TITLE: Crusader Kings II: The Old Gods
DEVELOPER: Paradox Development Studio
PUBLISHER: Paradox Interactive
GENRE: Real-Time Historical Strategy
PLATFORMS: Microsoft Windows, Mac, and Linux
RELEASE DATE: May 28, 2013
For anyone who has followed my reviews over the last couple of years, you may have noticed that I have a love-hate relationship with Paradox. The company makes games that, in all reality, really should appeal to me. They have a penchant for trying to bring history to life and creating a world which brings to life the depth of finances, politics, intrigue, and warfare to make you really feel like you are a part of a living history. As someone who has two degrees in history and history-related fields, this always appeals to me. Yet, the developers have a problem with getting bogged down in too many details (which, yes, is possible, even with games like this!) or, despite what they say to the contrary, getting stuck on Western-centric history.
One thing about this company, however, is that they seem to really make an effort to listen to their fans. The stand-alone spin-off to Europa Universalis III, Magna Mundi, was a game I previewed in January 2012 and almost universally panned. My main complaint about it was that even though it wanted to offer us a wider scope of history than was seen in EU3 (as implied by this spin-off’s name), the game truly and utterly failed to deliver that, instead resulting in yet another Euro-centric, great-power game.
But here, with The Old Gods, it looks like Paradox is making an effort to move away from the standard great-power diplomacy that was going on around the time period portrayed by Crusader Kings II and its previous expansions, instead allowing us a peek into the non-Christian entities that were parading around Europe at this time. With the Holy Roman Empire flourishing and bringing Europe out of a period of darkness and into a new feudal system, this game turns its attention to the likes of Pagan chieftains, the outward expansion of the Vikings (creating a new optional “start date” of 867 A.D.), Zoroastrians fighting to regain their ancient heritage, tons of new dynamic events, and more.
In a way, this is the kind of content I had hoped Paradox would embrace much earlier on. This is what I would have wanted to see in the now-cancelled Magna Mundi. While it’s easy to focus on most of the larger European powers at this time, or to look at China or other very large state systems, neglecting to look at the impact that these other powers had on the history of the world is effectively like only writing half a book. Russian history, as well as the history of the Vikings (which are actually related, of course!) has always been fascinating to me. I was really happy to see this be a major element in this expansion, because I find it interesting to see how the Viking people settled in Rus and established a state system that would become a vast empire over the next thousand years.
Those of you who have enjoyed the way that these major titles from Paradox play out will likely be at home here. Yet, what I find perhaps the most frustrating of this and most of the other strategy games they’ve released in the last two or so years is that the menu system is still very clunky and takes a while to navigate. Now, I’ve always been willing to admit that there was so much at play in this game (and their others) that it’s difficult to come up with a quick and easy way to do very complex things. However, I know that there are other very successful franchises out there that have managed to really streamline a lot of these processes, so I would like to think that Paradox should be able to do this. While I find it great to be able to micromanage everything in a political system, right down to basic things like taxes, I find it off-putting if basic things require a ton of menu-hopping and searching due to an unintuitive menu system.
Another thing that bothers me about this and Crusader Kings II in general is the use of titles and how they align in the developers’ efforts to create equivalency as easily as possible. For example, placing a Grand Duke or a Grand Prince on equal levels with a sovereign Prince or Duke isn’t accurate. A Grand Duke and a King often effectively had the same level of power, with the main difference usually being how the title was attained. At one point, the Grand Duke may have received his territory from a higher ruler and thus did not take the title of King, although in other cases the use of the title was simply an effort to elevate themselves above the other nobles in their realm without making themselves seem too elevated (in other words, they could be a Grand Prince among princes, but they did not wish to create a divide that would cause others to question their power). In Luxembourg today, the ruler is a Grand Duke, yet his children are Princes; thus, it is merely a title that is used because of its heritage (and it’s a cool one anyway, right?). My main problem is that titles are often titles, and while they are neat, it’s really difficult to use them as a way to demonstrate power, because while one title may have a lot of weight in one place (e.g. being the Duke or “Doge” of Venice), it may hold less power somewhere else (simply being a land-owning Duke in a feudal state). I know I’m not alone in this either, as a quick browsing of the Paradox forums brings up many such debates.
Beyond gripes like that, though, the game is still a bit of an improvement over other Paradox releases, and it’s a good expansion to Crusader Kings II. Although they are complicated, the menus are nice, pretty, and feature some really neat skins. The game also boasts another very nice soundtrack, which is generally one of the better features of these titles.
Paradox is always good with its attention to historical details (at least on the polities they focus on), so if you want to jump on in and see what the buzz is about with their historical strategy games, Crusader Kings II: The Old Gods is a decent place to start. The game has a lot to offer, but you’ll have to do some digging.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Crusader Kings II: The Old Gods has a lot to offer, including some frustration.