Crusader Kings II is a strategy game released in 2012. You play as a ruler of medieval Europe that must ensure his dynasty survives the trials and machinations of his rivals during 700 years of history. The game allows you to play a multitude of characters, from a puny count to the powerful Byzantine emperor, and bring your dynasty to the highest glory or the darkest gutter.
Paradox games are known for being difficult to learn, but their depth and very useful tutorials online (eg on YouTube) motivated me to persevere. The tutorials and give you some excellent tips that will ensure your survival. The historical research done by the developers is impressive and the game mechanics are well chosen to enhance the atmosphere.
CK II is an original strategy game. It is not so important to ensure that your character survives, it is much more the fate of your family in the long run that matters. You will have to marry your daughters, plan the fatal fall of a rival, divide your estate amongst your heirs well to succeed. Each character in the game has a relationship score with all other characters, which evolves and is influenced by a host of factors that you can analyse in game (two cruel people will appreciate each other’s wickedness, but won’t like a benevolent character for example).
The game lets is a true sandbox, where you will set your own goals. The ultimate one is certainly the survival of your family, but for example in a game where I was an Irish duke, I set to dominate Ireland and then England. However, I had along the way to struggle against an illegitimate child of my dynasty hatching a revolt, or I spent great energy to punish a conspirator who had betrayed one of my machinations to another noble because he was too drunk at the tavern. Each game is completely different and CK II has immense replayability.
Its is this sandbox aspect that attracted me as a roleplaying game player: you build your own stories in this world and decide whether you will play as a just and altruistic noble or an asshole who is desperate to become king. You will become invested in your family and their fate, and it is inspiring to see your well-thought long-terms plans unfold.
The game has an excellent follow-up: since its release the developers have constantly delivered extensions and free updates. This ranges from very complete DLC (to embody Muslim or Indian rulers, Viking raiders, play more with religion) to “cosmetic” DLC to change your appearance or use specific skins for the units.
In short, if you love history and are ready to spend a few hours to learn how to play it, I definitely recommend Crusader Kings II.
Why to play this game: if you fancy a well-documented historical game, if you like Game of Thrones-style plotting (a mod for GoT is available) and if you are a megalomaniac excited to bring Geneva to total domination of the Holy Roman Empire.
Why not to play this game: if you do not like complex games where you have to juggle with lots of parameters, if you like detailed combat systems and if you make a heart attack when your glorious domain is divided in two because of a poorly planned wedding.
Find the game on Steam