Crusader Kings 2 – The Republic review

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Andrea Contarini, Serene Doge of the Most Serene Republic of Venice, is not particularly serene.

He’s been involved in a bit of a spat with Bono Dandolo, one of the city’s bigwigs, which has seen him thrown out of his rival’s grand ball, fling Bono out of an even bigger ball (put on purely to upstage him, of course) and implicated in a lethal bout of fisticuffs between the two great families on the fair streets of Venezia herself.

In foreign affairs, Kaiser Heinrich of the Holy Roman Empire has plundered all the flourishing trade posts that Andrea set up in his territory and the rival republic of Pisa is conspiring with the King of Sicily to pull Venice’s trousers down. Metaphorically speaking, of course, because literally speaking Andrea has no problems doing that for himself: he’s cheating on his wife with a courtier and he’s cheating on her with some lovely girls down at a brothel in the Rialto.

The Republic might add a radically different method of gameplay to Crusader Kings 2, but some things never change.

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We the People

The Republic is the latest in a healthy stream of DLC for Paradox’s superb medieval grand strategy game and it’s probably the most expansive. The Sword of Islam pack might have unlocked an enormous swathe of new realms for players to guide through four hundred years of history, but mechanically the Islamic rulers played a similar feudal game of conquest over baronies, duchies and kingdoms as their Christian counterparts.

The great merchant republics of the time however weren’t after land or temporal power, but wealth, and The Republic reflects this superbly with a unique set of mechanics. Venice, Pisa, Genoa, Gotland and the Hanseatic League are the major players, but you’ll be playing as one of five Patrician families within a Republic, vying with the other dynasties for control of the city and with any nearby republican states for control of the world’s trade.

Republican gameplay revolves around the coasts of Europe, Asia and Africa. Patricians can seize coastal cities and provinces in war can procure tax and soldiers from these holdings just like a feudal lord, but the most crucial aspect of the game is the trade post. This is a holding that can be constructed in every coastal province (and there are hundreds of them) and then improved and joined in networks to yield huge amounts of cash – and cash is power.

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Trade Wars

There’s just one problem – only a single trade post can be built in each province and every Patrician is out to get them, and it’s this tussle that provides much of The Republic’s strategy. Trade posts can be conquered in war and seized by intrigue. If a rival has too many trade posts in one kingdom, you could bribe that king to demolish them and embargo your enemy for the rest of his reign leaving you to take over the turf. Trade posts also become prohibitively expensive depending on how far they are from a friendly province, so you’ll need to capture new lands if you want to expand your interests whilst avoiding being boxed in by rival powers.

At first this gameplay can feel a little odd. Vanilla Crusader Kings 2 was all about amassing power through land and grand projects of conquest – in one of my games I’m hoping to turn an Irish dynasty from small-time Dukes to Kings of Ireland and maybe even Emperors of Britannia. The Republic however isn’t about this. One of the key tools of a feudal lord, marriage, isn’t much use to a Patrician, since none of the nobles will marry your low-born characters unless you pay an enormous bride price. Thanks to this and the coastal nature of the republics, denying them the chance to conquer huge swathes of land, I wasn’t sure at first what my goals were.

That’s the beauty of The Republic though. Republican gameplay fits flawlessly into the main game, letting you interact with all the feudal bickering and warring and nation-building going on around the world whilst challenging you to play in an entirely different manner. I still don’t know what my long-term goal is, but for now I’m damn sure that I’m not going to let the Pisans, the Genoans or Bono blasted Dandolo get in the way of my quest to become obscenely wealthy.

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Profit

The Republic might add a wholly new way of playing the game then, but there’s one vital piece of continuity between this DLC and the base game – its extraordinary ability to generate narrative. The thousands of characters across the game are all still up to their infighting, fornicating, murdering and, er, gardening (+1 to stewardship, I’ll have you know) and the Patricians of Europe’s republics are no different.

Andrea’s predilection for courtesans and his feud with the Dandolo’s were generated by the game along with many other random and often hilarious events, but I could just have easily chosen to end the internecine conflict with old Bono, perhaps at a cost to my prestige, or to keep Andrea chaste to keep the bishops happy. All these little events tie up into the grand narrative just as brilliantly in The Republic as they did in the base game.

All in all Crusader Kings 2 is still an astonishing game, easily deep enough to be a truly hardcore entry in the grand strategy genre but absolutely brimming with character and the possibility for emergent narrative. Its latest DLC builds on all these traits and is seamlessly integrated into the original despite adding a vast, unique new way to play. Forza la Serenissima!

Game details

Game title: Crusader Kings II - The Republic
Reviewed on: PC
Available for: PC
Developer: Paradox
Publisher: Paradox
Strengths: Brilliantly realised Republican mechanics. CK2 still as good as it ever was.
Weaknesses: None. Please improve the CK2 tutorial though.
Score: 10 out of 10

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