Crusader Kings 3 Review: A Crown for a King
Here's a typical scenario in Crusader Kings 3.
I take over as a 65-year-old Count in the Holy Roman Empire named Christian. My only son, Wichmann, is only four, but he's already addicted to gambling. I decide that making my realm a little less boring is what Wichmann needs to kick his gambling habit and eventually take over as a good ruler. So, of course, I start building farms.
Unimpressed, Wichmann wanders about the castle, where a young woman named Agnes begins bullying him. I tell him to stand up for himself. He does, pushing Agnes down the next time she picks a fight. She gets up and beats the hell out of him, which causes Wichmann to carry the "wounded" trait alongside his "covetous gambler" trait. He now carries a scar across his face as a constant reminder.
It's these background roleplaying bits that make Crusader Kings 3 so much fun. The point of the game, as in Crusader Kings 2, is to lead your dynasty to glory by building up your kingdom over several generations, conquering vast swaths of Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.
What sets it apart, though, are these bits of humanity. They create all sorts of roleplaying scenarios that only support an already excellent strategy game. It's a lot, but it's also really, really good.
Who says we can't have quality and quantity?
Crusader Kings 3 Review: A Crown for a King
If you're not familiar with the Crusader Kings series, it might at first strike you as a historical, 4X strategy game in the vein of Civilization. It has some similar concepts to the Sid Meier franchise, but Crusader Kings 3 is much more about the long con. Any longtime fan will know that rather than controlling an entire people through generations of war and technology, you focus on one dynasty through the ages.
In my game with Count Christian, I play until he dies. When he does, I take over as Wichmann, his heir. When Wichmann dies, I'll take over as his heir.
Each new character has different traits, hang-ups, stats, and more, and the ultimate goal is to scheme, conquer, and buy your dynasty into the history books. If that sounds a bit Game of Thrones to you, then you're right on the money.
It all looks great, too. You can zoom all the way out of the enormous map in Crusader Kings 3 and apply a variety of filters to see all the kingdoms and the various alliances therein. You can also zoom incredibly far in, getting a sense of each little city in each small territory. Everyone brims with character, as the animated, 3D models have much more personality than the portraits of old.
Characters often show aspects of their personality in their models. A drunkard might have rosy cheeks, and I even encountered a nudist parading around the castle naked as a jaybird.
What's great about the RPG elements that weave through all of CK3 is that they can be a focus of gameplay or not. Sometimes, you'll just want to conquer territories and build up your realm. You don't have to pay attention to these additions if you don't want to.
So Many Options
All of this glorious scheming and conquering is backed by tons of stuff to do. Crusader Kings 3 is great at reading any given situation and presenting you with little nudges in the right direction. If you have a small kingdom, it may suggest trying to drum up a claim on a neighboring area. Second in line for a particular title? Crusader Kings 3 may suggest a murder plot. You'll be next in line in no time!
It can be daunting at times, though; there are plenty of actions I've taken over and over but still have trouble locating in the menus. However, things are much more accessible in CK3 than they have been in past iterations. A big part of that is because many of the options that arrived with CK2's expansions are here from the get-go.
It also helps that the game does a good job of teaching you its systems as much or as little as you like. You can hover over pretty much any message to open tips about it, then hover over those tips to open even more. You could spend hours just learning about how the different systems play off of one another, or you could rush in and seed some chaos.
Some of your actions are simple, such as organizing a feast or hiring a physician; a few simple clicks later, and you're watching the wheels turn. Some of your other actions are extremely complex and involve multiple schemes and plates spinning at once. Trying to start a new branch of Catholicism (and not get murdered because of it) takes a lot of effort. Setting yourself up to succeed a terrible liege requires a lot of wheeling and dealing.
Oh, and just when everything starts to come together, the Pope comes calling. Didn't you hear? We're going Crusading! Pack your bags and summon all your troops; it's time to march to the Middle East!
Ways to Play
All of these options help make Crusader Kings 3 a blast no matter how you decide to play. As long as you've got an heir lined up, anything goes, and it can be even more fun to kick the whole house of cards down than to actually build it up. It's a special kind of game that makes you literally pause to think about what to do in any given situation.
There are lots of ways that Crusader Kings 3 works its roleplaying aspects into its strategy elements, as well. Though events are somewhat random, traits can be inherited through genetics or upbringing. Going against your traits also results in characters accumulating stress. If you are a cruel character, for example, you get stressed out by being nice to people.
There are a ton of systems in play at once, and the main thing that made it fun for me was seeing how those systems could change and evolve as my characters did. It welcomes full chaotic play, full strategic play, and anything in between.
The only gripes I have with CK3 are that it's a bit easy to bounce off of, and sometimes things become a little too random. I can handle missing an "85% chance to hit" shot in XCOM, but it can be frustrating to bite on an "85% chance of success" scheme in Crusader Kings 3, where failure can wreck your family for generations to come.
I know that's the way the world works, but it's the one aspect about CK3 that feels too gamified.
The Bottom Line — Crusader Kings 3 Review
- Tons of ways to play
- The most accessible Crusader Kings has ever been
- Looks great
- Roleplaying aspects are frequently hilarious and make you think
- Easy to dive into the rules for specific aspects
- Some systems are still a bit obtuse
- Some elements can be a bit overpowered
If you've always been intrigued by the idea of Crusader Kings but bounced off of it, Crusader Kings 3 is the best way to get started. It looks and feels great, and it already has a ton of available content at launch. DLC will indeed run thick, but it doesn't feel like the base game is missing aspects out of the gate.
At the same time, CK3 is great for veterans. A lot of fan-favorite elements that were added to CK2 over a decade of DLC are already here, and most of the systems are close enough to the same family tree that you shouldn't have trouble taking kingdoms over.
Just watch out for those childhood traumas and what you do to "fix" them. They may just leave a mark on your face... and your heart.
[Note: Paradox Interactive provided the copy of Crusader Kings 3 used for this review.]