Publisher:Paradox Interactive Developer: Paradox Interactive Platform: PC Exclusive Release Date: January 2012
Crusader Kings 2 looks like a medieval strategy game. It has the rows of numbers, tabs full of statistics and the massive, bumpy map that's usually indicative of that genre. Plus, it’s called ‘Crusader Kings 2’ rather than, say, ‘Sims of Duty: WarOrc Online.' Sitting down to look at it for the first time, we were confident that it was a strategy game.
Crusader Kings 2 is not a strategy game, however. That’s one fact that Paradox makes very clear as you get comfortable in front of the screen.
‘In many ways Crusader Kings 2 is more about social manipulation and people politics than tactical prowess,’ says Paradox’s Chris King. It’s hard to see what he’s talking about at first, as the stats and maps are still at the front of our minds, but slowly we start to get the picture.
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The first and most important aspect to bear in mind about Crusader Kings 2 is that the player doesn't take the usual role of a country. You aren’t the de facto leader of France, for example; you’re just a nobleman with a small mass of land. Your goal in the game isn’t to lead your country to supreme victory by quashing or controlling every other territory on the board; all you want to do is look after your family. Really, that’s all anyone wants to do.
The decision to bring the strategy down to a personal level, however, does force some vulnerabilities on players that they might not expect. You’re always cast as the oldest male heir in your family, for example, so it's game over if you run out of heirs when you need them.
The obvious strategy is to sow your seeds whenever you can, but it’s here that the societal element of Crusader Kings 2 rears its head. Each and every character in the game has a personality of their own, which is defined by a combination of 40 available traits. You may think it’s a good idea to have as many children as possible in order to secure a lasting lineage, but what if your children don’t turn out as you expect? A young child with the Ambitious and Envious traits, for example, might decide to shorten the road to rule with the edge of a knife.
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It’s not just the youngsters you’ll need to worry about either, as all actions in Crusader Kings 2 are bound by the practices of the time and, while extra-marital affairs are possible, they're also frowned upon. Progeny with the Bastard trait will be particularly frowned upon, especially by the church. Of course, if you’re a Lustful character then you may not be able to restrain yourself from earning this disgrace.
It’s this trait system which forms the most interesting dynamic in Crusader Kings 2. Even in the demo we were shown by Paradox Interactive, a number of interesting combinations of the 40 traits currently built into the game emerged. Illiterate, Crippled Lords emerged and were forced to defend their positions from Inbred, Wrathful cousins.