Even though this is a year of experimentation for Paradox, with many new titles and new concepts coming from third parties, their internal studio is still hard at work. These are the guys that brought you Hearts of Iron III, that brought you Victoria II and the latest Europa Universalis III expansion, and now, they're working on something else. Hailed as a 'Medieval Sims' (Which as a comparison is quite amused since I've played the actual The Sims: Medieval), Crusader Kings II takes all of the grand-strategy and micro-management of the best of HOI or Victoria, and gives it a unique twist.
"Hello, we're the Christians. We want to come to your country and take all your things..."
In Crusader Kings II, there are no nations, just people. Well, this is a slight exaggeration - geo-political entities do exist, but the fragmentation of the medieval period is more enhanced due to the games focus on characters. So instead of just 'England', there is King Dave, with his Lords Steve, Joe and Gavin, whose collected lands make up the entity known as England. You being the game in 1066, and you get to choose from anyone of the Christian nobles around at the time, from Kings down to Lords. From there, you manage your lands, raise a family, form alliances and do most things a medieval noble would do.
These characters will have everything from titles to traits, which will then help form their personality. They will then, throughout the course of the game, be given events and choices to make, which will further shape their character, their lands, and even the world itself. The unique thing is that each character will be able to react differently to events, so two people, even father and son, who get the same event and choice to make will have different results.
The main aim of the game is to gain 'prestige' through your life. As you initial character grows old, you can appoint an heir, and then he becomes the character you play when the father dies. His prestige is then transferred to you, and then you can also start anew with this new character, and on it goes until you quit, your lineage is destroyed, or the game's over. It will be interesting to see if they add in other 'goals' that you can strive for, like land or a particular title. Earning 'prestige' is a little bit too abstract to fuel a prolonged game.
You can appoint people to specific roles to help maintain your lands
Combat in Crusader Kings II is bit of a managed affair. You can't just up and take territory - you need a claim, or a reason, much like the 'Casus Beli' system in other grand-strategy games. It was hinted that you could just 'create' or 'make' a claim of your own, although how this system works is not known at this point. You can though help advance the claim of someone else, either a family members or simple another noble. Actual combat, whilst abstracted as usual, is not as simple as what you would see in EU III or Victoria 2. There a several different types of units, and battles have several stages, including a skirmish and a main stage. Armies are also separated into left, centre and right 'wings' or sections, which you can hand off to lesser nobles under your leadership to command. Should one particular part, say the right, make an early breakthrough, they can then help attack the centre as well.
As you can imagine, the propriety 'Clausewitz' Engine is once again being used for this game, as it is of all of paradox's in-house Strategy Games. Crusader Kings II will be the first one to use the latest version of that engine, which finally brings in 3D terrain. If you Imagine what the Rome: Total War engine originally looked like back in 2004, that's what Clausewitz is looking like now. Better late than never you could say, but then it was never about the graphics, was it?
It's still early days thought at the moment, so we're still very much in that 'wish list' phase where all we can do is hope that the features they implement. Things that have been mentioned include the game spanning 400 years of history. It's possible to start as a lesser noble and eventually become King or Emperor through the line of succession. You won't be able to play as a character from any non-Christian nations, as religion pays an important part on the game and for the moment they are focusing on the Christian nations. There will also be competitive multiplayer for up to 32 players.
The new engine is looking good, and even allows for full rotation now
Crusader Kings II is a long way off, which is a shame really as it looks like it's going to be interesting, so we have a while to wait before anything resembling a playable build turns up. Grand Strategy games may not be for everyone, but it's that you can still see innovation within the genre, as not only might it help attract new audiences, but it'll keep things interesting for old hands as well. Crusader Kings II will be releasing on PC in Q1 2012.
Most Anticipated Feature:Just whole character focus, will be interseting to get to grips with it.