Crusader Kings II: Rajas of India

By James Tanaleon 31 Mar 2014 0

The developers at the Paradox Development Studio have done it again: they have truly broken expectations. When Crusader Kings II came out, there were some complaints that it was an unpolished game and that it was only a slight upgrade from its critically acclaimed predecessor. However, it soon became clear that Paradox was in the market to shatter expectations through the bountiful treasures of their expansions. While many studios focus on a major release and then sprinkle some DLCs on top, Paradox has decided that its DLC policies are more like consecutive courses to a grand meal. Some of the biggest expansions for Crusader Kings II include ?The Old Gods? which not only gave the player access to the Pagan characters, but introduced three whole centuries worth of gameplay and history. ?Rajas of India? is no different. Instead of increasing the span of time, however, Paradox has surprised everyone by expanding the spatial and spiritual aspects of its award winning game. 

Like its name suggests, this latest expansion release for Crusader Kings II adds the entire Indian sub-continent with scores of playable dynasties, nations, and characters. Hindu Maharajas, Jaina princes, Buddhist mystics: they are now all available for any player to try their hands on. This is a revolutionary focus for any grand strategy title. Aside from titles such as Civilization which only have highly abstract versions of the many great cultures of the world, there have been relatively few intricate, detailed, and respectful treatments of India in a PC game. European-based world conquest has always been a norm in strategy games and even treatment of the Far East has generally been romantic from the Shogun: Total War series to Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Now, players get to finally delve into the rich history of the Indian sub-continent in all of its sultry glory. This is not just a revolutionary step in the genre, but in the franchise itself: it demonstrates Paradox's commitment to give its players more than just a visual upgrade to their award winning concepts. The richness of the Medieval experience of the original Crusader Kings no longer confines the franchise as it expands to different times and places. This is good news for the fans of both the genre and the franchise as it means that the Crusader Kings label will remain relevant for players who wish deeper and fuller experiences. 

Like the previous DLC ?Sword of Islam? which unlocked an Islamic themed interface for the player, so does ?Rajas of India? also assume a different costume for the would-be rulers and princes of India. The interface is a comforting earthen-pink hue which is reminiscent of the beautiful buildings of Jaipur. Lotus blossoms and other fine details of the interface makes the transformation complete. The unit sprites are absolutely gorgeous and rendered beautifully. Naturally, my personal favourite visual addition is that of the war elephant. These lumbering special units are beautifully costumed in their three dimensional rendering and are the largest sprites I have seen in a Paradox game. There is no immersion detail spared as even their massive trunks sway as they idle away in between wars. Naturally, the Indian characters have their own unique racial portraits and rich dresses and costumes. There is nothing missing from the visual style of the characters from the mighty Rajas to the lowborn rebels. Even the events have beautiful drawings of Indian settings which ensure that the ethos of the events and decisions are an exercise in immersion to the culture rather than just a generic reprint of its western counterparts. 

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As I mentioned before, the addition of the entire Indian sub-continent is one of the most amazing changes added in this release. The interesting mode by which Paradox manages their DLCs is such that this map change is made available to owners of the base game. This means that those who are not interested in buying this DLC will have cause to rejoice as their maps are now doubled in size. Of course there are some inaccessible areas similar to the African Sahara in the new expanded map: the Himalayas are impassable, for example, and several of the arctic parts of Siberia remain closed off to the player. The other consequence of this map enlargement is that massive swathes of Siberia are now filled out as well. Although this expansion focuses on the intrigues and politics of the sub-continent, players will be pleased to realize that central Asia is now also primed for both play and conquest. Asian Hordes are now a true presence to be feared and their empires vastly demarcated. This level of expansion of the map helps to frame the Crusader Kings II experience as truly being dropped into the historical realities of this period of the world's history rather than just a solipsistic game of European-based conquest. ?Rajas of India? achieves the victory of context. 

This contextual flavour has multiplicative effects on the game's previous DLCs as well. Since ?Sword of Islam? has been released and the Muslim nations are fully available, the Islamic states are no longer merely corner powers that enter into existential ambiguity as soon as the map fringe is reached. Instead, they have a lively and dynamic interaction with their eastern neighbours which give each of the border empires and nations more relevance, dynamism, and interest to play with. Players who engage the Islamic characters as their dynasties of choice now have the option of interfacing with the great cultures of the East instead of the traditional binary of Christian and Muslim in the European and Middle Eastern theatre. Playing a Muslim country has just become even more interesting and is thus another reason why this is a revolutionary DLC for the franchise. I cannot emphasize this point enough that one of the biggest joys of this expansion is the unexpected fleshing out of the Muslim experience. Furthermore, because of the way this expansion of geography and political entities will be present for the whole game and not just for the buyers of this new expansion, ?Sword of Islam? fans should be celebrating in the streets at the chance to further complete their Muslim dynastic experiences especially considering the significant and important history of Islam in India. 

It is not just the land masses that received an expansion either: sea travel is now available in the Indian Ocean and its suffragan seas such as the Persian Gulf. Previously, sea-faring vessels could not traverse these zones, but ?Rajas of India? has now unlocked these bodies of water as navigable. Not only does this mean that one may ferry troops from one continent to another, but that raiding parties can bring treasure from Egypt and Arabia back to India and vice versa. The famous Indus and Ganges rivers are also large enough to be navigable by raiding parties. This is an exciting invitation for anyone playing ?The Old Gods? who wishes to be the first Viking to raid Delhi. 

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Aside from a whole new land to conquer, the thrill of this new expansion is not just geographic. There are three new religions available to be played out in the game: Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism. These ancient religions are expounded in great detail in the game and affect each other in ways particular to the Indian sub-continent. The tolerance, for example, of these religions to each other is something properly coded into the game. The tendency of the Jains to avoid violence, for example, plays out in their reluctance to engage in foreign wars. The detail given to these religions is just as sophisticated as the treatment of Christians, Pagans, and Muslims in the previous DLCs. There are sects, for example, for the different religions and branches which the player may choose to convert to giving flavour and intrigue to the various options available. The structures of these religions are also treated meticulously in the religion menu. 

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While the religion menu in a Catholic nation, for example, might have information about the Pope and cardinals, the religion menu for the various Indian nations not only shows the holy men around the realm, but also the holy sites in India itself. This interesting emphasis on holy sites helps to differentiate the gaming experience of the Indian nations from its western counterparts. The different religions also have different values that track adherence. Karma, for the Hindus, for example, or Purity for the Jains. This is a joy for any player who is looking for a Crusader Kings II experience that is more than just the ?usual? knight and bishop play of the Occident. One of my favourite aspects of the new religions introduced is the ability to choose a patron deity for Hindu players which modifies the focus of the player's attributes. It is this level of immersion that really allows a player to invest emotionally into their character. Customization on this level helps to provide not just buy-in to the game experience, but replay value as different possibilities are always open to the player. 

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The Caste system which this part of the world is famous for is also a new addition to the flavour of each character. Certain nations and religions, however, treat the importance of the castes differently. As such, not only is ?Rajas of India? a meticulously faithful historical simulator, but also a nuanced one. The player can revel in raising proud Kshatriya to rule a nation and Brahmin to lead it in prayer, or become more focused on the path to Nirvana without having to worry about the societal construct. Nonetheless, the Caste system, which is represented as attributes to the character, adds another dimension of interaction between the different players of the world which has long been the backbone of the Crusader Kings II experience. 

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Supporting these major changes to geography, religion, and characterization are also the various different events and decisions specific to this new land. One of my favourites, for example, is the availability of being a master of war-elephant warfare. There is nothing more satisfying to me than my Kshatriya overlord leading scores of War Elephants into battle directly. Visitations to local temples, devotional feasts, and Tiger hunts all come together to form a unique yet not so unfamiliar experience for the player. There are even occasions where the fate of local elephant populations is decided upon through event. Any player familiar with Crusader Kings II is not going to be lacking anything from the fullness of the experience while being all the more surprised by the difference in playstyles from east and west. 

While adding all of these new features, the core identity of Crusader Kings II is not lost in this new expansion. The tried and true method of managing de jure counties and duchies is still present in ?Rajas of India.? The richness of the different de jure titles ranging from the small Thikana to the massive Raj all make for powerful incentive to delve into the complex political entities of south of the Himalayas. These new areas are decorated with their own unique crests and icons which add visual panache to this revolutionary addition. 

Overall, ?Rajas of India? is an exciting expansion. I would dare to say that it's a must have for any fan of the franchise. I must admit that although I am a staunch and faithful fan of the European theatre, I was entranced and charmed by the vast lands of India. It was so easy to become obsessed with uniting the fertile land into a single entity. There was a particular charm in achieving social harmony through the castes or bringing all of the holy sites under my particular religion's control. In essence, there are plenty of game goals particular to ?Rajas of India? that not only expand the Crusader Kings II core experience of intrigue, warfare, and politics to South Asia, but also give the player something genuinely new to play around with. This is hardly just an expansion of geography, but also an expansion of playability. Once again, I am truly impressed with this franchise. It remains Paradox's most intricate and polished product to date and comes with my highest recommendation. 

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