Review: Crusader Kings 2 - Holy Fury

By Alexander Williams 13 Nov 2018 0

Review: Crusader Kings 2 - Holy Fury

Released 13 Nov 2018

Developer: Paradox Interactive
Genre: Real-Time Strategy
Available from:

It wasn't that long ago that we talked about the upcoming, terrifyingly huge expansion for Crusader Kings 2, Holy Fury, and gave a run-down of the array of changes we should be seeing. If you haven't taken the time to read that, now would be an excellent time to do so because I'm about to go head-first into the medieval world of the West and get myself into significant trouble.

Bloodlines, crusades, and specialization as I get into the ebb and flow of staying on top of the political situation are all going to be in play. There's so much to do and to see that there's no way I can do it all in time to tell you about it before release -- but I can make a yeoman's effort!

Setting Up Your World

Let's start by taking advantage of the Random World option. Let's break this thing but good. How about we turn every holding into a county and no political entities larger than that? Burn every religion down and rebuild them all from the ground up with entirely different names, entirely different religious ideas and goals, and start from absolute scratch? Starting from the ground floor with a brand-new Europe, that sounds like a lot of fun.

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Let's see. I think we all know what Europe looks like religiously when things get started in the earliest era available to me since I have The Old Gods, 769 AD. Middle Francia dominates what will one day be France and the Lombardi inhabit future Italy.

So what happens when you poke that beautiful, shiny Randomize World button? Glorious options!

You can set the max number of Counties under anyone's control and the number of Dukes, Kings, and Emperors. Let's just set those to 1 county domains and no Dukes, Kings, or Emperors. The world will be populated by a vast array of counts vying for power! Let's leave on the myriad of different kinds of empires and such; it'll mainly only scatter a few one-county Theocracies here and there. Random Bloodlines mean that some families will start here and there with minor buffs for a legendary ancestor. Juggling the female ruler percentages, how many are married, and ages is cool, too. All the random! While we're at it, entirely random Cultures, too. Who needs anything like historicity?

That is some madness.

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Pull back and zoom around the map, clicking on the various religions and generated cultures. Each of them have their own details, from God names to individual books of worship. Slap that lovely green button with the right-facing triangle and you'll be able to edit each and every one of those religions' precepts. Not the terms or text, only the features but that's some real customization flexibility, nonetheless.

This does lead directly to one of my few problems with this expansion, and it's one that I brought up when I was reading through the dev notes in the previous article. There are some fairly significant other DLC that become very prominent once you start poking around dynamically generating religions for the map. In particular, the two that frequently came up for me were Sword of Islam and Rajas of India. If the system randomly generates a religion which has as its base framework Islam, Buddhist, Jain, or Hindu and you don't have those two DLC installed then you can't actually play as that Count/Duke/King/Emperor. Same with Sons of Abraham for Judaism. This will come up again shortly.

Dealing with it at map generation time is as straightforward as just slapping the Generate button one more time, but it's more than a little annoying if you happen to find the right confluence of place, culture, and religion but it just so happens that you can't touch it because you don't have the appropriate DLC. As far as I can tell, there's no way to turn off the generation of religions based on a DLC you don't own, either. Hopefully that's something that will be fixed going forward.

Now that you have your own County, religion, and ruler – it's time to jump into the driver's seat.

Jump Into the Fire

There are just no other games in the market which can provide the experience of starting as one of a hundred counts vying for positions of power and worshiping some strange religion based on a series of obelisks discovered while someone was bathing, looking for an eligible woman to marry for a decade, all the while secretly working for the Satan-analog and sacrificing people on the new moon in the dungeons.

Finally marrying and having a daughter only to die of dysentery as smallpox stalks the land and your daughter grows up behind the closed gates of your sealed fortress, only to become a pious worshiper of the religion that you threw over for Lucifer, who then throws open the doors of the castle, strides out, goes to holy war with the first neighbor she sees, captures the war leader in battle after a bloody personal duel. And only Then do you realize that your particular strain of religious devotion has been a bloodthirsty worship of human sacrifice the whole time and your daughter gains piety by cutting a man's living heart out at the top of the temple stairs while the priesthood nods approvingly.

Seriously, that's a thing that happened.

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Gameplay is exactly what you expect when you crank up CK2. This is not a game for the impatient nor is it a game for people who want to see immediate changes in the gameplay experience for DLC like this.

The obvious big changes are in the Shattered and Random World mode. However, going with an entirely synthetic set up is going to largely keep you away from the Crusade mechanics which are introduced in Holy Fury. While Crusades are still able to be set on in the configuration, because the religious set ups are different for the most part, knowing who and where and how to go on Crusade is going to be a lot more fiddly. In this situation, the Shattered World is a little more forgiving than Random because the political and religious formations are still in place, you'll just be messing around with rulers pairing up differently.

Bloodlines are amazing – but you won't be touching them until hours into gameplay, once you've established yourself at a level higher than Duke. If you start as a Duke or better you can start working on that bloodline immediately – but so can everyone else.

Dueling is something that you will have the pleasure of experiencing early on, however. Potentially as early as your first battle, you are going to start to get the option to engage in personal fights with enemy leaders – or avoid them. This is a lot more fun than it even sounds like, and it sounds like a lot of fun. Sure, it's one more opportunity for RNGesus and his emissary the Pope of Random to visit you with bad luck even when all the numbers are on your side but a lot of emergent storytelling falls out in the process.

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Remember how I said the DLC issue was going to come up again? Here's where that happens.

It seems pretty minor on paper. In practice – it's actually really, hugely annoying. Because when all of the religions are randomly generated, they often have randomized names. You can be playing along, get into a situation where it's reasonable to swear fealty to the more successful domain, get the option to falsely change your religion – and then have a complete Game Over because you don't have the DLC which contains the content for that religion. Annoying? Hell yes.

Final Thoughts

I like CK2. Really, I do. It is a deliberately paced, highly complex game of strategy, tactics, and understanding the relationships between individuals on a very wide scale in order to have some sort of grasp on control of these hundreds of interrelating systems which you can't actually directly touch. I have likened it in the past to riding a bull. You can control which way you tilt and you can sometimes give it a thwack, but the bull does what it wants to and the best you can do is hold on and try and guide it away from the wall.

Holy Fury ups the ante by injecting three or four new systems and making changes to dozens of the ones that you had already been barely balancing on top of. Which is absolutely great if the delicate balancing act is what draws you to the game, both in historical contexts and with the potential of playing in what is effectively a fantasy Europe.

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One of the major side effects is that the game has just become significantly harder, and it already flirted with being Nintendo hard. Certainly the Shattered and Random World situations, even when you make the playing field considerably flatter between you and the rest of the AI, are complex challenges which really don't have any easy niches. HF is definitely not something I would refer to as "newbie friendly."

And then there's the damned DLC content gating. I'm not sure how many other reviewers are going to slam into it face first as hard or often as I did because many of them are completely up-to-date on DLC. In a situation where you have all of it, HF is going to truly shine, pulling together parts from four or five different DLC and using them together. If you don't have at least one of Sword of Islam or Rajas of India (and preferably both), you are going to run into a significant amount of frustration, especially in randomized worlds.

Worth It?

If you have all the preceding DLC? Absolutely. Don't hesitate; pick it up at release.

If you have only one of Sword of Islam or Rajas of India? If you're really into CK2 for the historical experience and mainly wrestle with the Pagan vs Catholic thing in northern Europe, go on in, the water's fine. If not, well ...

If you are a newbie or don't have SoI and/or RoI (and Sons of Abraham too, while we're wishing)? You'll probably want to give this one a pass until there's a big Paradox sale and you can get the gateway DLC for a song.

Review: Crusader Kings 2 - Holy Fury

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