DLC has, somewhat justifiably so, earned a pretty bad reputation. Largely due to the obvious instances in which a developer withholds content specifically so it can be sold later at often extortionate prices. Crusader Kings II has just seen the release of its sixth (!) major expansion, alongside over 40 pieces of varying DLC. Despite this, Paradox has somehow managed to prevent any of these expansions feel like senseless cash-grabs. While some of these previous expansions are better than others, they’ve always felt like labours of love rather than financial gain. Indeed, when the DLC is expanding on such a huge and in-depth game to begin with, it can be difficult to say that Paradox ever withheld anything other than ideas they had yet to invent.
So now we have Rajas of India, the most physically significant expansion for the two-and-a-half-year-old game that never stops giving (and taking our money, it seems). For the first time the boundaries of the in-game map have been dramatically increased; the game now includes the entire geographical area of India, as well as a much more detailed and expansive version of western and central Asia. Historically, India was a place of great inner-turmoil during the Crusader Kings II timeline, and while it remained wholly independent and separate from the western world, it actually functioned strangely similarly. Which is precisely why Paradox has given you the option of taking the reins of any of the Indian nations from 867 (so long as you’ve got The Old Gods expansion) up until the end of the medieval age.
The new region is a brilliant addition to the game; for those who’ve been playing Europa Universalis IV since release, the concept of a slight expansion to the comparatively small CKII map may seem negligible. In a game as deep and diverse as Crusader Kings II, however, it’s an excellent move, regardless of the size of EUIV. If you’re the kind of gamer who’s played in every sub-continent and every region of the base game, then Rajas of India will feel like a breath of fresh air to begin with. The Indian sub-continent is expansive, interesting and full of new things to see and do. What’s more, you can take on the role of a Persian nation and conquer India from the outside; the new regions in the middle east make playing as a Muslim ruler a much more diverse experience, which is a key addition.
So in terms of giving you more interesting physical space to play around with, Rajas of India is a success from the outset. In terms of new gameplay features, the expansion is a little lacking, although less so than the Sons of Abraham DLC. If you’re looking for game-changing twists to the system, then you’re better off with the earlier expansions. The Indian caste system, essentially a mixed up version of the western class system, is more of an annoyance than a strategic principal; marrying your leader to a member of the wrong caste has a seriously damaging effect on other people’s opinions of him or her. Other than this, the caste system has very little effect on gameplay and you’ll soon learn to ignore it.
More interesting, although still not exactly original, is the inclusion of three new religions: Buddhist, Jain and Hindu. The slightly different aesthetic features of these religions, and the events associated with them, are fun to begin with, but grow a little stale after a while. It won’t take long for you to realise that they all function in the same way the western religions do in the base game; even owners of the Sons of Abraham DLC won’t benefit from a Cardinal-esque system. As ever, there are a great collection of thematic events and event chains to dabble with as an Indian ruler. It adds a good deal of flavour to the setting and sets the Indian nations apart from the rest of the world; well, that and the new character portraits and sprites.
Speaking of new sprites; the much-touted war elephants are, aside from the map change, the most notable addition to the game. Notable, at least, in a literal sense. The elephants are cool to see marching across your (or preferably, your enemy’s) regions, but they certainly don’t make a lot of difference to combat, particularly when your opponent is fielding war elephants as well. In a game like Total War where you actually get to see the creatures smash through ranks of troops, they’re undeniably cool; in CKII, they’re just a passable novelty. Which really, is a description that’s fitting for a lot of Rajas of India. The new-look interface is cool, but only as amusing as you’d expect, the different Indian titles are essentially new words for the same basic ranks and social positions, and the addition of jungle regions fails to mix up combat substantially.
Yet, despite all of this, Rajas of India is still an expansion worth picking up. Although the ‘new’ gameplay mechanics fail to make much of an impression, this should prove to be one of the best expansions for stealing away your time - which, let’s be honest, is the main feature of grand strategy gaming. This DLC would have a big problem if the base game wasn’t much to begin with; but an expansion based on a masterpiece of strategy game design like CKII has a lot going for it. Those familiar and brilliant mechanics of the original game are just as excellent within the Indian subcontinent. The fun of Rajas of India comes from the fact that you can play it all again but in a new and wonderfully unfamiliar location (at least for most people). There are hundreds of new regions to conquer, people to manipulate and factions to intrigue with and against. The base principles of the game have barely changed, but the Indian location gives repeated playthroughs a new lease of life.