Crusader Kings 3’s new DLC is an essential strategy add-on

The new Royal Court expansion adds a host of new ways to interact with your medieval dynasty, bringing CK3's core mechanics to life like never before

A king sitting on his throne in Crusader Kings 3's Royal Court DLC

Greetings from Gowrie, where I, King Malcolm III of Scotland, have been reigning from atop the Stone of Scone for the past ten years. Sure, we’re frequently attacked by Norwegian raiders and I’m at war with Karaldr Gudrosson, the petty king who I’ve been trying to dislodge from the Hebrides for as long as I can remember, but we’ve got the fanciest accommodations and finest clothes on the entire island. Make yourself at home, admire the tattered war banners on the wall, and learn all about Royal Court, the new major expansion for the feudal grand strategy game Crusader Kings III.

This DLC has been a long time coming, and it’s not hard to see why. The Royal Court adds a lot more than a nested dollhouse for your medieval lordlings and courtiers to stand around in, although the new dynamic throne room is a delight. The expansion also overhauls Crusader Kings III’s culture system, providing a wealth of new considerations about how to go about settling in new lands or forging alliances.

Starting out as King Malcolm, I get to see the new royal court screen right away – it’s locked to characters below the kingdom level. The throne room is a place where I can see the characters in my court, hear petitioners, and perhaps most importantly, find new opportunities to manage my ruler’s stress level.

Royal Court – which you can buy here, coincidentally – moves culture into the foreground, and I feel I’ve only scratched the surface of how it refreshes the game’s approach here.

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In another start, I play as the leader of a band of landless Normans who’ve set up shop on the southern end of the Italian peninsula. My success in establishing the Kingdom of Sicily depends on me getting my people to accept new linguistic and cultural traditions – I want us to adopt an entirely new Sicilian identity, and many of my decisions in court will impact my people’s feelings about this notion. Another option would be to form a hybrid culture, drawing linguistic and legal traditions from both Norman and local Sicilian customs.

Holding court in Crusader Kings 3's Royal Court DLC

Then there’s the new artifacts system. Banners, tapestries, weapons, pieces of furniture – these can all be displayed in your court, and some can also be given to characters as equipment. I’ve turned up special heirloom toys during sieges that I’ve given to my children, which have had a range of surprising effects, while prized family axes and swords have made my commanders more lethal in battle. Replacing my generic throne with the Stone of Scone boosts my monthly prestige and renown gains, bolsters my domain limit, and improves my standing with Scots and Gaelic peoples in my realm.

If you’re not frequently out razing towns and pillaging monasteries, you can always hire an artisan or sponsor an adventurer to produce artifacts for you. These each have their own decision chains to navigate, and more than once I’ve been taken for a ride by an ‘inspired’ ne’er-do-well who has claimed to have a line on some priceless bauble I could display in my hall.

There are aspects of the court that feel a bit too obviously gamey, like how devoting additional gold to meal quality or courtly dress raises your relative grandeur score while providing marginal bonuses for your realm. This makes it seem less like a vibrant hub for my kingdom’s leadership and more like a videogame currency exchange, where I’m simply trading points of one type for another.

Offering fresh quail to a guest at your court in Crusader Kings 3

However, I’ve been delighted at how each new level of grandeur comes with its own new events, like courtiers babbling to each other over the fresh quail we served them. I had Malcolm join in the talk and call for more food and drink – he needed some stress relief after mourning the death of his second son.

That makes those videogamey sliders pretty easy to forgive. The court screen is such a lovely nexus for the role-playing layer of Crusader Kings III that I hardly mind some of the weird abstractions and sliders, such as the numbered ‘levels’ of courtly grandeur. The overall effect is that it provides a tangible sense of place and setting for my royal drama. Watching characters I’ve only ever seen in menus and dialogues show up together when you hold court, standing in positions I’ve assigned for them or on bended knees as petitioners, grounds Crusader Kings III in a new and extremely pleasing way.

Just having that place present and represented helps with the narrative stuff that’s already in the core game. Now, when I happen across two courtiers gossiping in the gardens, it feels like I know where that is – probably just outside to the right, I imagine. When I’m accosted over a secret that someone’s uncovered in a hallway, I feel like I’m upstairs near the royal apartments. Simply being able to look at my ruler sitting upon their throne, drumming their fingers as their subjects plead their cases, makes them feel more real.

Using artifacts in Crusader Kings 3's Royal Court DLC

The way all of this plugs into the rest of the game makes it feel like an important addition, and a bit of an oddity as far as Paradox DLC goes. At $29.99 / £23.79, it’s priced much higher than the more focused add-ons the company produced for Crusader Kings II. But unlike those packs, the Royal Court isn’t angled at a small niche of players – it’s something that’s going to enrich any style of play.

After completing our Crusader Kings III review, I had pretty much mothballed the game to wait for DLC to start appearing. That wound up being a longer wait than I’d anticipated, but I’m beyond pleased to be getting back in with Royal Court. I’m eager to see how different cultures are reflected in their throne rooms, and even to return to starts I’ve played before, just to experience them anew on these lovely stages.

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