Have you ever decided to start speaking Greek because it makes you sound a bit grander? You just might if you’re playing the first expansion for Crusader Kings 3. Royal Court’s primary new feature is the addition of an immersive throne room where you – as your current character – will hold court, display artifacts, and dictate just how cushy you’re going to make it for your family and courtiers.
Paradox delivers on the promise to make this new feature engaging. The way the camera moves around as you’re presented with new dilemmas to sort out feels very cinematic, and the experience goes a long way towards making your courtiers and petitioners actually feel like characters instead of portraits in charge of their own AI-controlled spreadsheets and decision trees. Holding court presents you with a more realistic tableau than event pictures do, and you’ll be more inclined to thoroughly read the problems set before you instead of just beelining it to the choice outcomes and picking the best one for your current plans.
A throne room in Crusader Kings 3 Royal Court
The immersive court is enticing enough, but I’ll admit I may have had more fun messing around with the other features that Royal Court brings to the table. Artifacts are back from their gap year after graduating from Crusader Kings 2, and they’re very much improved. The primary ways you’ll get these are through sponsoring inspired courtiers and hiring craftspeople. The qualities of the resulting artifact depend on an event chain that you’ll have to work your way through, full of the usual skill checks, random chance, and the generally satisfying frustration that Crusader Kings is known for. Some of these take the form of more exciting adventures where your choices can mean the end of whichever poor relic-hunter you’ve patronised, and the events are a hilarious highlight of the expansion. With all that said, it’s a bit disappointing that artifacts aren’t rendered in character models, as it would be nice to be able to see the custom crown I invested 50 gold and about seven clicks into.
One thing that feels a bit like a missed opportunity is not making the levels of grandeur have more of a visual effect. As you pay more to keep your courtiers in a manner they’re accustomed to, you’ll improve your level of grandeur. Higher levels unlock new benefits depending on your court’s type – imprison chance improvements or larger levies, for example – but not much in the way of visible, tangible grandeur. I noticed a small table being added against a wall once I hit grandeur level four or five, but that was about it. I wonder if they’d take the table away from me if I fell below that level again. Call the bailiffs, time to pay up.
Culture reform and hybridisation is another hyped-up feature, though in many ways it’s just a reskin of the pre-existing religion mechanics. You’re now able to spend prestige to change the pillars and traditions of your culture just as you’re able to spend piety to change the tenets and traditions of your religion. What sets it apart is how events can change your cultural traditions – the Pope might personally send a letter to you requesting that you outlaw concubinage, and there will be consequences no matter what you choose to do. These things make culture feel a little more relevant than religion, especially when playing far away from any potential crusades. In addition, the totally new options to diverge or hybridise a culture will be highly valued by those who appreciate the roleplay potential that the game has.
A petitioner at the throne room in Crusader Kings 3 Royal Court
In fact, I’d wager that improving the roleplaying aspect of Crusader Kings 3 is the main drive of Royal Court. In my first playthrough, I elected to form the Kingdom of Wales. Soon after I established my kingdom, I was presented with a dilemma that saw my dear daughter, Denis, being forced into the role of jester for some perceived insult. Well, court life seemed to suit her, and she quickly became the king’s closest confidant and sharer of flatulence-based humour. At the end of my king’s long life, Denis was my only surviving child – I did everything to pass the crown to her, only to feel dashed when the rest of my family voted my grandson to the throne. I felt bad for Denis; she’d spent most of her life being a fool for her father and loved him dearly despite it. For her devotion and the joy she brought, I promoted her to seneschal and gave her a gift of 60 gold, just because.
In another playthrough, I made a cousin my court musician. He played so badly at an event that I became known as the Garlic King. That cousin received no such reward.
While the court scenes can feel barebones with very static characters and a controversial lack of shadows, I think it’s fine, if a little lifeless. It’s a room you’ll only end up looking at once or twice a year, and it breaks up the monotony of staring at the same old map we’ve been looking at for hundreds of hours. Of course, sometimes, the game will break your immersion. Try marrying the ruler of another court and take a gander at both of their throne rooms on the same day. They’ll be at both courts simultaneously, somehow. This is confusing to me as I’m generally impressed at the lengths gone to preserve authenticity in the court scenes – the selling point of the pack. In most cases, the game does well – characters with wooden legs will have them on display, older characters appear hunched over, and if you fill your court with Adamites… well, that’s accurate, too.
As the first expansion of what I’ll assume will be many, Royal Court has impressed me. This expansion has had some serious effort put into it for a company that has put out a lot of DLC in the past that simply adds more buttons to press and counters to track. For what it adds, it’s an expensive purchase, but improving the experience of a game you’re meant to play for hundreds of hours might just make it worthwhile. It’s the sort of expansion that you’d feel the exclusion of, and that in itself is an accomplishment.
Crusader Kings 3: Royal Court is available for PC. A review code was provided by the publisher.
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