Release Date: September 28, 2004
Buy 'CRUSADER KINGS': PC
A Patch, My Kingdom for a Patch!
Crusader Kings by Paradox Software has perhaps been one of the most painful reviews I have ever experienced. Mind you it wasn't a bad gameplay experience that kept ruining my day, but rather getting the game to run which was driving me (and my Editor) insane. Thankfully with the help of Paradox I was able to tool up a work-around that allowed me to finally clock some time on this game. I'm glad that I finally did.
Crusader Kings is a micromanager's dream and a tactician's nightmare. Depending on where you stand in the strategy gaming spectrum, you can pretty much decide right here and now whether or not this game is for you. That being said, Crusader Kings offers a gameplay depth that is unfathomable. There are options, details and nuances to this game that boggle the mind. Never mind the basic taxes, revenue, production queues and military maneuvering; you also have to worry about the Church (and which Church you adhere to) whether or not your queen is birthing you an heir and the diplomatic relations between you and hundreds of other provinces. To this end, Crusader Kings is truly epic.
While Crusader Kings may be epic in is scope and scale, it's not exactly electrifying. You will spend your entire time on the throne looking at menus, slide bars and a giant map of Western Civilization. You will nonetheless take great joy in watching more and more dukedoms fall under your sway as your chess piece icons move across the map, but you won't get a chance to test your tactics on the field of battle as Crusader Kings aims squarely at the strategic side of things. This is a good thing as Crusader Kings wants to master one aspect of strategy games rather than pretend to be good at both. What you are left with is a game that takes contemplation, premeditation and patience; three virtues not highly regarded in today's gaming climate.
Now, where Crusader Kings really makes things interesting and turns up the pressure is the fact that the game plays in pseudo-real time. By pseudo I mean that for every minute of real time that passes, about a year of game time passes. This can make for some monotonous spots but also makes for a very strenuous game where you can make a critical error in judgment and not know it until it is too late. You will also be constantly badgered by your various courtiers as they beg for your favor and offer their services in return. This is where you can make or break your kingdom, as these people take care of your daily affairs, and if you pick a bum to serve you or do not allow an effective NPC to serve you long enough, then your kingdom will doubtlessly fall into ruin. To top things off, you must see to provincial improvements, garrisons, troop support and regiments on campaign. In between all of these things, you also need to keep tabs on who you allow to marry, which kind of education your children get (if your queen is birthing you children to begin with), which Dukes or Counts you want to undermine, assassinate or usurp, and what manner of laws and scientific research your kingdom endeavors to strive. Sound tiring? It is, but it can also be frustrating.
Crusader Kings lacks any sort of discernable tutorial, which is crucial for a game of this scope. You can read the manual cover to cover, but putting the words into practice takes some time. Each button or icon comes with a handy tool-tip which is very useful, but barely enough to make the game playable. There are also very detailed descriptions of every option you can pick. It is a good thing that Paradox has built these little handrails and guidelines into the game, as it would otherwise be unplayable as trial-and-error learning on a game of this nature isn't too effective since your orders take time to be fulfilled. This isn't Star Craft, where you could churn out Zerglings and hurl them across the mini-map to simply see what's there. This game takes the solemnity of a serial killer. Premeditate, predetermine, preempt and finally proceed with your plans to rule Europe, and if skip any of those early P's, and you can forget living out your glory as Kenneth Brannagh did as Shakespeare's Henry V.
Crusader Kings also offers a multiplayer function, which would allow you to play with or without computer interference. Crusader Kings could offer a long evening of intrigue to those who are willing enough to learn the game's nuances and match wits with each other, and I imagine this game could make some weak willed simpering idiots cry as their toil comes undone while their foe marches his armies across his lands.
Crusader Kings is a merciless game even on its easiest settings. This is not a game for the weak minded. One must be mature enough to look beyond the glitz and glamour of gaming to appreciate what Crusader Kings is: an uncompromising exercise in strategy and planning. Personally it's not my type of game, but I can respect it for what it is. I require a little more immediate gratification when it comes to my strategy games. I need to see my armies gallop across the field to drive my foes from it. I need battle cries and the trumpet's clarion call as I order my grunts to fix bayonets. Crusader Kings is simply not that game, and there is nothing wrong with that. The interface is prim and sleek, perhaps even egalitarian but to many less refined gamers, it will seem dull. The action is methodical and scheming and those gamers who prefer Bawls to Poland Spring will find Crusader Kings to be boring. In any event, intrepid gamer, ask not of what Crusader Kings offers you, rather ask yourself what you have to offer Crusader Kings.
Score : 8.6/10
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