Elder Kings 2: A Masterpiece
Elder Kings 2 brings the rich history of the fantasy world of The Elder Scrolls to Crusader Kings 3.
However, the mod brings much more than what only appears in the games, but also small details of the story that are suggested and detailed through books, texts and dialogue in the games, not to mention external materials such as novels, unofficial materials, other fan-created projects and much more.
With an international team comprising developers of different skills and nationalities, the mod carries on the legacy of its predecessor, Elder Kings, for the Crusader Kings 3 game in two years of development.
In this article, we are going to explore the history of this amazing mod.
What is Crusader Kings 3?
The Crusader Kings series of games is about making the player feel in control of a medieval dynasty, dealing with its difficulties, both everyday and extraordinary, and with its (many) boons.
It is a reference in the universe of grand strategy games, created and maintained by one of the distributors that are also a reference in grand strategy games, Paradox Interactive.
As the article is not exactly about the game, let’s highlight the most important game elements so we can start talking about the mod.
Each character is distinctive, with traits and choices that determine their actions and schemes. It is possible to provoke fear and terror by ruling with an iron hand or inspiring subjects with magnanimous deeds.
The player can play with genetic elements, passing qualities or defects from father to son in a dynasty, making each family and character feel more and more unique.
It is possible to educate heirs in different ways. If your heir is more adept at administration, combat, intrigue, or if he is a born academic, there is a different education that will allow him to reach his full potential.
There are many other notable features about Crusader Kings 3, but it’s important to point out its main difference from other Paradox strategy games.
It is a game primarily governed by personal interactions between characters, which makes it fit perfectly in an RPG setting like The Elder Scrolls.
Elder Kings 2’s Proposal
As announced on the mod’s webpage, the proposal is to recreate “the world of The Elder Scrolls during the turmoil of the 2nd Age”, as in the first rendition of the mod, Elder Kings, with the first bookmark being set ten years in the past to the date of the first bookmark in the previous rendition.
With this new bookmark, players can directly participate in the war of the Colovian States against the Akaviri Potentate, choosing to ally or even play with Attrebus Sosildor, General of the Colovian States or with Aixnieras Chorak, the last of the Akaviri Potentates, or any other of the hundreds of rulers available to choose from.
Behind-the-Scenes History of Elder Kings 2
The original idea for an Elder Scrolls mod for Crusader Kings 2 came up in a thread on the Paradox Forums shortly after the release of The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim in 2011.
Around May, the name ‘Elder Kings’ was first mentioned by WildPeacock, a Brazilian developer who is still on the team today.
In August of the same year, the first pre-alpha of Elder Kings 1 was released by Ratel.
Over the years, many new developers have joined the team, while others have retired, turning it into a multi-generational team.
Crusader Kings 3
When Crusader Kings 3 was announced in October 2019, the team instantly began theorizing how to bring Elder Kings into the new game.
Without access to the game, however, actual pre-production began around July 2020, when TheynT started working on a new map sketch and the team created a design document together.
Just 4 days before the game’s release, Elder Kings 2 was announced. With the release of CK3, the team also grew rapidly over the next few months.
Elder Kings 2 introduces an elaborate system of magic, governed by a new attribute called Arcana. This attribute is responsible for your total Magicka capacity and also how fast you recharge between one spell and another.
Casting spells has never been easier with a completely new interface. This interface allows you to select your spell from the available schools of magic (including necromancy!).
You can unlock each spell by spending Magic Lifestyle points buying perks. These points are earned over time while having one of the three new spell foci active.
It is still possible to activate rituals, which consume part of your Magicka regeneration. In return, they provide passive bonuses like stat boosts or disease resistance.
New Government Types
With a new universe, it is to be expected that there will be new types of government. These governments fit perfectly into the history of each of the cultures and new systems of succession.
For example, the Altmer of the Summerset Isles have a type of government called Ceremoniarchy. It is extremely linked to the age-old traditions that his culture has cultivated since its ancestors abandoned divinity.
There is also a Pirate Government, which involves looting and plundering all neighboring lands. The goal is to bring home as much loot as possible and please your vassals.
A system of Great Houses is still planned for the Dunmer, which are organized completely differently from the rest of the world.
Calendar and its Mechanics
There are mechanics related to the calendar, the stars, the moons (yes, both). We can also see how different cultures in the setting view these celestial bodies and the passage of time.
The Argonians, for example, have their own calendar. The game’s interface switches to this calendar if you choose to play one of the Black Swamp scalies.
Khajiit differ widely in appearance based on the phases of the moons that are in the sky at the time of their births. This also causes them to receive different bonuses for the same reason.
Each character is assigned a star sign at birth, which grants them specific bonuses related to each sign.
In addition, there are religions that worship stellar constellations and there are several mechanics and decisions that mirror these customs in the gameplay.
Creatures of the Night
You can be a vampire, a lich, a necromancer, a werewolf and even a cultist of the Daedric Princes.
These features are still under development and will receive further polish during mod development, but they are highly valuable features for fans and players alike.
The Brazilian WildPeacock was the creator of the name of the mod and remains faithful and active in the project until the present day. Today, he is a Senior Developer and Project Lead within the Elder Kings 2 Team.
The Breton LeSingeAffame is a Senior Developer and Project Lead. He is responsible for many improvements and mechanics within the mod, mainly regarding how religions work.
The Polish AJ is also a Senior Developer and Project Lead. But he is, above all, the Chief Designer and creator of the mod’s most popular assets. We can give, as an example, the Ordinator armor and the Altmer armor.
The German TheynT is another Senior Developer and Project Lead, responsible, above all, for designing and developing the mod’s map.
I managed to get in touch with them to talk a little more about the history of the project.
We also talked about what it was like for them to work on this volunteer project in this exclusive interview for Apptuts. The project has already been going on, since its first edition, for 11 years.
Apptuts: When exactly did you become interested in modding? How did it happen?
LeSingeAffame: It probably was when I first started playing CK2. I was fascinated by the fact that I could just go in a text file, change some stuff, and boom it had an effect in the game. I made a few mods for my personal use, stuff like new Empires (Carolingian Empire, Celtic Empire), some trait rebalance, that kind of things. Small stuff, mostly.
AJ: I think it started with just a general interest in art, and then when I played LittleBigPlanet I got really into game design, and I started testing the waters by modding Skyrim a little bit, playing around with dungeons and stuff like that. At some point I decided that I am going to be a professional 3D modeller and I went to uni. I only really got into CK3 modding at some point before my first year at university, I made some icon replacer mods, decided to publish them. Then, because I was already pretty experienced with 3D modelling at that point and I really wanted to build my portfolio, and I noticed Buckzor was the only 3D artist on the team at the time. So I just kinda invited myself into his DMs and announced that I will be helping him now. And thats how I got started in the team, and where I really got into modding properly. Also the work I did for EK2 kinda helped me get a job so that’s nice.
TheynT: Well I’ve certainly been interested in using mods ever since… 2012-ish? First games I played with mods were Minecraft, Oblivion and then Skyrim. But back then I never really thought about modding myself, that really only started when I discovered Elder Kings for Crusader Kings 2 was a thing in ~Late 2017. I was rather bothered by their ESO Bookmark setup at the time and looked into how to edit the files to bring them more in line with lore. Those changes I later even submitted to the devs and they were integrated into EK1 proper. But then for another 3 years I barely did any modding, it was really a sudden spike of motivation when CK3 was drawing nearer and I saw the opportunity to make a new Elder Kings with a new Map, as i considered the one of EK1 outdated and inaccurate.
Apptuts: In May 2011, according to the mod’s webpage, you (WildPeacock) first mentioned the name “Elder Kings”. Do you have any idea what was going through your head 11 years ago?
WildPeacock: I was 14 or 15 years old and completely addicted to Bethesda games, I loved Fallout 3 and Oblivion, and when Skyrim came out, I was even more addicted. Not long after that, Crusader Kings 2 was released, and while I hadn’t played Paradox games before, I had a few friends who were really into it and hyped me up to buy the game. I bought and fell in love with Crusader Kings 2, started frequenting the official Paradox forums, and as soon as someone suggested making a mod with The Elder Scrolls universe, I made myself available to help and got involved in the conversation, eventually suggesting the name “Elder Kings”.
Apptuts: Although you (WildPeacock) and I are both Brazilians, the team in general is very international. How would you say having a volunteer international mod creation team impacts the production of this type of content?
WildPeacock: It has its benefits, with people from different parts of the world being able to contribute with their sociocultural repertoire to the production of content for the mod, which becomes an “international” product and without the clear influence of a single country or region, but also presents challenges, as each contributor is part of a culture with a certain way of communicating that may not always be well received by others, generating some noise.
LeSingeAffame: The biggest impact is obviously that everything we make is in English. It also allows us to get talents from all over the world, you can never guess where the next contributor comes from! With the international team also comes a lot of perspectives on how TES draws inspiration from the real world, and how best to represent it. And finally it helps to interact with the community, as you can always be sure that there is at least one dev in their corner of the world who is talking with players.
AJ: Don’t really know. The biggest thing I guess is that people are online at different times so sometimes a discussion that we feel we settled already is suddenly disputed by someone who just woke up. Which is me a lot of the time. But I think generally the team sort of operates at Euro time anyway. I don’t think we have any issues with like, cultural or religious tension or anything like that. Everyone’s pretty chill. I don’t think it really affects production in any meaningful way??
TheynT: I guess the first thing that comes to mind would be that it’s difficult to find times where everyone or at least most are available to talk about development topics. But that aside, the various viewpoints coming from the various cultures, languages, way of living and so on is certainly a huge bonus for the creativity and productivity of the team. I feel that we tend to bring in the best aspects of our individual backgrounds vs if the entire team would be US based, or Europe based or even just from one country.
Apptuts: What would you say is your favorite content in the mod, something you’ve personally worked on, and what was one of your favorite moments during the development of EK2?
LeSingeAffame: That’s a tough one. I’d say the map in general. Zooming in on the Imperial City, or Crystal-like-Law, or in the deepest parts of Black Marsh is always fantastic. For content that I worked on, I’d say the latest iteraction of our Pantheon system. It took a lot of work and went through a lot of iterations, but I’m really proud of how it turned out. Being able to select which deities you can dedicate yourself to, who you’ll syncretize with, and which Daedric Prince, if any, you will worship feels great. For a favourite moment, I’d guess when we released the mod and saw just how much people enjoyed it. It’s always stressful to release something after over two years of work, especially when you know that not everything is perfect and there is a lot to be done, but the amount of joy and love we received so far made it all worth it. A close contender would be when we announced the release date during ModCon and everyone went crazy.
AJ: I think the magic system is really cool, though I only had a very small involvement in it. In terms of stuff I personally worked on, I’m still pretty proud of my work on Ordinator and High-Elf outfits. I don’t really know if I have a favourite EK2 development moment, but taking part in ModCon and seeing the mod release were pretty big highlights. I think my most memorable moments are arguments that are funny in hindsight, but were not really that enjoyable when they happened. We’re all very passionate about the mod and the Elder Scrolls universe and we can end up arguing over the tiniest of details.
TheynT: Favorite bit of content: the magic system. It’s something I had very little to do during development, as I was focusing on other parts of the mod. Getting to properly test and play it just now with players, i feel it really is a core aspect to EK2 as it can change the core gameplay loop quite substantially. Even tho this is the first implementation with some things missing. Personally during development I was most involved with the map development. That’s from drawing the base outline before release, designing our provinces and titles (so basically, the skeleton where everything most would be built on top), implementing them and later overseeing but not personally making the Heightmap. It’s the part of the mod where I’ve been involved from the very beginning up to release. As for a favourite moment… It’s a lot harder to pick one thing here, because in over 2 years of development and with probably ~50 developers involved total, there were a lot of great moments. Like at the start when we first managed to get the base mod running, with a totally flat Tamriel. But the moments standing out the most are certainly the two ModCons. When large parts of the CK3 Modding Community came together to celebrate each others mods in a fan made, online-only convention lasting 3 days each – all the while collecting donations for two charities. Moments like these can show you that modding doesn’t just mean you sitting alone at your PC trying to make sense of some code others wrote, but that mod development is to a large part a matter of community. Without the modding community, without other teams helping us out along the way EK2 would certainly not be where it is development-wise today.
The first few days after launch were met with a flood of downloads on the mod’s Steam Workshop page.
There was a flood of fan awards and fifty thousand unique downloads on the page in its first week, not counting direct downloads on other platforms.
However, the biggest praise came from streamer TommyKayLive, who compared the mod to art, saying that back in the day you had to go to a museum to see things like that.
In the future, the team plans to expand the map with new lands (Akavir, Pyandonea, Roscrea, Atmora, etc.) and to further polish the existing content.
The plan is to fix bugs reported by the community, add more content to existing regions and mechanics. The team also plans to create new mechanics like a tournament activity and the Great House system for the Dunmer, for example.
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