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How Accurate Is Crusader Kings 3 to the Actual Middle Ages?


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Developers at Paradox Interactive are pulling out the stops for Crusader Kings III, with each new trailer showcasing how they've refined the gameplay of their strategy franchise to put players in the shoes of a royal dynasty in the Middle Ages. But how good of a job does Paradox actually do at capturing the essence of life in a medieval kingdom?

After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the warlords, kings, and lucky soldiers who carved up the lands of Europe had to come up new ways of ruling and fighting. Unlike modern civilizations built on law and trade, the kingdoms of the Middle Ages were built on relationships – the King someone swore fealty to, the noble spouse they married, the vassals who fought for them, and so on. For that very reason, the Crusader Kings franchise has always focused on NPC interactions and roleplaying just as much as grand strategy.

Crusader Kings III, set to released in September 2020, has updated the gameplay of Crusader Kings II (currently free to download) to be more accessible while still retaining the core gameplay loop of building alliances with monarchs, vassals, and retainers. Whether CK III can capture the reality of medieval life without sacrificing fun will depend on several key factors:

Will Crusader Kings 3 Put The "Feud" In "Feudalism"?

In this modern world of highly organized nation-states, many falsely assume that the monarchs of the Middle Ages were absolute rulers. In reality, feudalism was built around delegating authority; kings or queens awarded small fiefs of land to their vassals, and those vassals would repay their ruler by swearing loyalty to them. For that reason, honor and a reputation for keeping oaths were very, very important to medieval aristocrats (in sharp contrast to the rampant oath-breaking in Game of Thrones).

According to RockPaperShotgun, Crusader Kings II and III do a good job representing this facet of medieval politics. Players will need to lead armies into medieval wars and scheme for power, but they'll also need to arrange alliances through marriage, publicly keep their promises, and reward their vassals with land and accolades to keep them pleased. One minor inaccuracy in Crusader Kings II lies in how noble titles are arranged – with barons and counts on the bottom and dukes, kings, and emperors at the top, while actual noble hierarchies were rarely so neat or consistent.

Will Crusader Kings 3 Factor In The Importance Of Faith?

Religious piety was a central part of medieval life, embraced by both peasants and kings, while institutions of faith frequently cultivated literacy and helped administer the kingdoms whose spiritual welfare they tended. Crusader Kings II and III both effectively capture the importance of faith in the Middle Ages through some clever gameplay incentives. Faithful observance, pilgrimages, and the funding of Temples can increase the player's Piety statistic, while heretical actions might get them smacked with an excommunication. Crusader Kings III is set to expand CK II's already impressive religion system with a series of new denominations to choose from, plus the ability for players to form their own (possibly heretical) faith.

Will Crusader Kings 3 Shine The Spotlight On The Peasants?

Historical manuscripts from the Middle Ages rarely talk about the lives of commoners, often because they were written by the rich and powerful. A similar trend can be seen in medieval movies and video games, which generally focus on flashy knights over starving peasants. Crusader Kings II, outside of conscript levies or game events like peasant revolts, commits a similar act of historical erasure, pretending that the farmers, artisans, and other Third Estate members didn't exists.

From this perspective, the greatest improvement developers at Paradox could make to Crusader Kings III would be to give the common people of the Middle Ages a more tangible presence in the gameplay – not by creating huge numbers of NPCs, but by integrating their existence into gameplay and visuals. Graphics of castles and cities should have villages and fields of grain outside their walls. Levies and peasant revolts should have fleshed out NPC representatives. Players should have to make tough decisions about whether to exploit their subjects for wealth or empower them at the expense of their vassals.

The Crusader Kings series has always been more accurate than most at depicting their chosen time period, but Crusader Kings 3 looks to be the best representation of the Middle Ages yet. If it takes some of the above ideas into consideration, the game could be one of the sharpest depictions of that era ever developed. Fans will be able to find out more when the game releases later this year.

Crusader Kings 3 is set to release on PC in September 2020.


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