Crusader Kings III: Console Edition — first impressions

By Heidi Nicholas,
Crusader Kings III: Console Edition launches for Xbox Series X|S on March 29th, and we were lucky enough to be able to try out the grand strategy game on Xbox Series X ahead of time, and to hear firsthand from the developers about the current-gen benefits for the game.

As design director Justin pointed out, there were “plenty of challenges” in bringing Crusader Kings III to consoles. “The unique nature of this game, the fact that it is incredibly menu-heavy… trying to create a lexicon of controls and a control system that basically allows the same kind of fluidity of movement and control depth that you would find on a PC game are probably the main challenges,” Justin continued, adding that other major challenges included “dealing with things like how to quickly navigate between menus.” The sheer amount of menus and information on screen in Crusader Kings III can be a little overwhelming. On Xbox Series X|S, you can back out of the menus with the B button, but I found it tricky at first to easily navigate between certain menus — such as those for when you try to find a spouse — without accidentally closing down the menus instead of switching between them.

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“This is a very menu-heavy game,” Justin said, “and obviously on the PC version it’s very much a mouse and keyboard controlled game. So we had to work out a control scheme and menu navigation scheme that really suited consoles.” This “control hierarchy” begins with your character view, which you access by pressing Y, and the command bar along the top, which you access with the triggers and tab through with the bumpers. You then have the character and map radial menus, which Justin says “wor[k] in concert” with the other menus. There is also a “console-specific feature that is controlled on the right stick, so you can quickly move” from the map back to your menus. If you’ve got loads of menus up and want a quick view of the map, you can hold down both triggers. Then there’s the quick access bar at the bottom for active processes, while notifications appear on the right side of the screen, and can be accessed by holding down both bumpers. I found that out of all the menus, I was using the command bar the most — the bar across the top of the screen which lets you access your realm, military, council, court, intrigue, factions, and decisions menus. It feels fluid to access this bar with the triggers, and then to tab through its menus with the bumpers, and it was through that bar that I gave orders to my council, made decisions, and did much of the work of (admittedly quite badly) ruling over my territory. The character radial menu I also used to access things like my character’s lifestyle and titles, and as a quick method of moving back to my character if I’d wandered off on the map. On the other hand, I didn’t find myself using the map radial all that much. For instance, the map radial gives you the option to look at the map with the realms view; perhaps this might be more heavily relied on once you’ve made it through to later in the game. Trying to specifically select smaller icons on the map itself also seemed tricky — such as when you’re laying siege to somewhere, and are trying to select the button that’ll show you how the siege is going.

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The quick access bar is a “new innovative feature… adapted specifically for console.” When in the map view, it lets you “quickly access any ongoing or active process” such as schemes, and functions as another useful tool to have that information right in front of you, rather than making you check through endless menus. The option for automated warfare also seems like a great addition, whereby the “AI essentially controls your armies across the map.” You also have advanced options to let you “select a certain kind of attitude” (such as defensive, balanced, or aggressive) so if, like me, you’re not always ready to micromanage wars, you can attend to your other affairs of state without worrying about managing your armies as well. The option for automated warfare was especially useful to begin with, when I was reacquainting myself with the gameplay — like the radial menus, the option for automated warfare seems more beginner-friendly, and gives you one less thing to worry about while you get up to speed with the game’s other processes.

“Paradox has a strong relationship with Microsoft,” the devs told us. “While this is our first historical strategy game to come to consoles, in recent years we have brought games like Stellaris, Age of Wonders: Planetfall, and Empire of Sin to consoles like Xbox. We were excited to be able to offer the PC version of Crusader Kings III to players via PC Game Pass, which helped us to get the game in front of new audiences and new players who maybe had not tried a grand strategy game like this before.” On that note, the devs spoke about how they hoped that the console adaptations used for Crusader Kings III would be “used as a template for other grand strategy games in the future,” and that there would be “some positive impact on the genre itself in the longer term.”

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Overall, the changes and new features for Crusader Kings III felt impressive given that it’s such a menu-heavy game. It does feel a little finicky to navigate between all those menus when you’ve got so many open as compared to when you play with a mouse and keyboard, but the character radial, command bar, and quick access bar felt fluid to navigate between using the controller, while the option for automated warfare felt like a natural addition that will especially benefit newer players or those who don’t feel like micro-managing everything. Getting used to navigating such an intricate, menu-heavy game with a controller might take some getting used to, but it feels as though Crusader Kings III has taken all the right steps to make the console experience as enjoyable on Xbox Series X|S as it was on PC.
Heidi Nicholas
Written by Heidi Nicholas
Heidi graduated with an MA in English Literature, and now enjoys writing news, reviews, and features across TrueAchievements and TrueTrophies. When she’s not writing, Heidi is usually either looking for her next RPG, or trying to convince the rest of the team to hear about yet another delightfully wholesome game she has found.