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Crusader Kings II is one of those games that have a lot of available DLCs that can significantly improve the original gameplay. However, due to the sheer number of released DLCs, it may be hard to decide which ones to get first. Which DLCs for Crusader Kings II are the best? Do you need all DLCs or only some of them? Can you buy all DLCs at a discounted price? We’re about to find out.
Crusader Kings II is a grand strategy video game developed by Paradox Development Studio and published by Paradox Interactive, that takes a unique approach to the genre, as it focuses more on managing your medieval dynasty, rather than a kingdom. A proper kingdom always needs a ruler, which means that in order to achieve success in CK2 you will have to plan ahead and make sure that there is always a proper successor who could claim the throne and seize the power. This can be done through a variety of means, including war, marriages, assassinations, and a number of diplomacy options. If your current character dies without an heir, you will lose the game, so keep that in mind and do whatever it takes to keep your dynasty alive.
The game was initially released as a buy-to-play title, but Paradox switched it to a free-to-play business model in 2019, meaning that today everyone can enjoy the base game without the need to spend a single dime. However, as great as CK2 is, it becomes a much more enjoyable experience once you get access to at least some of the game’s amazing paid DLCs that add a variety of new things, from new factions, events, religions, cultures, and government types, to entirely new gameplay mechanics that can drastically change how the game is played, giving you even more freedom and possibilities when it comes to dynasty management.
Like in the case of other Paradox games, there are two types of DLCs for Crusader Kings II – content packs and expansion packs. Expansion packs are the bigger ones and can significantly change the gameplay, add new gameplay mechanics, new nations, and so on, in one convenient package, while content packs are the smaller ones and consist of unit packs, portrait packs, clothing packs, and so on. As there are dozens of available DLCs for CK2, we will just focus on the expansion packs.
Here’s a list of expansion packs for CK2, ordered by release date:
Let’s take a look at what each of these DLCs can bring to the base game.
Sword of Islam is the first expansion pack for Crusader Kings II. As the name suggests, it focuses on Muslim rulers and nations, allowing players to start their adventure in the Middle East for the first time.
With Muslim nations, numerous new gameplay changes were also introduced to the base game to make the experience more realistic. Two notable additions are the decadence system and polygamy. Decadence adds another layer of strategy to the family management – it is related to the number of males without titles and it increases over time, negatively affecting morale and tax income, forcing you to make difficult choices. Can you afford to give your family members a land of their own, or should you rather assassinate them to stop the growth of decadence?
Polygamy is closely connected to family management and makes Islamic characters more interesting and unique to play – Islamic rulers must have multiple wives to maintain their high prestige.
But Sword of Islam is much more than that. On top of the aforementioned gameplay changes, you can also expect a variety of new Islam-related events and available actions, such as the possibility of sending characters on a pilgrimage to Mecca.
Sword of Islam
The second CK2 expansion takes players to the Byzantine Empire, where you will be able to forge Byzantine’s future. Will the empire prevail, or will the great schism seal its fate?
The most important gameplay addition in Legacy of Rome is retinue, which is a more advanced and customizable version of already existing levies. Retinue can be considered a standing army and a core component of armies of more advanced empires – although retinues cost a lot to raise and take a lot of time to do so, the cost drops drastically once the recruitment is finished. You can choose the type of troops you want in your retinue and you can send them to the borders if you expect a war, which is a great and efficient way to quickly gain an upper hand. That’s not only because your retinues are always ready to fight, but also because they usually have enough time to fully raise their morale between wars.
Legacy of Rome also adds Byzantine-related events and decisions, as well as a faction system, improvements to the mobilization of levies, and some changes to Orthodox kingdoms, among other features.
Legacy of Rome
Sunset Invasion is centered around Aztecs and a particular Aztec-related event, where the Aztec Empire invades Europe. It’s a tough challenge that will surely test your management skills, as the event can be easily compared to the large-scale invasion of the Mongol Empire.
The DLC doesn’t pack a lot of features but adds some interesting ones that should spice up the gameplay. This includes the Aztec disease – a new type of plague brought by Aztec invaders and yet another threat for the Old Continent.
You will also find some new Aztec-related shields, portraits, units, as well as Aztec culture and religion to make everything more believable.
As the name implies, The Republic allows players to become rulers of one of the medieval Merchant Republics: Venice, Amalfi, Genoa, Pisa, Gotland, Ancona, Ragusa, Pechina, and the Hansa. It’s quite a refreshing change and surely something you wouldn’t want to miss.
A republican dynasty has to overcome a variety of new challenges to become a power to be reckoned with. More emphasis is being put on making a wealthy and prosperous family – being a Patrician is not an easy task, but building an empire through smart trades and economy can be just as fun as defeating opposing nations in long-lasting wars. Build, seize, and secure trade posts and fight against other Patricians for influence and dominance.
The biggest feature of The Old Gods expansion is the possibility to play as Pagans and Zoroastrians. As the expansion added these options to the base game, it’s only natural to also have a number of Pagan-related additions to make the experience even more enjoyable and realistic. This includes not only adventures, where players can send their landless characters to carve out new realms, but also improved rebels that are now more dangerous as they no longer consist of an unorganized bunch of angry people, but instead, they can be led by powerful leaders.
The game with The Old Gods expansion can also be started much sooner than usual – January 1, 867 is a new possible starting point, taking players way back to the era of Vikings and their conquests. For some players this alone can be enough of a reason to get the expansion.
The Old Gods
The Sons of Abraham expansion is closely related to Abrahamic religions, which include Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, so you can expect to find a lot of new content that revolves around said beliefs.
Although the expansion doesn’t drastically change the original gameplay, it adds new religious options for more customization possibilities and fleshes out religions in general. For example, you can now control the Papacy through the College of Cardinals, you can ask the Pope for money and favors, Islamic characters can choose between two theologies, and it’s also possible to borrow money from Jewish lenders or holy military orders. You can even play as a Jewish lord and attempt to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem.
Each religion has its own unique actions that can be utilized during play to your advantage – make sure to seize the opportunity and spread your religion to other parts of the world.
Sons of Abraham
Rajas of India is a CK2 DLC that focuses on Indian content and it’s a must-play expansion if you want to experience the game as an Indian lord.
Among the variety of additions, you will mainly find India-related elements, such as hundreds of new counties, new Indian religions, Indian specific events and decisions, Indian character faces and clothes, special Indian units, and more. If you ever wanted to try Buddhist, Jain, or Hindu beliefs in CK2, this is the right DLC.
The expansion also adds some new gameplay mechanics, such as the caste system for Hinduism, where you need to take into account your character’s caste when arranging marriages, and so on – failing to meet the caste criteria can result in penalties to opinion modifiers, which can make the game more difficult.
Rajas of India
Inspired by the character of Father of Europe, the Charlemagne expansion brings some cool stuff to the base game. Some important features include the possibility to create custom kingdoms and empires, grant kingdoms and duchies to vassals as Viceroyalties, and utilize special elements of the sun-worshipping pagan religion, Zuni. Other notable elements of Charlemagne DLC are new narrative events, chronicles, and more units to keep the game fresh. On top of that, the regency was overhauled, making the game slightly more challenging, which should satisfy the needs of CK2 veterans.
The expansion also allows players to start their dynasty even earlier than it was possible in The Old Gods DLC – from now on, you can start as early as 769 AD, which translates to about 100 more in-game years of gameplay.
Due to the sheer amount of universally useful content, Way of Life DLC is considered one of the most important additions to the base game. If you can afford only a few expansions for Crusader Kings II, you should definitely add Way of Life to the shopping list.
The expansion gives players a little more control over the events that will happen to the player’s character. From now on you can choose the character’s focus, the titular way of life, to unlock related events, decisions, and diplomatic actions, which gives more customization options and allows players to role-play their ruler better than ever. Will you follow the way of a ruler or maybe business is what you’d like to focus on? Theology is possible, too, as well as seduction and several other options. Choose your focus carefully and forge the future of your dynasty.
Way of Life
The Horse Lords expansion is an interesting one, especially if you’d like to dive more into nomadic cultures and experience one-of-a-kind gameplay centered around nations that have no permanent settlements.
Horse Lords enhances the gameplay of nomadic tribes and encourages a more aggressive play focused on raiding the enemies, burning their lands down, and leaving no stone unturned. It’s also worth keeping in mind that losing all provinces is not necessarily the end for the horde tribes – you can still use your remaining armies to conquer new land and make a new settlement for your people.
Control the Silk Road, conquer Eurasia, and lead your people to a better future as the Great Khan.
The main purpose of Conclave DLC for CK2 is to increase the challenge of the original game, but fear not if you’re a less experienced player, as the expansion also brings some new features that even you should find interesting and enjoyable.
Conclave revolves around vassals and makes their role more important in the game. It also gives them more power and more possible actions. Playing as a vassal of a more powerful kingdom doesn’t sound like a fun idea at first, but thanks to Conclave it really becomes an experience of its own. Vassals are no longer a source of free manpower – they’re now a force to be reckoned with. If their lord treats them well, they will support his cause. If he makes them unhappy, however, they may spark a civil war, putting the lord’s position in danger.
Most decisions are made through the council, but the council’s choices can be influenced by the vassals, because they can also have their seat in the council now, which gives vassals a bit of real power, despite their seemingly unfavorable position.
If other nations are not enough of a challenge for you, then how about something much more dangerous? Something that once decimated the world’s population?
The Reaper’s Due is an expansion pack inspired by the Black Death plague and introduces a variety of gameplay additions related to plagues and epidemic prevention. From now on, characters won’t be simply ill, but they will show a number of random symptoms that can either get worse and evolve into something more serious with time or simply go away a while. Epidemics will drastically decrease tax income and manpower, among other things, in affected provinces, so it’s mandatory to keep an eye on possible outbreaks.
To protect your people and – more importantly – your dynasty from plagues, a few new options were also added to the game, including the possibility to build hospitals, as well as secluding the lord away in his castle.
The Reaper’s Due
Monks and Mystics expansion is all about the spiritual veil of life. From hermetic societies and encouraging others to put an end to sin, to demonic cults and devil worshippers, you are guaranteed to have a lot of fun and many new possible ways to enjoy the game.
Although the expansion changes things that are related to all religions, the most unique addition is undoubtedly the society of demon worshippers, which gives the game a slight touch of fantasy. From now on, you will be able to sacrifice prisoners, summon familiars, possess chosen individuals, including vassals and rivals, and even attempt an unholy impregnation.
It’s also worth noting the addition of artifacts that can grant your characters powerful bonuses, and the possibility to command allies in wars – give them orders, point targets, and defeat your opponents with the use of the power of cooperation and coordinated attacks.
Monks and Mystics
Jade Dragon is a DLC that is especially valuable for those who like to play in the eastern parts of the world, as it makes interacting with China possible and opens some new interesting gameplay strategies. Earn the grace of Emperor of China by fulfilling his wishes and you shall be rewarded. Show your deepest respect by performing kowtow before the throne of His Highness to buy yourself more time to peacefully strengthen your own empire, but don’t let your guard down.
Additionally, the expansion brings changes to the Silk Road that now has its profitability adjusted in accordance with China’s stability. There are also new Chinese artifacts to collect, so make sure to keep your eyes open during play.
For some players it may be incredibly important to also mention the addition of several new powerful Casus Bellis, including Forced Vassalization, Great Conquest, and a long-awaited Free Hostages, making the entire experience more realistic and enjoyable.
Holy Fury is the final expansion on the list and it focuses mostly on a variety of general gameplay improvements, which makes this DLC one of the must-haves if you plan to stay with Crusader Kings 2 for longer, no matter what nation you love to play the most or what region or culture you find the most appealing.
Holy Fury comes with a number of interesting things that make the original more enjoyable. Among the notable features, it’s worth mentioning new succession laws, deeper crusade-related gameplay, deeper baptismal mechanics, playable Hellenism, legendary bloodlines, pagan warrior lodges, and the possibility to canonize pious Christians.
It’s also worth noting the addition of a random world feature that allows players to play an alternate version of history. It also enables virtually unlimited replayability and opens some ridiculous gameplay possibilities – for example, you can play in a world ruled entirely by animals.
Crusader Kings II has also a lot of lesser content packs that usually revolve around certain themes and add certain units, portraits, clothes, music, dynasty shields, and so on. Although expansion packs are where the most fun is coming from, you will eventually want to also get at least some of these content packs as well, to make the experience fuller and more immersive.
There are dozens of CK2 content packs available to buy, and it can get quite expensive if you decide to get more than just a few. Thankfully, there are some special bundles that can significantly cut down the price to a more reasonable value. There is, for example, a Crusader Kings II DLC Collection that contains four major expansions (The Republic, Sword of Islam, and Sunset Invasion, Legacy of Rome) complemented by a choice of unit, song, and portrait packs that go along very well with the selected expansions – everything conveniently packed together in a bundle that is ready to play out of the box.
There is also an option to get all DLCs for a discounted price. If you want to get the ultimate experience, you should check out the Imperial Collection that contains everything you’d ever need to satisfy your dynasty management needs.
Alternatively, you may be interested in checking out the game’s subscription service that gives you access to Crusader Kings II and all of its DLCs for a small monthly fee.
Crusader Kings II is an extremely complex management game that can only get even more complex if you get some of its expansion packs. This can raise the challenge further, but can also enable some fun strategies that are not possible in the base game. Expansion packs open up entirely new ways of playing this advanced medieval dynasty simulator – they add new factions, new cultures, new events, new actions, but it’s ultimately up to you to forge your future and lead your people to victory. Will you be their savior or their bane?