Crusader Kings II: The Republic and Sunset Invasion DLC08 Mar 2013 0
Crusader Kings II needs almost no introduction. One of the grandest of the grand strategy titles from Paradox Interactive, Crusader Kings II presents a player with the monumental task of guiding a medieval dynasty to greatness through micromanaging everything from fiefs and titles to marriages and war (often being the same thing). Recently, two new DLCs came out for this award winning game: The Republic and Sunset Invasion.
The Republic expands on the trend of unlocking previously unplayable factions to the player. Whereas the earlier expansion Sword of Islam allowed a player to finally take up the crescent and play a Muslim ruler with new trimmings and events, The Republic grants the player access to Merchant republics exemplified by such ?Serene? republics as Venice, Genoa, and the Hanseatic League. Far from just cosmetic changes (which are also present), The Republic establishes a whole new dynamic of managing politics and economics. Although the usual bread and butter of establishing dynastic ties, laying claim on enemy territories, and acquiring new demesnes are still present, as a Merchant Republic, the player is also charged with expanding an economic empire through trading posts and economic shipping zones. Taxes from land take a back seat to the constant influx of trade gold and the heavy handed politics of managing counts and dukes is subsumed by power struggles in an elective system of government.
No longer are succession laws the shields by which players can preserve their dynastic line: the player's designated heir must also be popular enough to win an election. Popularity, found under the beautifully dressed ?Republic? tab, is a function of age and prestige which means that your excellently raised yet young son may not be guaranteed a turn as the Doge and since your titles can easily slip away from you in the next election, ?game over? might come sooner than one expects. Of course, one can use the new feature of putting funds into an election campaign to increase one's popularity, but investing too heavily on the political future of your heir could mean you could fall behind on the race to build new trading posts. The new patrician family system is like a microcosm of the massive dynastic jealousies of the larger nations and the excitement of politics on a smaller scale is one of the most appealing parts of this DLC.
This balance of money and power creates an exciting and refreshing new dynamic for the player and is easily one of the more fun alternate modes to play in CK II. It's not just in the new political and economic system either, but the events are peppered with republic specific scenarios with everything from snubbing people at parties to escalating family feuds that have a real and lasting effect on relations and politics in the city-states. Public image and prestige become real currency in the burgeoning republics just as much as money?and just as volatile. Events that elevate or crash your prestige in relation to other houses come and go with the same frequency as news of your latest shipment lost at sea or happily acquiring pirate booty. There are a few other changes to the game mechanics such as being unable to have matrilineal marriages or having a Doge-ess, but the game should be familiar and easy enough to pick up for anyone who has already played CK II.
The logistical considerations of making new trading posts are also an excellent addition to this expansion. Costs for new trading posts are calculated based on distance from a home province as well as the relations you have with the host nation. I found that using your chancellor to cozy up to major potentates eases the construction costs of new trading posts. All of these posts are also able to be upgraded and the collection of these posts in an area creates an economic zone almost akin to a seafaring version of a province where different trading posts contribute to the overall gain from each zone. The amount of money generated from building these investments should not be underestimated as one can quickly be swimming in their own money bin.
However, busy bees making golden honey can sometimes attract the avarice of bears and there were several times when I had been invaded by a much larger neighbor (I'm looking at you, Holy Roman Empire) and forced to burn all of my hard-earned trading posts. It's one of the things I would have to disagree with concerning this particular expansion: it's too easy to reap merchant republics like money farms. Allow them to build up in your state and then declare an embargo war. I would have suggested a better solution of perhaps a prestige drop or other serious consequences for declaring a war merely out of avarice instead of rights and de jure titles. It's quite difficult to return to full capacity after such a devastating war which is why I recommend diversifying one's portfolio by constructing trading posts in a myriad of different states.
It's this kind of macroeconomic planning that makes playing The Republic a rewarding addition to the usual title-grabbing high politics of the original Crusader Kings II. However, I am a bit disappointed in some ways with the way the potential of The Republic was not fulfilled. There was a lot of ways in which Paradox could have made The Republic a true and elevating expansion to an already amazing game. Perhaps similar to Anno 1404, particular trade goods and silk roads should have made its way into the economic system of The Republic. In fact, one great way they could have balanced the seemingly impossible scenarios of having to defend against such powers as the Holy Roman Empire and increasing the economic importance of the game was to establish prestige and economic bonuses if you traded certain goods to certain nations. Say, for example, Venice was able to secure incense for the Byzantines or silk for the Germans, it would provide incentives for those massive empires to leave the busy little Republics to their business.
Competing with other Grand Republics would have also taken on a greater import if trade zones had particular valuables that increased stats or had much higher trade value to them not so unlike the way Paradox has integrated the importance of certain goods into Victoria II. I can understand why Paradox may not have been willing to take The Republic into that mechanic since such a system is already being developed for the upcoming incarnation of their flagship Europa Universalis series. That said, all of these things in consideration make me question the ten dollar price tag, but I cannot deny the uncompromising love Paradox has deposited into their games.
It's true that I am excited to delve into another session of CK II playing as a Patrician family. The immersion quality of such a venture also increases if you purchased the must-have Ruler Designer DLC and construct your own famous Patrician House. I would also recommend trying out being a minor Patrician to work your way up to being Doge. Some clever assassinations here and easy bribes there would certainly provide hours of experimentation and political intrigue?if you can survive.
Whereas The Republic attempts to mold the mechanics of an already intricately accurate game to simulate the workings and rivalries of great houses in a merchant quasi-empire, Sunset Invasion takes the completely opposite route. Sunset Invasion is a five dollar DLC which adds a randomly triggered invasion in the latter half of the game's timespan by the Aztecs?yes you heard that correctly?the Aztecs of Mesoamerica. This completely fictional scenario unfolds as a series of events that triggers along the Atlantic coastal powers of Europe and North Africa that unleash a torrent of blood-thirsty warriors numbering in the hundreds of thousands.
Whole kingdoms fall to the onslaught of rapidly deployed infantry and archers in flavour events that?perhaps intentionally?mirror the Spanish Conquistadors arriving at Mexico. If you thought the three waves of Mongol Hordes arriving from the East was bad, this Aztec Armada can make swift work of Christian Europe in a matter of years. Arriving with their warriors are the infamous rituals of human sacrifice which add an almost sardonic sadism to the impending doom of enemy invaders. You don't need to be a Russian or Islamic state to experience the full force of invasion anymore?and even then, the Mongols feel a bit more palatable than these heart wrenchingly cruel conquerors.
When I first heard about this DLC, I was appalled?and finally playing it, I had not lost that feeling. There had been a lot of worries about Paradox switching to a sandbox format to their games, especially in Europa Universalis III, but the original Crusader Kings had been a sandbox game from the start. However, Paradox never actually released content for CK or CK II that ever violated the historical accuracy of their starting points or their events until Sunset Invasion. While I have nothing against Paradox releasing this DLC?and in fact I find it to be a fun DLC?I can't help but shake the feeling that it's strange. The same kind of feeling one might get if they had written some wacky fan fiction and the original author picked it up and made it canon. In some ways, Paradox sacrificed the heart and spirit of CK II to appease some higher pagan god. Thankfully, it's only an optional DLC.
Even if it is glorified fan fiction, Sunset Invasion makes a compelling story. Western powers rallying against an Apocalyptic interruption in their lives sets a stage for some rather epic combat. After all, trying to fend off a hundred thousand men who suffer no attrition with your ragtag levies can be called epic by any standard and is a fitting event to have when someone has expanded into a huge empire and wants an ?end game boss? when even the Mongols aren't enough of a pain. The rich artwork and even the fun details in the Aztec Empire's coat of arms create a level of immersion that pushes into the fantastical.
Aside from the historical pillaging, however, there is the other major letdown: the Aztecs themselves are unplayable. I thought that was the biggest tease of this DLC. When I had heard about this DLC, I had fantasized about a cruel and ruthless pagan empire stealing the hearts of the cozy Europeans (literally). Instead, my bloodlust was frustrated by the greyed out button that said ?cannot play as Pagans!?
It's true that Paradox is readying themselves to release a new DLC which allows the player to play Pagan nations and this would certainly work in great combination with that DLC, but then it makes me cautious about the five dollar price tag for Sunset Invasion?especially for an event that could have probably been created by any of the amazing modders at the Paradox Forums for free. The same modders, in fact, which created the famous Game of Thrones mod. Again, I have nothing but respect for the amazing developers at Paradox so instead of chiding them for overpricing a DLC, I will simply encourage other studios out there to break into this niche genre and provide us with some competition in the grand strategy arena!
So in the end, I would wholeheartedly recommend The Republic as an excellent and interesting addition to the impressive game that is Crusader Kings II although I'd probably wait for a Steam sale or a bundle sale (which Paradox often does) to buy all the DLCs at once at a lower price. However, I would not necessarily recommend Sunset Invasion unless you have money to blow on a formidable and richly-decorated end game boss. Naturally, this all brings up the concerns of whether or not CK II was a completed game when it was sold, but I think that Paradox has been more than fair by lumping many of their DLCs into bundles at low prices and if one imagines that one is simply paying a premium for getting the DLC early, it's easy to live with. I'd personally rather have DLC released piecemeal than waiting a whole other year before another title release and if I'm worried about price, I could wait that year long wait I would have done anyway to get it in a bundle. Indeed, if one steps back and looks at the larger picture of all of the amazing DLCs released for Crusader Kings II, it's easy to see why it deserves the accolades it gets.
Review written by: James Tanaleon