Crusader Kings II: The Charlemagne Campaign

Having more or less gotten the hang of Hearts of Iron III over a series of games in 2014, this month I returned to Crusader Kings II. Like all of the Paradox grand strategy games, it’s challenging to get into, with a complicated interface, brain-melting depth and vast scope both geographical and temporal. They demand patience and diligence and a willingness to roll with misfortune and play the long game. These are not so much my strong points.

I began the current game playing as Karl Karling, King of East Francia, in 769. This is the current earliest available start date, and Karl is, of course, the man known to history as Charlemagne and the subject of the titular expansion.

Big Chuck has it very easy in the early game. His brother Karloman, King of Middle Francia, will almost certainly die young, leaving that kingdom to Karl as well. I don’t know if this is scripted or not, but it’s happened in every game I’ve seen unless the player is playing Karloman himself. The two titles together are most of what one needs to found an empire, but to declare the Holy Roman Empire in particular you also need Papal approval and the throne of Lombardy, neither of which I managed to grab before Charlemagne’s well-ahead-of-schedule death in 795. But the Empire of Francia was founded, providing a top-tier title that cannot, in theory, be split by gavelkind succession.

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His only legitimate son and heir, Otto (the bastard Pepin the Hunchback never having been legitimized,) found that theory translates very imperfectly into practice, as he was forced to put down a series of rebellions that threatened to break the newborn Empire into its constituent Kingdoms. At the same time the powerful Moors of Iberia declared a Holy War even as heathen Northmen began raiding the coasts of Francia in large numbers. Killed in battle against the Saracens at age 54, Otto lived only a year longer than his father, and left the Imperial crown to a six year old heir.

Thankfully young Charles II’s regency was capable enough to win the last wave of wars, and Charles eventually grew into a marginally competent leader. An able strategist but personally craven in battle, he set about on a series of wars to conquer the lands that had been lost in the wake of his grandfather’s death. But the great challenge, of keeping Charlemagne’s empire together after his death, has been met so far.

Now, in 839, Charles the Just is only 38 and looks forward to many years of rule — but his dynasty does not have a reputation for longevity, and he has been stricken by illness several times. He has reconquered much of what was lost but Bavaria, Pomerania and Denmark yet elude his grasp, and on his borders both Islam and nascent Sweden are in ascendance. Of partial Lombard heritage himself, he eyes their Kingdom in Italy jealously, but a major war at the wrong time could be disastrous.

So yeah, good times. I hope to finish this game this week, but at the current pace, with over 600 years before mandatory endgame, this doesn’t appear likely. I could, arbitrarily declare the game over at any point, but I’m unlikely to do that while Francia holds together. The next game, I’m thinking, with either be with the pagan Norse or the Byzantines, with whom I will attempt to re-establish the full glory of the Roman Empire. Or maybe I’ll play, for the first time, as a vassal count somewhere, maybe Lombardy. The cool thing is that all of these are just the tip of the Crusader Kings II iceberg; even after that there’s Republics to play, and Muslims, and Indian Rajas and Mongols and Zoroastrians…

What’s Playing… and What’s Up Next!

As things have evolved over the last few weeks I’ve been making adjustments to my plans for the blog and the channel. I have been reliably posting a new video every day in my Dragon Age: Origins playthrough; additional series will follow the same posting schedule. Meaning that each series will get a new video each day on the YouTube channel.

But I’m not going to try to do a blog post for every vid. That would be doable for a single series, but I plan to have two or three running at any given time, and that makes it impractical. And, to be honest, the <Dragon Age games in particular are involved enough that to do them justice I feel like I’d basically need to write them up as novels, and that’s not going to happen. So I’m going to do a weekly recap post for each series instead, with videos embedded. The first of these should appear around the weekend.

The Dragon Age game is going splendidly, as long as you don’t mind me watching me bungle my way through its sprawling storyline. There are 26 episodes up already and plenty more on the way. After fiddling with each of its two sequels, however, I’ve decided to hold off on them for now in favor of playing them in order. So Origins will be followed by its expansion Awakening, then by Dragon Age II and finishing up with Inquisition, with decisions imported along the way. In order to get this moving I may speed up the pace of posting, but I don’t think it’s going to take me anything like the reported 80 hours to play through the first game. I have no doubt that one could put that amount of time into a single playthrough, especially with the DLC, but while I’m doing side quests I’m not trying to be exhaustive about it. If anything I may dither longest in the roomier Inquisition.

Early next week you will also see a new series. It was my thought to do a Mass Effect 1-3 megaplay along the same lines, but I figure that a single months-long multi-game replay is all I’d like to be doing at any given time, and at this point I am fully committed to Dragon Age. So I’ve chosen (by request!) a much more digestible title: Telltale’s The Wolf Among Us. This will be the first of their game that I’ve played, so it should be illuminating.

Once the giant Dragon Age project is complete, Mass Effect is back on the table, but my current thinking is that I’m more likely to do something standalone, like Deus Ex: Human Revolution or the first Assassin’s Creed. The Wolf Among Us should only take maybe two weeks to finish; after that you are likely to see something from Paradox: Crusader Kings II, Europa Universalis IV or Hearts of Iron III.

Remember to subscribe to the YouTube channel to keep abreast on all this stuff.

Ardwulf Plays: Dragon Age Origins Episode 3 – Ostagar

An unplanned but thankfully temporary internet outage has delayed Episode 3 of our Dragon Age: Origins playthrough, but here it is! In this episode I continue the first part of the storyline, having escaped from the stifling clutches of the Circle.

Now in the ancient fastness of Ostagar, I find a merchant to sell off my unwanted loot and accept a task from the Kennel Master, who is trying to aid an ailing Mabari hound. After that I meet up with Alastair, the Grey Wardens’ previous new recruit and a former Templar, who maybe isn’t quite as funny as he thinks he is.

Meeting up with our leader Duncan and two other recruits, Daveth and Ser Jory, we are tasked with venturing into the nearby Korcari Wilds to find three vials of Darkspawn blood needed for the upcoming Grey Warden ritual, as well as some ancient documents lost long ago by the Order.

Graphically, I think that Dragon Age: Origins, released in 2009, hasn’t aged all that well in five years. This may be the result of being designed primarily with the limitations of consoles in mind… in fact, I first played it on the PS3, but saw immediately that I would enjoy it more on the PC. There is a nice parity between the gameplay graphics and the in-engine cutscenes (of which there are a lot,) but most of the characters walk with a stiff gait and look kind of plasticky. Not a big deal, and it’s by no means an ugly game, but it’s not up to current standards for this kind of thing, and in fact I think Bioware’s own Mass Effect, released two years earlier, holds up considerably better.

Where DA:O does shine spectacularly, though, is in the wonderful Inon Zur soundtrack (available on Spotify!) which is cinematic, thematically unified, complex, alternatingly somber, moody and exciting and just all together really well done. I would say that it’s one of my favorite video game soundtracks.

Stay tuned for episode 4, due on Monday!

Ardwulf Plays: Dragon Age: Origins Part 1 – The Harrowing

Dragon Age: Inquisition looks, and by all accounts is, pretty damned cool. However, between the holidays, graduation and needed plumbing work I can’t afford to buy it just now. It’s on my Christmas list.

However, I never let a little thing like that stop me. Plus, I never did finish (or even get very far in) Dragon Age: Origins. So, as part of the relaunch of Ardwulf’s Lair I’m starting with a playthrough of that. I have the ultimate edition, so I have Awakening to get through as well. All together that’s quite a lot of content. So onward with Episode 1!

Expect to see the next part in a few days.

Ardwulf Plays: EverQuest II

My current front-burner project (in my copious free time ha ha) is a Let’s Play run at EverQuest II. I’d been waiting for ages for character slots to go on sale, and they finally did (all September.) So I bought several and finally got to start a new character.

The new character is a Wood Elf Fury, starting in the Greater Faydark zone. The plan is to get that zone finished and then move on to the next zone, but with a different character. I have the first two episodes up, embedded below. After various rendering and uploading difficulties. Enjoy!

UPDATE: Fixed the embed on the second vid. Byproduct of a failed upload.

Capping Guild Wars 2

300px-Normal_gw2logoI’m a great tryer of MMORPGs. I tend to move between games frequently, often sticking around only for a week or two, only to come back in three months of two years or whatever. It’s easy to do especially in these days when freee to play ios the rule rather than the exception, and I can play for even just a day or two before moving on or becoming tied up with real-life things.

On top of that, I tend to play with alts a lot, usually quickly filling all of the available character slots, and sometimes more if you can buy them separately. In EQ2, for example, I have crafting alts in every tradeskill, plus a couple of extra characters in classes that I just wanted to play. For the last three years or so, EQ2 has been my primary game during summer and winter breaks, and I’ve been making a conscious effort to level my main there.

Even in EQ2, though — a game I have put hundreds of hours into — I don’t have a character at the level cap in either adventuring or crafting. The only game to date that I’ve capped a character is WoW, in which I managed a sustained run of about 8 months in the WotLK era. Even there, I only capped my main, although I came close with a couple of other characters before the cap shifted further out of reach.

Yesterday I hit the level cap in Guild Wars 2, which took (as a guess) maybe 110 hours. There’s still a lot left undone there, of course — offhand, my gear is shit and I still have about 45% of the world left to explore, to say nothing of the running series of events that GW2 has been rolling out pretty regularly since its launch. I have also done little — very little — PvP despite this being one of the game’s strong points. I may have another try at that in the limited time I have left (just one week) before school starts again.

Over on the MMORPG.com forums, the running narrative among the nitwit set seems to be that GW2 is a big faceplant. Personally, I don’t see how that’s the case unless the metric of success is causing the downfall of World of Warcraft — which frankly no game except World of Warcraft is going to do (although it is managing it.) Sales were strong (over 3 million copies sold as of this past January,) and there’s still plenty of people in game; every North American server is at at least High population even at obscene hours.

Granted, it’s not a flawless game and we know sales have started to flatten, but at this point it’s fair to say that it’s aging fairly gracefully. Its trinity-less combat model hasn’t turned out as well as we all hoped; I think it works fine for play in the open world but in dungeons and against bosses it’s both screwy and dull. Too, the “living” world works well enough for the most part, but it’s not as organic as it sounded before launch, and frankly after 80 levels of it everything seems pretty stagy. Although I have been nominally leveling by exploring, and GW2’s open objectives are indeed a novel alternative to strictly linear quests, I haven’t felt like I was really discovering anything new for at least 40 levels.

It is also in some respects a frustrating game… although not nearly as frustrating as its predecessor, in which I tried (I really did) to finish all three campaigns, multiple times, only to eventually get stuck. It’s odd how similar the two games are, and yet how different, with GW being a true departure from the MMORPGs of its day and GW2 bringing the series much closer to the mainstream, but both sharing similar support models and art direction.

GW2 is getting good support but I wonder how wise ArenaNet was in opting for the current scheme of live support and regular updates instead of a dedicated (and marketable) expansion. I can see playing quite a bit more of it myself, but I’ll get shunted away into schoolwork in a matter of days… and I think we can already see some dwindling of interest that would be rekindled by an expansion.

Ireland Unified

Yesterday I “completed” another game of Crusader Kings II, this time playing as the Count of Dublin. By “completed” I mean that I made my in-game goal, the unification of Ireland. I still need considerable practice at realm management, however, as Ireland promptly fell apart upon my death. Next time I may play a nation like France and work on that.

Then again, there is so much to Crusader Kings 2 that I could play forever and basically never be done exploring all it has to offer, even without the new expansion The Old Gods (which I will grab when it goes on sale, likely this summer) or the next two years of additional DLC that have recently been announced.