Crusader Kings 3 as of September 2022
Who Wants to be a Crusader anyway?
Greetings all, it’s coming towards the end of summer and this article came to me after taking a long late-night walk. Soon Paradox and the development team for CK3 will be throwing out the Tuesday updates as to directions going forwards. The kind of news you see on the Paradox website or via the news stream on steam.
CK3 has been a ride. I’m new to the series, new to grand strategy, but I’m not new to strategy as a whole. I’ve played a lot of strategy. One of my favourite games of all time is turn based strategy, one you probably know to some degree; UFO Enemy Unknown (US X-COM: UFO Defense), a weird thing to be bring up in a CK3 article, but you get a degree of the “one more turn feel”, that unpleasant still playing at 4am feeling that you get.
I felt like at this stage, I wanted to reflect on Crusader Kings III and how I’ve felt about it moving along. My ride perhaps is different to some. It’s such a big game that you could approach it from so many different ways, there is so large a scope that everyone will find their own enjoyment, their own challenges. That’s what makes this game amazing, and frustrating in equal measure.
Crusader Kings 3 ~1st September 2020
The base game. Nuff said.
Fashion of the Abbasid Court ~ 1st September 2020
A cosmetic pack that was only available with the expansion pass. The expansion pass included Northern Lords, Royal Court and Fate of Iberia but these titles weren’t known until they were each officially release. They were simply titled as Flavour pack 1, Expansion 1, Flavour pack 2.
Northern Lords ~ 16th March 2021
A flavour pack (US: ‘flavor’) involving the North Germanic region and collection of culture. This was the Vikings pack.
Royal Court ~8th February 2022
An expansion pack introducing the 3D rendered Royal Court and cultural mechanics to the game.
Fate of Iberia ~ 31st May 2022
A flavour pack working specifically in the Iberian cultures and introducing the struggle mechanic to the Iberian region. This was a glorious DLC.
I have quite a few gripes sadly. A few things that really bug me.
#1: Clunky Combat
Combat is terrible in many ways, and I’d go as far as to say clunky as f**k. I understand why and how it works how it makes some decisions, but the system is very clunky. Because combat is such an important part of CK3, such an integral and important function, it being clunky detracts from the overall enjoyment.
What are some of the issues. There are numerous but I’ll highlight some of the bugbears for me.
- Big stacks don’t divide men at arms sensibly. When your army gets beyond a certain size, it stops being sensible in how the troops are divided. You cannot specify that one stack holds all of the men at arms and knights, while another stack holds all of the siege units and a siege capable commander (with siege traits).
- An army cannot be managed to avoid overspend effectively; you get two extremes when raising your troops and you have to do a lot of back room micro-management to stay in the black.
- Commanders don’t intuitively re-join stacks after being routed, leaving army stacks without commanders. This inevitably can be very costly for you if you don’t remember to re-assign them manually. The obvious workaround to that is not to lose any battles, but the praxis of that is a lot more difficult.
- The AI is more capable of cheating than you are as it plays all the hands. It often uses exploits to overwhelm, such as using Holy Orders during crusades.
- The enemy sits on gold reserves for decades, neither attacking nor building up its own realm, but to create stalemates. If it is threatened it will spam as many mercenary units as it can leaving you outmatched versus the large number of high talent commanders and knights it has at its disposal. This is a legitimate strategy but leads to a number of problems.
I kept the list at 5 just as examples. I can drill down further into these issues, but I can frankly say that combat has not really improved in any degree since the release of the game up until time of writing. Not even with all of the patches released. What I would be commending the development studio on, is the improvement to AI over time in regard to combat, that has improved. I appreciate the effort there.
#2: Length of time between patches
Now, this is Paradox more than simply the team that are dedicated to the game full time. There are some full-time staff on this project but many of the heads are folded into the rest of the Paradox eco-system to share the workload. Paradox has a big active catalogue of games that are being maintained through their life cycle at this time.
I’m not entirely impressed with how the patches are released and what is found in a patch, and I’ll try and explain where things could have been better.
Firstly, CK3 patches in most cases other than rare hotfix specific patches, are massive feature rich patches. They go super deep. The very first patch to CK3 after its release was huge. It had some really massive adjustments to the game, there were even some major UI adjustments that came about in that first substantive patch. The detail was chef’s kiss. I appreciated the depth of that patch. We’ve had some more bangers like those, some epic patches. But there have been some that have lingered just a little too long.
Patch 1.4.4 was a very uncomfortable patch that lasted far too long. Unfortunately, what seems to be a thing with the Swedish developer, is the hibernation state they tend to fall into during the summer months. This is not something we do in the UK, though in fairness many people do go on Holiday/Vacation during this period because the kids are out of school, but tools are downed, and nothing happens. But for Patch 1.4.4 the biggest stumbling block was Royal Court.
There were some much needed changes required that lingered un-repaired in patch 1.4.4 and everyone was held to ransom while the development team worked on the massive patch that accompanied Royal Court, a sort of Day 1 patch to make certain functions available to those players who didn’t purchase the Expansion.
I have no ill will to those who didn’t buy the expansion. It’s perfectly fine to skip content if you don’t have the cash for it. I have no issue at all with that. What I had issue with, and what is annoying trend, is that Paradox bundles a lot of game function into some patches alongside a load of QoL (Quality of Life) fixes and other erroneous bug fixes. I could really do with Paradox separating function patches from repair patches. Then we don’t linger with an unhappy patch level for many months on end. Whilst I appreciate everything being bundled into one big patch, I also hate that decision in equal measure.
As much as it disturbs me how little Maxis actually fixes in the “The Sims 4”, at least they can roll out functional fixes in a timelier period in comparison. As a side comparison, there were still some achievement bugs plaguing CK3 over a year into its release from the base game collection of achievements. Paradox do have a robust method of highlighting errors through their website, but they do take a fair while to get to the deployment of the fix, and sometimes these fixes don’t quite do enough to remedy the greater problem. They seemingly only release fixes now alongside packs, so you’ll be waiting a long time.
In addition, but a side note, some patch functions can really upset a long running save game. I normally sacrifice old save games knowing that the patch level is likely to affect the obsolete save in unusual ways. There is a way you can force CK3 to run to a patch level, you just go to some settings on the launcher, and you can lock it into a certain patch level. This makes achievement hunting a little cheesier in some regards, because as CK3 moves along, some achievements become more difficult to pull off as new rules are added. This option also allows you to finish your game if you want to, you could take it right up to 1453 if you had that aim in mind, which leads me into the next gripe.
#3: End Game purpose, making it to 1453, the sunset dance
I’ve done it a few times now (at least 5). I did it the first time to get the achievement, but the achievement was bugged, and it didn’t trigger. That was a very disappointing end to that campaign. A Matilda Canossa Restoration of Rome Run. I’ve done it a few more times since. Most commonly from 1066 time start but have done a few 867 to 1453 runs. They take a long time, and your computer will feel like it’s having a Chernobyl-like meltdown, but it can be fun in those late stages.
The problem is, there is no crossing over the line sense of victory. No polish at that back end. Once you are through that time gate, it will do some stupid things to your game. It will stop you being able to move forwards, so if you fancied just simply “playing one more turn” even though you’ve hit the restrictive limit, it won’t let you do that. The game at this point in Iron Man mode especially is fridged, goosed, non-functional. There are some reasons for this, one of them being that you can in some way export your game progress into Europa Unversalis IV or EU4 (another game in the Paradox catalogue) and play in with the reality you created in CK3. Because by the end of where you finish in 1453, you have access to the gunpowder infantry, the arquebusiers, the flintlocks and the musketeers. Combat shifted considerably after the delights of gunpowder. In CK3 you are playing with Knights and rudimentary siege weapons. The bombard is your first taste of powder and by that magic time in 1453, the technology had been refined enough to compress it down into weapons like blunderbusses, essentially, hand cannons.
Civilisation, a Sid Meier’s game, had a better of way of treating you in the end game. I remember it well from Civilisation 4. An actual chronicle of what happened in your game, how the borders changed and how you power grew. There is none of this polish in CK3. There was no real effort placed in the end game and it seems disappointing. I am aware how frequently people just stop when they’ve reached their goal, whether that be an achievement, or they got bored of “blobbing”. But this could really do with some TLC. It should have been a consideration from the start, and I really don’t know why it didn’t receive the attention it should have, even up to now. It just feels like a major oversight in my eyes. It doesn’t thus give you a sense of achievement for getting there, to the end.
Another title that sits under Firaxis, funnily enough an X-Com game, X-Com 2, makes you feel a lot more for ending a run. It has a huge number of stats for you by the end. It feels rewarding to have got there. I feel like my back has been patted when I have reached the end. It’s a good feeling, it brings you back for more. But CK3 does not have that, and it needs it.
#4 DLC Direction
I just want to say at this stage, I’ve loved all three expansions. Northern Lords was great, Royal Court was great, Fate of Iberia was great. The artwork is beautiful in these, there has been some definite labour of love. The music that accompanies each DLC is top notch. But there are some issues with each, and I’ll get into this.
Also, before I get into it, there has been some shade. And I have mention it here. The flavour pack price hike. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you can’t have missed the announcement that flavour pack prices are raising to almost double their original price.
It wasn’t taken well by some. It really wasn’t absorbed all that well. There are other options for you to take. I think the biggest issue is that some companies operate on the idea of FOMO “Fear of Missing out”. With a lot of this new and shiny stuff, being an early adopter can be a terrible thing. You get probably the worst bite of the game, product or service. The thing is, when all of those who have paid full pound or dollar to fund this expansion, have paid their full note the bugs will be ironed out. We are not in the universe where things come perfect out of the gate. There are always bugs, some more egregious than others. CK3 sometimes goes a little further to improve elements that didn’t work right or didn’t have enough scope when the pack released. A late adopter gets all of those benefits, and most likely can get a deal on that expansion later down the track.
Now I’ll mention this, but you can do whatever you want with it. If you don’t like the idea of it, don’t do it. There are code sites you can get codes for games and DLC for those games. They are often if not always cheaper than the platform you are buying them from. G2A, CDKeys, Green Man Gaming. They all provide keys. Perhaps the only shady thing might be how resellers of those keys came across the codes, or more how they paid for them. If you didn’t know, there had been some issues with money laundering from stolen credit cards, so there is a natural displeasure around this topic. That said there are many legitimate code sellers on the platform, and you could be missing out on a bargain, so I recommend it. Touch wood, I haven’t had a single problem yet with a code purchased, however both CDKeys and Green Man Gaming were blocked by my bank on my particular debit card, so that only leaves one place left that still works for me. I even bought the season pass on one of those sites, and that season pass turned out to be the best cost saving purchase. Your experience may vary, but it might be worth the cost saving in these times of inflation.
I’m not done though. That’s not the end of the conversation for DLC. No. Not even.
Sub Point 1: Consistency of scope
It’s always interesting to look at DLC and determine value. Often on YouTube, you see fans of particular franchises produce “tier lists” of where they would put each pack based on its usefulness or lack of utility.
Each DLC has its own cons.
Now, I wanted to talk about a different franchise to give you a comparison.
The Sims 3. Now I realise it is quite a different franchise. Crusader Kings 3 is a grand strategy with role playing. The Sims 3 was a life simulator. Perhaps where they cross over is the role-playing element, but they are different games. What they do share very much in common, and something that has become a franchise feature, is DLC.
The Sims 3 had a lot of DLC. It had full Expansions, akin to Royal Court. It had Stuff Packs more akin to the cosmetic pack that was released with the season pass of CK3. You could buy more content from the game store, worlds, clothes, hairstyles. It changed in The Sims 4; the store was removed and instead everything was put into ever smaller packs.
The one thing The Sims 3 Expansions did right, had some form of consistency where they brought some kind of recognisable key features with each pack. Normally you would get a variety of full-time careers with each pack, you’d also get possibly 1 or more supernatural sim types, and a decent amount of game play interactions, you’d get an expansion world and some other useful knickknacks. You got your bang for your buck.
CK3 has provided improvements, but there are some deficiencies with how each pack has been integrated.
Northern Lords introduces the Coastal Warriors. They break the game in a way, they actually force people to play around exploiting Viking warrior strength. There is a degree of cheese to that, and it doesn’t make the games feel as unique as they could be. You play at a combat disadvantage if you don’t try to incorporate the specialist troops that the Vikings engender. They benefit from so many unique troops compared to anything in the rest of the world, that somehow incorporating them where possible becomes the defacto cheese strategy. North Germanic cultures have the Varangian Veterans, Bondi, Huscarls and Vigmen where most other culture groups only have a single specialist regiment, and they drag these through into their feudal dominance. I would almost go as far to say that the inclusion of these is Swedish vanity, owing to the nationality of the core of the developers. I might be mean in that assessment, but the Vikings are overpowered and make many areas of the surrounding area feel very weak in comparison (England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Finland and Estonia in particular). It’s not all cookies and cream for the Vikings either, as they tend to get stuck in the Tribal stage and start to get outclassed if boxed in by Catholic Feudals, whose power only grows as theirs dwindles.
Royal Court does bring features. But it might not have brought them at the right time. What was made was way beyond what they needed to do, but also had some notable jank when it was released. It was good that Paradox tried to make something different, but it became a folly during the pandemic. They lost a lot of interest for the game, a lot of new people dipped out. It rubbed people the wrong way. Many were disappointed with the features it did bring (me not one of them) but in many ways it felt quite superficial, because the meat of the expansion was dropped in the free patch that accompanied it so those who paid for the expansion felt like in some way they got robbed, whilst the peons, the Johnny and Janey base games got far more than they bargained for. The Culture update was split in half. So, the free update covered a fair element, a massive overhaul, whilst the expansion brought the fine tweaks, the best elements of the culture update.
I should also mention that originally when Royal Court came out, you could access the court as a King or Emperor (enter female alternatives here) and in a Feudal or Clan government. Tribal had no access to the courts even as a King or Emperor. There was pushback from the community and this decision was corrected by Paradox. Tribal governments could now access the Royal Court at the necessary title.
There is a problem with the courts. Once you attain enough coin to sustain them, you can keep them at maximum level for a very long time. They payback so well, that unless you have a major cashflow situation, it is very unlikely that they will ever be less than between 5th and 1st in the world. They do so many things for you in terms of buffs that they are just a major OP element in your arsenal. The AI don’t fast track them in the same way. You will find that only the usual suspects will be high up on the list, (the Byzantines and the Abbasids among them).
The artefacts can’t be sold. So have to be gifted or left to rot. Sometimes those items you gave away, will come straight back to you when that person dies.
Your dynasty will also with boring regularity, demand artefacts from you and saying “no” which is my default unless the item is crap, causes quite a loss in opinion.
Fate of Iberia has the single most exciting change to the gameplay in the form of the “Struggle” mechanic. If you haven’t played it yet, you should, I recommend it. In addition, the music in this flavour pack was top notch as was the art and new fashion styles. However, this flavour pack has shown similar problems to Northern Lords in that some of the amazing mechanics it brought with it, are limited to the Iberia region, and only take effect if you as a ‘player’ become noteworthy in that region. The outward effects are shallow. And yes, it is possible for you to intersect your Northern Lords play with your Fate of Iberia play and make an insanely overpowered Empire with Coastal Warriors and the amazing new dynasty legacies. Throw Royal Court on top, and you are golden.
Sub Point 2: Power Creep
This might sound odd, this might sound like a guy in a flash mac, but no, it’s not that. I’ll explain.
In a game that has so many stats and modifiers there is the type of player that you know and, in some ways, hate in equal measure, because their puritanical march towards the dreaded details of min-max will push a game a certain way.
What is min max? Well, I would hope you know. It is basically gaming the system so that you get the maximum or minimum criteria you need to essentially cheese the game. When the game is cheesed this way, it becomes almost trivially easy.
I’ve already mentioned that Northern Lords can be used in combination with the overpowered coastal warrior regiments, to absolutely wreck people. You stand an even better chance early game to have a staggering dominion. The coastal warriors as a group of units, are without equal and you can overwhelm even the Byzantines if you are quick enough to act.
Then Royal court added many levels of potential cheese into this, with the artefacts. In a way I’m happy with what happened. I can keep my Kingdom or Empire very stable now, thanks entirely to the court. I rarely suffer such a horrible independence/claimant faction combination that will ruin me, but even if I do, I am well enough skilled in such a horrible event that I can recover from it. The developer added dissolution factions to the pot, they aren’t that nice, I lost a massive Empire to one. They strike at very much the worst time, when your ruler is young or feeble (or both). But the tools you are given are so overpowered that you can simply push through.
Let’s talk about Prowess as one stat. It is essential to winning in a duel or when leading an army. It derives advantage against an enemy general, and your survivability in certain events. You can seriously cheese it by having high grade artefacts. You can raise your prowess well above your stature. As a Queen or Empress, you can have some insane stats with some of the artefacts. The combinations permitted are ridiculous in some regards, especially for the super rare artefacts that you can come across. Couple this with some insane cultural things that you can do by changing traditions and ethos’s and you can become unstoppable. I have many times been able to max out development (100) in a county which pays such an insane amount.
Speaking of development gains, the dynasty legacies you can acquire from Fate of Iberia are insane. You will find the great archipelago glowing like the sun by mid-game simply by adjusting your culture to match the city building you’ll be doing via the metropolitan legacy track. Overpowered for sure. Something I found rather underwhelming about the struggle mechanic was when it was done. It was just simply too easy to dominate after you were either crowned Emperor/Empress of Hispania, or to another Empire within the Iberian territory. Once that nice energy was gone, you were left nigh on invincible.
The danger with min max, is that you always play the game a very similar way because it provided fruit, rather than mix up the game each time and a play a different way. Something that bugged me about Diablo 2 and Diablo 3 was this notion of the “PERFECT BUILD”. Such play annoys the absolute crap out of me, not going to lie. I’m of the opinion that a good game should allow many strategies to be optimum, and even a middle strategy that adapts over time. Build play is boring. It’s very boring and there should be ways around things. You can’t play to a set, and a perfect build, you have to enjoy the roll of the dice. It’s more fun that way, it’s more fun that way for the role play.
I often feel that as an example, intrigue becomes very situational. It can be great, but you have to be in the right position to use it effectively. You can easily overlook diplomacy, but it is overpowered in the right hands. People abuse, Martial, Learning and Stewardship, for some it is the only way they play. That isn’t healthy.
Synergy is an important thing with any good re-playable game. You look for the unusual synergies sometimes. I had a game where my culture liked the generous trait, and I found it to be very helpful. Generous has some issues whereby you don’t make as much gold per month but giving things away makes people happier, especially your hard to please vassals and you don’t get stress from parting with territory. It’s glorious to not be dealing with so much stress. It’s not like you can happily rule it all anyway, so you might as well share the load.
Power creep is a thing. I’m concerned going forwards seeing what else could be mixed into the pot. What else might give us as players, buffs. You can get to a point with buffs that it just starts getting altogether ridiculous. One thing that was addressed thanks to Royal Court, was the ability to get to the Living Legend fame level in prestige. It’s much harder now. This is in part thanks to how culture works, and the need and necessity to farm more prestige for cultural modifications. They cost large sums, so you need to obtain more to satisfy them. It can be annoying for achievements and major decisions where you need to get that living legend moniker. It’s not going to be as easy as it was in previous patch levels.
Achievements — In General
I was playing Bronze Man (normal save games) for about the first 100–150 hours of my time with CK3. But I wanted to get into the Iron Man. I actually quite enjoyed going for achievements, and it became quite an obsession hunting them down. So much so that I’ve probably cast over 1,000 hours into the pits of hell to chase them and in the image below is my progress in that regard.
Iron Man means game over if you mess up. It is really harsh. But that also teaches you to be a better CK3 player. You have to move quickly and not over-stretch. You have to keep an eye on all the pots so that they don’t boil over. You have to spin all of the plates. It adds the difficulty that a lack of difficulty should add. It’s also a good bar to judge yourself against the abilities of others. A lot of the time however, you are just playing it for your own challenge, and the victory of getting it done.
In the image above, that’s a small slice from Steam of the last 8 achievements (on the top) that I’ve accrued. The alt text below is not wrong. Very few CK3 players actually try Iron Man, many jump straight into Bronze Man and never jump out, thanks entirely to mods, and being able to go back to older saves.
What I can say is that time isn’t very well respected to what you might lavish on trying. I’ve had an aborted run of the “Nobody Comes to Fika” challenge that went sideways. Same also for the “Legacy of the Campeadores” achievement. A fair amount of time lavished for no result. It’s galling, aggravating, soul destroying. The achievements are very lumpy in their distribution. Some of the achievements are genuinely difficult, but some are insanely difficult.
There are some Major decisions buried in the background that would make amazing achievements. Uniting all of the Slavs would be an amazing achievement but is not. Becoming the Khan of Khans would be an amazing achievement, but isn’t, although it is likely there will be a Steppe/Horse lord/Nomad DLC at some point like there was in CK2. There is no achievement for painting the map, but that can be done (I haven’t done it myself, but it can be done). Some of the achievements that are available are very RNG. I can’t believe that in over 1,150 hours of play, I have not somehow triggered the “What love does for us” achievement. It boggles my mind especially considering the amount of times AI players have successfully assassinated my character. There are some achievements that are straight BS. “Saga in Stone” is a good example. It is a Northern Lords achievement that is an absolute SOAB to obtain without cheese, and I don’t like to cheese so much. I want to come across it naturally, feeling like I’ve earned it, rather than exploiting the game to it.
Which leads to this point.
Game Burn Out
In my long hours of play I feel burned out. I feel like I have been through the mire. I feel like the game is far less fresh than it was all that time ago when I started. I feel like whilst there are so many good things added to this game, and so many more mods being made available that I’ve reached a natural limit. You may notice my last game was Bod Chen Po. I played as the Gugé dynasty. My last Empress in power was an 80-year-old who left me with a major imposition, as there were no house Pugyel heir directly beneath her feet, warm from the womb. All her children were the wrong lineage. I had to for the very first time, put the entire Empire up for “House Seniority”, an inheritance type I’ve not tried before.
You will notice in the screen shot further up the page that I’ve paused from the end of July. I just didn’t have the impetus to play. It became old. Unfortunately, through both really long times between DLC and the pandemic, and long times between patches, the game wore thinner on me. And it has worn thin on a lot of people. There are still people sacrificing many hours to it, but I paused. Even the achievements weren’t enough to bring me back. They can wait a bit for my battery to recharge on the game, for a few patches to wash over.
The new DLC inkling
It was actually visible on the DLC list, I happened on it by chance today on the 31st of August 2022. And I like the suggestion. It comes on the back of the 1.7 patch developer update that I saw on Steam, and then on the Paradox Plaza.
Kind of like the sound of this, sounds fun. Friends and Foes. It looks to be a whole raft of new dialogue, which I like. Some of it is hilarious, especially if you are playing the game and recording it as you go. Some of the events are a real hoot. It’s good to have new consequences because unfortunately what tends to happen is that you become rather used to the “best path” in these dialogues. That’s kind of what I liked about Royal Court, as you’d have to pause a moment and make some important decisions, but even there you would eventually reach an understanding of the weird events that could happen. There is event where someone goes searching for a head that has rolled into court. If you deny this, the person might try to kill you in your bed. I actually married the woman who threatened me in the game, just as a fun twist. She was a great Queen to my King, and a looker. The mad cap in this game can be a lot of fun and I’m all for a bit more depth, so this is a definite win. They are adding quite a lot with the 1.7 patch, but this extra will be very nice.
Memories have been added as a mechanic that will appear, and this was a much-needed feature, but why so late, it’s infuriating. I am looking forward to this, regardless. I am also hoping that at some point, Intrigue receives a bit of focus. I feel like it needs something to make it a bit more useful. The system is a bit barebones right now, there could be a bit more to murder, kidnapping and espionage, because it is an amazing tool but is a very blunt instrument as it is. I’d like to be able to form an assassin’s creed, like assassin’s creed. I would quite like a cadre of spies. I would quite like a band of kidnappers. An academy that improves over time, regardless of the regent of the age. There was something in CK2 called secret societies. This would be a happy return.
I still have quite a few achievements left to tackle. Some big ones still to go. Mother of us All will be along the last that I’ll go for.
I had hoped that CK3 would be further along than where it is now. The developers have definitely rested on their laurels a bit.
I lost a friendly YouTuber to these shenanigans. He has boycotted CK3 and has made his last campaign video. Do you feel the same?
“When you buy a Paradox game, you are basically buying a demo, that is all you are buying. Because the DLCs that you’ll need to get are so instructive, so important to the game. However, that’s not the case to CK3. When you bought Royal Court, I’ve been saying since Royal Court came out it’s the worst [expletive] DLC that they’ve ever brought out. Possibly for any Paradox title.” — Clan of Dunlaib — 16th August 2022
Until next time my folks.