Crusader Kings 3

Crusader Kings 3

Glory to the new historical strategy king!

Glory to the new historical strategy king!

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Review game Crusader Kings 3, Glory to the new historical strategy king!

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In her 71 years, Empress Hamam achieved a great deal. She ended centuries of foreign rule in the mediaeval Nile Valley by restoring the organised worship of the ancient Egyptian gods and establishing the rule of a new pharaonic dynasty. She was born into a small tribe in what would become modern Sudan (eastern Africa). Her twelve children, some of whom would go on to rule independently, were her life’s passion. But raising so many children is stressful, and as a result, she developed a taste for elaborate feasts and a drinking habit, which helped her gain even more favour with her more revelatory subjects. I’ve already spent more than 100 hours playing Crusader Kings 3, and this is just one of the innumerable human stories that have naturally developed. Its union of the intimate and the grand, the political and the personal, is nothing short of magnificent.

In this third chapter, Crusader Kings continues to explore the central theme of how unique individuals and their interactions influence history, offering fresh and captivating perspectives. Building castles, investigating technology, and waging war are the more well-known grand strategy game tasks in Crusader Kings 3, much like in its predecessors. However, the game also allows court drama, dynastic feuds, and marriage alliances to take centre stage. A well-planned betrothal can forge a powerful alliance and eventually unite kingdoms under one crown, but a personal slight between two neighbouring rulers can send the entire region into bloodshed and chaos worthy of a great historical fiction novel. It’s essentially a game about people more than things, and that attention to detail is what makes it so memorable and special.

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Paradox Development Studio has improved and expanded upon the majority of the essential components that made Crusader Kings 2 function. This is exemplified by the stress system, which caused our jovial matriarch Hamam to seek comfort at the bottom of a bottle. Characters in Crusader Kings 2 have personality traits that impact their stats, but these traits don’t really influence how you behave. An honest character in Crusader Kings 3 will chafe at nefarious dealings in the shadows, while a cruel one will become stressed out if you frequently show mercy to your enemies. I truly enjoyed how this pushed me to live with the consequences of denying my characters’ natural tendencies and roleplaying their traits rather than just viewing them as numerical modifiers. It makes sense that Crusader Kings 3’s system isn’t quite as comprehensive as its predecessor’s, which benefited from seven years and hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of expansions. Still, improvements are definitely underway.

If you get angry, you might end up punching a priest and angering the Pope, which is never a good idea.

Stress pushed me to see my characters’ qualities as more than just numerical modifiers and to roleplay them. However, I never felt as though stress forced me to behave in a certain way. When you accumulate too much, you experience a mental breakdown. At that point, you have a few options for coping with the stress of running a mediaeval realm. Drinking, fighting, and going to the brothels are just a few examples of activities that offer genuine character growth and present fresh chances for drama and conflict. Because of her passion for alcohol, Hamam met and befriended other wealthy people who also enjoyed her favourite activity. However, getting angry could result in you hitting a priest and angering the Pope, which is usually not a good idea during this time.

Of course, you can always say goodbye to a religious doctrine that no longer works for you because of the comprehensive, flexible new religion system. You can invent a new heresy within Catholicism that, for example, affirms reincarnation, elevates cannibalism, and restricts the number of women who can become priests. Everything is negotiable, including beliefs about homosexuality and witchcraft, as well as the role of the clergy. There are countless options that let you personalise your game and make a meaningful impact on the world in ways that weren’t achievable in earlier games.

Chief Whisperer

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Crusader Kings 3 has gone all out in this area as well. Without a little cloak and dagger, mediaeval dynastic politics would be nothing. You can use a new system of hooks and secrets to exert control over other characters. For example, you can find out about an extramarital affair and threaten to reveal it. Working exclusively in the shadows to expand your base of power by extorting favours, coercing the irresponsible, and killing people who are too disruptive to your plans seems worthwhile and feasible. In Crusader Kings 2, you could achieve most of the same goals, but the path there is now far richer and more interactive.

Beyond the advantage bar, which indicates who is winning a battle at any given time and is a major improvement over Crusader Kings 2’s cryptic and unapproachable number-crunching, Warfare has some really great new ideas as well. Even though combat is still largely straightforward and detached, its potential post-event consequences have expanded significantly, going beyond mere triumph or defeat. With the addition of knights, there are now more opportunities for individual, named warriors to make a difference and for personal narratives to break through the clamour of clashing steel. Furthermore, the potential consequences of violence can be even more devastating to a ruler than the loss of an entire army. A romantic partner acting as your personal protector may give their life to protect you from an errant arrow. Even if you win, a close but bloody battle could leave you dead or severely injured, along with all of your adult children, your best friend, and your most trusted counsellor. Your current avatar may go into a depressive spiral full of angst and debauchery, and the survivors will have to return to a completely altered political landscape and courtroom atmosphere.

Martial law enforcement

There is still room for improvement in the logistics of executing a conquest campaign. Rather than raising dozens of small stacks from their home counties and then having to merge them together, Crusader Kings 3 has all of your armies arrive at a designated rally point as a single force, an attempt to reduce the micromanagement that occasionally bogs down Crusader Kings 2. The issue is that it frequently fails to deploy troops where they are required, which leaves you without the precise control you need to carry out your invasion effectively. When you call up the banners, setting up multiple rally points should split your forces fairly evenly, but in practice, I’ve never found this to work well. Usually, my army would show up in full at one rally point, while a small contingent would appear at the other. This is rather annoying because it leaves one or more positions severely undermanned in a war with multiple fronts and will lead to the attrition of men and supplies due to having too many troops in one area. As a result, you wind up exerting nearly as much effort as you would have under the previous system by manually dividing your soldiers into smaller contingents and marching them halfway across the realm.

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The abundance of activities beyond maneuvering armies and the exceptional execution of tasks partially alleviate this issue.  However, it’s the one significant area where I would really like to see improvement, and I find solace in the knowledge that Paradox has a proven track record of improving its games years after their release.

Overall, this is by far Paradox’s best-looking game to date. However, there’s no need to refine the graphics. Overall, this is by far Paradox’s best-looking game to date. It surprised me how much having fully animated, 3D character models would enhance the world and stories, but compared to Crusader Kings 2, it is a huge improvement. It’s also more subtle than you might think, as instead of abruptly growing grey and wrinkled at a predetermined age as in the previous installment, you get to watch your characters age intricately and realistically year after year. Furthermore, children can genuinely inherit their parents’ features thanks to the new DNA system, which allows for the transmission of various traits like ear lobe size, nose bridge width, and hair colour.

Paradox has a proven track record of refining its games for many years following their release.

From the intricate, embroidered court dress of the Byzantine Emperor to the roughspun tunics of a Swedish commoner, the historically inspired apparel is a delight to behold. For example, my pharaohs were limited to wearing clothing that had a generic Arabic appearance. I do wish there was a little more regional variation, but I’d bet more on getting more of that in updates, mods, and DLC later on. Furthermore, scars from battles, weight gain from overindulging in wine and food, athleticism, and the iconic buboes of everyone’s favourite plague can all be modelled by the portrait system. Crusader Kings’ mechanical heart has always been its characters, but putting them front and centre visually in so many inventive and powerful ways elevates everything else significantly.

Strength and Advancement

Additionally, each lifestyle includes three talent trees that not only provide flat, boring skill modifiers but also unlock completely new playstyles. A skilled diplomat vassal of a higher ruler can gain the ability to usurp their liege lord’s throne, even if they are not descended from him. An unscrupulous plotter has the capacity to kidnap and imprison other characters, even popes and kings! Additionally, throughout your entire dynasty, you will be accruing renown, which can unlock benefits like extending the lifespan of each member of your line or increasing the likelihood that they will inherit advantageous genetic traits like intelligence and strength. This implies that even though you may start over with a new set of lifestyle points for each ruler you occupy, you will always be accruing dynastic advancement that will never end. It’s incredibly fulfilling, and it’s one of those things that Crusader Kings 2 sadly lacked.

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Another excellent example of advancing this concept of long-term progression is the new technological system. The majority of Crusader Kings 3’s historically-inspired innovations give you something fresh and thrilling to play with, in contrast to Crusader Kings 2’s system, which was full of more of those monotonous, flat modifiers—a little boost to prestige here, an increase to the fighting effectiveness of heavy infantry there. It’s how you open up new succession laws that let you unite under a single heir instead of having your kingdom divided among all of your children upon your passing. By the time you get rid of the latter system, the early game becomes extremely chaotic and difficult, making you feel as though you’ve truly earned it. Nearly every location on the map will have new buildings, military units, and skills unique to that culture unlocked. The Mongols acquire lethal horse archers. You can sail on major rivers as well as the open seas with Norse longships. These small details truly help each region in Crusader Kings 3 feel somewhat new and different in a tapestry where regional variation is one of the few colours that isn’t as bright.


Crusader Kings 3 is an excellent role-playing game, a fantastic strategy game, and a masterwork in refining and deepening the best aspects of preexisting systems. I played the previous game for thousands of hours, and I plan to play this third installment for at least that much. I have only scratched the surface of the captivatingly flawed characters and epic tales of love, war, triumph, and loss that have already emerged from my playthroughs. It wouldn’t be that hard for me to decide what game to play for the rest of my life, actually. The realm of historical strategy has a new monarch. The king lives forever.

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