+ extremely interesting theme (769 to 1453)
+ great wealth of historical information (persons, dynasties, provinces, rivers and so on)
+ smart, versatile abstraction of core feudal mechanics that fit different locations and timeframes
+ very engaging, it's easy to be sucked in and not want to stop playing, even against your better judgement
+ extremely good visuals, starting from a wonderful map that you can fall in love with and very nice hand drawings
+ usually great sense of humour and optimistic mood in the dialogues
+ masterpiece soundtracks by Andreas Waldetoft
+ its own Wikia site for reference and guidelines, plenty of experts in the community to answer any questions very quickly on the forums
+ a lot of After Action Reports and Let's Play videos from more experienced players
+ somewhat good, stable technical condition (very few CTDs or launching problems, although they do happen)
– awful AI, more like barely sketched in than properly developed (Sultans of Tunis will march to Sicily overland through Gibraltar, Provence, Rome, Naples etc. after declaring a war on the basis of proximity of distance over sea)
– realism decreased by missing features or rigid mechanics (e.g. you can't free a Mongol khan's concubine (sex slave) if your soldiers gain custody of her in a siege, you can only return her to her tormentor or keep her in your jail idefinitely — this is just one example of stuff the company doesn't seem to care about)
– situational dead-ends, for example ending up in regency (e.g. witch a child ruler) can break your game, because sufficient mechanics have not been provided to enable you to cope with all situations the game can lead you in (this means e.g. a regent who will sit on his ♥♥♥ and veto all decisions because of 'Base Reluctance', i.e. not wanting to do anything)
– lack of consistency in quality levels (quality dips with some portraits, due to varying skill levels of individual artists and lack of consistency in lights and other parameters they use in rendering their work, or event texts/dialogues or event logics) and concepts sometimes (e.g. numbers that don't seem to follow the same scale of values but are absurdly high)
– generally more bugs and bad design decisions than you would expect from a professional company, with Paradox generally unphased by this and PR department blowing its own trumpet with enthusiastic releases, there seems to be a cognitive dissonance in place about the need to fix some stuff and the priority of doing this
– forum staff that are company employees (community volunteer moderators are mostly fine) can be very touchy, act immaturely, become rude, bully you into shutting up or only speaking positively about the company and the product — you are generally expected to be an obedient an enthusiastic little minion that believes in their fairy tale or at least keeps quiet, despite their assurances to the contrary
All of which generally comes down to a visible and annoying lack of professional standards, including the company acting like a primadonna and not respecting the customer. A brilliant idea and even brilliant product that can't reach its full potential because of the company developing an attitude. Still very much worth playing (and paying) but extremely disappointing at times. The game itself is not as disappointing as the company's attitude is.
** BUY IF: **
THE GAME ITSELF: You are a hardcore mediaeval fan like me. Unphased by poor design logic or able to get over it. Don't mind using debug console (i.e. cheats) or save editing to fix your game, or rolling back to an earlier save if you encounter some serious weirdness or your game gets broken. If you don't mind playing an expensive game released 3 years ago that still feels like a beta and all the more so with subsequent releases of DLCs and patches. If you ar not obsessed with Steam achievements, which require running the game in Ironman mode, which means no reloads and no console cheats, which means you're stuck with bugs and awkward design etc.
COMMUNITY/SUPPORT: If you don't care about forum life or are thick-skinned, unphased by rude or unfair staff moderators (volunteer moderators are generally more reasonable).
In any case if money is not a pressing concern and you can afford finding out on your own if you like it. This is probably mitigated by frequent Steam sales (up to –75% sometimes).
** DON'T BUY IF: **
THE GAME ITSELF: Your tolerance level for poor design logic and bugs is low. If you expect professional developers to adhere to high professional standards and just can't play a released product that often feels like a beta.
COMMUNITY/SUPPORT: If you expect to be actively involved in community life and be somewhat respected by staff for your contributions — they entertain no such notion. The measure of your worth to them is how much hype you generate for them. Don't be deceived. And don't expect fairness in moderation when you criticize them or the product. If you don't mind this kind of thing, you probably should buy the game because this is like the single biggest problem with CK2/Paradox.
MY OVERALL 'NOT RECOMMENDED' RATING SHOULD BE READ AS: 'DON'T BUY UNLESS' (I.E. UNLESS YOU CAN LIVE WITH THE COMPANY'S ATTITUDE OR CAN AFFORD LOSING MONEY TO TRY AND FIND OUT).