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Opening The Passage: CK II - Rajas Of India

Keep The Faiths

I don't think anyone at Paradox expected Crusader Kings II to spread into India with quite as much gusto as it will this March. The next expansion adds around 50% to the world map, with almost 400 new provinces, three new religions and a continent's worth of new events, including the possibility of chained 'reincarnation' plotlines. As always with these generous chunks of DLC, a free patch will be released alongside the expansion and it will contain a surprisingly hefty amount of content, including the entirety of the expanded map, and Steam matchmaking and Workshop support. While it may not have the immediate appeal of the Old Gods to many (Vikings vs Buddhists anyone?), Rajas is the biggest expansion since. More details below.

As I've said before, Crusader Kings II is starting to feel increasingly like Crusader Kings III, at least for those of us who install every expansion as soon as it arrives. Simply looking at the new map for Rajas of India is exciting - the East has always been something of a sketch, with large irregular provinces thrown together. The edges have been tidied up, chopping back the foliage intruding at the garden's edge, and the additions suggest all sorts of new long-term strategic plans.

Rulers in or around the Middle East have a swathe of new territories to conquer, and cultures to dabble in, and it will be far easier to build a strong power base before setting foot in Europe. Central Asia and Siberia have been properly integrated, and all of these changes have led to an adjustment of the map's projection. There should be less congestion in those areas of the map now, with provinces more densely divided and the influence of terrain perhaps increased as the distance between East and West stretches, and the choice of meeting point becomes a finer tactical decision. Mountain ranges are potentially as deadly as minefields to armies on a long-haul trip, already suffering from exhaustion and the harassment of smaller forces.

Jungle is an entirely new terrain type, likely to be seen in parts of Africa as well as India. As with everything in the game, the exact positioning of jungle provinces is a compromise between historical reality and the desire to create (or permit) interesting developments. Jungles are placed to create the possibility of bottlenecks and there will be corresponding military traits for leaders. Those who have familiarity with the region will have an enormous strategic advantage, making the advance into India more treacherous than might appear to be the case.

After all, one might think, how difficult would it be to conquer a continent that is divided into three faith types and many splintered realms? Rulers and their people can be Hindu, Buddhist or Jain, and each of the religions and cultures will have its own set of events. The Hindu might well be the most familiar because they're almost as warlike as the current Pagan, Islamic and Christian folks who are already playable. With the ability to raid neighbouring provinces and a ready supply of casus belli at hand, they're the most obvious choice for the crusading non-crusader. Buddhists are philosophical sorts, capable of speedy research and forming a middle ground between Hindu and Jain.

The Jains, you see, are quite a radical proposition. A playable culture in a grand strategy game with a firm pacifist core. They are - rather incredibly considering the game's name and the time in which it is set - tolerant. In a time when heresies, torture, murder and warfare often break out at the family dinner table or during bedside prayers, the Jain are strangers in a strange land. They don't particularly understand the concept of heresy and their tolerance and non-violent philosophies allow them to support large realms, with many vassals.

On top of all that, there are new events and plotlines, including the possibility of reincarnation. The ancestor of a character a player previously controlled may be heralded as their reincarnation, leading to an ongoing series of events that could see them take on traits and even the appearance of that person, creating a strong link to the past. Other events will include a focus on the happy rhymes of Karma and Dharma. Work has also been carried out to make Ethiopia, Nubia and Abyssinia more interesting to play. That section of the world was the location of a planned 'mini' expansion but it has been included in the free patch that will accompany Rajas of India.

When project lead Henrik Fåhraeus described the map projection, he illustrated by swivelling his hands, fingers painting squares in the air, like a director or cinematographer reframing a shot. He seemed mildly distressed that the previously 'unswivelled' version had been available for so long. That seems to be the approach to the current DLC policy - see all that has gone before and, with an experienced director's eye, reframe the shot. Henrik and his team have already created one of modern gaming's masterpieces, and the addition of even more possible playstyles and storylines seems like a splendid idea. The focus on the map this time around, in terms of terrain and province tweaks as well as growth, also suggests there might well be a few surprising changes to long-term and long-disance war campaigns.

As our meeting came to an end, Henrik pointed out a land bridge between India and Sri Lanka. It's called Adam's Bridge, and with this inclusion and the announcement of Wealth of Nations, I felt I was on the verge of being turned into a piece of DLC myself. I didn't know it existed until I saw it on the Rajas' map and I don't think Henrik knew about it until he started his research for the expansion, or at least he hadn't realised that it was passable on foot until just after CK II's time period.

It's in the game now though, forming a route for armies, and there's a wonderful impression that Henrik is being permitted to teach and entertain even as he continues to learn about a period he already knows so much about. Even before the release of Rajas, I've started to speculate about what plans he forms for the next DLC. Expect the unexpected, although perhaps not in the form of a revamped Spanish Inquisition.

Also expect war elephants.

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