When it was first announced, I was worried that Crusader Kings II's Way of Life DLC would be bad news for my spare time and even worse news for my sleep levels. I was right to worry.
CKII is a game that, for all its aloofness, was absorbing enough already. From the outstanding core game to the countless expansions that have been released over the past two years to some fantastic mods, it was already right up there on my list of best games of all time.
Now, though? Good God. What Way of Life does is take the true heart of the game - personal politics - and double down on them. Now, in addition to managing the affairs of a Kingdom, you can burrow down and more effectively manage the affairs of your ruler (who is, well, you).
Here's how it works: when you first start a game, you can create your dynasty (complete with heraldry), then build and name your first ruler. Then, in very RPG-like fashion, you can give that ruler a "class", focusing on stuff like leadership in wars or stewardship skills, and whatever you choose will give that ruler a bonus related to that aspect of the game.
This being CKII, though, you're not locked into your decision for long. Because you control the entire dynasty in the game, and not a single person, once your first ruler dies, you take control of their heir and do it all again. You could follow in your father's footsteps, or break out and shame his name, it doesn't matter, the choice is yours. And when that ruler dies, you can re-roll all over again.
Once you've chosen your base personality, the game unfolds much the same way a regular old CKII game did, only with a wealth of added personal decisions and options available. As the King of England I've become best friends with a powerful Islamic Sheikh. Sometimes we talk religion (it's messy), sometimes we talk politics (slightly less messy), sometimes we just hang out.
I've got a dog, named the dog then trained the dog, then had to choose where to bury it when it dies. I've snuck out behind my wife's back and slept with half the courtiers in England. I've spent 30 years hunting a Great White Stag that continues to elude me. I've sent my lazy-ass daughter to the monastery. I've invited my mortal enemies to dine in my halls in the hopes my charm and (and booze) can stop them from trying to overthrow me.
All of this sounds pedestrian, and in a strictly bullet-point kind of way, it is. But remember, Crusader Kings II isn't really a strategy game, in so much as it is a King Simulator, and while there are wars to fight and taxes to collect, much of the game's "work" comes from stuff like managing your daughter's marriages and assassinating treacherous vassals.
It's a game that's both epic and personal at the same time, and this increased focus on the personal side of that - after several big strategic expansions - is welcome and long overdue. I've long told anyone put off by the game's mountain of menus and buttons that you can ignore most of them, since failing at the strategic game only makes the political one all the more interesting. Stories of revenge and triumphing over adversity are always more interesting than ones where all you do is slowly increase the size of your empire over 20 hours of clicking.
Way of Life only makes it easier to forget the boring half of Crusader Kings II. Who cares how many vassals you have or how large your holdings are. No other game on the planet lets you Game the Thrones like this one does, and now that you can get up to your elbows in the affairs of your loved ones (and despised ones), it's better for it.