Freebie: If you're a fan of free (or dirt cheap) stuff, Steam is one of the best digital distribution platforms to keep your eye on. Hefty sales and giveaways are frequent, as demonstrated by today's news: Crusader Kings 2 is now free to keep on Steam. If you download it now, it's yours for good.
Crusader Kings 2, for the unaware, is a grand strategy game from Paradox. The company is a fixture in this genre, and it's well-known for publishing or even directly developing a wide variety of other strategy titles, including (but not limited to) the Europa Universalis series, Stellaris, and Age of Empires.
Unlike other strategy games, which usually put you in control of an entire nation, Crusader Kings 2 allows you to take on the role of a specific ruler from European history. You can play as a King, Duke, Emperor, or lowly count, each with their own unique personality traits, flaws, families, and more.
Depending on your starting role, you'll either be fighting off other global powers and participating in the Crusades or simply trying to work your way up the political ladder.
As you might expect, this lower-level, character-based approach to grand strategy puts a much greater emphasis on personal diplomacy, subterfuge, and plotting. It also tends to allow for greater roleplay potential, as you're able to more easily view the world (and the actions of others) through your ruler's eyes.
Indeed, many political (or dialogue) options will be locked or unlocked based on your character's traits, and those traits can change over time based on your decisions. If you start to gorge yourself on the finest foods and wine, your character may become a glutton -- a favorable trait in the eyes of other gluttons, but one that lowers your appeal in the eyes of the opposite sex (and the Catholic Church).
Further, while conquering land and expanding your influence is still a useful and vital pursuit, it will not be your only goal. Instead, you'll be focused on keeping your dynasty alive through many generations of characters (when your first ruler dies, you'll play as his heir; usually a son or daughter). You'll have to carefully educate your children and plan marriages efficiently to survive.
If all of that sounds great to you, feel free to give the game a whirl. Again, it's totally free for now -- at least until Paradox's Berlin-based "PDXCON" event comes to an end on October 20 -- so you really have nothing to lose.
However, there is a slight catch, and it relates to Paradox's business model. Anybody who has supported the company for an extended period of time knows that Paradox as a publisher is a big fan of expansions and DLC packs.
The sheer amount of extra DLC available for Crusader Kings 2 is enough to make your head spin -- there are well over two dozen full expansions (some better than others), portrait or unit skin packs, music packs, and more.
If you've never played Crusader Kings 2 before, you'll probably still have a great time with the core experience, but you'll be missing out on a lot of content. Even something as basic as the "Ruler Designer," which lets you create your own ruler (customizing everything from their stats to their fertility and education), is a paid add-on.
Normally, all that content combined would run you upwards of $300, but due to Paradox's PDXCON sale, everything Crusader King 2-related (except the base game) is 50 percent off. The good news is, even if you opt to skip paid DLCs, there are hundreds of fantastic mods out there for you to try -- we recommend the "A Game of Thrones" total conversion mod, in particular.