Title: Crusader Kings 3
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Developer: Paradox Interactive
Genre: Medieval Strategy RPG
Official Site: www.paradoxplaza.com
Release Date: Sep 1, 2020
Available on: PC, Xbox Game Pass
Since the second Crusader Kings by Paradox Interactive, the series has become the king of medieval sandboxes and synonymous with intrigue, war, and diplomacy. The latest entry to the series has shown it has not lost its crown. During my time with this latest entry, I have found countless improvements over its predecessor that support this statement. Furthermore, the game is highly enjoyable because much of the same elements that made the Crusader Kings series great are still present but vastly improved.
The greatest of these improvements is the list of changes made to make the game more approachable. Along with this, the game feels and functions better than Crusader Kings 2. The game is addicting, and the experience is highly enjoyable. Crusader Kings 3 has everything that has made the series widely known and what cultivated its loyal following. It is truly a unique game, filled with many things that set it apart from others in the genre.
An Heir is Born
No game is without some form of a story, or at the very least, an underlying premise. Such is the case with CK3, but instead of an overarching plot, players create the story through their actions. This element is something I enjoyed a lot about the game because it leaves a lot up to the player, allowing each playthrough to be different from the last. Want to restore the Roman Empire? Want to call the great Mongol Kurultai and become Khan of all Khans in 800 AD? Start the crusades in 800 AD as well?
This game allows you to perform all the above, and it makes rewriting history truly enjoyable. However, everything is not just left up to the player as minor stories can still play out in the form of events. These add further flavor and drama to your game and often draw you further into this world. For instance, I was quite fond of the serial killer event as it has an intriguing premise with a satisfying ending.
However, there is an extreme lack of them, and they can occur too far in between when playing the game. The result is long periods of in-game sessions where nothing happens. This extreme lack of events ends up having the unfortunate side effect of making the game feel repetitive after a while. Events in the game also suffer from a lack of variety, which doesn’t help the aforementioned lack of them. If events happened more consistently, and with more variety, this would not be the case and would solve the repetitious feeling. Despite lackluster events, the story elements found within CK3 are enjoyable and elevate the game further beyond.
Crusader Kings 3’s Songs of War
Music, albeit a minor part of CK3, helps set the tone for players. It does a good job of doing this for the most part. At other times, it can be forgettable and unimpressive. Thankfully, for the times where it does set the tone, that music is felt. For example, unique tracks play to fit and set the tone. Loud dramatic music plays when going to war, while somber music plays when someone dies. I enjoyed this aspect a lot, but I wish the tracks played in between weren’t so unforgettable.
Visuals in CK3 are a massive improvement from previous games in almost every way. Units and characters look great and have excellent detail, putting them more in line with their culture. This was a big problem with Crusader Kings 2 unless you bought all the cosmetic DLC. I’m glad Paradox decided to stray away from the design of the previous game, as it comes across as greedy. I have nothing but praise for the visuals of Crusader Kings 3, as they only help immerse me into the setting.
Intrigue, War, and Diplomacy
The gameplay in Crusader Kings 3 remains mostly unchanged from previous titles, except with quality of life improvements made to core features. Let’s start with the basics though. Players start the game picking one of the several rulers who have unique starts to their empire. The game also does not limit players to these characters. Players can play as any ruler on the World Map except for the Pope and republics. This inability to play as a republic is saddening, considering it was a DLC option for CK2. It feels like a slight downgrade.
Once you choose your desired character, the game either starts in the dawn of the viking age (800 AD) or at the beginning of the medieval period (1000 AD). Both starting periods end in 1453 AD, and both options have a set of starting characters for each period. The steps to start a game are unchanged from previous titles, so fans of those games will find it familiar. However, it sadly lacks a Ruler Designer function, which takes away from the replayability. Luckily this is planned as a future DLC, so we’ll have to see how it works then.
It’s up to you to see to the survival of your dynasty. You do this by making decisions, forming alliances, and engaging in diplomacy and intrigue. The core of the gameplay revolves around this concept, as there are no overarching objectives other than survival. It essentially amounts to a game of political survival in an alternate timeline of medieval history.
It is an enjoyable concept the game explores in great depth, made better with the fact the game places a focus on creating objectives and story. This results in plenty of freedom and makes rewriting history all that more enjoyable. Despite giving complete freedom, it is not without rules. The world of CK3 is a brutal place, and everything you can do, the AI can do as well. Because of this, you get launched early on into a game of survival with the AI.
Thinking Ten Steps Ahead in Crusader Kings 3
You have to guess their next moves and come up with strategies to counter them, as these AI are always looking for a way to take you down. These AI ultimately make the game more enjoyable, as they force you to be attentive or risk losing your empire. It adds an element of strategy to the mix that isn’t offered by other titles in the genre
The AI being this intelligent lets them throw engaging situations your way. For instance, I spent the majority of my playthroughs as a Cuman warlord of Asia and stumbled into a lot of scenarios where I butt heads with the AI. I waged wars of conquest and fought countless civil wars that saw entire family trees wiped out in my wake. My lord would pass away, definitely not because of one of his ungrateful sons murdering him, and upon his death, the son would take half of my empire. I would then declare war as my heir and proceed to conquer the rest of my empire back, proceeding to wipe out most of my family tree.
Scenarios such as the one above are a huge reason why I enjoy CK3 so much. The game is so fun because of everything the AI can pull and the situations you can find yourself in. Along with this, it does a good job of doing what it set out to do. The developers took much of the time to flesh out the accessibility of the game, which works great in its favor.
They did this by improving the UI immensely and describing systems in greater detail. These help to make Crusader Kings 3 easier to grasp than CK2, but on top of both improvements, things only get better with the new tutorial. This tutorial, unlike the last game, is both easier to understand and goes over every system in CK3. This, combined with various other improvements, make the game much easier to grasp from the start.
Despite being made easier to understand, CK3 doesn’t sacrifice strategy or depth. The game is as enjoyable as it was in previous titles once you get the hang of things. If anything, the game is elevated due to its shift to a strategy RPG from its grand strategy roots. This makes the game more engaging, sucking players into its rich world and RPG elements. An example of these is the new perks and improved skills system called Lifestyle. This system is not a recent addition to the series but is a welcomed one as it adds more character customization than ever before.
Verdict: Crusader Kings 3 is a great game, filled with many great strategy elements that immerse you into the world. With plenty of depth and interesting features, there’s a lot to explore and play with. The game suffers a lot of repetitiveness though, which I feel is because there isn’t much in the way of events. There’s also an absence of features that were in CK2, which makes the sequel feel lazier than it could’ve been. Overall, Crusader Kings 3 offers an addicting experience that I don’t regret playing through, with improvements that raise the series to new heights.
- Engaging gameplay with quality of life improvements
- Vast sandbox with practically endless player freedom
- Easy to jump right in without playing the tutorial
- Missing features from Crusader Kings 2
- Lack of event variety