Crusader Kings 3 hands-on preview: Evolving the intricacies of lineage & statecraft

Paradox Interactive is building upon its reputation in Crusader Kings 3 with a grand strategy game that should satisfy hardcore players and invite newcomers as well.


Crusader Kings is a franchise that prides itself upon an incredibly intricate system of lineage, statecraft, and grand strategy as you aim to create a lasting and quality line of descendants who will carry out your authority. All of this occurs while navigating world affairs from your position of power. Crusader Kings 3 has aimed from the start to bring this to the next level, bringing new, polished mechanics as you attempt to survive the passage of time and the events of the world around you and consequences of decisions you make. Even so, as complex as Crusader Kings’ grand strategy mechanics have become, and as much as there is to consider, the third iteration of the series also aims to help newcomers adapt to its many rules with a helping hand for every step of journey. I got to sit down with an early build of Crusader Kings 3 to see, in motion, how this is all coming together to satisfy veterans and new players alike.

The fate of the land in your hands

The core of Crusader Kings 3 remains faithful to everything that came before. Players begin the game in ancient times by taking on the role of ruler ranging from kings and queens, to dutch, duke, and baron. Your purpose as your domain’s leader is to navigate the events and turmoils of whatever region and time period you inhabit with two main goals: firstly, expanding your power by way of alliances with fellow rulers and/or conquering of desired land, and secondly by ensuring you create lineage (children or other heirs) to which the rulership of land can be passed down. In Crusader Kings 3, time passes, and the ruler you begin with will age and die (if the hands of fate don’t wring your neck first), and if you have no suitable heir to take over rulership of your domain, then your rule dies and it’s a game over of sorts, short of changing characters mid-game.

In my preview play, there was a number of rulers from different time periods and regions, all embroiled in a different situation of their time. Some were of “easy” difficulty, having the upper hand of their situation and fully capable of moving their dynasty forward in multiple ways. Others were of “hard” difficulty, backed into a corner in their period and facing incredibly dire challenges and decisions from the start of their rule. There’s also rulers facing difficulties in between. Not too soft, but not too tough either. The ability to create and play as your own custom ruler and region also returns as an option in case you want to blaze your own path of rule through whatever era of time you choose.

One of the more interesting features of Crusader Kings 3 is in how the abilities and statuses of your chosen ruler begin and improve through the game. There are a lot of RPG-esque mechanics here. Each ruler has qualities of diplomacy, martial prowess (ability to wage and handle war), stewardship (handling of wealth and money laws), intrigue (ability to spy, scheme, and discover opposing forms of both), and learning. Low numbers represent a deficit and high numbers represent a specialty in handling situations related to matters in that field. A ruler of high martial ability may be able to conquer lands in war with ease, but low intrigue could leave them in danger of assassination or other schemes. This also culminates in a new Lifestyle system in which playing to your character’s stats can “level” them up and allow them to unlock bonus qualities in skill trees centered around the five core traits.

The qualities of your ruler and the characters around them will do much to inform your interactions and their consequences in Crusader Kings 3.

Not only does every leader have these qualities… nearly every character in the game has these stats, from the greatest king to the lowliest knight, which determines how they will succeed or fail in matters delegated to them whether it’s in your trusted council or in service of their own small plot of land and rulership. What’s more, each character has special characteristics that give them bonus or detrimental qualities. A character with the Impatient quality will have greater speed in growth of fame and discovery of schemes, but at the cost of a penalty to the learning stat and being at an opinion disadvantage when dealing with characters of the Patient quality.

Even further, these character traits inform a new Stress mechanic in Crusader Kings 3. Certainly, decisions where you choose to bide your time may provide better results and outcomes in a situation, but if your character is impatient, you are actively acting against their nature and it will cause them to become stressed. Too much stress, in turn, could create penalties to their health and other stats. Meanwhile, acting in accordance with their nature will lower stress, even if the outcome may be undesirable. It forces a balancing act of roleplay where you must decide when to work against your character’s better interests and attempt to create situations that may benefit your character’s nature. All of it seems to be coming together well to create a more engaging roleplay of your ruler and strategic consideration of the traits of any and all allies or enemies they may be dealing with in Crusader Kings 3.

A helping hand in all matters of statecraft

Features like the tooltips and issues systems make Crusader Kings 3 easily more approachable, but they're also handy reminders for series veterans.

As Crusader Kings 3 has taken everything that made previous games good to build upon itself into a stronger grand strategy role-playing game, there is an absolutely massive amount of qualities, statistics, and situations to consider. Even the most seasoned Crusader Kings player may have a tough time keeping track of every matter of importance at all times. That’s where Paradox has built quite a number of systems to lend a helping hand in Crusader Kings 3.

The first and, perhaps most important, new feature in accessibility in Crusader Kings 3 is the tooltips system. This system makes every single term of importance a highlighted one. By simply hovering over a highlighted term, Crusader Kings 3 will bring up a box defining what that term entails, as well as what terms are related to it. Don’t know one of those terms in the first term's tooltip? You can hover into the tooltip over another highlighted term to open yet another tooltip, going as far as needed. By simply hovering away, any and all tooltips you’ve opened clear out. I find this to be extremely handy at pretty much all times in my sessions with Crusader Kings 3.

If you're ever not sure what something important is in Crusader Kings 3, hovering over it for even a second will likely tell you what you need to know.

For instance, if I needed to know how Vassal Taxes affected my income, I could hover over it to open a Vassal Taxes tooltip. Seeing Vassal Obligations is related to the term, I could also hover over Obligations in the Vassal Taxes tooltip to open an Obligations tooltip and get a better understanding of how that worked - onward and so forth whenever I needed a reminder of something relevant to any given situation. Though there was no way to outright turn tooltips off in the preview, I felt this will be a welcome addition that will likely aid anyone who finds it easy to get lost in Crusader Kings 3’s dizzying array of terms, qualities, and situations.

Then there’s the new Issues feature. If ever you find yourself at a loss for what to do next, Crusader Kings 3 aids you here as well. The Issues menu keeps abreast of your entire situation and makes suggestions as to what actions the game thinks would be the best action for you to take next, whether it’s appointing an heir or subordinate to a position, title, or rulership of land, declaring a war, forging an alliance, swaying opinions of shaky friends or possible foes, or other options. What’s better, the Issues feature separates suggestions into categories of less pressing affairs and priority decisions that really demand your attention promptly. You can use it or ignore it and forge your own path as you please, but it’s very nice to have when you’re not sure what actions to take next.

A step forward without leaving the uninitiated behind

Between more accessible features and more engaging character mechanics, Crusader Kings 3 is set to move the series forward in strong and meaningful ways.

After my time was up with the Crusader Kings 3 preview, I came away feeling excited for the full prospect. This game is shaping up to be one of the most complex, intricate, and satisfying grand strategy games in terms of the sheer depth for which you can choose your path and act upon what happens around you. It invites players to truly take on the role of their ruler and the lineage that follows them, survive the test of time, and gather power through friendship, outright war, sneaky schemes, and any mix of these things.

What’s more, it builds upon the complexity of the Crusader Kings franchise without leaving players that haven’t been here since the beginning by the wayside. Crusader Kings 3’s direction of meeting players halfway with a wealth of easily available assistance and suggestions that doesn’t become burdensome hand-holding make it feel like something that a wider audience can enjoy - something not solely made for the most passionate of fans, but satisfyingly deep for veterans nonetheless. Put all of this depth and accessibility together and Crusader Kings 3 is shaping up to be the grandest of all grand strategy games.

This preview is based on an early development build provided by the publisher. Crusader Kings 3 is slated for launch in North America on September 1, 2020 on Steam.

Senior News Editor

TJ Denzer is a player and writer with a passion for games that has dominated a lifetime. He found his way to the Shacknews roster in late 2019 and has worked his way to Senior News Editor since. Between news coverage, he also aides notably in livestream projects like the indie game-focused Indie-licious, the Shacknews Stimulus Games, and the Shacknews Dump. You can reach him at and also find him on Twitter @JohnnyChugs.

From The Chatty
    • reply
      May 14, 2020 9:15 AM

      I'll buy this even though I'll never figure out how to play it.

      • reply
        May 14, 2020 9:20 AM


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          May 14, 2020 9:49 AM

          I hope they add a way to turn off tooltips so you can wing it if you want. Otherwise, I'd say the tooltips and Issues system made it consistently easy to figure out what I was looking at and what I ought to do next at all times. This one feels really accessible in comparison to CK2.

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            May 14, 2020 5:49 PM

            My biggest wish in CK3 is for alarms and reminders (custom pop-ups on a particular date or after x amount of time). I spent so much time coming back to try and fix fuckups that happened when I got dealt into the weeds with one war or plot and failed to notice something important in my family or court had already passed by. Things like a child coming of age and being auto-assigned a tutor who was completely unsuitable, for example.

            I ended up wasting a lot of time cycling through all my vassals and family members to check what they were doing because the game didn't actually serve the notifications you set, and had no way to keep track of target dates as they approached. If they want us to do Dynasty Management instead of painting the map our own color through conquest, I hope they really polish the management tools.

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              May 14, 2020 5:50 PM

              *got deep into the weeds, not 'dealt'

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              May 15, 2020 11:28 AM

              You will absolutely love the Issues system then. It's quite literally what you described for the most part, keeping track of where you are in most of your inner and outer relations and letting you know what it thinks you ought to do next, or high-priority matters you should watch.

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                May 15, 2020 1:07 PM

                O RLY. I'll have to take a look at it.

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          May 14, 2020 5:53 PM

          Haha, I love the idea of games like this--the ones where you don't play to win, but rather just play to have a story to tell. That sounds amazing :)

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