Paradox Interactive is one of those game companies which can really appeal to some gamers. With their often intricate gameplay, rich political worlds, and clean macro- and micro-level strategy, proponents could sink days at a time into Paradox’ titles. Crusader Kings II is no exception.
Having beautiful visuals, epic music, and the most menus I have ever seen in a real-time strategy game, the game invokes a feeling similar to King of Dragon Pass. Loading this up for the first time, I felt like I was being transported back to a time when PC games were very distinctly not console games. Having said that, I stand firmly in the percentage who don’t enjoy their games as much as others could.
Crusader Kings II is a menu-driven, pauseable, real-time strategy game based on the Middle Ages during the time of the first crusade all the way through to the third. Realizing what it was, my eyes immediately glazed over as I began to expect a long lecture in a droning monotone. The game doesn’t quite deliver on that front, but there isn’t any changing that fundamental, titular basis.
I was bored to tears during the first hour of play as I struggled with the steep learning curve of the game, as well as my total lack of knowledge about the subject matter. Selecting only the very easiest historical figure to play with, (a long process in itself, as there are seemingly endless dynasties to start with,) I began my history lesson. There was a lot of guesswork as I tried to marry people off to neighbouring dynasties. My bid for filial bonds between myself and some of the other powerful countries was met with total denial unless I agreed to marry way under my station. I did enjoy having the power to end plots to end my life, which were propagated by my own vassals, by simply demanding that they do and then marrying them off to some low-life courtier who resides halfway around the world, thereby getting rid of them and the problem pretty thoroughly. Getting more into the career of my dynasty, I began to succeed in blending my blood into a rival faction, hoping to gain power in their houses and eventually usurp their leaders, replacing their rule with my own. That didn’t quite work in the way I imagined, and I ended up losing the game very quickly. After three similar dismal failures, I honestly began to hate the basic game.
The visuals are pretty stunning, I must admit. The map is so huge and highly detailed that the game seems more a container for the interactive cartography than a surface upon which the game is played. The mountain ranges and other topographical features serve to texturize and flesh out the look of the game. I have spent a long time just flipping through the county status screens, which are accessed via this beautiful map. The menus themselves are also very pretty. Using retro-style portraits for each individual character is a nice touch, you will never see one used twice for any of the adults, (the children are all standardized male or female “child” avatars though.)
This game’s sound deserves some note. The music is very epic and deserves the highest rating it could possibly be given. Sitting there for hours, clicking through menus without much attachment to what I was doing, the music made the game playable for me. The sound effects seemed jarring and tinny when played alongside the music, and listening to that blend of sound was a little like having braised striploin and Kraft Dinner for supper. Clicking through the character selection screen will play a single harp note, multiple clicks reveal a song being played. I spent a good, long time clicking through this menu rhythmically until I was satisfied that this is one of the best functions in the entire game.
The gameplay was a deep, menu-driven experience. It suits the style of the game, though I was constantly wishing there was more action to be had. The game is paced slowly and can actually be paused to issue commands and react when news of war or plots pops up on screen, enabling you to react instantaneously to anything. The steep learning curve could be off-putting for new players, but may actually appeal to Paradox Interactive’s more dedicated users. The amount of characters, counties, and titles might be daunting for anyone other than a History major or an eidetic memory and a Wikipedia account.