I thought I would summarise my experience with the Steel and Statecraft patch for Thrones here on the forums, partially because I am enjoying my current campaign, but also to provoke discussion that may prove useful for the devs. For context, my current campaign is Campaign:VH/ Politics:N/ Battles:N with Northymbre.
I'll start with the main focus of the patch; Estates. I've played every iteration of Estates so far, and I feel this one has the most impact. The previous iterations felt like something added on to give loyalty some flavour, whereas now, the Nobles request particular estates, and their affinity with them is reflected in a minor bonus. This is a huge improvement, as it feels more rewarding to consider who should take what Estate, because loyalty isn't the only factor. I will say I had a few odd requests early on, I had perhaps 5 farming estates, and was getting requests for 3 farming estates. I'm not certain why the first requests were so big, but perhaps it would feel more thematic and balanced to get bigger requests as your nation grows. A noble with no lands requesting 50% of the farming estate in a kingdom seems extreme. I personally would love a reminder when a request is about to expire, I unintentionally rejected a couple of requests because I misjudged the expiration turn. Minor complaint however, the new system is great - stick with it.
The next change I noticed was the recruitment change. My initial reaction was that this would take away some of the "rush" of getting another huscarl unit early in a campaign when the chance is a meager 5% and make the game feel more robotic or automated, but in reality the change didn't effect my compositions or enjoyment over the previous system, and I did enjoy the effect it had upon whether I leant towards the English or the Danes. After playing with it some time, it actually felt more involved than the old system. As with Estates becoming a more complex decision of loyalty vs estate buffs, being able to make a meaningful choice here, with pros and cons to both sides is fantastic.
"Traits" was the other big change in this patch. Them impacting Estate bonuses is the master stroke of this patch, and whoever came up with that should be congratulated. However I think one area where the traits could use some work are wives. Most of the traits are well designed with positives and negatives, but quite a few are entirely negative and just encourages rerolling the dice until you get what you want. It would be much easier to stomach -2 loyalty if there was a hefty upside to it. Pros and cons.
Going on from loyalty, loyalty dilemas, especially the action of an army general declaring themselves king of an independent kingdom feel very odd. Armies are famously loyal to their generals, and I doubt a general would instigate a rebellion without knowledge that his army was on board with the idea. To split the army 50/50 is strange, and something I've not witnessed historically (feel free to enlighten me). This results not in a dangerous situation, but in a bloodbath as two half armies murder themselves out of existence, the only real effect is the character leaving your faction. At the very least, harder difficulties should make the whole stack stay with the general, to give them a real chance at carving out their own kingdom and becoming a threat to the player.
Finally I wanted to mention events. I really feel this part of the game could be expanded upon without devoting huge resources to Thrones, while benefiting the game greatly. Events should revolve around your leader to add flavour and give context to some of the traits gained. For example, if I randomly gain the trait "Insane"... why do I gain it? Tell a story, and fire off a small event chain where I can make choices based on my insanity! Give me a chance to cure it or make it worse. If my king is victorious over a rival, how does he react? The premise of a saga is a deeper look at the characters that defined the era. Build upon that with events. What exists already is great! Build upon it!
Thrones is a good game, and I genuinely think it will be well regarded after some additional time. It had the unenviable task of following the warhammer games and being marketed to a huge amount of people who joined the series blasting orcs apart with magic and dragons. I hope we haven't seen the last Thrones update, and would love to see a DLC to add depth at some point, similar to what Rome 2 received. Abandoning it would be a mistake, it would set a precedent for what Saga titles are, and how much post launch support, quite a large incentive to stick with the main TW games.
“Politics is more dangerous than war, for in war you are only killed once.”