Over the weekend, the first playable release of Crusader Kings II: A Game of Thrones was made available for public download. And it is already pretty much the perfect Game of Thrones video game.
I mentioned in my review of Crusader Kings II earlier in the year that the systems put in place by developers Paradox seemed ideally suited to George R R Martin's fantasy universe. While there are larger things going on like Kingdoms falling and wars being fought, CKII places just as much importance on the more personal side of feudal rule: marriage, politics, alliances and back-stabbing. Which just so happens to b the same blending of the big and small picture that that makes GoT that much more appealing to a wider audience than your standard fantasy tale.
It was only last week, then, that in lieu of a decent official Game of Thrones title I was recommending people keep an eye out for a Game of Thrones mod for Crusader Kings II instead. Turns out you didn't have to wait long, because it's not only been suddenly released, but it's already surprisingly playable and, more impressive, comprehensive.
Beginning during Robert's Rebellion against the mad King Aerys, CKII:GoT lets you play as any title-holder in Westeros. And I do mean any. The mod team has certainly done their research, as going beyond the big names like Aerys, Robert and Ned Stark are hundreds of lesser lords and officials, some featuring as characters in the books/TV show, others only mentioned briefly or in passing.
What does this mean? Everything I said about the main game in my review applies here, only everything I loved about CKII is now magnified, because I'm not playing as some random English Duke, I can play as Ned Stark. Walder Frey is there, and he has 100 kids, and they can all be married off to unsuspecting husbands/wives/victims. Even The Wall and the Night's Watch are there, though without Wildlings in this beta release, they're not doing much.
Honestly, it's worth a download just to use it as an interactive Game of Thrones encyclopaedia, clicking through the family trees and lineages and histories not only learning about the world, but admiring the amount of work that's gone into this mod.
In terms of what it adds or changes to the vanilla CKII, there's nothing too different. There's a new war system in place to better handle the nature of the conflict (since it's one giant civil conflict), a new assassination system and the incorporation of knights into the character system. Aside from that, and some welcome (and extensive) re-skinning of CKII's graphics, things play mostly the same as they do in the standard game. Some added, extra events - winter is coming, prisoners demanding trial by combat - are a nice touch.
I haven't run into too many issues so far, but I've only been playing as the Starks, and I've only been playing over the weekend. I'm sure something will pop up sooner or later, this being the first beta release of a mod, but whatever. It works, and it's stable enough to enjoy. Know though that it does need some balancing, especially with regards to how strong King Aerys' forces are early on. Get past the early wars, though, and things seem to settle back down to a more normal pace.
If you're a strategy game veteran, you'll have no problems here. Those who are big GoT fans but who haven't played a game like Crusader Kings II, don't panic; it may look complex, but it's surprisingly easy to get a handle on, and you can have enjoyable games only knowing the very basics of its structure. Later playthroughs, where you can dig a little deeper, will only get better.