E3 2011: Crusader Kings II Preview - First Look

Crusader Kings II will be a sequel that adds more intrigue, more depth, and more accessibility. We get the details at E3 2011.

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Crusader Kings II is one of many exciting new games on display at E3 2011. The upcoming strategy sequel will expand on the original game's themes of Old World conquest and courtly intrigue with tons of new features, including plenty of enhancements requested by fans, as well as new additions intended to make this deep game more accessible to new players.

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Producer Johan Andersson informed us that the game, which has been in development for some time, is now feature-complete, and he candidly suggested that, had this been a different year, it might have been ready to ship right now and be received as "one of those Paradox games that's pretty good but, you know…it has some bugs." Instead, the game has a much larger budget than the publisher normally allots to its strategy games, and as a result, Andersson and his team have an additional seven months to polish, fix, and fine-tune the game prior to its release early next year.

For starters, Crusader Kings will have a highly streamlined interface that nests most of its actions into menus in the upper-right and upper-left corners of the screen, leaving the map of the Old World (Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa) front and center onscreen. The idea is to let players focus their view on the world map without forcing them to spend too much time dithering around with any individual province or menu at one time. To this end, the game will have numerous overlays that will helpfully divvy up the map not only along national borders, but also by way of helpful indicators like cultural customs and national religion. However, you'll still be able to zoom in on any province you care to, and since Crusader Kings II will expand on the character-focused, role-playing-game-like experience of the original game, you'll of course still be able to pull up a menu screen for each individual ruler or character in your royal line, complete with all their information and details.

Andersson suggested that the courtly intrigue in this sequel has been amped up considerably and offered a comparison to HBO's TV adaptation of A Game of Thrones. In addition to listing ability scores for your rulers, the game will track their relationships and reputations with every other key figure they've encountered--every action your rulers take will change the way they're seen by other characters, either more favorably or less so. While you can absolutely try to change your cousins' and vassals' opinions of you by granting them gifts or lofty titles, they won't appreciate having a ruler whose religious beliefs differ from theirs, nor will they forget that one time you kind of, sort of invaded and ransacked their province a little bit. In fact, the sequel will even have a handy additional menu that lists threats to your ruler's sovereignty--the estranged brother whom you leapfrogged to seize the crown, the retired father who reveres the Norse gods even after you converted to Catholicism--all listed in a handy menu sorted by magnitude of threat they pose.

Crusader Kings will have many other additions, such as courtly agents who can be dispatched to do your bidding (including performing acts of diplomacy or assassination); new laws, including the much-requested female inheritance (so that now, royal daughters may succeed their parents), and additional mercenary arrangements. Specifically, if you're on good terms with them, you can request the aid of various orders of holy knights, such as the Templars or the Hospitallers, to aid you in military campaigns, which they'll be happy to join so long as your enemies aren't also God-fearing Christians. If your nation lacks enough prestige to formally declare war, but you have strong ties with the Vatican, you may even be able to request a papal intervention to begin your campaign. Combat itself is being enhanced with new tactical interfaces that more clearly show the relative strengths of each army at a glance on the world map. And even though you don't take direct tactical control of your forces, you can mouse over your troops to get real-time updates of the tactics and unit placements your generals have chosen, and how well those gambits are paying off.

In addition, the sequel will flesh out family affairs by letting you assign guardians to child rulers. Over the course of a child ruler's development, the child will eventually evince different personality traits (not all of which are positive), and guardian characters may opt to allow the trait to become permanent or to try to stop the trait from manifesting by sending the child off for training, such as military exercises, to avoid having young Sven of Sweden end up being a coward. And since Crusader Kings II will span the 11th century on through the 16th century and let you start your game at any time within this period, you will eventually be able to build up a huge extended family roster of rulers, and the sequel will have a new family tree view that will let you observe the total amount of regal prestige your scions have earned your house over time. And for the more scholarly player, Crusader Kings is adding embedded links to the Internet's favorite free information resource, Wikipedia, to every major ruler's information screen, so that players who wish to learn more about the rulers they're playing (or playing against) can immediately pull up a browser window and learn more.

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Crusader Kings II will have a huge number of new features and tweaks to offer fans of the original game, and fans of Paradox's strategy games in general. The game is scheduled for release later this year.

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