King of the Ants: Crusader Kings 3’s 20,000 characters are silent workers powering a medieval sandbox

By Joe Robinson 18 May 2020 2

Last week you’ll have seen a bunch of coverage go live around Crusader Kings 3. Press from around the world were given a brief presentation, and then around three full days to play around with a beta version of the game, out on September 1st. I had my own session, but given how many large previews have gone up over the past few days I thought I’d hold my thoughts for another time.

To be honest, there’s little that I could say that isn’t already out there, but if you have any specific questions let me know in the comments. For now, I just wanted to share something specific from my own time with the game.

One thing that stuck out to me during the initial presentation was the mention of over 20,000 ‘living’ characters who are all trying to enact their desires on the world. I imagine there’s a touch of hyperbole of this - landless or ‘commoner’ characters or even Barons may not quite have the same drive as Counts, Dukes or Kings. The important point is there’s a huge toolbox of interactions any one character can use to interact with the game world, and every character will have access to at least some of it.

But it wasn’t until late in my game session that I really felt the full effect of these words. I started the game as Halfdan Whiteshirt in 867. He’s one of the great Viking lords who led the Viking invasion of England, and before long I’d made him King of Jorvik, with a realm that covered most of the historical lands of Northumbria, with some choice bits of Mercia. When he died the ‘King’ title was given to whoever was elected, and the other lands were split between his sons. This meant that my new character only actually had one or two lands under his personal control at the start of his reign, with the rest being controlled by vassals.

crusader kings 3 alliances

It changed the dynamic of the next character quietly dramatically as there were less resources to go around (and he wasn’t that pious, which I was trying to fix). But more so than with my last character did it highlight just how much of this game existed beneath your notice.

Several times while just looking at the map of Kingdom and letting the time run on, armies would scurry all across my realm like ants. My vassals, with minds and whims of their own, would raise their armies to go fight their neighbours (and each other). Meanwhile, I was dealing with a bit of a manpower shortage as no-one liked me enough to give me all their men. It was annoying to say the least.

crusader kings 3 map

A little bit further down the line I suddenly noticed my Kingdom included random counties in the Netherlands and Germany. How did that happen? Examining who ruled them and who they were married to was relatively simple, but it was a perfect illustration of the chaos that essentially powers this game. I talk about this a bit more in-depth in my chat with PCGamesN’s Richard Scott-Jones, but more than any other grand strategy title, Crusader Kings is about chaos. It’s about those characters scurrying around like ants outside your field of view. You won’t know what they’re doing, and until you unlock some better government techs you won’t be able to stop them. All you can do is let the game happen around you.

This new entry is not going to change this, but it might make the world easier to read, if not wholly understand.

Crusader Kings 3 is due out on PC via Steam, Paradox Store & the Microsoft Store on  September 1st, 2020.

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