There was only ever one choice for my game of the decade.
With a staggering 700 hours (and counting) on the clock, Paradox Interactive’s Crusader Kings II is the game I’ve played more than any other in the last ten years. In fact, it’s been my most-played game every year since it came out back in 2012.
Unlike other strategy games, where you more often take control of a nation’s abstract ‘guiding spirit’, here you take control of an individual ruler and their offspring. The entire game is a web of interpersonal relations between lords and vassals, counsellors and courtiers – where personality clashes and petty grievances can lead to carnage on an international scale.
Rather than just painting the map your colour, you’ll make decisions about marriages, despairing as your ill-born, uncouth heir is roundly rejected by the most eligible suitors. You’ll engage in duels and vendettas, defang your opponents with political manoeuvring and – of course – plot and murder your way to ever-greater power for your dynasty.
To bring this home, the game is packed with hundreds of flavourful events and decisions, all influenced by your character’s personality traits and standing with the thousands of NPCs. It’s an uncanny and constantly surprising story generator, as your centuries-long campaigns stretch into epic struggles of war and backstabbing. And your opponents are never just faceless AI: they’re that evil bastard uncle your father exiled decades ago, and for very good reasons.
This was impressive enough at launch. But what really makes it game of the decade is the way it’s been expanded and cared for over the years.
The DLC debate has been highly contentious in the last decade, and Paradox’s approach isn’t without its critics. But to my mind, they’ve got it right.
To be frank, Crusader Kings II has a lot of DLC. Its various expansions let you play as rulers from diverse, non-Western and non-Christian cultures, or expand the game’s content and systems in intriguing ways. Take Reaper’s Due, for example, which brings fearsome new diseases and Black Death events to contend with – and adds gruesome, trait-specific execution methods if you’re the sort of tyrant who kills your prisoners.
All of this appeals to the hardcore. But for those less committed, each major expansion also comes with a hefty slice of new content, features and updates for all.
In other words, those of us deeply immersed in the game’s strange medieval world can continue to buy up expansions like the hottest of hot cakes – and that supports the development of new free stuff for everybody.
This very modern approach to game development – as opposed to churning out sequels – is a brilliant model, and it wouldn’t have been possible ten years ago. So all hail Crusader Kings II, my game of the decade – and at this rate, probably the next decade too.