Ask any gamer what their favourite game series is and a response including The Witcher or The Elder Scrolls will not be uncommon. While many RPGs offer a fantasy escape to a new land, Kingdom Come: Deliverance offers a different experience, thrusting players back into a terrifyingly realistic portrayal of the dark ages.
The project is a new IP brought to life by developer Warhorse Studios, a Prague-based company founded by Mafia and Mafia 2 creator Dan Vávra in 2011. The game’s setting is ripped straight from Czechia’s history books, taking place in the painstakingly recreated land of 1400s Bohemia. Not only are the historical figures and areas excellently researched, but the hardships and often barbaric nature of medieval Europe is ever-present throughout the game.
The developers boast an extremely true-to-life experience with regular eating and sleeping being the least of the players worries. Where some fantasy games allow the player to quickly progress into a walking one-man-army, the transition from beginner to badass in Kingdom Come takes time, with early conflicts against multiple enemies a risky endeavour. Warhorse Studios have stated that over 100 hours to explore all of the game’s content and around 50 hours just for the campaign. What is not mentioned is that much of that time is put into travelling and walking very slowly behind monologuing NPCs. Herein lies the problem with the game: the beautifully crafted world can be incredibly frustrating to traverse at times. The default walking pace is fine, but the sprint function adds little to overall speed; the easiest form of transport is the horse, though they are extremely rare towards the start of a playthrough, making early quests drag on. Fast travel does little to help as, instead of walking the distance yourself, the game automatically walks the distance as a small soldier figure waddles along the map.
While the story is by far one of the more enthralling aspects of Kingdom Come, it too has its ups and downs that could turn people away. Players will leap into the wide-eyed and eager boots of Henry, a blacksmith’s son who yearns to leave behind the dull, yet peaceful, life of his hometown. Already, well-versed members of the RPG and fantasy communities will see the cliché warning signs as the inevitable, eye-rolling outcome unfolds. Following the prologue, the story begins to take a more natural and well-paced approach as Henry trains to earn a spot in the local lord’s military.
While major events in Henry’s life are pre-determined by the main storyline, the finer details of how he achieves these milestones are left up to the player. For example, one of the earlier missions requires Henry to collect a debt from the town drunk; should Henry confront the foe head on and fail, he will be forced to fight the individual or flee during the speech portion. However, should Henry choose to meet his friends first and partake in a bit of tomfoolery, they will assist Henry during the confrontation. Each quest has multiple means of approach, often expressed when selecting dialogue options, allowing for a natural and fluid experience based on the character’s skills.
A vast number of skills exist for Henry to progress in, including proficiency in each individual type of weapon, horse riding, and stealth. Many of these talents will improve naturally while using a particular weapon or playing missions in a certain way. Other abilities are unlocked using the simple, yet daunting, skill tree each time Henry reaches a new level. Choosing from the talents can be intimidating, as not only can selecting one option prevent Henry from learning a different one, but many provide a cost to some of the character’s other stats. If the player should choose to upgrade their stamina regeneration by 30% during the night, then the rate during the day will be decreased by 10%. The weight of these costs can be off putting and should be saved for later in the adventure, after the player has become comfortable with their custom playstyle.
The skillset that requires the most patience, by far, is stealth. Whether it be lockpicking or pickpocketing, the mechanics behind these mini-games are so immensely frustrating at first that avoiding such tactics entirely seems be the least stressful option. Part of this issue stems from the large difference in difficulty between console and PC versions of the game. Each of these rather difficult tasks feel much simpler when using a mouse and keyboard, which could be more an issue with optimisation than the mechanics.
The same could be said for the combat system, which resembles For Honor’s, using a directional crosshair to aim blows and blocks. While unarmed, fights feel clunky and unresponsive, often as if Henry’s punches are thrown seconds after the button to attack or parry is inputted. The combat was clearly designed to best suit a shield in one hand and a sword firmly in the other; this point is where the advanced techniques and careful precision of each strike feels the most impactful and rewarding. The sound of two sword clashing or the satisfying crunch of armour after being struck by a mace are where Kingdom Come excels.
If savage sword fights are not enough, then the game offers archery fans the chance to test their skills. Unlike melee combat, the bow lacks a reticle or targeting system, instead requiring a keen eye to correctly predict the trajectory of the arrow. The use of a bow can be extremely dangerous as it leaves Henry unprotected at close range but, if used correctly, can easily drop foes in a single hit.
As well as having more complicated gaming mechanics compared to other RPGs, this ambitious title is truly challenging, with the biggest requirements from gamers being patience and a willingness to practice. Completing side quests, competing in tourneys, duelling opponents, solving riddles, and even hunting will help to hone the different skills. Dozens of minute details are interwoven to further immerse the player, such as food that spoils after sitting in the inventory for too long or NPCs being more wary if Henry is still covered in blood after a previous encounter.
Although the game is primarily focused around the complicated and realistic workings of history, some of the visuals are absolutely stunning. Built using CRYENGINE technology, the world of Kingdom Come: Deliverance is best experienced in 4K to facilitate immersion. Other versions of the game, such as on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, suffer from much more texture popping and framerate issues that, while not an issue for many gamers, can severely take away from the overall experience.
With all said and done, and despite several flaws, Warhorse Studios delivers a fantastic first game and deserves praise for Kingdom Come’s successes. The issues currently present in the game are comparable to Bethesda’s infamous bugs. However, even before the game’s release, the developers were working hard to constantly address feedback given by the community to influence future patches that will hopefully turn Kingdom Come: Deliverance into the great experience fans believe it can be.
Reviewed on PC and PlayStation 4.