Posted on December 7, 2020
Crusader Kings III
I loved Crusader Kings 2. It was, incrementally, an amazing game – an utterly pointless, engrossing, medieval sandbox simulator. You could get it running in 1066 and let it go until 1453 and it would recreate “A” medieval Europe. And eventually you could recreate a medieval Middle East and medieval Steppe and a medieval India. As it went on, the simulator got more complex and more involved. By the end, Crusader kings 2 had all sorts of cool additions and added complexity to the basic game.
Crusader Kings III comes out of the gate by pretty much just taking everything that worked in Crusader Kings 2 and starting off with that. I have no idea if they’ll release incremental improvements again, or if this is more of a finished article.
Helpfully CK3 comes with a tutorial, which CK2 did not, I don’t think. The franchise is notoriously complex and this is STILL true of CK3, but the tutorial and the provided help is considerably better. CK2 was something you just had to dive in and try to work your way out. But with this iteration,.. it’s almost like they want you to play the game. CK2 was packed with small tweakable features that made not a damn bit of difference, but CK3 has kept some of those and made them not just useful, but important.
The tutorial starts you off as an Irish Earl, because those tend to have the greatest freedom, not because Irish Earls have particularly historical good luck. It shows you the basics and then you’re off to the races.
My first playthrough, I started off as the Earl of Ulster. Through a series of shenanigans, I became Petty King of Ulster. Then, before I knew it I was King of Ireland (through more shenanigans and conquest). Then King of England (because I ended up with a halfway decent claim and better allies than the literal child I kicked off the throne). Then King of Aquitaine and quite a bit of France (through Holy Wars and Crusade against various muslim rulers who were really on a roll until they met me). Then France, then Castille, then some other parts of Spain through a few well placed Holy Wars. And before long, I had enough strength to challenge the previously (in CK2) unbeatable Holy Roman Empire. A couple of good marriages occured. Then suddenly, all of Western Europe was under my family’s thumb. From there, all that was required was to nibble into Africa and Eastern Europe.
This took many, many Kings (and a Queen).
So, being emboldened by my success: I decided to roll the dice and let the game choose me a starting dynasty, on Iron Man mode. This means no saves other than autosaves, which means an awful lot of wars get declared on January 2nd. Could my dynasty survive until 1453 without savescumming?
I got Wali Shumayl ibn Hammama of Tanas, of the Maghrawavid Dynasty. I’ve never played a muslim character before but he is the same type of muslim as everyone else in northern Africa, so that’s reassuring. Nothing worse than playing a heretic right off the bat. Shumayl is 41, which is a bit long in the tooth, and he is craven, chaste and cynical, none of which are particularly useful. He isn’t married either although he IS very clever. He has all of 579 soldiers at his disposal: he isn’t head of his dynasty. Oof, this is a considerable step down from being the swaggering Emperor of Europe-covering Alba.
There are two clear targets at start, one county to the left which is even punier than I am and one to the left that is a twofer, but the westernmost is the same de jure duchy as my starter county – so those are going to be my targets, after I get Shumayl’s end away – gonna need a wife and an heir in that order.
So I did that, connecting myself to a noble family of the same faith and about the same paltry power and I tasked my Imam with making up reasons to invade tiny Yalala, my neighbour to the west. No sooner had he discovered that this claim fakery was going to take more cash than I had, but my asshole family tried to conquer me. Yes, Dynastic-head and cousin al-Abbas from bigger, more successful dynastic holdings to the west declared war and despite a good showing from me, won the battle of Tana. Dick move, cuz. But with my smaller army, I killed enough of his dudes that he could not prosecute the siege against my castle. Meanwhile, I regrouped, connected with the arriving forces of my father-in-law and laid siege to al-Abbas’ castle. We won the war without having ever won a battle and embarrassed al-Abbas has to compensate me in coin, which I set away for fabricating my claim on Yalala. Everything’s coming up Shumayl, who also creates his own cadet branch of the Maghrawavid family, because if they’re gonna be dicks…
My plot came to fruition… just after Yalala was invaded by a larger Emirate to the south. So, did I give up? Heck (whatever the muslim equivalent is) no. I called in my in-laws (I had picked up a couple more because Islam lets me have a bunch of spouses) and we went up against the larger army and beat them soundly. We then took over their siege and Yalala was mine. But that put us still needing to win a war against a larger, more concentrated foe. We fought a second battle against a larger foe and our better troops (I had raised a regiment of archers and one of camel riders) and better leadership narrowly swung the day. I defended my new claim and they had to cough up more Sorry money.
I rounded out my first decade one county and a mere two sons up, despite having three wives, so I guess Shumayl isn’t kidding about that chaste characteristic.
By the time he died in his mid sixties, he’d voluntarily bent the knee to the powerful Emirate to the West, become his liege’s Chancellor, accruing fame and fortune and also prosecuted a few successful campaigns against weaker neighbours, adding to his and his liege’s domain. Along the way, Shumayl became a bit of a scholar and mystic, developing skills with real gameplay impact. He maxed out the number of county-level holdings he could successfully steward and had two vassals take care of the others, he eventually had a whole bunch of children, and no real enemies. He became the head of his dynasty too, how do you like me now al-Abbas?
The thing is, with this game, you’ll get a history so rich, in which you can invest yourself every time you play and it will be completely different every time you play.
It’s a tough game to walk away from for a while because it is so deep, with so many things going on all at once as you manage your sneaky plots, your court, your family, your personal holdings, your armies and your kingdom/sheikdom/empire/whatever. You can do the whole thing passively and on auto pilot, but there isn’t a game I know that invites you to stir up some shit like CKIII.
The new features – most obviously your ability to customize your religion through reformations (naked cannibalism for the win!) and the ability to raise standing armies of specialist soldiers – are good additions to the game. And numerous UI improvements have meant there aren’t so many vestigial, underdeveloped parts that used to plague CKII. Everything is clear, everything is useful; it’s just there is still an awful lot of it.
If you like strategy, there’s strategy here for you. If you like management sims, there’s management sims here for you. If you like story, there’s story here for you. And if you like cannibals justifiably devouring pontiffs…