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Saturday, February 16, 2013

Crusader Kings 2 review

Rude? by Tjflex2 from flickr (CC-NC-ND)

So after playing Europa Universalis 3 Divine Wind a lot (my review - part 1, part 2) I decided to give Crusader Kings 2 a chance. So far my impressions are not as positive as they were with EU3.

CK2 is not a strategy game

First - CK2 is not a strategy game. It's an RPG with some fairly minor strategy element. It is actually far more of an RPG than most of the so called "RPG" games which are usually just shooters with some rudimentary XP and levelling system.

RPG parts of CK2 are pretty interesting. Managing relationships between characters, building dynasties, plotting to kill anybody you don't like, handling various events (in ways depending on your character's traits) is unusually deep and complicated. Some events like the chain with framed cook's wife leave quite an impression.

Strategy elements on the other hand - not so much. Battles in spite of fancy interface are pretty much "bigger army wins", and leave much less room for tactical manoeuvring which in EU3 made it possible to defeat much stronger foes and was so satisfying.

Wars and CBs are even worse. You can only push claims to a single county in a war, no matter how many claims you have, getting claims is mostly completely random, wars can stop at random if a ruler on either side dies, you can't protect your allies in any way (EU3 had warnings, guarantees, sphere of influence and alliance CB - all made it possible to join a war to defend your allies), and I've even had one of my allies surrender completely when our war score was over +40%.

One minor aspect that I really enjoyed was how I could actually control my vassal's armies. That was badly missing in EU3, since vassals (and allies) always acted as uncoordinated retards. Hopefully EU4 keeps that, at least as an option.

Succession mechanics are horrible

Pretty much every time your ruler dies your realm breaks down completely, and you have to spend a lot of time fighting both your disloyal vassals and (in case of gavelkind succession) any siblings you had.

Speaking of which - gavelkind succession is really horribly implemented. Let's say I'm a king of Poland, have duchies of Lesser Poland and Masovia (with most of the counties), and have 3 sons. I'd like my oldest son to inherit all of that - and fortunately wars against pagans are coming so there will be plenty of new counties and duchies to give away.

What I should be able to do is create duchies of Lithuania and Prussia in newly conquered territories - give them to my two younger sons, and have my oldest son inherit Lesser Poland and Masovia. But the game won't let me do it! Instead I have three equally awful options.
  • I can keep everything until I die, then I get massive penalties for both demesne limit and duchy count limit. It seems in older versions of CK2 demesne limit was set somewhere reasonable, in 1.09 it's just ridiculously low.
  • I can give my younger sons new duchies, but that won't remove them from inheritance of lands I'm not giving away, so my oldest son won't be getting anything.
  • I can give my oldest son some of the lands I want to keep - let's say Masovia and Prussia, while keeping Lesser Poland and Lithuania. Then hopefully he'll inherit Lesser Poland, my younger sons will share Lithuania, and then once he's a king he can give away Prussia to one of his brothers. This has a minor issue that the younger brothers will fight since duke of Prussia will have lands in Lithuania - and a much bigger issue that once he gets any lands he starts behaving like a idiot and ruining his and his children's stats.
To make it worse I can't even give any lands exceeding ridiculously low demesne limit to my underage family members and hold them temporarily as a regent until they come of age while keeping them at my court so I can educate them and arrange their marriages the way I like.

Now I'm sure there's a lot of gamey ways to deal with all that - making younger sons bishops, assassinating them and so on, and it seems like people are routinely using them, and I'm fine with going gamey in a strategy game (my favourite game of all time is Magic: the Gathering and nothing is as gamey as Magic), but that's horribly immersion-breaking in an RPG game!

There are some minor issues that conflict with my sense of immersion like not being able to revoke all titles of a rebellious vassal and just banish him (well, without a massive penalty), to freely arrange marriages between vassals in my realm, or to plot against anyone I want, but they are easier to live with that succession failure (and demesne size).

Nothing is explained anywhere

CK2 is a very complicated game, probably even more so than EU3, and tutorials for both are nearly nonexistent.

The huge difference is that EU3 has a really good wiki explaining things, but nothing like that exists for CK2. Wikis like this one are not ever 1/10 of EU3 wiki's size, and explain pretty much nothing. Explanations people give on forums are contradictory (some of the things might have been changed in patches)

Pretty much the only way to learn the game is to watch a lot of Let's Plays on Youtube, or to just play blindly until you get what's happening (except everybody on Youtube seems to play with about two times higher demesne limit somehow, seriously WTF?).

Hopefully at least that will improve with time.

Reactive gameplay

A strategy game needs to include a mix of actively planning and doing things, and reacting to events happening to you (randomly or due to AI actions).

Most strategy games are very far on active end of the spectrum - if you want you can just sit there and relax and nothing bad will happen. And when you want things to happen, you'll be the one setting everything in motion.

CK2 goes all the way into the other direction. There's very little you can do to further your goals, most of the times things will be happening to you, and mostly at random not due to AI's plans. The challenge seems to be mostly in surviving all the events game throws at you.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but I feel they went a bit too far and there should be somewhat more room for actively planning strategy. But then maybe there are such ways, the game simply never explains anything so I missed them all.


This is one area I have nothing but praise for. The interface is a big improvement over EU3, and hopefully EU4's interface will be as good as CK2. There are a few things I missed like CBs page in ledger (claims page is not quite the same thing), but overall I've been very happy about it.

Quality of graphics also improved a lot since EU3, and sound effects are much more enjoyable. Or perhaps too much exposure to EU3's sound effects made me enjoy them a lot less. I don't remember having any complaints about them in the first few campaigns.


CK2 looks like it has a lot of interesting ideas, but too many things about it feel just wrong, and some of the best things like the updated interface will hopefully be present in EU4 as well.

In the meantime I'm more inclined to look into EU3 mods like Death&Taxes rather than going deeper into CK2.

As far as I can tell, there doesn't seem to be many mods for CK2 fixing issues that annoy me the most, but hopefully someday someone will made the mods and document things on some wiki so I'll be able to give it another try.

PS - Ruler Designer DLC

I've taken a look at ruler designer DLC, and it seems it only allows making new rulers, not editing existing ones - and you lose all dynastic connections, marriage alliances and so on. It also seems that you'll get some really awful rulers - stats of starting 24 year old king of Poland (who's pretty good, but not amazing) would make him 118 years old in ruler designer, and that without even counting loss of marriage alliance, and inheritance from your brother duke of Masovia.

I know you can go all gamey and take excommunicated (lift on day 1 for a bit of gold), wounded/depressed/stressed (plus whatever else randomly heals on its own within a few years) and various other traits and trait combination that are probably not as bad as they are marked (lustful + homosexual) to bring your age down, but option to edit existing rulers would be nice.

One potentially great feature of the ruler designer is starting as heretic, so you get CBs against pretty much everyone, but I don't know how well that would work in practice.

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