It’s been a trying few years. I’ve gone to war several times within the last decade to claim land I falsified titles for, and while I was victorious in all my battles, I put myself in quite a bit of debt. Hired mercenaries are expensive, as it turns out, and resupplying my armies every month ensured that I hemorrhaged money faster than I could gain it. I decide I want to hear from my subjects in an effort to placate my kingdom.
I finally get my comeuppance after the end of the Crusades. I overreach my hand and start a war that demolishes my army and ruins me financially. My son and only heir is assassinated in a political scheme. A bar maiden I had taken as a lover during the Crusades outs our affair to the entire kingdom, which ruins my reputation as well as my marriage. I take my own life in a fit of despair.
None of this melodramatic soap opera was planned or scripted. It’s this type of randomized and organic storytelling that makes Crusader Kings 3 such a superb RPG, one that prioritizes roleplaying over any of its other gameplay mechanics. Campaigns can’t even be won in the traditional sense because rather than having actual win conditions like other strategy games, your campaign simply ends after a specific year; whether you won or lost is for you to decide.
Crusader King 3’s Royal Court expansion doesn’t change this formula. In fact, it doesn’t change much at all. Instead it deepens the roleplaying even further by letting you get more personal with your ruler and their realm. This has left me conflicted on Royal Court as a whole. On one hand, I’m not certain the new additions are significant enough to make it an essential purchase for everyone; on the other hand, I don’t think I could ever go back to the vanilla base game after playing Royal Court because the roleplaying has so much more depth.
For example, there’s now a throne room that allows you to view your characters in 3D and spruce it up with artifacts you can either find or commission over the years, which offer gameplay buffs such as increasing your number of knights. Character creation in Crusader Kings 3 is extensive and you naturally become attached to your various rulers. The throne room is a nice way to appreciate their appearance while also having a visual representation of their entire dynasty’s history through artifacts.
Another new feature allows you to hold court every five years to interact with your subjects on a closer level by giving them the chance to petition you. This adds more flavor to both your character’s personality and their realm. A lot of time is spent waiting years for grand, intricate schemes to come to fruition, and holding court helps break up sluggish pacing — especially when campaigns can span several hours.
Royal Court also introduces new ways to diversify your realm’s culture. You can combine cultures throughout your realm to create a hybrid culture or diverge from the culture you already have, tweaking it more to your liking. After over a dozen hours, I admittedly still don’t quite understand the culture mechanic and I’m not going to pretend otherwise. It just goes over my head. Thankfully, there are so many different ways to play the game that I never felt punished for not investing into hybrid and diverging cultures. My style of play was respected and didn’t put me at a disadvantage, which I greatly appreciated.
I stand by my feelings that Royal Court isn’t essential, especially for anyone who plays casually, but it’s really made me reflect on what defines “meaningful” new content. Crusader Kings 3 isn’t the type of game that can have locations, combat mechanics, or storylines added to it. The series has such a niche gameplay formula and it was already perfected by Crusader Kings 3; adding anything so drastic would be pointless. By focusing more on refining the experience rather than outright changing it, Royal Court succeeds at making a great game even better.