Crusader Kings II : The Old Gods
Pagans have more fun. That’s the lesson to be learned from Paradox Interactive’s latest expansion, Crusader Kings II: The Old Gods. For the first time in the series you can play as the heathen Norsemen, along with assorted other pagan infidels across Europe and the East. It’s an addition that increases the player’s options to a truly staggering degree. Now it’s possible to jump in as pretty much any country and culture you can see on the world map, and each has a vastly different feel. While previous expansions focused on the economic powers of the Mediterranean, or the cultured Muslim states, The Old Gods encourages a more direct approach.
As numerous as your options were in Crusader Kings II, it was generally advisable to keep your tyranny to a minimum. Constant pressure from the head of the church and your unruly vassals meant that it was far more effective to keep everyone reasonably happy than it was to start lopping heads off left and right. The Old Gods laughs in the face of such subtlety. As a Norse chieftain, you swear fealty only to the fearsome gods of the Northmen, who do not care for the peaceful ways of those soft Christians. Pagans can invade non-believers at will by declaring subjugation wars and grabbing as much land as they can. No longer do you have to spend years cultivating a valid Casus Belli (justification for war), instead you can march into your enemy’s lands and start sacking everything in sight.
“Set up raiding parties ”Such freedom is not without consequence, however. Early on your sheer military power will give you the edge over scattered Christian petty kingdoms, but as stronger realms begin to get carved out the balance of power swings over to the side of the more organised religions. The increasing power of the Pope means that invading a Catholic country can cause several nations to rise up in arms against you. Counterbalancing this are the various bonuses that pagan chiefs receive exclusively. You can call for a ‘blot’ every nine years, a great feast in the name of Odin at which you can offer up enemies or slaves as sacrifices. This is a great way to get rid of any political prisoners you have lounging in the dungeons, as the prestige and piety gained from a religious execution offsets the typical penalties you get for murdering your bannermen. There are numerous other pagan-specific events to experience.
Perhaps the coolest new addition is the chance for you to set up raiding parties to pillage the towns of those soft Southerners. You can turn a regular band of soldiers into a raiding party in your home provinces, and then use the powerful and speedy Norse ships to sail upriver into the continent in search of plunder. Attacking in this way can be done without declaring war, as your raiding parties are ostensibly acting alone as roving brigands. It will anger the country being raided, and they can send troops to smash the intruders, but it’s the Vikings’ most effective method of generating funds early on. You just need to keep an eye on your rampaging troops to make sure they don’t get cornered by several thousand deeply annoyed knights.
“Lovingly crafted”The balance is that Viking kingdoms are typically less profitable than their Christian foes. In fact, one of the most fun ways to play The Old Gods is as a landless chief, or the owner of a single holding. Without the income stream generated by cultivated land, you’ll have to build up your power and prestige through constant raiding. It’s an excellently balanced system, and one that encourages a more thoughtful style of play than you’d expect. Straightforward brutality will give you a certain edge, but as you progress you’ll have to decide whether the negative implications of the Viking way of life outweigh the benefits.
Alongside the focus on pagan leaders, The Old Gods refines several aspects of the original game. You can now pin important figures to a section on your main screen, which means that you can keep a close eye on your key rivals or potential allies. It’s a simple little change that makes realm management a great deal easier. In a welcome move, technology trees have gone through a major change. You’ll now find a list of the various tech bonuses and penalties you’re receiving, as well as an option to invest in particular branches, so it’s possible to plan your scientific advances in far more detail. The dreaded mass naval embarkation is much easier to organise now, as troops can finally be loaded onto your boats with a simple right-click.
As with all the best expansions, The Old Gods doesn’t just give you more of the same. Instead it takes an excellent core system, and adds a set of rules and changes that give you drastically different ways to play. Playing a bullish Norse conqueror is a blast, but there are dozens of other rulers from various backgrounds that each offer a new challenge. As well as the ton of new content, Paradox have made several changes that alter the main game’s mechanics for the better. If you were one of those who whiled away countless hours on Crusader Kings II, you’ll find another addictive and lovingly crafted time sink here.