Crusader Kings 2 ‘Holy Fury’ Expansion Released Today

At long last the latest expansion for the Strategic Medieval Life simulator Crusader Kings 2 is now available to the masses. What is undoubtedly the largest expansion to date, Holy Fury looks to integrate itself with nearly every culture, dynasty, timeline available in the game. Many of the previous expansions simply tack on their respective features, thus increasing the scope and breadth and flavor of the CK2 world. So, not owning all expansions could be considered ‘necessary’ to experience what the game can do under the hood. However, Holy Fury seeks to embed itself under all of this while also throwing in its own unique features.

Indeed. As seen from the outside looking in (I’m downloading the expansion and free base-game update as I type this), Holy Fury looks to bring Crusader Kings 2 around full circle, helping bolster what made the game unique and so dang fun to play since the very beginning. Religion now has more power and presence in the fabric of this medieval world. Dynasties and genetic traits are now more manageable and exploitable. More societies. More political motivations. More Africa. More. More. More!

With Holy Fury, nearly every culture and region now has MORE.

Back in April, Strategy Gamer posted the opinion that CK2 has lost its way; that, essentially, the expansions have watered down what made the game so special in the first place. It is a great read and wonderful food for thought. I hope to have a response post to this article, along with a review for Holy Fury within the coming days.

But until then, you’ll have to excuse me. I have a medieval eugenics program to develop.

Weekend Gaming – The Council

Praise be to a medium that has the diverse history and abundance of flavors that games of the video variety have. One of the primary reasons I have taken up gaming as a hobby is because no matter what mood I happen to be in, no matter how awesome or plaguing a week has been, there is enough of a variety that I can load up just about anything to sync with my current mood status. Even when I don’t feel like playing anything I still end up playing something.

I’m shifting gears this weekend. Up until tonight I’ve been shuffling chits in The Operational Art of War IV or creating wildly cost-prohibitive and clunky alchemy machines in Opus Magnum. Both games require an amount of patience, dirty work, trial and error, and even more patience on top of the patience already listed – mainly a patience in oneself, which, at this juncture, I am pretty much devoid of. Let us turn to matters of a more theatrical and humanistic nature, shall we?

I don’t trust George any farther than I can throw him.

Yes. The Council is an episodic adventure, ‘choices-matter’ game taking place on a secret island during the closing years of the 18th century. You play as a young potential-initiate of a secret society populated by an elite group of individuals who represent their respective countries or territories. It is on this island that these power-players discuss and initiate matters of political and social concern. So, of course in such a core setting like this there is duplicity, power struggle, side-taking, hidden meanings, and things left unsaid in the many dialogs available. Add in some occult flavor, twinning, murders and perhaps an immortal character or two, and you’ve got a recipe for an evening of fun!

Four out of the five episodes have been released, of which I left things hanging at the beginning of episode three way back in August. I feel like immersion this weekend, folks. I feel like plugging in the gamepad, putting my feet up, and parsing the dialog trees of the powerful leaders in this time of change to determine who is on the up-and-up and who is full of duplicitous crap, discovering myself in the process. Much Existentialism. Very Talking. Wow.

What are you playing this weekend?

Thea 2: The Shattering Coming to Steam Early Access

MuHa Games announced that their newest offering Thea 2: The Shattering will be entering Steam’s Early Access later this month. Thea 2, the sequel to MuHa’s 4x/survival/card battle/uber-hybrid Thea: The Awakening, looks to expand and polish many of the aspects of its predecessor, which is welcome news.

Indeed. Thea: The Awakening performs quite the juggling act. And a beautiful, intricate act it is. Were one element out of place the entire game would collapse. The problem is that some of the ideas and systems seemed only half-baked: The night/day cycle could be even more influential; The UI could use a facelift; Greater variation in the narratives of playthroughs are needed. These examples are but slight hiccups in an otherwise wonderful and unique strategy game.

The Thea community spoke out and MuHa Games listened. Thea 2: The Shattering has learned from the shortcomings of its predecessor and is ready to take action. Some of the new features include:

* Rich, randomly generated and diverse new environments and biomes to Explore

* Battle through the vast array of creature as you Exterminate your way to victory, or simply strive to survive till sunrise.

* Build towns, widen your territories or chose to remain a nomad, as you Expand your influence in the world.

* Discover new and vast resources, collect materials and craft them into your equipment as you Exploit the many wonders of the land.

* Free DLCs

As is evident, MuHa seeks to embrace more of the elements of the 4X genre than Thea: The Awakening did. The fact that the player can build more than one settlement is exciting to see (though we all have a special place in our hearts for our beloved hamlet of Ostoya). Perhaps this means that more of the map will be less of a grind to reach and exploit.

Despite Thea 2’s leanings toward a more 4x system, I hope it doesn’t fall into the usual, dull entrapments of a typical 4x game. In other words: If I have to paint the map I will be sorely bummed out. The light of hope burns bright, though, considering that MuHa plans to expand its Slavic-influenced storylines and other RPG elements. I would be more than happy to trade conquest for narrative.

Will this hope be realised? What tweaks will MuHa makes to the card battle system? How will the storylines and dialog trees influence the progression of exploration and party management? Will campaigns come to as abrupt and blood-splattered ending and in Thea 1? Come November 30th, the story of Thea 2: The Shattering will commence.

And for those interested parties, Thea: The Awakening is available for 50% off during Steam’s midweek madness sale. I give it my unsolicited recommendation, as I have jabbered and raved about it in the past.

The Operational Art of War IV (Steam Release), Review of

Operational Warfare could be considered the median level of wargaming. In terms of scope, one could place it in between grand strategy and tactical. The scope of operational wargames is broad enough that you can command one or more armies of 10-of-thousands, while small enough that you are still concerned with the topography and tactical positioning of these groups. It is objective-based gameplay that can have a limitless variety of flavor and scenarios.

This variety is what The Operational Art of War 4 seeks to make available to the player. It utilizes an engine with an insane amount of customization and parameter-setting along with a unique, though conceptually challenging, time management system so that the power is in the community’s hands to create dozens upon dozens of historically sensitive scenarios in addition to the dozens upon dozens of scenarios that are included with the game. And now that TOAW4 is available on Steam, and therefore to potential newcomers with access to Steam Workshop, the way is open for TOAW4 to blitzkrieg its way to becoming a fixed presence in the wargaming universe.

Starting Conditions for Plei Mei, 1965

The scope of TOAW4 is what exactly gives the game its variety of settings, and it is this variety of settings that the game does so well. The strategic concern is not all-out victory of an all-out war; the scenarios instead focus on specific battles. Specific battles equates to specific dates at specific places with specific armies utilizing specific technologies to achieve specific objectives. And with a range of pre-WWI to modern day conflicts, there is no shortage of stuff to do…

One scenario puts you on the isle of Crete in 1941, pitting axis against allies – pick whichever side you want to play as (or play both!) – elite paratroopers vs. entrenched defenders. Another scenario has you flushing out guerrilla militants out of afghan mountainsides. TOAW4 even has a hypothetical directory where the player can fly off the rails of history by asking ‘what if…’.

Each scenario differs from the others in terms of size, complexity, turn length, and game length. But the creators also provide plenty of optional documentation to pore through which orients the player in historical context and the initiatives of both sides. Hindsight being 20/20, many scenarios also have scripted events that can dramatically alter the course of attaining your victory conditions.

TOAW4 is not just a matter of scope, where the ‘focus’ is dialed into on the zoom. It is also about time management. TOAW4 uses a unique turn-based system that is essentially a layered turn-based approach. These sub-rounds are slices of time, so to speak, of that particular conflict in that particular hex. Time Stamp values are then assigned to hexes in an effort to reduce gamey exploits of the turn-based system that was present in TOAW3. For example, if a fresh chit with maximum round-count enters a hex where an engagement has already occurred it suffers a penalty in rounds because it has thus entered that slice of time where the passage of time has already progressed X amount of rounds, thus, potentially postponing the attack until next turn. This, in turn, promotes logistical planning on the part of the player, considering all the factors (for there are many) that have and will contribute to a chit’s efficacy and its place in the overall war machine.

Sevastopol, 1942

Time stamps, temporal shift penalties, rounds within rounds. If it sounds menacing and engaging and god-awfully clunky, that’s because it is. Many aspects of TOAW4 require some diligence not only to learn ‘how’ but to eventually determine ‘what’.

The game’s UI isn’t exactly the most pleasing to look at and use, thus getting in the player’s way of learning the ins and outs of the complexities and inner workings. The main menus are abysmally sluggish – not exactly creating a stellar first impression to newcomers. Many of the scenario descriptions and in-game battle reports tend to be nothing more than walls of text. But, those who persist and take one’s time will learn where everything is and will learn what information and commands are important to his decision-making…

Yes. After a while I began to see the game in a whole new way. The chits display more than just stats; they become a representation of a living mass of soldiers and specialists dedicated to the cause. The topography revealed more than just movement penalties; it tells the story of the place, the hardships and sacrifice that happened there. The END TURN command is the passage of time in this particular orb of history, and with it, events and situations that can alter not just the way you play toward the objectives but to also take a step back and consider the real-life historical implications.

Indeed. TOAW4 is an incredibly nuanced and historically-detailed game. No matter the scenario, no matter the objectives, no matter which side you choose, the same flexible game systems are in place. Even more remarkable is how the Scenario Editor puts these machinations into the player’s hands. Less remarkable though is that TOAW4’s Steam Workshop integration is not yet operational; you’ll have to dig through the Matrix/Slitherine forums for user-scenarios. The game also offers a universe of customization and advanced rule-setting – catnip for all you tweakers out there.

These gripes – the clunky,unhelpful UI, the uglyass appearance, zero Workshop integration – are merely that: Short-term, fussy complaints about QOL matters that will be ironed-out over time. What is solid – what does matter – is that TOAW4 has an operational wargame-generating system in place, which is now available to a much wider audience. The game will pistol whip any player without the patience to learn and will reward engaging, exciting, detailed and varied gameplay to those who are willing to jump into the muck and get his hands dirty.

Paradox Interactive Halloween Sale – Through Nov 1

Paradox Interactive is hosting a Halloween sale today through November 1st. The digital storefront displays a few of the ‘ghastly gems’ whose price tags are hack n’ slashed for the week. Most notably is the bevy of expansions for city sim Cities: Skylines, having recently released its latest addon ‘Cities: Skylines – Industries’. Also present are recent expansions for the other usual Paradox titles: Stellaris, Europa Universalis 4, and BATTLETECH.

Digging a little deeper into the sale we see the other usual titles ala Crusader Kings, Hearts of Iron 4, Tyranny and all of their expansions and cosmetic DLCs. Mixed in with these are more, older expansions for Cities: Skylines and Stellaris, a handfull of portrait packs, a music pack for HoI4, and lesser-known, older titles like Knights of Pen & Paper and Majesty and Ancient Space and Warlock II, and I guess Paradox has the rights to the Shadowrun games, now?

Cool… I think?

Paradox games have largely shaped who I am as a gamer, and I am still of the opinion that Crusader Kings 2 is one of the best games conceptually and the most fun to play ever in the history of histories…

…But (did you sense a ‘but’ coming?), when I take a step back and look at this sale catalog, it simply doesn’t blow my skirt up like it used to; it’s just the usual base games drowning in a sea of DLC banners mingled with newer games that, as a publisher, Paradox is putting some weight behind but simply have not taken off.

When considered singly, I do not fully bemoan all these excessive DLC titles for their games, and am not complaining that their online storefront is no more organised than a clearance bin at Walmart. It all just looks washed out and it makes me feel just as jaded towards expanding my own Paradox library.

Click the banner, and you do you.