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Crusader Kings 3: Northern Lords is great if you're already infatuated with the Norse

Art of a Norse lord sitting on a throne
(Image credit: Paradox)

We've finally been graced with the first piece of DLC for Crusader Kings 3. Northern Lords is a Norse-themed DLC that adds new events and mechanics to dynasties in Northern Europe. Paradox is calling these 'Flavor Packs' as opposed to full expansions, similar to the Immersion Packs they released for England, Russia, and Iberia in Europa Universalis IV. This means the changes hone in on a specific part of the world rather than mixing up the pot for everyone. It's pretty small in scope overall, but there's a decent amount here for only $7/£5.19.

The most immediately noticeable additions are all visual. Norse characters can pick from an armload of new hairstyles and beards, and wear historically appropriate clothing that even changes if you adopt a different culture or convert to a new religion. The coats of arms, too, reflect whether or not you've stayed true to your pagan traditions. The shield for the Kingdom of Sweden, for example, bears a gold Thor's Hammer if you form it as a pagan, instead of the more familiar coat of arms the Christian Swedish monarchs wore historically. And they've added some gorgeous new backgrounds, including a cozy longhouse, to serve as the set for feasting, fighting, and fratricide.

The UI has gotten some nice little touch-ups, as well, with the top and bottom bars sporting thematically-appropriate, wood-carved dragon motifs. Even the menu buttons on the right hand side now look rougher and more tribal. It doesn't transform everything, though. The character screen, for instance, looks identical to how it would playing as any other culture. And the ever-present suggestion widget still follows the stained glass motif of the default UI, which feels particularly inappropriate when I'm sailing my longships around the cold North Sea in search of plunder.

(Image credit: Paradox)

For fans of nautical adventure, we get two new dynasty legacies exclusive to Norse pagans: Pillage makes you better at stealing everyone's stuff, and Adventure makes you agile and adaptable, able to set up a new home anywhere your sails might take you. More on that in a second. Both of these are great to play with and really help your Norse dynasties feel distinct. If every part of the world eventually gets this much love, it would go a long way to reducing the feeling that a lot of things seem a bit too similar in CK3, regardless of your starting area.

CK2's Great Blots return as a unique tenet for the Norse pagan religion, which allows you to have a big party and hang some monks from a tree in Odin's name every nine years. Norse pagan characters can also pick a patron god now, though the list is fairly limited—only Odin, Thor, Ullr, and Freyr will answer your call. Northern Lords also expands on the runestone system, allowing you to carve new types of stones, including a very useful one that boosts control in a newly-conquered county.

The headline feature is the new Varangian Adventure system, named for the intrepid Norse sailors who settled in Eastern European and even fought for the Byzantine Emperor. A Norse ruler with a rank lower than king can target any duchy in diplomatic range, as long as it's not already ruled by a fellow Norseman, and declare war for it. If successful, you'll move your entire court there, and all of your old home counties will be released to independent counts. You can do this as many times as you want with an increasing prestige cost, so it's possible to reach the Bengal Delta from Norway in only one generation. And you even get some event troops that stay tied to your house across multiple generations the first time you declare an adventurer war.

(Image credit: Paradox)

This is the first time in the Crusader Kings series we've had true nomad mechanics. Even the horse lords of the steppe in CK2 couldn't just up and leave their old lives behind, aside from a special, one-time event that was specifically tied to the Magyars. It's a really interesting playstyle that feels a lot different from how a game of CK3 normally goes. And it's not just a rehash of features we'd already seen in Crusader Kings 2's fantastic Old Gods and Holy Fury expansions—unlike a lot of the rest of this stuff. Unfortunately, it doesn't do much for you in the long run, other than giving you the freedom to go plop down some bearded berserkers anywhere you want on the map. You'll eventually settle and start playing a more familiar sort of game, though you'll still have any Norse-specific dynasty legacies you've unlocked, as well as a nice little modifier that lets you continue to raise runestones even if you chose to convert to the local culture.

If you like playing Norse rulers, there's a lot here to love. I haven't even scratched the surface of the dozens of new events yet in the 20-ish hours I've played so far. If that's not really your thing, there isn't much reason to pick it up. But that's the great thing about flavor packs, and I really like that Paradox is doing DLC this way now. There will be bigger expansions that add stuff for everyone, but you won't need to worry about playing an incomplete version of the game just because you're missing a flavor pack for a culture or region you're not interested in. And the price seems pretty reasonable for what you're getting, too, at less than half what some of the bigger Paradox DLCs cost.

Plus, you can become a berserker and literally strangle people with their own entrails. It's fun for the whole family.