2 if you like deep strategy games, but I would advise against buying Way of Life. 


Thanks for reading my first ever review. Please feel free to leave feedback in the comments. 



  • Unique gameplay.
  • Excellent Intrigue System.
  • Solid Aesthetic.


  • Way of Life sucks.
  • Lots of DLC to Buy.
  • Lots of downtime.



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admin approved badge
12:40 Jul-15-2015

Disclaimer: major changes have been made to CK2 since this review came out.

13:55 Jan-22-2015

Very in depth review. Well played Sir.

admin approved badge
17:34 Jan-22-2015

Thank you, I wanted to take an even more deep approach but as I said the review would just have been far too long if I had done that.

senior admin badge
15:54 Jan-19-2015

One of the finest reviews I have read to date. Nicely done buddy :)

admin approved badge
22:41 Jan-19-2015

Thank you!