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This New PlayStation Plus Release Lets You Rewrite History However You See Fit

It’s good to be king — sometimes.

key art from Crusader Kings 3
Paradox Interactive
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Many games build their stories around political tensions, kicking off your adventure with a poisoned prince or a quest to stop a cruel overlord. But few put you in the thick of it as much as the Crusader Kings series. In these grand strategy games (a truly apt name for the genre), you play not as one individual caught up in a kingdom’s political machinations, but as essentially the kingdom itself. While they’re often as complex as they are absorbing, Crusader Kings games offer an experience you can’t get anywhere else, and the most beginner-friendly of the bunch is now available on PlayStation Plus.

Crusader Kings 3 launched in 2020, and it was instantly hailed as one of the best strategy games of all time. That’s a bold claim, and one that’s certainly up for debate, but there’s no denying the sheer scope of its ambition. Where most strategy games let you decide the outcome of individual conflicts and crises, Crusader Kings 3 puts you on the throne for entire dynasties, charting the course of history with your decisions.

You control a series of rulers in Crusader Kings 3, all with their own potentially disastrous quirks.

Paradox Interactive

To start a game of Crusader Kings 3, you choose from a number of possible rulers, each in charge of a different area of the world at a different time period. That is the last decision you’ll make in the game that’s completely under your control. As soon as the wheels start turning on Crusader Kings 3, countless tightly interlocking systems have already begun interacting. There are a staggering number of variables to manage to keep your kingdom on track — many of which can end with an assassin felling your character — and the way they compound to craft a unique story is what makes it a game like no other.

Even your own character isn’t 100 percent yours to command. Every character in Crusader Kings 3 is influenced by traits either present at birth or acquired over the course of their life. Whether it’s benevolence or deception or alcoholism, these aspects guide each character’s actions, often playing off each other in interesting ways. If your ambitious monarch has an envious brother, they may not be long for this world, but a generous ruler’s alliance with a wealthy ally can be as fruitful as that family feud is dangerous. Adapting to the unexpected ways that characters clash is at the center of Crusader Kings 3 and its story.

Rulers all earn titles, some of which are more flattering than others.

Paradox Interactive

The game doesn’t even have what we traditionally think of as a story. Rather than a series of scripted events and cutscenes to play through, the story emerges instead from your actions and the way your character butts heads with others. You may set out to earn independence for your vassal state, only to be swayed into joining a cult and leading your kingdom down a darker path. Maybe a succession crisis breaks out that plunges your once-prosperous nation into a conflict that leads to its total destruction.

What makes Crusader Kings 3 great is that when things are going terribly, it’s still fun. Few games have as much capacity for surprise as Crusader Kings 3, since it’s the messy collision of strong personalities that generates the narrative organically. Whether your initial character goes down in history as a kindly protector or a vicious tyrant, they’ll have left a fascinating story behind them, and that story continues well after they’ve expired. After every assassination, exile, or hero’s funeral, you simply pick up as your nation’s next ruler, hoping that this one will leave things in better shape when their time expires.

Crusader Kings 3 looks extremely complex — and it is! — but it’s well worth mastering.

Paradox Interactive

Crusader Kings 3 looks incredibly daunting at first, and there’s a serious learning curve to get over before you get to the really good stuff. You’ll manage your economy, pick fights with neighbors over territory, fend off attempts on your life, and navigate palace intrigue all from a bird’s eye view that lets you see how your actions are translating into a growing nation or a dwindling failed state. It’s a lot to take in, but Crusader Kings 3 is by far the best starting point in the series, thanks to a comprehensive tutorial that teaches you the ins and outs of the countless simulations that will soon ruin your ruler’s best-laid plans.

If you’re looking for quick thrills, look elsewhere. Crusader Kings 3 takes a long time to get going, but once it heats up, you might find it hard to stop playing. It presents court drama and military conquest as no other game does — not as simple quests to be won but as events that drive the flow of history in ever more unexpected directions. The best you can do is try to steer it the way you want, and embrace the chaos when fate inevitably has other schemes.

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