The Saga of Crusader Kings 2

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Crusader Kings 2, released by Paradox Interactive in 2012, is a grand strategy game in which you choose a person, from count to king, and lead him and his descendants through the medieval era through wars, intrigue, and rivalries against hundreds of other in-game personalities. Sound overwhelming?

It is.

And this game isn’t my first rodeo, but it is where I finally managed to rope the bull or whatever. I began several years ago when I picked up Europa Universalis 3 on a whim. I was intrigued but quickly overwhelmed. I returned when Europa Universalis: Rome was released. It and its expansion Vae Victis entranced me with the ancient Mediterranean setting.

I finally got Crusader Kings 2 on Steam, where you have access to all kinds of medieval methods to victory, and this game is the best iteration of this formula I’ve yet played.

For example, in my recent game I played as The Republic of Venice, or more specifically as House Participazio, a patrician family of power among others in the republic. When I wasn’t the Doge, I could still lead my family with a great deal of independence. I made it my mission early on to establish myself in southern Italy.

This led to centuries of on and off war with the Byzantine Empire. They were a looming giant in my game and there were several wars between us and we each had our share of wins and losses. In fact, after one war, my leader lost all but two counties to the Byzantines. That was about two centuries of work. But I didn’t give up.

My leader, who also became Doge, exacted his revenge with assassins. After about five Byzantine emperors fell to my scheming,, and several heirs too the empire finally fell into disarray and civil war. That’s when I regained my lost territories, but my assassinations continued with other European leaders, which led to the strange of affair of Ireland becoming a Europe-spanning kingdom for a brief time.

You see, you may be the only player, but all of the other in game personalities are carrying on, too, with getting married, getting killed, plotting rebellions, or being possessed by devils. Somehow my series of assassinations royally screwed up some successions and once Bulgaria regained its territory, it held sway over most of Ireland for the rest of the game.

Byzantium, too, defied history. Turks never came, and the Greeks converted to Catholicism. Thus anytime the east posed a threat, the west was happy to help their brothers under the cross, and a great foe never emerged to challenge the Greeks. Maybe if the Byzantines had really converted…

Oh and then there was the Aztec invasion of Spain and Norway. Even after they were repulsed, lingering Mesoamerican culture continued to influence those areas until the end of the game. Yes, Aztecs.
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By the end of the game, Venice controlled the lower half of Italy, but it had survived several dire moments. I may not have conquered the world, but the experience was better than anything.

I can even export my game to Europa Universalis 4 and continue this alternate world into the modern era, however the converter is currently not functioning with new patches as of December 2014. But, hey, at least this game continues to get patches and expansions. Lots of them.

And that’s where this game really succeeds. I’ve played several strategy games from the Civilization series and it’s spinoffs to some of the Total War series, and even some RTSs like the Age of Empires series, but very few of those games have come close to matching the varied and rewarding gameplay in Crusader Kings 2.
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As I get older I’m less interested in material or superficial things, and in my games I look for experiences that will last for more than a quick trip to the victory screen at the end of a thirty minute game. You may spend most of your time looking at maps, but Crusader Kings 2 tickles a certain strategy fancy in the most fully satisfying way.

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