Crusader Kings II Review for Mac OS X

Unlike the bulk of the games in the historic-strategy war game genre, Crusader Kings II offers so much more than simply raising your kingdom and conquering the world. The depth and richness of this game can’t possibly be accurately described. But picture this: you’re part of a gritty soap opera between the kingdoms of Europe and the Mediterranean during the feudal period then throw in dozens of presidential and military campaigns all going on simultaneously then mix it up with the ability to pursue every political, diplomatic, religious and social goal imaginable. I’m talking about asking questions like: I don’t like the Pope’s tax policies but want him as an ally, what do I do? Or should I force my youngest son to marry a paranoid 20 year-old woman just so I’d get on her hunchbacked father’s good side? It’s deep, immersive, punishing and rewarding all at the same time.

Released on Valentine’s Day 2012, the game indeed received much love from both players and critics alike. It was published and developed by the same company that brought you titles like the Europa Universalis Series, the Victoria Series, the Penumbra Series, and many more. Yes, I’m talking about the Swedish game company Paradox Interactive.

The game is set in the gripping feudal era of medieval Europe, with all its backstabbing, plotting, treason, diplomacy and much, much more. Here you get to play as any – and I mean, any – prominent historical figure from that time period, live his life (and his sons’ lives) any way you want and try to build a dynasty from 1066 up to 1453. Whether you play as a count or a king makes a world of a difference, but no matter what you choose to be, you’ll be thrust into a grand world filled to the brim with every social theme you can imagine; it’s like a choose-your-own-adventure book but with real people from the middle ages.

The game is also set in real time, meaning that there’s no wait time in between actions, no turns, no breaks. You can however, pause the game and assign actions that will then play out when you hit the un-pause button. The things you can do are limitless, once you have the game going, you’re prompted to firstly secure an heir, which can be done by ensuring you have a fertile wife. If your ruler is unmarried, you just simply go to his screen and click on “arrange marriage” and choose the wife of your liking. Once you hit the un-pause button and wait a few months more or less, you’ll get another prompt saying that your wife is pregnant, and tad-ah you’ve got yourself an heir to the throne. This is immensely crucial because if you die either from old age or an untimely disease, your lineage ends thus also ending your game. Another thing the game offers is dealing and making full use of your council (chancellor, steward, spymaster, marshal, court chaplain) each has his/her own uses like fabricating a claim for a duchy/county with your spymaster or collecting taxes with your steward just to name a few. Along with your council, you also have a couple of vassals, from mayors to clergymen alike. They can fight for you or hold lands for you; they’re generally just your all-around loyal subjects.

Every person in the game, from your kin to your enemies, have their own unique traits and stats. Stats are classified as Diplomacy, Marshal, Stewardship, Intrigue and Learning; each of which are pretty straightforward and self-explanatory. Traits however, are incredibly more diverse; you wont see a shortage of club footedness, homosexuality, people with syphilis or the plague, to being just plain attractive. Stats play a deep role in determining whether people like you or hate you and how certain events will play out.

As with the affairs of the people in your court, Crusader Kings 2 also puts an emphasis on the status of your kingdom and your ruler. Clicking on a county on the map will show you its holdings which will in turn show you how many levies you have ready. Levies are simply your available army, which you need when waging war with other counties. Both you and your vassals have your own levy count and can increase it by sending your marshal to train troops (personal army) or improving relationships with your own vassals (army from vassals). The holdings also show you how much gold you can collect from the land and more, all of which can change depending on your relationship with the owner of that respective holding. Notice how big an emphasis the game puts on relationships. Your steward could be your eldest son, your wife, or even your distant uncle thrice removed from your father’s side, regardless, you’d still have to build up your relationships with all of them by either awarding them with honorary titles or checking their stats to see what they like or don’t like about you and making an effort to change it. In general, most of the things you need to do or are in need of your attention are organised as a sort of “to-do” list on the middle-top portion of your screen.

Overall, once you’ve dealt with the affairs of your family, the affairs of your council and vassals, and the affairs of the realm, you’re then ready to un-pause the game and start making the pieces move. But don’t be afraid to retract or move the pieces elsewhere by pausing the game at any time again, since you’ll be doing a lot of that once the first hundred years or so are over. You have to also take note that since you have a limited number of years to rule and to conquer, you are not in no way meant to conquer and rule everything. So set yourself minor goals each phase of the game, like when you start of as a duke of Dublin in Ireland, the best goal for you is to aim to become the king of Ireland. Only then should you think about waging a war the expansion of Ireland’s territory. The beauty of this game is that it encourages you to make up your own goals and your own story over the course of your dynasty’s reign. With no definitive victory clause, you can’t necessarily “win” the game. You can, however, compare your final score (determined by Prestige) with that of other historic dynasties and see how well you would have fared back then.

The game also exhibits astonishing realism, in a sense that every single character you befriend or destroy are actual people from feudal Europe that lived during that time period, there’s a difference between being realistic and authentic; and this is as authentic as it can get. Not convinced? Well to give you an example: my last CK2 session involved sending my son off to Rome to be tutored by some club-footed cynical scholar, building a network of spies to assassinate the Duke who owns half of Ireland and winning the war with my widowed half-brother for the whole of eastern Iceland – my widowed gay half-brother I should add. Oh, and did I mention none of these are scripted? Each time you sit down and start a new game, you get absolutely different scenarios, different triggers and different events; even after you’ve played dozens of games and conquered dozens of kingdoms you’ll still come across something you’ve never encountered before, like your daughter suddenly torturing the castle rats sort of thing.

But before you dive into the game and expect all the things I’ve mentioned above, heed my warning and know that you’ll have to go through a lot first – a whole lot. The learning curve in this game is daunting and unforgiving to say the least. With the game’s lacklustre tutorials, learning even the basics of the game can be a tedious and often times infuriating task. You think the game is one of those “easy to learn, hard to master” types? Nope. Crusader Kings 2 is far from easy. You’ll need patience, practice and a whole lot of guidance. However, if you give the game some time and keep trudging on, keep learning from your mistakes, and keep persistently thinking about every little move you make strategically, then things will start to make sense around the third or fourth game; and boy is it rewarding.

Overall, once you overlook the graphical anomalies of the port (discussed below) and get over the tedious learning curve, you’ll get a game so engaging, so involved, and so incredibly fulfilling. An experience choc-full of drama and intrigue that it hooks you in and forces you to play hours on end. It’s just a shame that Paradox opted to neglect polishing the Mac port to the point of it being downright unsatisfactory.

To put it plainly, the Mac port for this game wasn’t optimised enough to even be considered a successful port. In fact, throughout most of the game, you get the feeling that they just slathered on some wrapping paper and shipped it bare. But despite this, I’m going to let my biases slip just this once and say that the game is so good, so immersive and so fun that you just have to; yes, have to, forgive these nuances just to experience this beast of a game.

Performance & Quality

Bugs. There are bugs and glitches everywhere. These are not from the game itself but from the port it came in. On steam, there’s that irritating issue with the multiplayer pop-up window that just will not go away. Graphically, it twitches and glitches all throughout the game, as can be seen in the gameplay video.

Performance-wise, the jerks and drops in frame-rate can be pretty annoying. Add that with the fact that the game giving you no option to lower your graphic settings. It’s literally just resolution, refresh rate, multisampling and brightness, period. And these aren’t just from my old and dated machine (I checked.). Most, if not all Mac users get a lot of similar problems, regardless of graphics cards. We also found that the audio would drop out occasionally on our MacBook Pro.

[Editor’s note: trying on our 2012 MacBook Pro with Retina and 2010 Mac Pro gave us a somewhat smoother ride, but YMMV]

Multiplayer

Even when you’ve experienced all there is to experience in the single-player mode (if that’s even possible), Paradox goes all out and offers you a Multiplayer mode which is like diving into an exciting new realm with much more bloody backstabbing. Once you’ve set up an account on the Paradox Forums, which is pretty straightforward, or picked from plenty of community driven private servers, you’re good to go. This quick guide should show you the few simple steps necessary for multiplayer to work properly. You play with up to 32 players online wherein all of you get to engage in the same bloody soap opera just like in single-player. “Well that’s nothing new” you say? Trust me, plotting to assassinate a Duke or waging a religious war over Rome is more satisfying than with just the AI; plus it’s fun to actually be part of the real drama between real people from all around the globe.

DLC

The following DLC is available:

The most interesting of these are the Legacy of Rome and Sword of Islam DLCs, which each add a significant amount of extra features to the game, and the ruler designer, which lets you design your own characters.

Mods

Mods can be installed to ~/Library/Application Support/Steam/SteamApps/common/crusader kings ii/mod/

Of particular note is the “Song of Ice and Fire”-styled “Game of Thrones” mod, but you might need to refer to this post to get it to run on the Mac.

About the reviewer

K (Karlo Nicolas Alvaro)

Angry college kid thinks he can turn the hours he wastes playing games and into something people will read.

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Gameplay Video

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