Crusader Kings 2 Sword of Islam review
Sword of Islam (SoI) marks the second major DLC addition and the first “expansion” for Paradox’s latest grand strategy Crusader Kings II. Adding the ability to play as a Muslim ruler as well as greatly overhauling the Islamic world, is the new $10 expansion worth the investment? Crusader Kings 2 Sword of Islam review will provide an answer to that.
SoI marks quite a change in Paradox’s DLC plan up to this point, where all of their DLC before this one had been nonessential or cosmetic. The Ruler Designer and the extra in-game music, while really well done and fun to play with, are by no means a must buy for any fan of the game. With the release of Sword of Islam, however, that attitude may be changing as we move into the future. On top of introducing new art, music, and a plethora of events for Muslim factions, SoI brings with it completely new mechanics for Islamic characters like polygamy, new Casus Belli to declare war with and dynastic decadence. All of these changes quickly add up to a wholly unique experience within Crusader Kings II, which is perhaps the most important addition the DLC can offer.
Before the DLC you could mod your way to playing a Muslim character, and it felt just the same as playing a christian ruler only you had to worry about crusades. It was a fairly odd experience to do so and felt in many ways as if the game you were playing didn’t fit with the region you’d chose. Now with Sword of Islam, Crusader Kings II feels like it has been split into two completely different worlds. While you are still playing the same game, starting as a Muslim character feels completely different. Muslim characters live radically different lives than their christian counter parts, from how they declare war right down to their day to day events.
The biggest and most visible change mechanics wise would be dynasty decadence, introduced for all Islamic dynasties. Decadence is a rising metric that displays how other dynasties view yours in terms of ability. A higher decadence rating, the more incapable you are seen by the rest of the Muslim world, and more you’ll pay for it with powerful penalties. Decadence rises when adult males of your dynasty are sitting in your court unlanded and without power, it falls when you give them titles or make sure they are otherwise.. dealt with (assassination for instance). Correctly managing decadence turns into one of the Muslim world’s biggest concerns as the higher your metric rises, the more and more your people won’t respect you. Your troops will fight worse if they serve a decadent dynasty, and collecting taxes becomes more and more difficult. Should you hit 100% decadence then you’re in for a world of hurt as a new, more respected dynasty will rise up from the heart of your lands attempting to overthrow you! Sparking what is essentially the fight of your life attempting to stay in power…
The key to managing decadence is either using clever court intrigue to keep your unlanded sons to a minimum, or constant conquest to ensure you always have titles to hand out to your dynasty, and SoI makes conquest for Muslim characters a fair bit easier than before. While christian rulers are trying to fabricate claims and marry their way into power, a pious Muslim character can forgo all of that nonsense and declare war at the cost of their piety. Characters can, at the cost of 50 piety, declare war for a single county neighboring one of yours. If that’s not enough for you, then saving up 500 piety lets you spark a war for control of an entire king tier title.
In short, this means that piety is the number one most important resource for any Muslim character. With it, your expansion can continue almost unhindered through the course of a game! But enterprising Islamic powers taking advantage of this should also bear in mind the second major pit fall that Muslim characters must face: the succession crisis. While it’s tue any power in the game can suffer a succession crisis, where dynasty members fight for the right to rule, powerful Muslim factions face an increased risk of this, encouraged in no small part to the decadence system. With the only succession law for the Islamic world being Agnatic Open, the most powerful son (measured by number of titles) rules after his death. And you can be sure if more than one son was granted a title, they’ll try to make themselves more powerful, by might over right if necessary! It all amounts to a really fun and unique experience where your faction is expanding quickly, but always a few bad calls from splitting into a massive civil war for the throne.
These gameplay changes are combined with surprisingly fun event lines like Hajj, where your character makes a pilgrimage to Mecca to gain piety, traits and deal with hardships along the way. Instead of throwing lavish feasts, Muslims observe Ramadan, which offers more chances for piety as well as helping you manage your decadence and internal relations. And finally, SoI introduces numerous changes to the game’s UI, some functional like highlighting stats with colors, and others more fluff based like completely new icons for major decisions. Regardless, all look great and add a nice touch to the feel of the game.
Sword of Islam adds so many positives to the game that it’s a bit unfortunate it stumbles a bit where you’d least expect it coming from Paradox. Due to Paradox’s choice of DLC implementation, SoI is effectively part of the game for anyone buying Crusader Kings II new. The 1.06 patch added all of the changes as apart of the base game, what paradox asks you to do is essentially pay to unlock the ability to play as a Muslim character – something we were able to mod ourselves as little as one month ago, but no longer. This is something that made some people a bit uncomfortable to say the least, and anyone buying Crusader Kings II today might get the sense they are locked out of half the game unnecessarily. I’d like to see paradox adopt a new DLC delivery system that gets around this feeling, because if they do any more cultural or religious overhauls, that feeling is only going to multiply for new players.
The DLC pack also introduces a number of balance issues, most noticeably being the Fatimid caliphate being far too powerful and gobbling up just about everyone around them. This is really unfortunately due to the AI just powering over everyone with the new casus belli and reaching critical mass before decadence can sneak up on them.
In closing, while Paradox’s DLC delivery leaves much to be desired and the balance issues are annoying, absolutely everything else about the new expansion is a great addition to the game. The art, events, decisions, new ways to declare war and decadence mechanic all completely shift the dynamic around to create a totally unique experience within Crusader Kings II. The game feels completely different when you play a Muslim than it does when you play a christian, and in that regard, the DLC is a huge success. Sitting comfortably at a $10 asking price Sword of Islam is an easy purchase for anyone looking to expand their Crusader Kings II experience and take a walk on the different side of life.
by Dylon Dyer