For something that’s such a big part of many people’s daily lives, religion doesn’t play a terribly big role in video games. It does in Crusader Kings II, however, and that role is about to get a lot more interesting.
Sons of Abraham is the latest expansion to one of the best games ever made, and with the last few having dealt with pagans like the Norse and Aztecs, this one doubles down on the existing monotheistic faiths of Christianity, Islam and Judaism.
It doesn’t sound like a big deal, and it shouldn’t be, but the fact is you just can’t do this in other video games. Take Civilisation, for example. It’s had over two decades to give you a Jewish civilisation to actually take charge of, yet despite including more (relatively) obscure nations like Poland and Brazil has never done so.
CKII’s new expansion, however, will introduce a more historically accurate faith for the Khazar Khaganate, who have previously been available in the game as a Tengri people, but whose rulers actually converted to Judaism in the 8th century.
This has been fixed. And the introduction of Judaism in the game as a distinct faith also gives you the chance to convert others, as well as re-establish the Kingdom of Israel and rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem.
Like I said, this shouldn’t be a big deal, but since Israel’s place in history is always a cause for controversy with somebody – probably the reason it doesn’t feature much in similar series like Civ – you’d be forgiven for thinking this was an act of brass balls from developers Paradox.
Thankfully, that’s not the case. They’re just history nerds and game designers who want to do their game, and the time period, justice.
“I know the idea of a Jewish Kingdom has Messianic connotations in Judaism, but we feel that it simply makes for good gameplay in the same vein as restoring the Roman Empire as the Byzantines, or Persia as a Zoroastrian”, Crusader Kings II’s designer Henrik Fåhraeus tells Kotaku.
“I am not too worried about backlash; I honestly don’t know what all the hubbub is about. The only reason we’ve not included Judaism before in Crusader Kings II is basically that there were no significant historical Jewish rulers you could play as from 1066.”
Note: CKII originally began in 1066, but subsequent expansions have moved that start date back a few hundred years.
He also points out that the Jewish Kingdom of Judea was actually present in an older Paradox game, Europa Universalis: Rome.
The introduction of Judaism isn’t the only big change to the game’s religions, though. Islam will now splinter into Mutazili or Ashari factions, while Christianity – understandably given its prominence amongst the game’s characters – gets the biggest update of the lot.
You can now groom and manage your own members of the College of Cardinals, making the vote for Pope more interesting. You can go on holy pilgrimages. You can hit up the Pope for money and favours, and even send members of your court off to monasteries or holy orders.
Which, to be honest, sounds like a lot to keep track of. It’s a complicated enough game as it is; surely increasing the depth of the religious system will only make it harder, even more intimidating?
“With previous expansions we’ve gotten away with a lot simply by giving rulers of different religions or government forms different gameplay, but that is not the case with Sons of Abraham (apart from the Jews.)”, Fåhraeus says.
“That’s why all of the new mechanics in the Sons of Abraham expansion are non-intrusive and even a bit hidden away in the interface. If you don’t want to worry about the College of Cardinals or the Holy Orders, you don’t have to give it any thought, but if you want to make use of them, you have the option. It’s a layer of advanced options for more experienced players.”
The expansion – which will be accompanied by a huge patch that may as well be an expansion in itself – will be out in a month or two.