The throne of Hispania is mine and my ruler’s royal butt is firmly parked on it. His feet hang slightly off the ground in an implacable display of authority as a line of people forms up in front of him. I won this very important chair through the usual bloodshed and murder, alongside a godly amount of luck, which gave me precisely one son per generation amidst a deluge of daughters.
Having weathered history’s many perils without once having to worry about my growing realm crumbling away to partition, you’d expect me to be quite thrilled. But as I sit in my royal court, surrounded by courtiers and valuable artifacts rendered in glorious 3D, I dread having to listen to my vassals’ petitions once more. Some want me to settle their disputes or decide the fate of a child, others want me to convince my court physician to stop digging up the graves of their loved ones, but I’ve heard it all too many times already.
This sense of dread comes partly from how well holding court drives home the point that a medieval ruler’s life wasn’t all greatness and glory. One of the new actions available to kings and emperors of feudal and clan realms in Crusader Kings 3: Royal Court, it also gives rulers their own 3D-rendered court, drawing from a handful of architectural styles across the world.
Here, you can see your character and their spouse alongside a number of more or less important figures in your realm. It’s also where you welcome petitioners every five years, unless you’re busy fighting wars or purposefully ignoring your subjects. These petitions play out more or less like regular events, only with the participating characters’ 3D models present for you to see.
“Holding court is a bit of an emotional rollercoaster and you almost always have multiple ways of approaching each dilemma.”
A subject could offer you a pet cat as a gift before two bickering mayors barge in, hoping you’ll settle their dispute regarding whose city is better. Wanderers can arrive hoping you’d be interested in pressing their claims, but things can take a silly turn when a peasant takes up your time with trite gossip, or a darker one, when soldiers who previously fought in your wars call you a monster in a full-on display of mental instability.
Holding court is a bit of an emotional rollercoaster and you almost always have multiple ways of approaching each dilemma. You can accept or refuse the pet cat, favor one mayor or have them duel to decide whose city is better. You can duel the deranged soldier yourself, risking death, have him executed, thrown out, or cured if you happen to employ a court physician at that time.
Each decision has different rewards and consequences, but you won’t always find one that only has positive effects. There’s quite a bit of potential to Crusader Kings 3: Royal Court’s eponymous main feature both when focusing on efficiency and roleplay. Literally splitting a child in two might not be the best idea for your image, but goes a long way if you’re envisioning your ruler as a formerly peaceful king who had a drastic change of heart after seeing his subjects a little too much.
But although there is quite a bit of variety to these events, they will start repeating well before you’re done with your playthrough. If you’re particularly unlucky, you’ll see the same event – but involving different characters – within one ruler’s lifespan. While this does highlight the inevitable routine that makes its way into everyone’s lives, it also made my enthusiasm for clicking the Hold Court button drop as my game progressed.
The 3D-rendered royal court feels like a natural step forward built around the base game’s beautifully modeled characters. But although you see your subjects gesturing subtly next to the wealth you amass, the scene doesn’t exactly feel alive. I also can’t say that having the characters in front of me while I was reading the event pop-up helped me put faces to the names, but perhaps that’s by design – my growing realm had lots of people in it.
Aside from lending an ear to your subject, this new 3D space is where you also keep track and manage Grandeur, a new resource introduced in Crusader Kings 3: Royal Court. Stretching across ten tiers and always trending towards a baseline, it can grant a variety of bonuses that give your councilors new tasks to perform, increase your chance to imprison characters, or the number of men-at-arms you can field.
The direction in which it trends can be altered by a number of factors, including whether or not you’ve hired people for court positions and the level of your court amenities. The latter determine the quality of your food, fashion, lodgings, and how many servants attend to your courtiers. Each of these has five levels which cost increasingly more gold per month to maintain. Paying more grants better bonuses that do add up to all the others your character and realm benefit from.
Your realm size determines your court’s grandeur expectation which, in turn, plays a part in how other characters view you. Certain events grant or consume grandeur, and if your financial situation fluctuates too much because of frequent wars or succession-driven instability, you’ll find yourself tweaking the different levels of amenities fairly often.
This way, you can potentially lose access to bonuses that help you deal with stress or scheme better. On the flip side, if you manage to go above the grandeur expectation, you’ll win yourself a very nice set of bonuses to prestige, renown, and multiple opinion types.
Artifacts also return. Some are meant to be put on display in your royal court while others are destined to be equipped in your ruler’s inventory. These are items of different rarities that can grant an array of bonuses, from prestige to grandeur, vassal opinion, piety, and many others in different combinations.
You get them from certain events or after winning battles, but sponsoring inspired people is by far the most reliable way. This can be done via a decision, but you’ll also get periodic notifications that an inspired person wants to create an item. They can be anything from weavers, jewelers, swordsmiths to adventurers willing to brave distant lands so you can put up the pelt of an unfortunate animal on your wall.
Choosing to sponsor them kicks off an event chain in which you’ll be able to intervene occasionally. You may have to pay more money or use your character’s skills for a chance at improving or reducing the quality of said artifact. In the case of adventurers, you’ll guide their steps through distant lands via an oddly efficient courier system that never seems to misplace letters.
“There’s a lot of weight behind changing elements of your culture, regardless of approach, making it feel like an accomplishment even before you get to benefit from the new bonuses you seek.”
They’re neat little distractions that also suffer from being repetitive. But it’s easier to forgive reading through the same event text when your court is filling up with rare artifacts and you may just get a masterpiece mace that makes your army more efficient.
But it’s Crusader Kings 3: Royal Court’s cultural hybridization and divergence features that are its actual shining stars. A part of the broader culture system rework – which is available via the free patch accompanying the expansion –, they usually come with a fairly high prestige price and a certain degree of time gating. Altering your culture is certainly a slow burn and you need multiple playthroughs – or a strong vision and a Prestige-printing machine – to explore all the available options.
The core of the rework basically sees cultures adopting a similar level of modularity as CK3’s religions. They now have an ethos that dictates their general focus, several pillars which include heritage, language, martial customs, and aesthetics, alongside multiple traditions. A bellicose culture grants all its characters bonuses to prowess and men-at-arms recruitment and maintenance while being spiritual will see you generating more piety.
Traditions offer more focused bonuses which can help your armies retreat more efficiently, grant access to certain laws like equal inheritance, make it easier to learn other languages, or hybridize cultures for less prestige. There’s a high number of them to choose from as you piece together the culture of your choice.
Returning back to Royal Court itself, hybridization becomes available when your realm contains a culture of a different heritage than yours and whose acceptance is high enough towards your own. You can increase acceptance by coexisting peacefully, throwing festivals via court events, or a councilor task.
It essentially allows you to form a new culture, giving you the chance to select from the ethoses, pillars, and traditions of both. It also grants maximum acceptance with the two parent cultures that go into forming it.
This can be an easier way to acquire certain bonuses that better suit your current situation. Divergence, however, is the option that grants you the most freedom while branching away from your current culture. You can pick from a broader array of options almost across the board, as long as you can weather the usually high prestige cost.
A bellicose culture can take advantage of said ethos and military-focused traditions while it’s expanding. But once the Empire of Hispania had stretched far enough and obtained a modicum of stability, divergence allowed me to switch to a bureaucratic ethos that improved lifestyle experience and cultural fascination gain, alongside how quickly my counties developed.
You can also switch traditions to cover aspects other than the military, making traits not related to war more frequent and yielding more bonuses, improving the yield from buildings in certain types of regions, or getting a decision to make people gardeners. Some of these traditions cost more if they’re not aligned with the right ethos while others are tied to specific regions and may not be available to every culture.
Hybridizing or diverging also doesn’t instantly transform everyone in your realm to your new culture. You’ll have to convert people over time. Furthermore, if prestige doesn’t stop you – and it likely will –, you need to wait 50 years after forming a new culture to hybridize again and 100 to diverge once more. As a more limited alternative, reforming lets you tweak your current culture’s ethos and traditions.
There’s a lot of weight behind changing elements of your culture, regardless of approach, making it feel like an accomplishment even before you get to benefit from the new bonuses you seek. The features included in the free patch – like languages, the return of the inventory, court positions, and others – further increase the number of things you can do and they’re all pretty fun to interact with.
On an i7-8700K, 16 GB RAM, Nvidia RTX 3080@1080p, Crusader Kings III: Royal Court ran well, although I did notice a few stutters when switching zoom levels on the map and while holding court, as the camera pans towards your ruler when the proceedings begin.
Crusader Kings III: Royal Court adds no new accessibility features.
CRUSADER KINGS III VERDICT
Crusader Kings 3: Royal Court adds plenty of flavor and introduces new ways to obtain bonuses for your realm while fleshing out how deeply you can interact with it. The feature that gives it its name isn’t as grand as it could be, due to repeating events and a 3D space that becomes a bit boring to look at even if you change its architectural style.
Thankfully, the artifacts and culture system rework do make up for it. In tandem with its accompanying free patch, it’s a puzzle of many pieces that slot well into an already great base game.
While I did enjoy my time with the expansion, it doesn’t feel like a vital purchase for someone who’s playing the game for the first time. But, if you’ve already guided several lords and ladies to glorious conquest or gruesome death, Royal Court provides a much-needed injection of new things to do that will spice up new playthroughs, at least for a while.
TOP GAME MOMENT
A tie between getting enough prestige to hybridize cultures for the first time and seeing naked Duke Abdul casually talking to another member of the court next to several very holy artifacts.
Cultural hybridization/divergence coupled with the broader culture system rework add powerful new tools to the mix
Artifacts and inspirations provide welcome distractions that can reward you really cool items
Grandeur grants councilors new tasks and rulers who stay on top of their game many bonuses
Repetitive events make holding court become a bit tedious as you reach the final stages of a playthrough
The 3D-rendered court could be a bit more lively