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11 Dec 2013 Review

Crusader Kings 2: Sons of Abraham Review

The level of post-release support Paradox Interactive have provided for grand strategy title Crusader Kings 2 is absolutely incredible. Now almost 2 years after its initial release, the game has seen no fewer than five significant DLC expansions, not to mention the huge array of smaller add-ons ranging from additional songs to unit sprites. The more pessimistic among you may be thinking, “since when was truckloads of DLC a good thing?” Since it was all really good, is my answer to that. Every major pack released has been loaded with new content, all for a reasonable price. Crusader Kings 2 has, over time, grown from the brilliant game it already was to begin with to a must-own PC game.

So enters Sons of Abraham, the latest significant expansion to the game that centres on religion. In case you didn’t know, Abrahamic religions encapsulate the majority of those found in the Crusader Kings world like Catholic and Sunni. Firstly, the college of cardinals system is finally in; it’s an element of the medieval world that was impossibly integral to everyday life. While religion has been part of CK2 since the beginning, it’s never been a particularly significant element of the game. Sure, you could wage holy wars and manage the spread of your religion, but there was little management of the actual functionings of religious activity.

CKII SoA DD 03 The Last Khazars

Sons of Abraham looks to set this right. The college of cardinals is the biggest addition to the game, but it may leave most players wishing for something a little more substantial. Although the system is fully functional and relatively real to life, the player has very little control over the actions of the college. You can promote your own holy men to the point of cardinal, even pope if you can be bothered, but there’s not even a particularly significant reward for achieving this goal. For the most part, you’ll have a sense that there’s some clever stuff going on with the college of cardinals, but ultimately you have almost no control over their decisions or actions.

So the college is a bit of a flop; it’s clever, but not particularly engaging. What’s undoubtedly more interesting is the new collection of religion themed events and groups. While religious orders like the Templars and Hospitallers were also still around in the base game, they’ve been given a significant boost in importance. You can now directly interact with them, as opposed to just hiring their military services. They act more like an independent nation whose only aim is to spread Christianity into the east. It’s a shame you still can’t play as them, but it’s nice to know that you’ve got a couple of independent religious factions backing the crusades that you sparked.

CKII SoA DD 03 Start of Pilgrimage

The events are probably one of the best elements of Sons of Abraham. There are some genuinely hilarious happenings to experience as well as some pleasantly long lasting events. One event saw a ‘divine woman’ descend from upon high to take on various roles across my Polish kingdom. The higher-ups weren’t too sure about her, the religious types thought she was a mad heretic, but the general populous loved her. Through various multilayered decisions over a protracted period of time she became a literal saint among men and legend of the Polish nation. Once again, we’ve seen a lot of this before, but these events are some of the most dramatic and interesting in the game’s long lifespan.

There are other small elements that tie more closely with the base game, such as sending off a troublesome family member to join one of the holy orders. Or religious pilgrimages that can either benefit or prove disastrous to your character. The eastern religions are also deepened slightly with the addition of battling ideologies within the Muslim faith. This can make the Muslim nations feel a little more individual and less like a huge collective of Christian-destroying bible bashers. Which is all for the good, in my opinion. If I have one critique of the base CK2 formula it’s that Arab nations are far too 1 dimensional.

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The final major addition (on top of the small stat adjustments and corrections) is the ability to play as a Jewish nation, a religion previously non-existent in CK2. In reality, playing as the one Jewish dukedom that’s actually playable  is an extreme challenge for only the most dedicated CK2 players. With very little starting land and surrounded by varying religions, it’s all but impossible to get the nation up and running successfully. I would consider myself a well fared and experienced Paradox gamer, but getting anywhere near Jerusalem in order to set up the nation of Israel proved to be an insurmountable challenge.

Crusader Kings 2: Sons of Abraham is undoubtedly the weakest expansion to the game yet. When you consider that The Old Gods expansion preceded it (for a very similar price as well!), it seems even weaker. There is, quite simply, a disappointing lack of new content. While certain elements are fun, especially the large array of new religious events, a lot of what’s on offer feels like background filler. There’s a lot more going on in your CK2 games now, but there’s not a whole lot more of it you can directly control. Still, it’s a serviceable expansion for a fantastic game, so that can only be a plus point. Probably worth buying when the price is slashed in a sale, but for now it’s only really worth it for those who want a serious challenge playing as the Jewish leader.

 

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Ryan Davies – Junior Editor
Budding, growing and morphing games journalist from the South. Known nowhere around the world as infamous wrestler Ryan "The Lion" Davies.

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