Crusader Kings III is the much anticipated new entry in the successful PC strategy game series. For the uninitiated, it’s a game set in the Middle Ages where you lead your dynasty to prosperity. You’re given the option to choose a starting point from two important periods in medieval chronology i.e. the years 867 and 1066. You’re also free to choose your starting role, each of which comes with its own set of challenges.
Starting as a count, for example, means that you’ll need to work hard to make a name for yourself and rise through the ranks. Meanwhile, taking on the role of a king from the onset puts the crucial management of your kingdom in your hands. Crusader Kings III is just as much a Medieval life simulator as it is a role-playing game, and it shows in just about every facet. You have to find a suitable wife and have children so there may be an heir to your legacy. Should your character meet their demise, you assume the role of their rightful heir. You also have to take care of the family drama going on around you, including matters such as sibling envy and rivalry. When choosing your bride, the candidates are classified based on key traits, which may or may not be hereditary. Getting married to the daughter of a king or an Emperor, for example, will increase your prestige and strengthen your alliance. On the other hand, a healthy daughter of a noble as your bride can result in healthy and strong children.
Each of your choices carries weight, and it reflects in your character’s progress. The benefits of a decision may seemingly outweigh the drawbacks, but your other choices as well as unforeseen events may alter the course of your fate. Situational changes can lead to changes in traits. For example, genetic problems or diseases may develop over time. Your involvement in some fishy business, such as the existence of your illegitimate child, may lead to exposure, resulting in additional dynamics such as blackmail.
Each negative event takes its toll on your stress bar. The loss of a child, for example, is a tragic incident for your character that considerably raises their stress bar. If the stress bar goes too high, your character may eventually fall into depression, go mad, or even die of cardiac arrest. Making your character indulge in activities that go completely against their designated personality will also increase their stress bar.
The wargame component of Crusader Kings III isn’t nearly as intriguing as its role-playing game component, however. Attempting to conquer the world map through forceful means will often lead to conflict between armies. While different terrain types, geographical traits, and special enemy buildings can potentially put your army at a disadvantage, the outcome of these stat-based battles is largely dependent on strength in numbers and the presence of specialized units, such as knights. The battles themselves play out in a rather uncharismatic manner, with a UI slider showing which side is winning. Luckily, there are more passive and political means to conquest that don’t require you to indulge in battle. Tactful marriage and inheritance pave the way for you to establish your influence over other parts of the world map.
A stealthy approach to conquest can also be taken via the game’s intrigue sub-system, which makes it possible to unravel other characters’ secrets and use them to your advantage. You’re also able to plot key murders that can give you the upper hand in conflict or negate the need for it altogether. Being proficient in the role of intrigue also allows you to gain the confidence of your council and have a better grasp over administration.
The game is a mixed bag in the audiovisual department. The music is on-point and blends well with the historical theme and setting. Visually, however, there’s not much to admire here. Character portraits look lifeless and battles are uneventful. Much of the drama unfold via text, but the accompanying visual feedback feels rather bland.
Crusader Kings III is procedural to the core, right down to a plethora of individual RPG sub-systems that are working in tandem with your choices to shape your dynasty with its broad range of possibilities. It’s effectively a Medieval Sims game, and there’s tons of replay value to be found here, whether you play solo or online. Though, its strategy game elements don’t quite hit the mark as well as its role-playing prospects do.