So, Eve Online ventures aside I’ve been playing Crusader Kings II, with a few (free) DLC, trying to get into it once more but I just can’t.
It’s weird. On paper I should love it. Emergent narratives! Political intrigues! Factions! Internal politics! In practice, I stand by what I already said a while ago : CKII is a trash wargame and a meh RPG that’s somehow kept together and, strangely enough, might be one of the only games that, to me, is less than the sum of its parts.
Ok, so first the political/wargame part is kind of garbage. I’ll gloss over the fact that the actual warfare boils down to doomstack vs doomstack and/or doomstack kiting against the AI because it’s a fundamental flaw of every Paradox game and it’s like the janky aiming in Borderlands, it’s something you take as a given when playing such games. However, the fact that levies can be raised immediately, peasant vassals can be mobilized even in the heart of summer and the like robs the warfare system of all of its medieval favor, and boils it down to EU or Stellaris, but with swords.
The real issue is that CKII, at its core, only works in a very specific timeframe and location. Basically the feudal mechanics only work in western France, between 900 and 1100, roughly. Problem : CKII encompasses the entire medieval world, from 700 to 1400. Playing as a french coun in 750, a caliph in 1200 or a lithuanian pagan king in 1400 should feel different. It doesn’t.
More importantly, for a historical sandbow, CKII feels weirdly railroaded, and I’ll have two of the most egregious examples :
- The absolute nonsense of “de jure” kingdoms and duchies. If I manage to gain my independence as a duke, why can’t I start my own kingdom? Why do I have to conquer all “de jure provinces” of France to proclaim the kingdom of France? Why can’t I sart my own kingdom and call it the Kingdom of Toulouse or whatever? Paradox seems to be under this strange impression that there is a “natural” political layout of Europe that closely matches historical reality, which in the context of the middle ages is frankly laughable. There’s no written law saying that France should be a thing, especially in an open historical sandbox.
- Lots and lots of examples of what I’d call “mechanics over purpose”. The best example of that is pagan raids. Instead of providing you with an organic reason of raiding your neighbourghs when you’re Norse (you have better ships, your enemies are disorganized, and it’s just very profitable) the game gives you a flat, massive Prestige penalty if you don’t raid your neighbourgs often. Why? Because the tv show Vikings was a historical documentary apparently. It just feels cheap and lazy, especially after a few playthroughs. I raid because I’m a Norse and because that’s what Norse people do in this game, they’re raiding brutes. I don’t raid because I have an actual reason, political or narrative-bound, to do so.
And last but not least, CKII, much like every single Paradox game, has zero sense of place and geography. Your regions should be more than spreadsheets and gold sources. This is a grand strategy RPG. The characteristics and methods of your ruler should have an impact on the places you rule. A hedonistic intellectual duke should leave the duchy a very different place than a warlike monk. But buildings are just numbers on a sheet and great works are just permanent buffs. Much like in Stellaris, there’s no sense of the places you rule being real places, which robs the game of a lot of flavor and meaning.
I realize it’s a bit of scathing review, and much like Stellaris I don’t think CKII is a bad game. I’m just feeling more and more distant towards the Paradox philosophy of game design, that creates very intricate but very dead systems.