Released On: February 13, 2018 Genre: Action RPG Reviewed On: Xbox One Also Available On: PlayStation 4, PC
Developer: Warhorse Studios Publisher: Deep Silver, Warhorse Studios MSRP: $59.99 USD / $79.99 CAD
Kingdom Come: Deliverance is a dichotomy.
On one hand, it’s one of the most immersive and enthralling RPGs that I’ve played in years. On the other, its rife with bugs and other gameplay issues which plagued me from start to finish. But when the dust settles at the end of the hard-fought battle that was my 80+ hours with the game, I still can’t stop playing Kingdom Come: Deliverance.
Where Kingdom Come: Deliverance shines through and surpasses the majority of other open-world RPGs — fantasy, sci-fi-, or realistic – is in the attention to detail that Warhorse Studios has paid to the every facet of the game. This extends through the narrative and environment, which are both exceptionally realistic and historically accurate, through to the combat and NPC interactions, which are thoroughly fleshed out and more akin to a simulator than an action-RPG. It’s the type of world that makes you want to explore every single nook and cranny, interact with every single character you come across, and solve every mystery in the land.
The narrative follows Henry, the son of a blacksmith, who is forced to flee his village after it is raided by Sir Markvart con Aulitiz, one of the lords of the King of Hungaria Sigismund. The overarching plot is set against the backdrop of early 15th century Bohemia, shortly after King Wenceslaus was imprisoned during an uprising and rule of Bohemia was transferred to the Hungarian King Sigismund. In 1403 shortly before our narrative begins, Sigismund released Wenceslaus from captivity but Bohemia remained under his control; even though many lords still swore fealty to the dethroned king.
Henry’s village is raided during Sigismund’s campaign against Wenceslaus’ supporters, with the help of a Turkic people known as the Cumans, enlisted by Sigismund as mercenaries for his war when funds were depleted. After fleeing his home village of Skaltiz when it’s razed to the ground, Henry finds refuge with two of the lords who are still faithful to King Wenceslaus and begins to plot his revenge.
It’s a complicated setting backdrop, especially for people who aren’t used to the unique style of rule in late-medieval Europe, but luckily much of this is explained is great detail in the game’s codex. Realistically someone who isn’t a history nerd would be able to enjoy this game still without taking in much of the history behind the story of Henry, but you’d be remiss not to delight in the wonderful and historically accurate setting that Warhorse Studios has created.
Every single quest in Deliverance can be handled in a variety of ways, many of which I’m sure that I never came across. You can often opt to sneak, talk, fight or even just wait your way through an objective, and my best friend the entire game was an attentive eye. The more people I talked to and the more attention I paid to my surroundings, the more options which opened up to me. Why would I bother fighting this guy or even paying him to get my father’s axe back? If I just wait for a little while he’ll head to the tavern and I can just steal it from him.
Kingdom Come is a gritty RPG based on actual historical events, and that same minute attention to detail permeates each of the game’s systems. You don’t gain traditional levels of skills points as you progress through the game, but rather you improve your skills as you use them. It’s much more subtle than a game like Skyrim — which people keep mistakenly comparing this game to — because you aren’t actually investing points into anything. Your improvements in combat, speech, or lock-picking are far more nuanced, seeing your character noticeably improving at these activities in what feels like a realistic progression.
There are even some elements of survival-game interspersed throughout, adding additional layers to the complexity and depth of the game. You have to pay attention to your character’s hunger and fatigue, ensuring you eat a proper diet and get rest, otherwise you’ll fall prey to debuffs which seriously hinder your abilities. Don’t make the same mistake as me and gorge yourself to try to solve the problem though, or you’ll get smacked with a different debuff for being too full! Kingdom Come even gives you the option to sharpen your own sword if you do not have the money to go to a blacksmith, which is another perfect example of the small realistic systems implemented throughout the game. Using a grinding wheel in game properly is no small feat!
Combat is assuredly the most difficult aspect of the game to master, but there is a really fair learning curve. Since you don’t level up like traditional RPGs, it forces you to actually train yourself to get better at using the systems that are given to you right from the onset. You attack and block along a five-point axis, trying to predict your opponents moves and get around their defenses. It’s not just about attacking from the opposite direction your opponent is blocking though; you have to master feinting, perfectly timed parries, and dodging if you want to have any hope in succeeding in the intricate dance that is combat in Deliverance. The only frustrating part of combat is that it auto-locks on the closest enemy, so if you’re trying to flee occasionally it will keep putting you back into combat and re-drawing your weapon automatically.
It’s not as simple as just learning when to press a button though, as your opponents will carry different weapon and fight with different styles. It’s much more about learning the subtle nuances of combat and being able to predict your enemies’ moves and strike without hesitation every time you see an opening. Combat quickly evolved from frustrating (only because I kept dying) to thrilling within the span of hours as I worked to learn the combat system inside-and-out instead of relying on grinding out levels or fiddling with stats and skills. Bows equally take a fair amount of practice to get good with, and I found that even towards the end of the game I had not gotten that much better at hunting small game. Sniping Cumans off their horses however, was my specialty.
Where the combat system forced me to pay attention to every little flourish of movement, the speech system forced me to pay attention to my attire and general cleanliness after every single bout or journey through the woods. There are many ways that you can affect your conversations with NPCs, focusing on using either your talent with speech, pleading to their emotions, or using coercion. These will all be impacted however if your character looks like they just rolled out of the pigsty.
Dirt and blood can be washed off by going to a bathhouse, where you can additionally be healed and spend time with some pleasurable company if you so wish. I found it a little odd that after spending time with someone you got a speech bonus, as I’m not entirely sure how that would assist me in convincing the next guard who stops me to let me go because of my “Top Secret Mission.” On the other hand, alcohol also increases your aptitude in conversation…at least until it really, really doesn’t.
The impressive part is that the game forces you to pay attention to things that NPCs may notice which would affect their conversation or even just their general demeanor towards you. Civilians will run away and guards will come-a-running if you walk into down brandishing a sword, but it’s something else to walk up to someone and have their exclaim in dismay because you are still covered in someone else’s blood.
It’s not just AI reactions to how you present yourself which make the non-player characters so impressive. Where other similarly styled games often feature NPCs will small paths of movement meant to simulate the daily routines of the time period, Kingdom Come is one of the first games that genuinely made me believe that the NPCs I was searching for were actually living their own little lives irrespective of what my player-wishes were. Often times I would find a person who I was looking for wandering out-of-town to the bathes, or spending time in the tavern knocking back a couple ales after a long day. In other cases, bandits or soldiers would behave in completely unexpected — but all together logical — ways that I was not used to from AI.
My favorite example of the personality and realism behind the NPCs — which also relates to my earlier point about the malleability of quests — comes from a moment when I decided to raid a bandit camp for a quest that I had been given by the Lord of Rattay. The bandits were caused trouble for traders and caravans, and I was hired to deal with the nuisance. Having only been a knight for several days at this point, I felt more than up to the task. I traveled to the camp during the day where I was instantly spotted by the 6-7 bandits as I tried to sneak towards them, even though I felt I was concealed by bushes. In Kingdom Come, you can’t be led by that false sense of super stealthy security most games give you in stealth mode.
On a whim, I decided to wait around until the sun went down, and found myself a spot far enough away from the camp that I felt was safe from prying eyes. After I was convinced it was dark enough, I made my way slowly to the camp; at this point only lit by the soft glow of a campfire. As I approached within 15 feet of the campsite, a sole guard yelled “Intruder!” and instantly I was swarmed by all of the bandits. Only they didn’t attack me.
Armed with only the undergarments they’d went to sleep in — with all of their fancy armour and weaponry locked safely away in a chest campside — the bandits saw no other logical option than to flee in every direction from the brazen attacker brandishing a longsword: Me. Even the one guard who was still wearing his armour opted to scurry off into the darkness alongside his compatriots instead of staying to test his luck against me. On a second whim, I waited just 20 feet outside of the camp shrouded in darkness for an hour of in-game time, and one by one saw the bandits start to trickle back to the camp and chatter among themselves before getting back into bed; which is exactly when I struck.
This entire series of events absolutely floored me, but it was something I learned to get used to in Kingdom Come. NPCs for the most part behave in genuinely believable ways, right down to some of the peasants who you may only have a one-off conversation with as you’re passing by. This focus on realism translates into every aspect of the game, right down to the prison sentences that you were forced to serve if you couldn’t — or in my case wouldn’t — pay the guards for the crimes they were accusing you of.
This is what made it so much more noticeable when there was an issue, as it pulled me completely out of a relatively deep immersion created by a combination of the ultra-realistic atmosphere and living, breathing world. A perfect example of this was how ruthless the city guards were when they suspected Henry of carrying stolen goods. In several instances it was clearly my fault that I was being accosted by the guards — I had brazenly robbed a person after knocking them out in a good-mannered fist fight — but there were several cases where I was being harassed every two-three minutes by a guard when I had not done anything wrong (at least that they would know of) and instantly lost all of my “stolen” gear. I mean, it’s 1403; what is “stolen” anyways?
I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out very clearly that Kingdom Come: Deliverance has issues, and not just small graphical bugs on the periphery. During my two weeks as a blacksmith-turned-knight, I encountered a wealth of glitches ranging from minor nuisances to fairly substantial problems, each which hindered my immersion in the game in their own unique way. Perhaps the worst of these issues is the fact that autosaving when you sleep doesn’t appear to function consistently, and seeing as it’s the main way to save it is kind of pertinent. Several times I found myself losing an hour or more of progress when I died; in one instance I was even reverted to a point before two quests I had finished, begging the question of why the game didn’t save after I’d beaten those quests either. You can also brew potions to save, but early in the game these are expensive and hard to come by.
There were small graphical hiccups here and there, most notably when characters would get stuck on one another or in an inanimate object, or when certain graphics would pop in as I got closer to them. This happened a few times, and in one instance caused me to have to reload my game because the plethora of guards standing on top of one another was preventing me from reaching the objective which was directly below the six of them. This is the closest I came to anything that was game-breaking, as it did force me to reload so that I could complete my objective.
At several points, the game was convinced that I was still in combat even though I hadn’t fought with anyone for some time — I think this glitch occurs when you flee combat without killing your opponent — and I was not able to perform the majority of actions because I was still “In Combat.” The first time this happened to me I ended up reloading the game to an earlier save point, but when it happened the second time I found out that all I had to do was assault a civilian to reset my status. Sure, it meant that the catchpole (medieval tax enforcers) came after me and demanded a fine, but 60 gold was a small price to pay to fix the issue. That being said, it surfaced a few times and got pretty annoying.
What likely frustrated me the most out of any of the smaller bugs was the fact that contextual actions — picking up items or interacting with the environment — were exceptionally finicky and often required you to be aiming slightly askew of where you would assume. This was most noticeable when I was trying to gather plants to concoct potions and elixirs to help ease my woes in battle; at the end of the day I just stopped bothering to gather herbs and spent the majority of my days potion-less.
I played Kingdom Come on the Xbox One X, where it plays in 1440p alongside the PlayStation 4 Pro and PC versions (base models of the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 render at 900p). I’ve never been one to nitpick over numbers though, because when it comes down to it a properly optimized game performing at 900p can still be breathtaking, and Deliverance is absolutely beautiful. The rolling hillsides of Bohemia have been fantastically recreated, and every time I came over the crest of a hill I was taken aback by the sprawling countrysides dotted with wildlife and sparse settlements. Instead of trying to jam as much into the impressively large map as they could, the development team opted to create a realistic depiction of early 15th century Europe, which was largely rural in nature because of the fiefdoms. The environment is accompanied by a wonderfully composed score of melodious tunes which often had me tapping my foot as I rode my horse Roach — sold to a trader by an odd Polish man who recently retired — from village to village.
As with everything in Kingdom Come, it’s the attention to small details that make the game what it is. Perhaps my favorite minor details in Kingdom Come: Deliverance is the fast-travel system. Aside from the gorgeous classically drawn world map which was a treat to look at, when you fast-travel you actually follow your character along their path to your destination. This gives you the option to sit back for a moment and take in the details as the game loads the next location, but also invites you to stop and investigate Wayfarers, corpses on the road, and even get ambushed by wandering bandits.
At the end of the day aside from any issues that a title may suffer from at launch, what matters the most is how captivating, and all around entertaining a game is. In the case of Kingdom Come: Deliverance it’s important to note that while some issues can be exceptionally frustrating, I encountered no game-breaking bugs throughout my 80+ hour playthrough. Even after having to reload autosaves which were over an hour in the past, assault a civilian just to fix a combat glitch, or deal with the random guard-orgy in the armory, at no point did I have any interest in leaving Bohemia. These issues assuredly impacted my time spent with the game, but if a game is equal to the sum of its part, Kingdom Come assuredly comes out on top. I’m sure there are more ways to complete quests that I didn’t even think to try, and more interesting ways to use the systems that I haven’t thought of yet. Kingdom Come really puts the power in the player’s hand to determine their course of action, and it was an all together new type of freedom than anything I’d experienced before.
Kingdom Come: Deliverance is as entertaining as it is frustrating. The game offers almost everything that I would want from a realistic medieval action-RPG, but the complex systems are often weighed down by more than just heavy pantaloons. The game is at its strongest in its depiction of a historically accurate 15th century Europe and Warhorse Studios’s attention to detail to the minutia of the complex combat and speech systems, but it suffers when these systems seem to stumble over one another, causing unforeseen problems with AI patterns and awkward combat glitches.
It’s really hard to settle on a numbered review score for Kingdom Come: Deliverance. When I juxtapose the enjoyment that I’ve had with the game against the frustration caused by the bugs, I know many people will not have the same resolve that I did to persevere through. With almost 100 hours of gameplay behind me as I come to the close of this review, I stilll firmly believe Kingdom Come is worth picking up for anyone who is interested in medieval history, or a fresh and realistic take on the action-RPG. While my opinions were often mired by the aforementioned issues, it was only ever a short time before I was wholly engrossed back into Henry’s Bohemia.
Final Score: 7.5/10
Frustrating issues plague an otherwise exceptionally entertaining action-RPG with some of the most in-depth and well thought out gameplay systems I’ve utilized.
The review copy of this game was a digital code provided by the publisher.