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Crusader Kings 3: Legends of the Dead DLC review – Papa Nurgle’s coming to town

Because what this game needed is more ways to die
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It feels like every other Crusader Kings 3 expansion is adding more ways for your characters to die in the game. It’s not enough that you can get murdered in your sleep, poisoned at dinner, or be felled on the battlefield. It’s not enough that you can fall from your horse, be mauled to death by a wolf, or be executed in someone’s dungeon. No, what Crusader Kings 3 still lacked is most definitely the chance to succumb to the most feared sickness in human history: Bubonic Plague.

“The sickness starts with chills and fever before necrotic buboes form beneath the unfortunate’s armpits,” the game described as the Black Death nears my realm’s borders. “Their breath comes in wretched gasps between expulsions of blood, lips and toes turning a livid black. It then kills, indiscriminately, rich and poor, young and old, duke and downtrodden. The reports are from far-flung lands for now, but my trembling fingers trace the dates. It is getting closer.”

Crusader Kings 3: Legends of the Dead screenshot showing the spread of the Black Death in Europe.

The odds of survival aren't too great for everyone in that colored area.

Notably absent until now, the Black Death finally makes its ominous entrance onto the stage in Crusader Kings 3: Legends of the Dead, the first expansion coming with Chapter 3, alongside several other new plague types. A new map mode allows me to survey the situation. Far off in Scandinavia a sickness titled Ragnar’s Boils is ravaging the population and it looks like recent outbreaks of a form of Holy Fire in France are finally subsiding. But from the East comes what the event message quoted above warned me of: the Black Death.

On a scale from one to three rats, the Black Death is a fat three. “Apocalyptic,” the game says. It’s certainly a fitting description for the effects of this plague, which imposes hefty maluses on counties it infects. Entire wars grind to a halt in regions affected by Bubonic Plague, because sinking supply limits and a stop of reinforcements mean that armies simply melt away as they move around. Both development and control decline as public life and business have to stop. Popular opinion goes down the drain as people lose their families, powerless to do anything. Traveling through such regions is a death sentence.

Even if your character, secluded in the safety of their fortress with their family and court, has a solid chance of surviving the Black Death, they might find a changed realm when they leave this safe haven. Dissuade them all you want, the people will run mad during the Bubonic Plague – they’ll accuse others of being witches, kill entire animal populations (it’s not the dogs’ fault, you fools!), and eventually turn on the nobility. Whichever decisions you make, they’ll likely not endear you to the smallfolk at this time, which can rapidly breed rebellions you have difficulty putting down thanks to all the province maluses.

Crusader Kings 3 Legends of the Dead screenshot of a new map table.

Ignore those hungry red eyes starring at you from the darkness.

Paradox Interactive does a good job of making the Black Death feel suitably apocalyptic and also different from any other plague without going “so you get sick and die” on your current run. You can’t fully prepare for the Black Death, nor for any other sickness, but you can give yourself a fighting chance. A new building chain available at your holdings boosts their plague resistance and your court physician can take action as well, providing even more protection. Skills in the Learning tree have been adapted to the plague system added in Legends of the Dead and can further boost your personal resistance to illnesses.

Heck, you can physically run away from an oncoming wave of plague by planning a pilgrimage, attending a hunt, or even commanding an army in another region. When my ruler left for a hunt just as a plague was spreading to the capital, I got an achievement for escaping in the nick of time. Legends of the Dead’s plague system has been beautifully integrated into the title’s sense of space established with Tours & Tournaments last year. Your character has a physical presence on the map and where they travel matters – in fact, “matters” is too light a word for it. Where your character is has become a matter of life and death. If you get caught up by a wave of plague as you travel, there is a high chance of contracting the disease and carrying it with you, spreading joy like Papa Nurgle coming to town.

You can watch plagues spread along coasts and rivers, as they have in real life, or get carried inland by armies and travelers. Paradox has created some fantastic visuals to impress this on the player: Plagues are depicted as these disgusting, blood clots spreading on the map when you’re zoomed out. Looking closer, you can see that plague-affected counties have lost color. Crows are circling above towns and bodies are being burned en masse outside of settlements. It reinforces the idea that going there right now would be a pretty bad plan. No matter if it’s war or travel, you need to adapt to these forces of nature that have been newly unleashed, even if not all of them are as devastating as the Black Death.

Crusader Kings 3 Legends of the Dead screenshot showing a plague in the Holy Roman Empire.

That looks suitably disgusting for a no-go area.

Caution is one side of the coin, opportunism is the other. Realms weakened by plagues, be it economically or because their rulers died, are a ripe target – and hey, if a rival should succumb to plague because you totally forgot to put your court physician on protection duties when you realized that the danger came from a particularly opportune direction and would hit said rival’s territory first, then there’s a bright side to all the death and devastation as well, right?

You can always hold a funeral for them afterward, hypocritically pretending that you cared so much about them to score some brownie points with the church and grab some piety – that’s simply good politics. Funerals are a brand-new activity you can hold and can be a good way to not only earn piety, but also relieve stress and gain opinion with other attendees. And because this is Crusader Kings 3 we’re talking about, you can also use the opportunity to seduce or murder someone. You can just make it a double event, right? Everyone’s here already.

Crusader Kings 3: Legends of the Dead screenshot of a funeral.

Funerals are a new and useful activity type that can be held.

It’s actually kind of weird that funerals haven’t been a thing in the game up to this point, with all those different ways to die. They’re a solid addition, though I haven’t seen the AI use them too much so far – it seems like grand tournaments have become rarer as well. Perhaps plagues and their financial consequences have somewhat curbed the sums the AI likes to spend on events.

Legends of the Dead’s final big addition are, well, legends. They work a bit like counter-plagues, in that they also infect counties and apply modifiers to them, although in this case they’re positive ones and you’re actively working towards spreading legends. Think of it as propaganda, because that’s exactly what it is. I convinced half of Europe that one of my rulers had been adopted and brought up by a dragon – seems reasonable, right? People ate it up, especially when that ruler used every opportunity to shill the story at feasts and other social events. The more nobles buy into the legend, the quicker it spreads and the greater its effects become.

Crusader Kings 3 Legends of the Dead screenshot of a completed chronicle.

There are different types of legends, which grant different bonuses and rewards upon completion.

Though it’s a very expensive enterprise, legends can not only provide boosts for the counties they spread to, but will also provide renown and legitimacy for the legend’s hero’s dynasty and give you access to legendary buildings and feasts with their own bonuses. This is a good way to advance those legacy trees, of which two new ones can be accessed in Legends of the Dead. One maximizes the effect of legends, while the other builds up the effects of legitimacy.

Legitimacy is a new attribute every ruler has. Going from one to five, legitimacy helps boost the opinion of vassals and generally stabilizes your rule the higher your level in it becomes. A minor, but neat addition. Aside from legends, legitimacy can be gained by winning wars, rejecting the demands of unruly vassals, and generally behaving like a stable ruler should.

Crusader Kings 3: Legends of the Dead is a fun and atmospheric expansion for everyone’s favorite medieval intrigue simulator, which adds a new layer of challenge and opportunity. Paradox cleverly used the foundations set with Tours & Tournaments to make these new mechanics matter to your character, creating a real sense of danger and dread in the face of approaching waves of plague. It’s a strong start for Chapter 3 and makes me very excited about what’s to come in the future.

Version tested: PC.

Crusader Kings 3: Legends of the Dead is available on March 4, 2024, on PC, PS5, and Xbox Series X|S as a standalone DLC or as part of the Chapter 3 Expansion Pass.

*We’ve opted for a recommendation system instead of a scoring system for singular Crusader Kings 3 DLC packs and are aiming to provide a scored review for Chapter 3 once all of its parts are available.