Paradox really hit a home run for strategy gamers everywhere with Crusader Kings II. It took the complexity of previous Paradox titles, simplified it without removing the soul, and then added in tons of fun features. Managing your country couldn’t be easier, while plotting against your enemies, your friends, and your family was full of intrigue, drama, and hilarity. It’s quickly become a particular favorite of mine to pick up and play on occasion, particularly after a series of patches that polished it well beyond what you’d normally expect from ParadoxThe only disappointment to the game was the large number of kingdoms and duchies that remained unplayable after release. Crusader Kings II limited players to Christian nations, which somewhat diminished the field of choice. It made sense, though, as many game elements had strict religious ties, so reworking the game to allow for Pagan or Muslim rulers would have been a considerable task.

Fortunately, Paradox seems to be interested in expanding the field of choice for players, and they have recently released a DLC pack to do just that. Sword of Islam does exactly what it says in the title: allows players to choose a Muslim ruler at the start of the game and experience the Crusades from the other end of the war. To do this, the developers have reworked plenty of flavor and added in fun new mechanics to make playing an Islamic nation feel very different from any Christian kingdom. It’s still largely the same game, but with some fun new choices to draw you back.

It’s clear that the key feature in Sword of Islam is the simple ability to have more places to play. If you’re bored of reforming Britannia, conquering Sweden, clearing out the Iberian Peninsula, or stomping everything as the Holy Roman Empire, the new kingdoms in Sword of Islam offer plenty of new long term goals to work on. If you like playing as a huge kingdom and throwing your weight around, try forming the Arabian Empire and giving the Pope a run for his moral authority. Start as one of the tiny, squabbling duchies and unite yourself against Castille, Aragon, and all those other upstart groups. If you enjoy working from the inside and trying to usurp your liege, there are plenty of sheikh roles to play as, and many ways to insert yourself into the sultan’s seat. If the default kingdoms have lost a bit of their luster for you, the new kingdoms, duchies, and counties offer up plenty of new scenarios and goals to play around with.

But how exactly do the new Muslim leaders play? On the surface, the changes seem very superficial. Counts are now called sheikhs, dukes are emirs, and kings are sultans. You can have multiple wives, but it can be troublesome to do so and tends to completely wreck the line of succession. Random events and encounters have been rewritten to fit the new culture, but the outcome and tone remains largely the same. Even the interface has barely changed, consisting of a recolored UI and a new luxury mechanic that rarely influenced my games. For people expecting a completely new experience or a massive expansion, you might be disappointed.

However, that shouldn’t stop you from buying Sword of Islam, but rather frame your expectations for it. Playing an Islam nation does fundamentally play very differently from others. You can be far more aggressive due to the large Christian presence and the holy war casus belli, but Muslim leaders also get the ability to exchange their piety for unjustified wars and border squabbles. If you spent years in the original game trying to scrounge up a just cause to invade Ireland with, the ability to start wars at will is a major game changer. It makes the game far more aggressive, allowing you to expand much more quickly than you would in the fairly stable kingdoms of mainland Europe. If you like Crusader Kings II, but prefer to pursue a faster, more aggressive thread of gameplay, the Islam countries might very well become your new favorite nations to play as.

The nicest part about the DLC is the price. Crusader Kings II has had a great deal of smaller and slightly pricey, cosmetic DLC released, but no real game influencing packs, beyond the so-so ruler designer. But at just ten dollars, Sword of Islam is pretty reasonable when you consider how it adds a ton of new content and fun to an already robust game. If you’re looking for an excuse to get back into the politics and intrigue of medieval Europe, Sword of Islam is a definitely a must.

Verdict: Worth every penny if the vanilla game is boring you, but mods aren’t satisfying that itch. While not much is changed on the surface, Sword of Islam allows for new and different strategies for your European conquest, which makes the game feel fresh again.

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This review is based on a review copy of the GamersGate PC version of Crusader Kings II provided by Paradox Interactive.

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