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Why Crusader Kings 3 still feels fresh after 18 months on the throne

Why Crusader Kings 3 still feels fresh after 18 months on the throne

With Crusader Kings III finally having invaded the console market – probably as a result of a club-footed Belgian mystic who spent months fabricating a claim – now seems like a good time to step back and see what the game is like, eighteen months after its PC reign. The answer, with almost embarrassing simplicity, is: “great”.

When it comes to big strategy games (or, indeed, big strategy-RPG hybrids like CK3), it’s usually much easier to give a verdict on how they play at launch, than to make some sort of educated guess as to how well they’ll hold up. initial shine. over time. And since these games are everything on very long-term replayability is quite an important thing. With constant patches and progressively transformative DLC drops being the standard pattern for the genre (and particularly for Paradox releases), a strategy game’s state-of-arrival is becoming an increasingly less useful metric for determine whether it will sink or float.

To give a recent example: Total Warhammer III, released last month, was a game I loved as much as I expected. But I stopped before I surpassed him in my review, as some of the single-player campaign mechanics seemed to have the potential to get a bit boring. Alas, they got really annoying; I haven’t touched the game in two weeks, and probably won’t touch it again until the Realms of Chaos stuff gets a major overhaul or the Mortal Empires patch drops.

I’m confident enough to say that the “perpetual development” paradigm will likely save Warhammer 3 from long-term ignominy. But this idea – that a game never needs to have a line drawn underneath and declared over – is a double-edged sword. Last years Humanity, from Amplitude, really impressed me. It was a brilliantly designed piece, and while there were still a few balance issues to work out on day one, its longevity seemed like a pretty safe bet. Long story short, it wasn’t, and I can’t help but wonder if things would have been different if Amplitude hadn’t built Humanity in hopes of endless tinkering time. .

Royal Court not only features artifacts, but also inspired people who can create them, leading to fun new misadventures.

And so to Crusader Kings III, which I’ve probably delved into at least once a month since its release in September 2020 – a solid “mission accomplished” for a strategy game, if there ever was one.

The game has had only two significant DLCs all this time – the Nordic theme Lords of the North “flavor pack” in March 2021, and in February Royal Court expansion, which added… well, royal courts, alongside a major overhaul to CK3’s culture system.

On paper, it doesn’t look like much compared to the six expansions Crusader Kings 2 received within the first 18 months of its own release. But the important context to consider here is that four of those expansions (Sword of Islam, Legacy of Rome, The Old Gods and Sons Of Abraham) largely included features that were already in CK3 from day one, while one fifth was Sunset Invasion (I don’t care what people say; I loved it).

A king gets into serious business in Crusader Kings 3
The King of Denmark, spending a shitty Tuesday holding court.

As is often the case when beloved games receive high-profile sequels, much of the discussion around CK3’s initial release was about how it measured up to CK2, and was framed in quantitative terms. : “how many of these things, which I currently like to do with the current product, will I be able to do with its successor”. With hindsight, at least for me, the question is now qualitative: “how the general sensation of playing does this game compare to its predecessor.” And the answer – “pretty much the same, but a bit more” – is realistically a better case scenario.

The inventory system screen for Crusader Kings 3
The new inventory system is much better than the one in CK2’s Monks and Mystics expansion. You can have a chastity belt and a hammer!

Royal Court has a lot to answer for on this front. The titular court, for example, fulfills many desires with a single feature. By providing a separate screen housing a 3D rendering of your ruler’s living room, populated with depictions of the various sons, daughters, bullies and pals you’ve fallen with, it builds on the work already done by CK3’s animated character portraits. to anchor the role-playing elements of the game.

But it does more than that. The “hold court” action, in which you summon petitioners to present you with dilemmas, gathers a pool of CK3’s decision moments into a place where they can be triggered by the player, while also giving you extra activity to to hang on to while waiting for other things to happen. Perhaps most importantly, the royal court provides visual proof of otherwise academic achievements, such as “making everyone in the royal dynasty fucking huge,” like this screenshot of the court of King Gigaknight Excelsior shows:

A tiny king sits on a throne next to his massive son and even bigger daughter in Crusader Kings 3
Guess who inherited the Gigaknight genes in this photo.

The other branch of the February updates, reworking the way the game handles cultivation, arguably did even more for CK3. One of the big challenges facing any attempt to deliver an enhanced version of the CK2 experience was the fact that the longer you played, the more obvious it became that the main hook that kept you coming back was the satisfaction of collecting very many soldiers into a big ball and roll it around the map until it is your color. Everything else in the game was either a beautiful or absurd distraction from this truth (many elements of roleplaying) or a regulating factor put in place to keep you from “blobbing” too quickly (the whole thing of fabrication of claims, for example).

In the clearest terms, the new cultivation system gives you a whole new way to paint the map your color. The more complicated language modeling, for example, combined with the vassal bonuses offered by the diplomatic court archetype introduced by Royal Court, allows you to have fun gobbling up nation after nation without ever raising the sword in aggression. At the very least, it provides replay value, offering new ways to do an old thing.

The map screen showing the Kingdom of Gigaknight in Crusader Kings 3

Uncharitably, perhaps, you could even argue that the greater emphasis on character-driven RPG elements in CK3 overall, wasn’t exactly a big change. For all I love them, virtually every one of Paradox’s great strategy games boils down to the process of moving really big things with very small levers, over very long periods of time. And in that sense, maybe “a full dynasty perk tree” is just a replacement for “a card that’s the same suit” in terms of being the big thing you’re trying to move.

But that’s a pretty miserable way to look at it, IMHO.

For me, where Paradox has really succeeded with the DLC for CK3 so far is by introducing a complexity that isn’t just there for its own sake, or to obscure the immense beak wear processes. ‘bird. at the heart of the game. It is the complexity that is interesting in itself. The elaboration of the language in the game may have opened several other avenues to pursue mammoth ambitions, of course. But it also made the game a downright more interesting place to hang out. Because language is a fascinating thing!

And therein lies a state of mega-replayability, I think, for CK3. When you’re no longer rushing to an event text about Prince Fartlungs learning Danish, because you’re way too excited about invading Sweden in 70 years. Instead, you dwell on it, because the writing is fun to begin with, and because you’re honestly more committed to the works of the young prince than to long-term Scandinavian realpolitik. In other words, when the levers the game offers you to pull, become more interesting than the things you’re trying to move with them.