Throne Together: A Crusader Kings II Preview

By Quintin Smith on January 25th, 2011 at 7:07 pm.

You’re old. Your wife’s plotting your downfall. Your son’s a dribbling imbecile. Your father-in-law hates your guts. And I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking “Yes, that is certainly my life. Why would I want to play a game like Crusader Kings 2, which models all of this in a medieval environment?” Well, I’ll tell you why. It’s because you can cheat on your wife, kill your idiot son, raise a bastard child as your heir and send your father-in-law to rot in prison for the rest of his days.

The first Crusader Kings came to my attention when I found an impressively colourful after-action report on the Something Awful forums. The game was another of Paradox’s characteristically in-depth historical strategy games, with the twist that it focused on the human elements of being a medieval regent. It was your job to steer not a country, but a dynasty though the ages, from the bad times, where your immediate family might resemble a wonky trolley of squabbling inbreds, and the good times, where a timely marraige to a gifted foreign Queen ushers in a new golden age of peace, prosperity and- most importantly- good genes.

As usual, some of the game was spent raising armies and going to war with your neighbours, but far more of your time was spent fretting over marriages, courtiers, children and potential betrayals, making the game more akin to a strategic soap opera than anything else. That was what made the AAR I was reading so fascinating. As the game progressed real characters took shape, characters who would be cheated on, killed, betrayed or would rot in prison for the rest of their days. In the years that followed, Crusader Kings quickly developed one of the biggest followings in Paradox’s stable.

This was back in 2004. Early next year, this game is finally getting the sequel fans have been clamouring for. What’s new? What can we look forward to? Well!

For one thing, the nobility of your country will now be modelled all the way down to individual barons, allowing for such gradual transformations as the real life case of the Swiss counts of Aargau, who over several centuries expertly weaseled their way from ruling a slice of Switzerland in 1066 to being the first formally elected Holy Roman Emperors in 1438. Not only will these low-level landovers feature prominently in your game, ready and waiting to be elevated or manipulated, you’ll actually be able to play as a count yourself, giving players new to Crusader Kings an easy way in. Ruling Norfolk is a lot simpler than ruling England, after all.

You’ll also have some extra options with regards to the children. “The kids are alright!” you might say. Well, fine, but when they’re not alright you’ll be able to send them away to be fostered by a noble of your choice until they come of age. What they’ll learn, how they’ll feel about being packed away and how the noble will feel about this dubious honour all depends on the personalities of those involved. Hand your firstborn over to a philandering, elderly drunk and you probably shouldn’t expect a young Richard the Lionheart to come home fifteen years later.

Adding further intrigue is the replacement of Crusader King’s child emperors with regents, men and women who aren’t necessarily waiting in line for the throne but might end up getting a little too comfortable while they’re up there.

Crusader Kings 2 will also see the addition of buildings to the series, which I suspect might send a ripple of doubt through the CK faithful, but even these are imbued with a human element. You’ll be able to build forts, cities and bishoprics, each adding to a region’s fortification and income, but each requires a leader, whether that’s a baron, mayor or bishop. Bishops sound interesting- bishoprics provide by far the best return for your initial investment, but a bishop has a possibility of being loyal to the Pope rather than you, meaning all that money you were planning on receiving gets sent overseas, though heretics will be less likely to spawn in the region and pious nobles will be happier.

That said, even building forts isn’t a safe bet. The lowliest of barons might end up having some obscure claim to your throne, which is where the new opinions and plots mechanics come in. In addition to traits, every character now has political and personal opinions, which will colour how he acts and who he supports. Ultimately, these might also lead to the cobbling together of a plot.

This part sounds awesome. Depending on his competence and the plot’s advancement, at some point your spymaster is going to tell you that people are plotting against you. Over time, this information will become more detailed, and with any luck you’ll eventually start getting the names of any conspirators. At which point you’ve got a very tricky decision ahead of you. You can strip the offender of land, put him in prison, execute him, or you could give him land, a title, a barony, a city to rule, or a position at your court. An order to execute a man of the people might not work, you see. It could cripple your own power base, spark a civil war or create a terrible enemy of his brother, who’s less of a firebrand but even more powerful.

Of course, trying to charm the hundreds of hungry hungry heritors that make up both your neighbours and your own kingdom is only going to work for so long. Sooner or later you’ll come to blows with some of them, and even the new combat system is trying to add a bit of personality to what was previously a matter of simply dragging armies onto one another.

In CK2, battles will be fought with three commanding nobles on each side, with each taking responsibility for either the left or right flank or the middle of the battlefield. As three phases of the battle (skirmishing, melee and pursuit) play out, you can expect the various traits of each general to mix things up a bit. A coward might scupper the whole battle by holding his forces back, a bloodthirsty man may chase down enemy troops before turning to support the general next to him, and so on. Traits will also affect which of the new combat events pop up, with these both demanding that players make a difficult decision, and adding even more colour to the proceedings.

Anything else? Well, there’s a shiny new engine that these screenshots to a totally inadequate job of showing off, plus lots of interface tweaks.

So there you have it. Well, Crusader Kings fans? Was that everything you were hoping for? Or do you presently squat in that lukewarm paddling pool we call disappointment? Share with us!

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47 Comments »

  1. safetydank says:

    I had fun with the first game by ignoring the strategy and following my own, er, eugenic goals.

    As long as I can disseminate my huge nose throughout Europe’s monarchies I’ll be happy.

  2. Om says:

    “Crusader Kings 2 will also see the addition of buildings to the series, which I suspect might send a ripple of doubt through the CK faithful…”

    Probably not given that buildings were in the original ;)

    But yes, I will be definitely buying this on release. Which does raise the slight contradiction as to why I’m so keen on getting all this delicious information (plots, yum) when my mind is already made up. Oh well

  3. Jajusha says:

    Is that a new game engine? *Prays for EU4*

  4. Severian says:

    I didn’t play the first and am generally afraid of Paradox’s ultra-detailed history sims, but this sounds positively intriguing. The human element is drawing me in. Will I still need to read history books to understand the context of my world? ‘Cause I’m a lazy dullard.

    • Vadermath says:

      Playing Magna Mundi helped me with that; it was so ridiculously complicated, that every vanilla Paradox game afterwards seemed simple enough to learn.

    • rhizo says:

      If the first game is any indication, knowing your history helps, but is not a requirement. Of course having some interest in the historical happenings during the time frame makes the game a lot more interesting. Also defying a notoriously unfortunate writing of history for your chosen dynasty gives an easy goal for a game that most likely won’t have any built in.

      I mostly enjoy playing an unknown count somewhere in the outer reaches of the christendom, creating a “new” (most likely big nosed and bald) dynasty to counter the Mongol hordes.

  5. Hroppa says:

    It’s always something of a shame that the beatiful landscapes in these games are reduced to single colours in the political mapmode, which you essentially have to play in. I’m absolutely loving the new plot and intrigue addition.

    • thebigJ_A says:

      At least with Vicky 2 and the new map for EU3 DW you can see the field, forests, and farmland in the political map.

      Granted, the fields, forests, and farmland are pink

  6. Gormongous says:

    This all looks fantastic. I’m really thrilled that traits are more than ways to subtly engineer a character’s stats after childhood ends. A developer even suggested on the forum that a “stupid” character would be forbidden (or at least have substantial difficulty) selecting the “smart” response to a given event.

    Also, buildings did exist in the first Crusader Kings. They were just a one-time deposit of gold that improved the stats of a province, though. Having a gameplay effect beyond “get richer” or “have more mans” is intriguing.

  7. Danny says:

    Ah, the kind of games that I only want to read about. Playing them is just too depressing, as it shows me that the internet has broken my attention span and that I can’t be bothered anymore to spend hours upon hours before I actually figure out how to attack one of the thousand thousand provinces in the game.

    Maybe I should talk about this with my psychologist.

  8. Lars Westergren says:

    > You’re old. Your wife’s plotting your downfall. Your son’s a dribbling imbecile. Your father-in-law hates your guts. And I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking “Yes, that is certainly my life.”

    Have you guys been spying on me again?

    Game sounds great though.

  9. Jim Rossignol says:

    This looks really interesting.

  10. Setroc says:

    I just logged in to tell you that the title of this article made me do a little giggle followed by a snort which made me feel incredibly embarrassed (partially because I snorted and partially because I found it funny). Please don’t be so reckless with your puns in future.

  11. Devrey says:

    CK1 was great, and by the looks of it, CK2 will be better! Please RPS, post an article at least twice a week about this one….pretty please…

  12. Vadermath says:

    Thanks a bunch Quinns, this is exactly what I was hoping to see! The most important bit of new info not found on any other gaming website is the combat system, which sounds lovely.

  13. Nameless1 says:

    Haha, the intro is awesome. :)

    Really interested in the game, let’s see how it will come out.

  14. Colonel J says:

    There’s developer commentary on an alpha version from last week’s Paradox wingding here:
    http://bit.ly/gHvpEL (Paradox forums)

    Scheduled ‘Q1 2012′ according to the guy in the interview so I’m not getting too excited yet. {edit} or indeed ‘early next year’ as pointed out ^^

  15. Pijama says:

    Don’t forget that it will probably need three patches to be fully enjoyable, too…

  16. Mr_Hands says:

    I’m generally an even-keel sort of fellow. My girlfriend and I have been dating for 5 years and have only recently begun talking about getting engaged. I expect I go through life with the same speed as a glacier, and every commitment is weighed and hefted until the cows come home. Then I discuss those commitments with the cows. Then I coerce the cows to weigh and heft my current conundrum and try to read their minds for further guidance.

    Suffice to say that when I started a game of the first Crusader Kings, and inside of a minute about 15 windows opened up asking me to marry something or send something to get married, I had a small panic attack.

    That said, I’m pretty excited (as excited as a glacier can get) for CK2.

  17. Morgawr says:

    As soon as I saw the intro I thought of “A Song of Ice and Fire”. I can’t have been the only one.

  18. jalf says:

    Most of the things you mention were in the first game (or at least the expansion) too. You could start as a count, send your children to some other court, have regents for child rulers and build buildings.

    But nevertheless, CK2 sounds good. :)

  19. Bullwinkle says:

    I so want this. But while the new features look good, what I’m really hoping for is that they’ve gotten rid of the game-breaking quirks the first one had.

  20. westyfield says:

    Sounds interesting. I will be relying on you to keep my eye on this – don’t let me down, Smith!

  21. Vandalbarg says:

    I bloody love Paradox.

  22. Oak says:

    I really hope that’s not what the final map will look like. I love the stylized, colorful map of the original. This is an important issue and I expect them to make it their #1 priority.

    • RedViv says:

      Paradox is rarely drawn to drawing medieval maps in this new engine. But who knows…
      At any rate, this will probably be one of the first mods.

  23. RedViv says:

    And the Earls of Desmond shall rise to unite Éire. Again.

  24. Gabbo says:

    Well Quinns, I do believe you may have sold me my first Paradox strategy game. I will wait for further coverage/a demo to see whether this is an act I can forgive for or not

  25. ninjapirate says:

    A bit off-topic: If I wanted to give one of Paradox’ games a shot, which one would be the least intimidating for a beginner?

    • Lowbrow says:

      The first one I tried was Crusader Kings, tried one of the suggested “intersting nations” and I got hit with a million pop-ups in two seconds (somewhat fixed by the expansion, but still intimidating). I would suggest CK+expansion with a tiny holding, or EU3+HTTT with something tiny (I played as Byzantium at 1400AD. Got destroyed over and over again by the Turks (they seem to attack if I make ANY land grab, so I had to build up a navy and and catch them with their army on the wrong side of Thrace). Haven’t tried the HoI series yet, Vicky 2 has a good tutorial but I can’t seem to get anywhere but bankrupt as Texas, and I’m fiddling around with Afghanistan but not having as much fun as EU3. Got basically the whole catalog (minus CK, which I had previously tried on a friend’s comp) on the Paradox christmas bundle for cheap, so I don’t have a lot of play time in yet.

    • Bullwinkle says:

      I’d say Lowbrow has hit on the best way to learn Paradox-style games: the most important thing is not which game you play, but which nation you play. All their games will be overwhelming to a beginner if you start as one of the major powers, but all of them are readily learned if you play a minor power with only one or two areas under control. Your options are then limited by your resources, and you can get a feel for the game, almost like a tutorial.

      Given that, you may as well choose whichever game has a theme you like best, since the engines themselves are pretty similar.

    • ninjapirate says:

      Great, thanks a bunch for the replies! I remember reading about EU3 a while ago (when “Heir to the Throne” was released) and finding it quite intriguing. I didn’t dare touch it back then, but I think I’ll give it a shot now, following your advice and playing minor powers until I get the hang of things.
      Thanks again! :o)

    • RedViv says:

      In case you’re open for direct download, Steam has EU3 Complete (game and two first addons) and HTTT available for half a hand full of chicken feed this week.

    • ninjapirate says:

      Wow, thanks for pointing that out!
      Grabbed it from Steam, so I now own EU3 and its addons. Gotta say though, at a glance, the game is every bit as intimidating as I thought it would be, ;o)

    • studenteternal says:

      Personally I have been pretty big on Hearts of Iron 3 after my brother in law got me into it, but, naturally enough, HOI is pretty focused on getting your war on, so keep that in mind when you are considering. Also HOI3 really needs the Semper FI ‘expansion’ to get the most out of so that drives the price up a touch.

  26. Mr_Hands says:

    So, this has inspired me to boot up the first Crusader Kings again. Far and a way (at least for me) the least intimidating Paradox game I’ve come across. The UI is a little obtuse, but since you’re not necessarily worried about conquering the crap out of everything, it’s a little easier to get the hang of.

    Either that, or something has managed to sink in after blinking at the interface for Victoria II and EU 3 for what seems like hours.

  27. KoldPT says:

    Hey Quinns, what was the specific LP? Due to the timing, it must’ve been either Jerusalem or an older one, but I want to know for sure.

    The best paradox LP is Wiz’s House Hohernzollern Rising, which i urge you all to take a look at.
    http://lparchive.org/Paradox-Hohenzollern/

    • Vandalbarg says:

      My favourite part of that is the North African Islamic colonisation of the New World, due to the Franks losing in Iberia, and the rest of Europe being fractured. Fascinating stuff.

  28. BobsLawnService says:

    What does the UI look like? I tried the demos of Solarium Infurnum and Armageddon Empires because like this they sounded awesome. I ended up rage quitting after about 15 minutes of grappling with their horrendous interfaces.

    Please tell me that this interface is a bit more intuitive.