Arriving as it does on the eve of what may be a succession crisis in the United States – that grand experiment in Enlightenment ideas of popular sovereignty – it’s tempting to think of Crusader Kings III as a kind of divine omen. Paradox’s latest incarnation of its medieval dynasty simulator is not only strangely portentous, but it’s also the most accessible the studio’s grand strategy games have ever been. Thanks to a near total rework of its interface, an enhanced new build of the underlying Clausewitz engine, and a generous new system for keeping players informed, Crusader Kings III is the new gold standard for the genre.
Over the past several years, the idea of keeping politics out of videogames has gained a certain amount of traction, and Crusader Kings III continues in the tradition of vividly demonstrating the absurdity of that notion. The American political scientist Harold Lasswell wrote that politics is the process of determining “who gets what, when, and how,” and that’s a decent summation of what Crusader Kings is about. Every decision you make is inherently political, and the politics of the middle ages is a swirling vortex of relationships, tradition, violence, and wealth in which you immediately find yourself fighting for dominance – or in many cases, mere survival.
Veterans of Crusader Kings II will be immediately familiar with the setup. You choose a start date, then a ruler alive during that time, and then set off in a medieval sandbox to fulfil whatever goals you’ve decided upon – unify a shattered kingdom, restore a faith, or just fight for all the glory you can in order to secure your legacy and see that your family’s name lives on through the ages.