Crusader Kings 3 is out today, and it's the best thing I've played all year. It's a brilliant RPG, strategy game, sim—it pulls off a lot. But like most grand strategy romps, all those maps and menus and millions of stats can be a little terrifying. Thankfully, as well as being the most user-friendly game Paradox has ever designed, it's also on Xbox Game Pass, taking some of the risk out of jumping in.
A lot of people seemed to experience Crusader Kings 2 like EVE: hanging out on the peripheries, listening to the stories but rarely, if ever, playing. It's a big time sink, often bewildering and, at a glance, looks pretty dry. Crusader Kings 3 emphasises the stuff it's really good at a lot more and does a considerably better job at introducing its complex systems, but it's still pretty intimidating. It's the perfect game for a service like Game Pass, then, letting you check it for a month, or maybe 12.
If you've never used it before, you can get a free trial and then sign up for £1/$1 for your first full month. That's more than enough time to know if it's your kind of thing, but it's so dense you'll just be scraping the surface. I've spent an unhealthy number of hours hunched over the map of my kingdoms, but there's still so much I've yet to try.
There are other Paradox grand strategy games on Game Pass, and Crusader Kings 2 is free, but Crusader Kings 3 should absolutely be the first Paradox game you try. Even if you exclusively play RPGs or only have eyes The Sims, this has got you covered. The social simulation is so thick with drama that you'll feel like you're watching ten soap operas at once, and there's proper RPG progression systems for both characters and the dynasty itself, along with heaps of opportunities to mould your ruler.
Crusader Kings 3's tutorial will set you up with the basics, and you can continue your conquest of Ireland after it ends, but there are so many other places and characters that make for interesting starts.
The game suggests a few different nobles with varying levels of challenge, but you can jump into the shoes of the head honcho of any dynasty, whether they're a countess or an emperor, in 867 and 1066. Vikings are always fun. Nice beards. A bit of raiding. It's a good life. And you can step outside Europe, maybe taking a dynasty on the Nigerian coast for a spin. We'll be posting some guides soon, starting with some beginner's tips later today, so if you're looking for some help with your first dynasty, keep an eye out for them.
- CK3 guide: Our top tips to help your dynasty endure