“How the little pigs would grunt if they knew how the old boar suffers” – Ragnar Lodbrok after being thrown into King Aella’s snake pit.
The Old Gods is the fourth expansion for the historical grand strategy title, Crusader Kings II published by Paradox Interactive and tackles a previously unexplored area until this point in Medieval Europe; Pagans. Before the Old Gods, Pagans were unplayable (though you could mod them to be) and their various religions’, be it Norse, Slav or Mongol were lumped together in one catchall Pagan religion.
Pagans served to be little more than expansion fodder and the few remaining pagan held lands in the 1066 bookmark would soon be gobbled up by the powers that be and disappear entirely within 50 years of game start. The first and most apparent thing that The Old Gods brings to the table is pulling the timeline back to 867 AD, which brings with it a very different Europe and a time where, despite being on the decline, Pagan nations were still plentiful and powerful.
Charlemagne’s Empire has been split among his descendants, the sons of Ragnar Lodbrok invade the Kingdom of Northumbria in revenge for their father (see quote at the top of the article) and the Viking Rurik has just founded the Kingdom of Rus (which would later become Russia). Indeed, Christianity as a whole is in a much more difficult position than it is in 1066, with places like Hungary and Bulgaria potentially falling to Pagan Steppe Tribes very early on.
Whilst this expansion does tackle Pagans as a whole, it is undoubtedly the Norse (popularly known as the Vikings) who have received the most love here. Norse characters, as a result, are probably the most enjoyable of the Pagan faiths and cultures to play. The ability to hold a blót, where you offer sacrifices up to Odin and other gods before feasting, carving your own Runestone that can tell of your deeds or those of your mother or father are just some of the main and reoccurring intrigue options to Norse Pagans with both yielding plenty of prestige and piety.
And of course, it wouldn’t be a Viking experience if you couldn’t raid and pillage. The raid feature is new in the expansion and provides a toggle to raised levies (that can only be switched in friendly lands) between regular armies or raiding parties. All Pagan faiths are able to raid their neighbours but the Norse can also raid overseas, filling up their ship holds with gold before returning home with the plunder. A number of rivers on the world map have been navigable, which opens up some otherwise closed doors to Vikings, allowing them to sail down the Seine (for example) to raid Paris!
There’s a number of other flavour events and traits specific to the Norse as well, such as your son going off to join the Varangian Guard, the Viking trait (earned by raiding) and the berserker trait (which has several flavour events linked to it). The Old Gods, whilst adding in a number of new cultures and religions to reflect the start date and beyond, places Pagan religions into two categories; offensive and defensive.
Offensive pagans like the Norse lose prestige if they are at peace for 2 years. Defensive pagans get bonuses to attrition and levy sizes in home lands, which make it a very hard prospect for other lands to invade and thus addresses one of the big issues that I mentioned earlier; Baltic and Slav tribes are a much more survivable prospect now, even in a 1066 start.
The taking of concubines, Mongols being playable as well as the Aztecs (if you the Sunset Invasion DLC), being able to send Missionaries to Pagan lands if you play a Christian, Playable Zoroastrians (A longtime request on the Paradox!), a technology revamp as well as revamped rebels and landless adventurers adds together to make what is probably the meatiest expansion to date for Crusader Kings II.
Whilst many of the Pagan faiths lack the level of flavour that the Norse have, the new mechanics open up many areas of the map that were previously unplayable unless you modded them to be and are as interesting a choice as the Catholic Feudal Lords from whence the game’s namesake comes from. I never bothered to play in Scandinavia, the Baltic region and beyond Hungary until now.
As has been the case with previous expansions to Crusader Kings II, Paradox Development Studios have put most of this content in the accompanying patch, though only available to the AI. That aside though, the Old Gods is the most enjoyable expansion to date and well worth the purchase for what it brings to the table in the vanilla experience, but also for what modders can do with the new tools.