Review – Crusader Kings III

I was in the camp that believed Crusader Kings III was unnecessary and would launch as an unmitigated disaster of a cash grab. While I normally prefer giving the benefit of the doubt, given Imperator: Rome and Paradox’s increasingly worrying DLC practices, I felt this was a valid exception. As a huge fan of Crusader Kings II (especially its phenomenal A Song of Ice and Fire mod), I just didn’t see the point. Some marginally better looking graphics? Unnecessary and unneeded. Making things easier and more understandable by newcomers? I heard streamlining and dumbing down a game that needed to be complex and obtuse. Not to mention the unappealing idea of starting yet another Paradox game’s DLC cycle, which of course would be designed around maximizing output. There wasn’t a single thing about it that didn’t have disaster written on it as far as I was concerned.

Crusader Kings III

This game covers way more than what Crusader Kings II originally did, incorporating content that used to only be in it’s DLC.

It wasn’t long into actually playing Crusader Kings III, before I realized I was completely and utterly wrong on literally every level. Which is something I’ve never been happier to say. The new graphics aren’t just for show, they improve on gameplay in subtle yet strong ways. Complexity wasn’t lost at all, merely made easier to comprehend. Finally, instead of being a hollow DLC pinata, it’s an unbelievable evolution of Crusader Kings II and all of it’s DLC. What worked was evolved upon and integrated into the base game, while what didn’t or was unnecessary was carefully excised. Leaving behind an impossibly polished and feature-heavy grand strategy game that manages to do everything it says on the box.

Crusader Kings III

Yeah, I’m leaving this one alone.

First off, the new look. This is easily Paradox’s best looking game, which while not saying much is worth mentioning. The fantastically classic world map manages to be both cosmetically and practically pleasing. Beautiful to look at, without distracting from gameplay. Character models achieve the same thing. I originally thought they were an extravagance. After experiencing the way their emotes and small gestures make the game come alive however, I see how wrong I was. Artwork is crisp and evocative, icons and the UI manage to be functional as well as immersive, and all in all I can’t see myself going back after this. Everything is so much more usable and alive, it feels like such a strong step forward.

Crusader Kings III

I’m really only killing this guy’s son to spite him, I don’t get anything out of it other than the satisfaction. Still totally worth it.

Not that I feel any real need to go back to be honest. New coat of paint aside, this is still very much the same Crusader Kings experience. Gameplay revolves around playing as a chosen dynasty and surviving and thriving through the ages. Warfare, subterfuge, diplomacy, all your old tools return better than ever before. Combat is now more personal than ever, with the ability to deploy court members in battle as chosen Knights. Armies are now more customizable through recruitable men-at-arms units. Subterfuge has whole new depth through the hook system which lets you directly manipulate people via their closest held secrets. Diplomacy is even more engaging through a simple yet deep trait and conversation system that lets you really really interact with characters. It’s everything that II was, but even more playable and fun.

Crusader Kings III

So this guy is my most skilled and experienced diplomat. Proof that there’s nothing hard work can’t overcome, even in the middle of the Dark Ages.

It is amazing how complete this game feels, especially when compared to a game like Crusader Kings II which had such a long DLC tail. There’s been so much added over the years, creating one of the most overwhelming and fiddly games I’ve ever experienced. Both a boon and a curse, with a lot of options but far too many feeling a bit undercooked. Really thinking it over, what the game needed was a fresh start. Taking the best of what worked, fixing up what had potential but didn’t land, and remove the things that didn’t work or fit the game (Sunset Invasion anyone?). Ultimately, that’s exactly what this game is. The base game far out scopes the base game for CKII and includes many elements from its years of DLC. Even the few notable things missing (merchant republics and nomads), aren’t things really missing from a game called Crusader Kings.

Crusader Kings III

The true Paradox games experience, turning Poland into the world’s first and only true superpower.

After Final Fantasy VII REMAKE went from a game I had no interest in to one of my favorite games in years, I didn’t think anything else could surprise me this year. But 2020 is proving itself to be one long surprise, and this is definitely one of it’s better ones. Nothing what I expected, it delivers in every way it needed too. It’s fun, fast, easy to get into without sacrificing depth, and looks great the whole time. It’s also quite technically competent, which is a nice bonus for a Paradox game. They really needed a strong hit to prove that they’re still the name in grand strategy, and Crusader Kings III is that hit. And if it’s anything like Crusader Kings II, then this is a game that could be with us for another decade and personally, I’m in for the whole ride.

 Graphics: 8.0

It actually looks really good. Models are high quality and expressive, while the beautifully illustrated map is a new standard for Paradox Grand Strategy games.

Gameplay: 10

It’s the same old Crusader Kings we know and love, but with a much more functional UI and smoother better flowing gameplay.

Sound: 5.0

If I had to pick a word to describe the music, it would be drab. Not bad, it fits the game, but unexciting.

Fun Factor: 10

The vast improvements to the UI, tutorial, and ease of play mean it’s easier than ever to get sucked in. And once you’re sucked in, good luck getting out.

Final Verdict: 9.0

Crusader Kings III is available now on PC.

A copy of Crusader Kings III was provided by the publisher.