I’m the type who usually waits for official patches. The idea of using user created mods to fix game issues usually puts me off for some reason, and patches that are “in progress” are even more worrisome. Why apply a piece of software that isn’t finished to a game that mostly is? Enter Paradox and the beta patch.
For quite a while now, Paradox has been working on a patch for Crusader Kings. This medieval strategy game is my favorite Paradox title since Europa Universalis II because, as I noted in my review, it’s like a soap opera set in the Middle Ages. Royal dynasties by way of Dynasty, if you will.
Still, the retail game had some major issues on the strategy end, especially regarding the Crusades which gave their name to the game. The 1.04a patch fixed a lot of this, but there was a general consensus that another patch was needed.
Paradox has never been afraid of patches. EU2 has eight. The first EU had 10. I think they only stopped at 3 for Victoria I think because that game is probably unfixable. But the constant testing of patches to satisfy one of the most vocal communities in the strategy game world probably took a toll on the development of new product. So they took advantage of that vocal community in the most constructive way possible. They designed a beta patch process where interested players could apply patches in progress and offer feedback along the way.
The one obvious problem with this is that people who don’t know it is going on because they don’t frequent the official forum are stuck with an older patch and miss a lot of the cool stuff going on.
The best thing about this process is that user input has meant that there is a lot of cool stuff going on.
Most of the changes in the Crusader Kings beta patch are related to the role-playing element that makes CK the most personal of the Paradox grand strategy games. There are now events that make regencies more full of intrigue, that force your lord to deal with the politics of having a bastard and that make changing your laws to suit your game more dependent on the support of your vassals or the church. The domestic side, always the richest part of the game, is now infinitely richer.
There are some stability issues with the beta patch (dated June 3rd if you are interested), but this patch is one of the best improvements to a peronal favorite game that didn’t come in an expansion pack. If you haven’t looked at Crusader Kings in a while, take another look with the beta patch. It’s one of the best examples of community pickiness being used for good instead of evil.
It’s important to emphasize that Paradox can do this because they have devoted considerable time and effort to cultivating a strong connection with their fans. At times the forums are like echo chambers – parroting the official line and shouting down dissent. But most of the time, the Paradox community shows its strength through a deep understanding of what the game designers are trying to do. I can think of few communities that have such general goodwill for the developers of the games that they have been drawn to. (Only Bioware comes immediately to mind.)
If I was giving a review of the beta patch, it would get a 4/5. The beta patch process would get four and a half.
If you still want to wait for the official patch, they are aiming for 1.05 by the end of summer. That will probably spell the end of the patching process, but at least it is going out on a high note.