It has been well over two years now since the release of Crusader Kings 2 since the release of Crusader Kings 2, and where it is not unusual for games to have DLC this far past the release date, let alone from a small publisher, Paradox Interactive has achieved what few have with their game, a market standard. I might be painting a grand picture of CK2 at the moment, but this is a grand strategy game that treats the player like an adult. The game was not the same at launch however, it is easily arguable that it is a different game, CK2 has evolved.
In the beginning, there was not much difference between Europa Universalis 3, from a very similar textured map of Europe and the Paradox Interactive UI which is common to many of their grand strategies you could almost think you are looking at the exact same game. However, where things differ are at the very core of Crusader Kings 2, the character and dynasty system, which in the grand scheme of things (see what I did there?) it is the very core of Crusader Kings. So why is now the time to buy CK2 more than any other time? The answer of course lies with the unrivalled diversity in playstyles, different governments, religion systems, and progression the game now offers. The way Crusader Kings plays through its early game, forging a dukedom out of what counties you can take, right through to the late game, the creation and expansion of an empire is both challenging and balanced.
So why would you buy CK2 over another grand strategy, like Civilisation 5, which is based on a similar premise, of changing history, when CK2 only covers the early to late medieval period, and Civilisation 5 covers the combined history of mankind. Or perhaps a AAA game like Rome Total War 2, where you can actually command the battles on the field, and just to be fair, another Paradox Interactive game, Hearts of Iron: Darkest Hour. From hours playing each of these games, I have found that they fumble over core parts of the grand strategy experience when trying to accomplish all of the essentials of a good game of the genre.
The primary draw to CK2, diplomacy is based on the relationship between the two rulers, based on their personality traits, their religion, their cultural background, their dynasty, their ambitions and most importantly your own personal diplomacy with them. Wars are resolved when the goals of the attacker are fulfilled and the defender surrenders, or the defender beats off the aggressor. In Civilisation 5, over the 200 hours I have played, wars are fought usually until the enemy is completely decimated, the AI will very rarely sue for peace, and when they do, they have significantly reduced forces from what they had at the outset of the war. Diplomacy between civilisations is very limited and military alliances serve very little purpose unless it is with another human player. Where Civilisation gives the player ultimate freedom to declare war on whomever they want for no given reason, the Hearts of Iron series is setup so that is very difficult to deviate from the historical timeline and declare war on another nation outside an event, certain requirements must be met, all the planets must align perfectly and the sacred text must be read… you get the picture.
Of course calling allies to aid you in war is a much similar case in Civilisation and Hearts of Iron: Darkest Hour if you have a military alliance with them, which again, in HOI: Darkest Hour, it is difficult to accomplish, for example with Nationalist China, you cannot join the Axis, as Japan automatically declares war upon you in the early game, and trying to shift your political stance towards the communists or the allies is very difficult in the same manner as I explained before. Which is where the beauty of CK2 comes in, alliances are formed by family ties, of course, the more brothers and sisters you have the more alliances you can form with other lords however the caveat is that all your brothers and sisters also have a claim to your lands, which leads to more challenging invasions of your lands by their sons and daughters, or a disgruntled brother with a twenty thousand man army at his back. What I’m trying to get across here, is that CK2 is deep, and everything you do has a consequence now, or later on.
The dynasty and character system is unparalleled in this game genre, no other grand strategy has the same amount of decisions or depth at the character level. Your choice in your council also directly effects what influence your court can extend to your own lands and other lands, often, as a child ruler, you can find that your council and regent will ruin what your previous character did in one foul swoop, by lowering taxes, levy rates or crown authority. Breeding and bringing up your heir can be a rewarding prospect, especially if you manage to get a child with the strong or genius traits.
Ok, here is the troubling point about Crusader Kings 2, the price point, on steam, it is £30 or your regional equivalent, all the DLC with it is £98, chop off unit skins, portraits and music, and it is still going to set you back £70 and to a potential buyer, that is very steep. Fortunately CK2 comes up in every Steam Summer Sale, and there is a demo available. The multiplayer mode is extremely fun, killing off your friends dynasty by intrigue and assassination, allying with them to divide and conquer or undermining each other at every turn is enjoyable, but with a few disconnection and desync bumps along the way. Ultimately, CK2 is currently the best grand strategy on the market currently, so if you are looking for a medieval grand strategy, this is the game to look at.
I recommend getting the Old Gods DLC if you are going to get any of them when buying the game, overall it is the biggest and best DLC that expands upon Norse and other cultures hugely, while extending the game length significantly.