In Part One of our Two-part feature on Crusader Kings II ‘Phase Two’, we talked to Henrik about their DLC plan for the future, past and present, and what their thinking is behind it. In Part Two, let’s look at Sons of Abraham itself in more detail, what it brings to the table, and what that could mean going forward. Henrik himself actually see this expansion more like the fifth expansion of Phase One, rather than the first of Phase Two.
“The whole focus is of course on the three Abrahamic faiths, and we’ve added a whole lot of flavour events, Easter egg events, events of all kinds... it’s probably going to be more events than we’ve added in any other expansion, I think. They are going to pertain to things like relics being found, Monks discussing theology, Sainthood, there’s a Joan of Arc type thing.”
There’s quite a few major additions or changes to Crusader Kings 2, most notably the inclusion of the ‘College of Cardinals’, which changes and governs how a new Pope is elected. Nine Cardinals appointed by the Pope elect who becomes the new Pope, and this is all done through a new interface, and you can influence this process by spending money in campaign funds, and getting one of your own Clergy into the College.
“There are many advantages to having a Pope from your realm, to have one of your bishops elected Pope. If you do that, he’s going to be grateful to you, and he’ll have a special bond with you. Basically he’ll have plus 200 opinion of you. That means you can call in favours from the Pope, but that costs opinion – he’ll like you a little bit less each time you make a request, so you can’t endlessly exploit it. There are some other things associated with this bit as well – if you control a Cardinal, and someone wants to excommunicate you and they control no Cardinals, then you’re basically immune to that.”
Pilgrimages also provide a new adventure for your character to go on – similar to the Haj that Islamic characters get to go on, which was introduced in Sword of Islam. Your character can go on an adventure to one of the holy places of Europe – Canterbury, Santiago, Rome, Jerusalem and Constantinople. You can choose where you want to go and then stuff will happen, you might make some friends. It’s all events based, and it plays more to the RPG part of the game.
Heresies have also been revised, mainly so that they are more interesting and different from the mainline of the religion. For example, the Cathar’s can have female priests, which is historically accurate, and many of the heresies have a religious head where appropriate. Some of them were very anti-clerical. The fun thing is that the Heresy can actually take over and become the new’ Orthodox’ if it has more provinces than the mother religion. You can play as a Cathar, and then if you manage to reduce the Catholic provinces enough, Catharism will become the new mainline. Any Holy Orders existing in the catholic faith automatically switch as well, they kind of go where the Orthodox is. All Non-Heretic religions have Holy Orders now as well. Speaking of Holy Orders:
“We’ve also visited the Holy Orders again – you can interact with them a lot more now. You still can’t PLAY as a Holy Order; I still think that would be difficult to shoehorn that into the feudal dynastic system that we have. But you can donate money to them, give them castles, you can borrow money from some of them, and your family members will tend to go off and join these orders, especially if they are fairly martial-types. This can also be handy because it disinherits them, if they join an order. But it’s also a good thing because if a family member goes on to become a Grand-Master, like the Pope, he’d have good relations with you and give everyone in your dynasty prestige and piety bonuses.”
The other headline feature is of course the inclusion of Judaism as a playable Faith. Options are limited, as the Jews were historically a pretty scattered people by the time Crusader Kings II starts. In the Old God’s start, there’s a bunch of Turkic Steppe Tribes that, inexplicably, converted to Judaism. Your options become even more limited if you use the 1066 start, as there’s only one count somewhere in the Crimea that starts off Jewish. There will also be Jewish courtiers, who will be very skilled in one area or another, and make very good councillors. Playing as a Jew is a bit like playing as the Zoroastrians, in the sense that you can restore the High Priesthood. You can also recreate the Kingdom of Israel and install a new Judiac religious head if you work really hard, and mechanically it’s similar to what was done with the Persian and Roman Empires.
“The most controversial part of the whole Jewish system is of course that you can borrow money from them. I mentioned before that you can borrow some money from a few Holy Orders, for example the Knight’s Templars, they were famous for their banking organisation back in those days. What we’ve tried to do, and this is going to be in the patch as well, is to make things more expensive, so it’ll be pretty easy to fall into the red basically. That’s a very bad thing, bad things will start to happen, you’ll get corruption modifiers in your provinces etc... that was a system we used for something else in the very earliest builds of the game, but we removed it as it wasn’t working but now it’s back in a similar form for this.”
“So if you get into debt, you can borrow money from the Knights Templar or another Holy Order, or you can borrow money from the Jews. This is a sad fact of history – many Christian Kings borrowed money from the Jews and then expelled them all from the Kingdom. That’s actually something you can do as well. It’s probably not a good idea to do that though as the Jews do give your country some nice benefits.”
Along with all this content, coming in the expansion, there’s also the 2.0 patch to consider, which Henrik assures us that has almost as much stuff in it. Perhaps too much stuff? Probably, but then it’s an ongoing challenge for the studio just making sure everything works with all the possible expansion combinations that players could have.
“It’s kind of hard to lock stuff out to be honest, especially when doing an expansion like this... What tends to happen, and it happened with Legacy of Rome, is that we put a little bit too much stuff into the free patch, just to get everything working!”
It can never be said, even before Sons of Abraham, that Crusader Kings II didn’t have something for everyone. There’s wealth of content and gameplay options spanning over 500 years, but its longevity sometimes seems like a bit of a curse. Certainly, I’ve yet to actually see the game to its end, although I’ve put in countless hours into the game. At some point you just get bored, and it’s something Henrik is acutely aware of:
“I think it’s a problem, and fortunately we’re not alone in that problem, other 4X games have these issues too – but you usually reach a point, well before the actual end phase of the game, where you already know you’ve won the game. Losing is supposed to be fun, and that’s part of the key, if we can teach people to accept that your huge empire/blob might actually fall apart, but it does so in a cool way? Or something. That could be a solution. We could also make it much harder to conquer stuff. but that’s kind of off-putting to new players who want to just go in there and conquer stuff. We could also do something with the difficulty levels though, so that advance players actually play a tougher game.”
“We run overnight games, to see what happens... one morning, and I’ve seen this before, but I found that the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire had married the Empress of the Byzantine Empire, and they were both HUGE at the time, so they were joined in a huge blob. It’s on my to do list to fix, something like that shouldn’t happen. Having so much depend on a single roll of the dice... is usually bad design, really. It can force you to save-scum. It’s better to have a gradual failure process maybe.”
Perhaps there is no answer to the question of how to keep a game like Crusader Kings II interesting for the whole thing, or how to make ‘losing’ not feel like losing. Ultimately, some players will be able to deal with it and resist save-scumming, and other won’t, although things like Ironman mode at least remove the temptation. In the mean time, Henrik wants to improve the quality of the experience, no matter how long you play a game through, especially in terms of events, the flow of the game, and the game’s unique method of telling stories:
“There’s good and bad types of interruptions in the game. Bad spam that pauses the game but you’re not interested in, and then the good interesting things. In the Sons of Abraham patch we’re trying to relegate a lot more of the more useless information to the message widget, so it’s not interrupting too much.” “Expanding on the role-playing element could be dangerous, as the people who want to play a strategy game don’t want to be distracted by too many events, especially in multiplayer. But story telling is going to be something we will look into with future DLC’s, and that it’s probably not going to be what people expect us to do.”
One burning question of course is – how long do they keep going? At what point do they stop making CK2 expansions and start thinking about making an actual sequel? ‘Phase Two’ is already greenlit and in production, but will there be a Phase Three? Or a Crusader Kings III?
“That’s a very good question. It depends entirely on what other projects we’re working on at the time. Sometimes that question really ties into that – what other games are we planning to put out that year? If there was going to be a ‘Phase Three’ for CK2, that would probably happen if we were going to be doing another prestige title that year. Personally, I’d probably want to do CK3 at that point, because I have so many ideas of how to make things better in a whole new game.”
“CK2 has had a very good run as it is; I anticipate it to have a good run for at least another year, but there comes a time when, people tire of games, that’s just how it is. I don’t think the players will be that disappointed, or the dev team... actually the guys who were working on the first lot of CK2 expansions have been switched out for new guys, so [the new guys are] definitely not tired yet!"
As a final note, you can look forward to the announcement of the next Crusader Kings II expansion during the Paradox Convention at the end of January. Sons of Abraham is due out on Monday 18th of November.