Crusader Kings II: DLC Buying Guide

By T.J. Hafer 13 Apr 2018 4

It’s a rare strategy game that’s still receiving major expansions over five years after release. The fact that Crusader Kings II is one of those few represents just one of the aspects that makes it special. But with all that extra stuff comes a hefty, extra price tag. Across 14 DLCs (if we’re just counting the major, gameplay-altering ones), you can expect to pay nearly $170 on top of the base game (at full price) to acquire the “full” experience. Steam sales and combo bundles can easily knock more than half of that off, but it’s still tough to digest if you’re just getting started.

So, we’ve broken down every gameplay DLC, and how worth your money we think it is.

SWORD OF ISLAM (2012) - $9.99

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Highlights:

Unlocks Muslim rulers (base CK2 only allows you to select Christian characters) with loads of new mechanics

  • Decadence can cause your dynasty to collapse if you engage in immoral behavior.
  • A new succession type for Muslim realms in which all legitimate sons have a shot at inheritance based on their prestige.
  • Ability to have up to four wives.
  • New CBs (reasons to go to war) specific to the Muslim world.
  • Tons of new, Muslim-specific events and decisions, such as going on Hajj to Mecca. 

Is it worth it?

As you’re going to discover with many CK2 expansions, it depends highly on whether or not you are interested in playing the new content it unlocks. You can play non-Muslim rulers forever and the fact that you don’t have this DLC installed will have no effect on you at all. They are a rather large, distinct, and interesting sphere of CK2’s world, however, and quite worth giving a spin if you’re looking for something different from feudal Catholic Europe.

LEGACY OF ROME (2012) - $4.99

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Highlights:

  • New decisions and events for the Byzantine Empire, allowing them to restore the Roman Empire by capturing its former territories.
  • Orthodox rulers can Mend the Schism, re-uniting the Western and Eastern halves of the church and rendering Roman Catholicism a heresy.
  • A new army type called retinues, in contrast to feudal levies which must be called to war each time, represent standing armies like those of the Byzantines that exist on the map at all times and never need to be disbanded.

Is it worth it?

Absolutely. It’s only $5, and retinues are such an essential element of late game CK2 that you’re basically handicapping yourself by not having access to them. The other features are fairly specific to Byzantium and other Eastern Orthodox rulers, but retinues alone put Legacy of Rome on the essential list - especially since it tends to go for under $3 on sale.

SUNSET INVASION (2012) - $4.99

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Highlights:

  • Adds an ahistorical invasion of technologically-advanced Aztecs who arrive from across the Atlantic to conquer Europe in the late game.
  • Introduces Nahuatl culture and the Aztec pagan religion.

Is it worth it?

As probably CK2’s most controversial expansion, and the only highly anachronistic one, that’s a bit of a loaded question. It’s probably the least essential expansion, and I play with it turned off the vast majority of the time. That being said, there is enjoyment to be had if you go in knowing you want an unrealistic and almost silly campaign that’s quite a bit different from what CK2 has to offer otherwise. It also puts pressure on Western Europe at a time when things can start to feel static, similar to the role the Mongols play in Eastern Europe.

THE REPUBLIC (2013) - $9.99

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Highlights:

  • Unlocks playable merchant republics, such as Venice, Genoa, and the Hansa.
  • Can build trade posts in other rulers’ provinces to extend their trade networks and get richer.
  • Rather than playing a hereditary ruler, you play the head of one of a number of powerful families who try to influence elections to stay in power.
  • Lots of new events specific to republics.

Is it worth it?

Like Sword of Islam, this one is entirely situational. You won’t see any of its effects if you only ever play feudal rulers. And given that there are a fairly small number of republics in the game’s timeframe, it opens up fewer, new options than most of the character-unlocking DLCs. Still, republics offer a rather unique way to play the game that can help keep things from feeling stale, especially for players who love to amass gold and spend it on cool stuff.

THE OLD GODS (2013) - $14.99

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Highlights:

  • Unlocks playable pagans (Norse, Slavic, Suomenusko, and Romuva) and Zoroastrians with tons of new mechanics for each.
  • Adds a new start date in 867, the height of the Viking Age.
  • Lots of new Viking mechanics, such as coastal raids and being able to sail your longships up major rivers.
  • Revolts are now led by a named leader character who can be captured, killed, or reasoned with like other rulers.
  • Adventurers are a new AI character type, representing warriors with no land who gather an army and set off to conquer distant lands.
  • Adds the ability to “reform” a pagan religion to make it more capable of competing with the Abrahamic faiths.
  • Zoroastrians can restore the old Persian Empire by reclaiming it from the Muslim conquerors.

Is it worth it?

Absolutely. This is still probably my overall favorite CK2 expansion, though I admit that I’m heavily biased towards all things Norse pagan. The 867 start date is far more volatile and dynamic than 1066, with greater ahistorical possibilities, while not straying so far out of the feudal age that it feels like a bad fit for CK2’s mechanics -- which is the impression I often get from the even earlier 769 start added in the Charlemagne expansion, which we will discuss below. Pagans and Zoroastrians are a ton of fun, as are their respective mechanics for cementing their places in history.

SONS OF ABRAHAM (2013) - $9.99

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Highlights:

  • Introduces the Catholic College of Cardinals, which can be manipulated to put a friendly Pope in power.
  • Adds Judaism as a playable religion with new events, decisions, and mechanics.
  • Two new Catholic holy orders.
  • New holy orders for religions that didn’t have them already (such as Zoroastrians).
  • The ability to borrow money from the Knights Templar/
  • A huge number of new events, many for Abrahamic faiths.
  • Christians can now go on pilgrimages to holy sites.
  • Muslims can side with the Mutazilitie (science-focused) or Ashari (piety-focused) schools.
  • Christians can force relatives and courtiers to take the vows and become a monk or a nun.

Is it worth it?

This is the first major expansion to expand on Catholic Europe, the area the game focused on at release. If that’s your thing, this one is borderline essential. The new holy orders make a big difference in making some previously bare bones religions feel fleshed-out. Judaism gets some pretty cool stuff, like being able to restore the Kingdom of Israel, which makes for a fun playthrough. And the new Muslim mechanics offer an interesting trade-off, allowing you to continue the scientific revolution of medieval Islam at the risk of potentially offending some of your more devout coreligionists. There’s something for everyone, but Muslim, Christian, and Jewish characters will get the most out of it.

RAJAS OF INDIA (2014) - $14.99

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Highights:

  • Unlocks playing as the Buddhist, Hindu, and Jain rulers of the Indian subcontinent.
  • Tons of events and decisions for the religions listed above.
  • Members of Indian faiths are tolerant of one-another, so a Buddhist ruler isn’t obligated to convert his Hindu subjects.
  • War elephant units for Indian rulers.

Is it worth it?

This one is very easy to ignore if you’re not particularly interested in the Indian subcontinent, especially given its relative distance and isolation from the rest of the map. The Indian religions are each flavorful and interesting, but to this day still feel less fleshed-out and more disconnected from the rest of the map. There’s plenty of enjoyment to be had, but it’s definitely among the least essential DLCs.

CHARLEMAGNE (2014) - $14.99

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Highlights:

  • A new, even earlier start date of 769 AD, when Charlemagne was competing with his brother Karloman to rule over the Franks.
  • A bunch of events and decisions tied to Charlemagne and Karloman that give a number of different ways for their fates to play out.
  • Empires with sufficient legalism (like Byzantium) can now appoint titles to temporary governors called viceroys instead of handing them out as permanent, hereditary, feudal holdings.
  • Adds the playable Zun religion.
  • Can now create custom kingdoms and empires not based on historical ones if you own enough land.

Is it worth it?

I have mixed feelings about Charlemagne. At first, I loved the 769 start. But the more I’ve played it, the more two issues become apparent. One: CK2 was not designed to handle this time period. Two: 700 years (769 - 1444) is just too long to play a single campaign. I almost always get bored long before I’m finished, which makes the extra centuries more of a burden than a boon. The story events with Charlemagne are a lot of fun to play through a time or two, but leave the dozens of subsequent generations feeling less dramatic and dynamic. I find it hard to say this expansion isn’t worth ever getting. Quite the contrary. But I don’t consider it nearly as essential as I once did.

WAY OF LIFE (2014) - $7.99

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Highlights:

  • Adds character focuses, such as War, Family, and Theology, that each have many associated events to flesh out the day-to-day life of your character.

Is it worth it?

It doesn’t sound like much, but the answer is definitely yes. No matter what kind of character you’re playing focuses can break up the monotony and add a greater sense of reality to the world, while helping to break up the long chunks of time when there might be nothing politically interesting going on. Some of the best events in CK2 came out of this DLC, and I’d have a hard time making myself play without it.

HORSE LORDS (2015) - $14.99

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Highlights:

  • New playstyle for nomadic hordes that’s vastly different from their settled counterparts
    • Clans can vie for power to become the Great Khan.
    • Feudal holdings can be razed for pasture land, increasing the potential population of your horde.
    • New succession mechanics where only strong rulers can command respect, allowing vast hordes to collapse with the death of one man.
  • Members of your court and family can now found mercenary bands and gather followers to fight with them for pay.
  • Adds the Silk Road trade routes, which can be fortified with trade posts to give their owners more income.
  • Can now force another ruler to become your tributary in war.

Is it worth it?

We’re back in firmly situational territory here. The hordes can be a ton of fun to play, but are really emblematic of what I see as the developers trying to “hack” CK2’s systems and make them do things they were never intended for. The somewhat awkward management of nomad holdings and governments can get you to wondering why they didn’t just make a new game about horse nomads, instead of trying to shoehorn them into a feudal incest simulator. If you don’t plan on playing as a horse nomad tribe or holding land along the Silk Road, you can definitely skip this one.

CONCLAVE (2016) - $14.99

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Highlights:

  • Your ruler’s council now plays a much larger role, able to vote on certain issues and maneuver to gain more authority at the expense of the monarch.
  • A new system of favors allows exchanges of resources for votes on the council.
  • Powerful vassals will now be very unhappy if not on the council.
  • Rework of regencies.
  • New system for educating and influencing the traits/stats of young children.
  • Rework of realm laws.
  • Able to change laws defining the status of women in your society, giving them more equality over time.

Is it worth it?

For my money, absolutely. It was one of the more controversial expansions at launch due to the addition of some questionable features (and I was one of the loudest complainers!) that have since been revised and/or made toggleable game options. But the core of it, the new council mechanics, is fantastic. It brings new depth and strategy to internal politics, makes playing a vassal of a higher ruler much more fun, and more realistically simulates the simple fact that most rulers in the middle ages were not even close to being unchallenged, absolute monarchs. Getting your way is a lot more satisfying when you have to manipulate a bunch of people to do so.

THE REAPER’S DUE (2016) - $9.99

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Highlights:

  • Rework of the disease system including symptoms, new diseases, and treatment options via a new appointed office called Court Physician.
  • Epidemic diseases can depopulate a province, lowering income and manpower, which takes time to recover from.
  • Rulers can now build hospitals in provinces, which protect to some extent against depopulation.
  • Provinces that have not been ravaged by war or disease can now become prosperous, increasing income and manpower recovery.
  • Crown Focus allows rulers to choose one of their provinces to focus on, increasing its prosperity.
  • Tons of new events, including many related to the revamped Black Plague.
  • Adds the ability to seal yourself in your castle to avoid an epidemic, triggering many new events related to isolation.
  • New ways to torture and execute prisoners

Is it worth it?

Before Reaper’s Due, I was always complaining about how one of the most momentous, continent-changing events of the Middle Ages, the Black Death, was barely represented in CK2. Now, it’s much more of a world event with fanfare and unique mechanics. And while it still doesn’t trigger the kinds of cascading historical changes it did in the real world, it’s still nice to see it getting more recognition. The court physician and prosperity systems are also useful and interesting no matter whom you’re playing.

MONKS AND MYSTICS (2016) - $14.99

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Highlights:

  • Adds Societies to the game, which characters can join and rise through the ranks of to gain access to new abilities.
    • The Hermetic society focuses on esoteric learning and the secrets of the cosmos.
    • Lucifer’s Own is devoted to Satan and gives its members dark powers to prolong their lives and harm their enemies
    • The Shia Hashashin are masters of murder and intimidation.
    • Monastic orders for many religions allow you to pursue a life of devotion and purity.
  • Lots of new events related to societies.
  • Characters now have inventories for storing weapons, artefacts, and symbols of office that have an impact on stats.

Is it worth it?

Some of the societies are really cool, but also nearly as unrealistic as Sunset Invasion at the higher levels. So if you want a purely historical playthrough, it’s probably safe to skip this one. The new events are really the highlight of it all. They’re well-written and often shocking, and combined with those added in previous expansions like Reaper’s Due and Way of Life, really give your character enough to do that you can play CK2 almost as an RPG or a visual novel instead of a strategy game about conquest. At least, until they start to get repetitive - which they definitely will if you stay with the same society for long enough,

Jade Dragon (2017) - $15

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Highlights:

  • Adds China as an off-map power that can conquer territory on the map by way of the Western Protectorate title, demand tribute, or even be conquered to install your dynasty on the throne.
  • New Silk Road mechanics that react to the changing political situation in China
  • Rally points that allow you to raise all of your levies and have them travel automatically to a specified province.
  • New CBs that make it easier for small rulers surrounded by same-religion rivals to expand.
  • Bön and Khurmazta relgions (also unlocked if you own The Old Gods)
  • Taoism religion (also unlocked if you own Rajas of India)

Is it worth it?

Rally points and the new CBs are nice, all-around quality of life features. But will really determine how much bang you get for your buck with Jade Dragon is how often you like to play on the Eastern edge of the map. Having the Chinese Emperor to deal with makes the region feel very different, both in terms of opportunities and challenges. The huge number of new events and diplomatic options tied to China liven things up as well. Obviously, however, the further from China your realm is located, the less any of this is going to matter.

MINOR DLCs:

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Ruler Designer ($4.99) - Allows you to create a ruler from scratch, selecting traits, appearance, culture, religion, and stats. They will replace any character in the historical map you choose. This is a fun, worthwhile little DLC… but keep in mind that in a game you will likely play for over a dozen generations, the character you create will only be a small part of the story.

Customization Pack ($4.99) - Allows you to change the hair and beard of a character any time you want, as well as rename any of your titles. While by no means essential, I’d definitely miss being able to call the empire I just founded whatever I damn well please if I were to play without it.

Europa Universalis IV Save Converter ($9.99) - In theory, this is one of my single favorite pieces of DLC Paradox has ever put out. Being able to continue my medieval shenanigans into the renaissance, potentially completing an epic, 1100-year-long megacampaign makes me drool just thinking about it. The only reason this one doesn’t get my unreserved endorsement is that support for it is spotty. The team in charge of maintaining the converter is far too small (basically one guy, from what I understand), to keep up with the major changes being made to both games on a regular basis. Sometimes, it’s in great working shape. At other times, it’s largely nonfunctional with little concept of when a new update might get it up and running again. I’m so, so, so glad it exists, and it’s a wonder to behold when it’s in top form. I just wish it got the love it deserved to be an integral part of PDS’s grand strategy equation.

THE BREAKDOWN

Essential Expansions for Everyone:

  1. The Old Gods
  2. Legacy of Rome (Specifically for the Retinues feature)
  3. Way of Life
  4. Conclave
  5. The Reaper’s Due

 Situational Expansions (In No Particular Order):

  • Sword of Islam (Essential for Muslims)
  • The Republic (Essential for Republics)
  • Sons of Abraham (Essential for Judaism, Very Highly Recommended for Christians and Muslims)
  • Rajas of India (Essential for Indian religions)
  • Charlemagne (Essential for Zunists, Very Highly Recommended for playing large, advanced empires due to the Viceroyality features)
  • Horse Lords (Essential for Steppe Nomads)
  • Jade Dragon (Highly recommended for the Far East - particularly the steppe, Tibet, and the Tarim Basin. Not necessarily essential for India.)

Got any other thoughts on the Crusader Kings II DLCs? Let us know in the comments below! 

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