The medieval kingdoms of Crusader Kings II are rife with war, disease, and drama. In this Old World real-time strategy game--the sibling of developer Paradox Interactive's other historical RTS, Sengoku--you choose from hundreds of noblemen and attempt to earn as much prestige for your kingdom as possible. Compared with the previous Crusader Kings, this sequel adds several new features, including a streamlined interface, a 3D world map, and a tutorial of the game's numerous menus and interactions. Unfortunately, the tutorial wasn't ready during our play session, but we still found plenty of ways to make our own fun.
Our ruler of choice was Boleslaw the Bold, ruler of the Kingdom of Poland. Our first, and only, task was to select a wife and secure an heir to the throne; die without an heir, and it's game over. From the available bachelorettes we picked Urraka--her name just rolls off the tongue--Princess of Navarra, because she had huge…tracts of land. Boleslaw is a man of simple tastes.
The blushing bride packed the wrath trait, meaning that she took a hit to her negotiation skills and was great at smashing expensive dishware, but she was also a charismatic negotiator, which bumped her negotiation skills right back up. Every character has a collection of traits, from amateurish plotter to glutton, that influence how he or she will interact with others. Diplomacy and international relations are just as strong as any sword or shield in the world of Crusader Kings II, especially for a smaller kingdom such as ours. A few days later, the marriage was accepted, and we faced our first royal decision: Do we make our subjects pay for the wedding? Choosing yes would keep us from losing any gold, while choosing no would award 50 prestige.
Not long after the marriage, we received a notification stating that Courtier Bozena might fancy us. We then had the option of blowing her off or paying a late-night visit to her chambers. Naturally, we chose the latter--they call us The Bold for a reason. A few beats later we received a message from the good king simply stating that he had visited Bozena's chambers and had given her "a good tumble." Ah, it's good to be the king.
But then doubt set in. Fearing the wrath of the queen, we clicked on the intrigue tab and surveyed our options. Our choices were to either "become a paragon of virtue," which was noble and boring, or "see Queen Consort of Urraka of Poland dead." We decided it was time to go all King Henry VIII on our wife and started a plot against her. Each plot has a percentage to indicate its chance of success. Our plot started with only a 43.3 percent probability of success, so while Boleslaw's spirit might've been willing, his reach exceeded his grasp. To help grease the gears of murder, we called upon Macko, Bishop of Czestochowa, and Bogumil, Prince-Bishop of Gniezno, who both held the "cruel" trait and had a high opinion of us.
With their help, the queen had an unfortunate accident a few months later. Apparently, her carriage was randomly attacked by bandits, and she didn't make it out alive. What are the odds? Behind all the family squabbles, there was still plenty of ruling to be done, such as dispatching our chancellor to improve diplomatic relations with the massive Holy Roman Empire in the West, or summoning our local lords to vote on increasing tax rates in cities. We also adjusted our technology focus in the culture tree to "profane art" solely for the increase in prestige, of course.
Our time with Crusader Kings II revealed it to be an immense game driven by character interaction. Unfortunately, we didn't get a chance to accomplish much in the way of conquering the world, but we did at least gain some prestige--and upgraded our marital situation for good measure. You'll be able to partake in Crusader Kings II's combat, management, and courtly intrigue yourself when the game is released on February 17 of next year.