Crusader Kings III

This is a scene from the video game "Crusader Kings III." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. The Entertainment Software Rating Board rating is M -- mature. (CNS photo/Paradox Interactive)

NEW YORK (CNS) — Eight years in the making, the grand strategy and dynasty simulator game “Crusader Kings III” (Paradox Interactive) sparkles with medieval intrigue and drama.

Within a time period that begins with the Viking Age and closes with fall of Byzantium, players choose a starting character and launch a campaign. Their goal is to manage their political and diplomatic affairs sufficiently well to expand their clan’s power and influence.

Violence, sexual content and language combine to make this an unsuitable title for youngsters. Grown-ups, on the other hand, will easily navigate the mature content. Additionally, the rules can be modified to, among other things, disable character nudity.

Rulers can engage in amorous affairs with other characters. But all sex scenes occur off-screen.

The remarkable number of choices available in “Crusader Kings III” makes every play-through interesting. Gamers can take up the crown of Basil I of Byzantium, play as King Sancho II of Castile and Leon during the Spanish Reconquista or be a very minor lord in the obscure county of Polovragi in Bulgaria.

Whichever sovereign is chosen, the path to victory is entertaining and challenging. Every region has its own assigned tasks, whether it’s creating a united Ireland, managing vassal expectations and betrayals or maintaining a positive relationship with the pope — whose attitude can make your diplomatic relationships with other nations heaven or hell.

While rooted in history, “Crusader Kings III” allows gamers to tweak chronicled societies and events. Settings can be adjusted to change gender equality, regional heresies, the Mongol invasion of the 13th century and much more.

Traits play a major role in dynastic development as each character has an individual personality. When choices are made that go against a character’s inclinations, his or her stress levels can prove fatal. A pious Catholic ruler, for example, will not be able to handle the stress of conflict with the pope.

War itself is treated very carefully, though in a way some may view as culturally insensitive. Thus, while some cultures and faiths allow for almost indiscriminate warfare, most European rulers usually need a specific claim to justify conflict. Without such a cause for war, there can be no declaration of it.

With so many violent games on the market, it’s refreshing that, in this one, combat is not something players can enter into lightly.

Battles are represented by two single units on the map fighting each other, with no gore or graphic effects. Some artwork during cutscenes may, however, show bloodied soldiers.

Other aspects of the gameplay are morally murkier. Characters can have their rivals assassinated and, in some cases, even murder the newborn heir of an enemy faction.

While such actions do, sadly, reflect historical reality, engaging in them will be repugnant to players formed by Gospel values. Fortunately, these tactics are optional, and their use can thus be avoided.

Overall, “Crusader Kings III” possesses immense depth and richness. History fans in particular will enjoy this wild ride through the Middle Ages.

Playable on Windows and Linux.

The game contains stylized combat violence, occasional gory images, rear nudity, sexual themes, some profane and crude language and a handful of mild oaths. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Entertainment Software Rating Board rating is M — mature.

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