Crusader Kings II, the unrelenting grand strategy simulator, has turned five years old. Released in 2012, the core game remains somewhat daunting for new players. It has a wide variety of complicated and nuanced systems. It requires the player to keep an eye on what is going on in own lands, the lands of those near by, and often the world at large. A discussion on Crusader Kings II, the allure of it, and how it differs from anything else out there, could (and likely will) occupy an entire other discussion. Fair warning, my comments may sound a bit rough, but Crusader Kings II is easily one of my top favorite video games and is one well worth getting over the learning curve for.
Monks & Mystics is the 12th major expansion they have released. For a game that is entering it’s fifth year, that is pretty impressive. So too are the risk that Paradox took when with a product that brings focus to secret societies steeped in magic and strange lore. The scope of CK2 covers western Europe and a bit beyond India. It is easy to imagine that with the number of cultures and religions present, inserting the information on them, making it interesting, and keeping it tasteful would be difficult. But, as the past has shown, the Paradox crew were up for the task.
I have clocked about 90 hours with Monks & Mystics since it launched. First and foremost, I need to say, I really enjoy it. The introductions of societies has changed up the game in a fashion that hasn’t been done since Conclave. My first play through was an amazing game where my dynasty brought Satanism to power in Ireland, and it ended with a bloody magical turf war between different Satanic families.
And that brings us to the first criticism I can see with Monks & Mystics. If you are a purist and looking for straight up historical accuracy, you are going to want to turn the Satan stuff off. I love it, personally, but I know it doesn’t appeal to all people. Then there is the second issue. “Game Balance”.
There are lots of claims that the powers of the Dark Lord Lucifer, and his Satanic hordes are too powerful, with not enough negatives. The same school of thought will point at how boring and lackluster the standard religious sects are and that they are, comparatively under powered or unfinished. These claims are not with out their merit, but I found the power of the factions a bit different.
With my time logged in the game, I only ever join the ‘dark side’ cults when one of two things happen. I have an heir who is going to be hated no matter what or I have character with a terrible disease. The ‘dark side’ cults can help you cull and subdue vassals, usually pretty quickly and you can use it to cure terrible illness and extend your life! But your character becomes more and more depraved, and unless you want to yo-yo your traits by having your character focus on Theology, (a strategy that oddly works out ok) your current ruler is going to leave a nasty stain on your dynasty.
Which brings me to the serenity and power of the ‘boring nice people’ cults. With these, a focus on theology, switching to hunting or war later on, I found that I was able to have long lasting peace in my kingdom. The ease of brokering deals, keeping people happy, and getting on with your neighbors, even for an ugly dwarf character, was really really simple. I had about 300 years of almost complete peace while finishing up my last Sweden game. It is all about that powerful and sometimes overlooked ‘feelings of predecessor’ modifier. A good ruler can make life so much easier for his heir.
And then the Hermetical Order. I figured this would be the one I would love the most, but sadly it does feel a bit unfinished. As of writing this, the Paradox dev diaries have said they will be expanding on the Hermetical Order, and making more things they can cook up. And that is great, and I am excited, but I am unsure if people are aware of the single best thing about the Hermetic Order at the moment. The potion that gets rid of the Stressed and Depressed trait. This thing is easy to make, keeps you and your vassals in tip top shape with an added bonus of them being grateful for it!
With the ability to remove Stressed, this makes grooming your awesome heirs (and siblings) easy. Focus on Family, live long, and your dynasty will be ruled by very powerful, positive trait heavy, leaders with loyal family members ready to take up council positions and watch your back when regency is needed.
This potion even can be applied instantly when you discover a previous application of the brew made yourself or someone else bummed out cause it didn’t work.
So, in conclusion this expansion is really good. I think it is probably their best one to date and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys CK2 and had felt that Conclave was a solid addition to the CK2 family. The factions do feel like, as you drift further and further from core Europe, that they are just repeating themselves. But, I hope that Paradox will flesh them out more in the months to come. Monks & Mystics is a must have for Paradox fans that adds an new system which rewards you for mastering it. Now I need to get back to my badly mangled Raja.