Paradox Interactive have become the publishers-in-chief for in-depth strategy titles over the past few years, and this year’s E3 saw them showcasing three of their biggest coming attractions, all sequels to successful titles with hordes of fanatical fans.
The first such game we got to see this year was Crusader Kings 2. Now on the one hand, I have to say that for me this was the game of the show. After looking at all the other sights and sounds of the biggest videogame show on earth, it was Crusader Kings that my imagination kept creeping guiltily back to.
Now, that said, there are several things I need to add to quantify that statement. Firstly, I’m a bit of a history buff, and I’m not afraid of games that bombard you with numbers, statistics and mountains of real-world data. Secondly, I never played the first game in the series so this was my introduction to Crusader Kings, which I’d previously assumed to be a simplified Medieval: Total War clone.
What this game certainly ISN’T is a simplified Total War clone. Built on the success of the popular Europa Universalis series, Crusader Kings 2 is an RPG strategy game set in the Medieval era anywhere between 1066 and every hardcore gamer’s favourite year, 1337. As well as choosing the starting point players can choose from any of the Christian kings and lordlings of the time, with what seems like no restriction – in the demo we saw, the player selected a ten-year old boy as his character. With over 9,000 historically accurate characters to choose from and many kingdoms and regions, replayability is a serious draw here. Political situations are important – you may start play as a vassal to another lord. But most of this I imagine is not news to players of the first game. Essentially, Crusader Kings is heavy on the politics and relationships between rulers, with only a passing interest in the warfare that punctuated the era.
It is the focus on intrigue that has been enhanced for the sequel. Character relationships, intrigue, ambitions and polts are much deeper and more immersive in this game, and a great deal of care has been taken to create characters who feel real and have their own agendas. Multiple points of conflict can exist between each character, and in the example we saw, our pint-sized Duke had to deal with his dad, who not only didn’t have a noble title but was a pagan while his son was a Christian. So we’ve got our old man in serious danger of becoming our most dangerous foe. Of course, his opinion towards our hero is boosted by the fact that they are blood relatives, but the bonus to his relationship is small. Blood is thicker than water, perhaps, but power trumps everything.
All of this rich political drama is delivered as you’d expect, through a tsunami of figures and statistics. From examining a whole load of numbers and stuff you can tell that your father is plotting to rebel, your spymaster is past his prime and your general is pious but hates your daughter.
But if ‘numbers and stuff’ really aren’t your thing, I guess you’re unlikely to really get a lot out of Crusader Kings 2. There’s no 3D rendered battle sequence where you can hear the twang of every bowstring. That said, the interface has been tightened up and beautified significantly over the first game. The map has a number of overlays that can be coloured by religion, dynasties, and so on. The family tree viewer has been overhauled. Everything just generally looks a lot prettier. Characters give certain facial characteristics to their offspring, so if daddy had a huge nose and mummy had a double chin, you may well end up looking like a big fat Mr. Punch.
Crusader Kings 2 comes out in January 2012, and full system requirements have already been published. We here at Game Debate are excited for this one.