Damn your old gods.
Crusader Kings 2 is one of the most complete, perfect games ever envisaged; it set out to do something spectacularly ambitious – provide a strategy game that spans entire dynasties from around the world while simulating all of the political intrigue and military power of a long time frame – and succeeded. It’s not for everyone to be sure, there’s a lot of staring at menus and waiting to see how things progress, but as far as fulfilling their aims, Paradox did an incredible job. The Old Gods expansion takes some of the stuffy medieval politics and adds a distinct Norse flavour to it. Rather than having to play with typical European barons, dukes and kings, you can now play as a chief of a clan, whether it be in the cold, icy north or the hot and barren south.
While the base game is often about patience and carefully preparing before you make a move to expand, the Old Gods emphatically pushes in the other direction. You are taking control of either an offensive or defensive clan and they will get restless and unhappy if you don’t go out and attack. Of course getting into a full-blown war can be hugely expensive and damaging, so instead you can set a group of troops to go looting and simply satiate their bloodlust for a while at the expense of angering your neighbours. The game quickly turns into a more chaotic affair, with you starting wars you never intended and constantly having to manage defense and offense while also keeping your family line going through marriage and betrothals. It leads to a faster pace, often you’ll send a raiding party out only to find that a neighbour is surprisingly weak. You could turn that into a full blown war effort, or quickly arrange an assassination to take out a stubborn leader, and expand before anyone really knows what’s happened.
That’s not to suggest the game has dumbed down in any way, if anything it’s got more complicated. Troops move around much more freely than before, and no matter how remote your starting point is you’re likely to be facing enemies from within as well as across your borders. There’s even more family-based options such as the ability to take concubines that will still often give you children and unusually don’t seem to upset your wife too much. They also have a tendency to scheme and plot though, you can use this to your advantage as you convince your opponents’ concubines to join your plots against them.
War is quite different this time around, while you can press a claim much as before, you can also declare an invasion and see if anybody wants to come help. Often you’ll get other soldiers that you didn’t expect coming to join for a chance at riches and prestige. This is an interesting addition to the game as often you could get stuck in a situation where you had no real way to raise the troops necessary to launch a successful attack, instead relying on slowly saving up to pay mercenaries for a week or two. Here, if you pick an unpopular target you can raise a powerful army without too much input from your own vassals and lands.
Finally, religion has become a much more prominent feature in the game. While it seemed to only serve to mess up my marriages and annoy vassals in the base game, not creating a real religion out of the pagan origins is quite an achievement in itself. You need to control certain holy sites to do it and this can give you a new sense of purpose as you choose how your empire should expand. Christians and Muslims too get new options to try and convert others to their cause, which leads to high tension once the real Crusades start.
As it stands, there is nothing on the market that can come close to the depth and polish of Crusader Kings 2. The Old Gods provides a new twist and style of gameplay, as well as a few new headaches for you to deal with as you try to create (or hold on to) your empire. It’s still a very challenging game, and certainly not the most intuitive, but with new help tips and explanations, anyone with the slightest interest in history or strategy should definitely give it a look. To get the base game and the expansion at the moment will cost you £44.99, but for that you’re getting hundreds of hours of gameplay. Also there is an excellent Game of Thrones mod that is much better than any of the official Game of Thrones games. Get it here.