Kingdom Come: Deliverance is set in 15th Century Bohemia, now known as the Czech Republic. It focuses on the events of Sigismund usurping the throne of King Wenceslas IV, throwing the nation into turmoil and its people locked in the throws of suspicion and paranoia.
It was also a time of religious strife, as the Papal Schism split Christians all around between believing in progressive religious ideas or sticking to the ways of the old. Unlike a vast majority of videogames, Kingdom Come: Deliverance does not offer the player a power play. Instead, it puts us in the shoes of a low born peasant called Henry that will serve as our “fly on the wall” as we experience his story and the wider political events that unfold around him.
As Henry’s story begins, Warhorse Studios makes it apparent very quickly that he is no hero. He could well never be a hero and this feeling sinks in as his father sends him to retrieve payment from a client who lives in the town of Skalitz. Reluctant to pay up, we can choose to get into a fistfight with the man which teaches us early on that Henry will have to work very very hard to be good at anything.
It is for this reason that, as his hometown is attacked during Sigismund’s annexation of Bohemia, he can do nothing to save his family from their deaths. In fairness, Warhorse Studios did a great job of making an explosive start to Henry’s story. After just one short questline and a little character exposition, everything kicks off and it is not pretty. With historical accuracy in mind, Warhorse Studios did not shy away from accurately portraying the horror of seeing rape and pillaging descend upon your home. These horrible events and Henry’s survival sets the stage for the rest of his story. On the one hand, Henry wants to hunt down a bandit that made off with his father’s newly crafted sword. On the other, he wants to kill the man responsible for his family’s death. It’s a fairly typical “quest for vengeance” affair which may be a little cliche. Although, focusing the story on our modern tastes for drama mixed in with origins stories is a welcome prospect when the rest of the game is so focused on potentially boring realism.
Although it’s safe to say the story was engrossing enough to keep me playing. Of course, for Henry to achieve any of his goals, he must improve massively. As a fan of grinding in RPG games and the slow release of satisfaction it brings, this kind of gameplay coupled with story events triggered whenever I felt ready, led to an ultimately comfortable sense of pacing. Then again, I am a patient man…
What I mean by this is that the story certainly takes its time after the initial explosion of drama which admittedly gets us through the front door of Kingdom Come: Deliverance very effectively. After deciding to work on transforming himself from a common peasant into a hardier man, capable of the revenge he seeks, Henry puts himself into the service of Lord Radzig who was close with his father. As a result, before the next chapter in Henry’s revenge story can begin, he must prove himself over several very long questlines. Around twenty hours in and you’ll still be performing quests to assist Radzig and prove to him that you can be involved in affairs that lead closer to Henry’s personal vengeance. Again, however, this is not a bad thing.
In The Witcher 3 players were surprised at the equal portions of effort put into both side quests and main story quests. They had lengthy acted out voice parts and cutscenes of their own, adding relevance to events that weren’t tied to the main story. Kingdom Come: Deliverance employs the same attitude toward optional pursuits. As a result, players can stretch out the story for as long as they like but rushing ahead will likely lead to a far tougher playthrough for the player. Choosing to focus on any one sidequest could take hours of your time and, in the brilliantly reconstructed world of Bohemia, could end up feeling like a good episode in a long series, as opposed to a lifeless fetch quest.
The trick to understanding Kingdom Come: Deliverance is knowing that, unlike other games, the world does not revolve around the character we play as. Henry is simply a part of its ongoing events and we need to play far more rationally. For example, we cannot run away from combat – the enemy is likely handier with a sword, can run faster or is adept enough to shoot you in the back with an arrow as you flee. And flee you most certainly will, more often than not. Henry’s lack of experience with weaponry outputs directly into the game. He swings his sword slowly, is less likely to dodge strikes and deals less damage due to a lack of strength.
All of these elements are reduced yet further if he eats too much and needs time to digest. Henry also can’t expect characters to be available to continue a quest if it’s 2am and they’re in bed. Wake them and they’ll tell you to sod off and wait until morning. Yes, Kingdom Come: Deliverance is by far more of a medieval life sim than a hack ‘n slash. You'll even need to decide if you want to invest some money in reading lessons for Henry. So if you came here looking for Shadow Warrior gameplay in a medieval world, move along. Henry will need to pick his fights very carefully in order to level up in combat.
I learned my first big lesson shortly after being hired to look into a set of murders in Neuhof. I found a strong lead to follow so off I went to find out more. When I finally returned, the Captain of the group we originally set out with gave me such a long telling off for not first informing him that I’d be setting off that I squealed “Alright, calm down!”, at the screen. He threatened to have me hanged for desertion if I ever did it again and it really felt like the game could make good on that threat if I pushed my luck too much.
It was a lesson I sorely needed to learn as there were no quest markers to do this. As someone living in this world it was simply up to me to think of first reporting to my superiors before taking things into my own hands. Indeed, when you do control Henry into doing things properly, it shows as characters are more friendly with you and you’ll generally be better off. With no signposting for this kind of gameplay, it forces the player to think and when successful, leads to a very rewarding experience.
While I am grateful to be playing one of the most gameplay rich RPGs since The Witcher 3, that’s not to say Kingdom Come: Deliverance’s is not without its problems. The biggest pain, I’ll mention first. Lockpicking on consoles is an absolute nightmare. So much so that I was dissuaded from ever doing it and always sought an alternative approach in questlines (thankfully every quest has several ways of finding success). Henry must first find the sweet spot with the left stick and rotate the lock with right. It’s fairly similar to Fallout lockpicking. The twist here is that we must rotate the sweet spot in conjunction with the lock as it turns. The game does a very poor job of explaining this and even after figuring how to do it, actually doing it is another thing altogether. Simply holding down a key on the keyboard for PC turns into almost meditative state levels of stick control on console. Locks marked “Very Easy”… are just not easy at all.
Secondly is a minor concern in that, for a long time, I felt I would be missing out on two large parts of the game. The option to be a thief (crime definitely pays in KCD if you pull it off) and being a better fighter both feel leagues away where the games expects it from you. Well after the the open world was fully available to me, I had Henry resolving issues with his words and not with his sword. Which is all well and good but I had to stop and wonder if I was depriving myself of levelling up in fighting skills from just not being aggressive enough. Will there be a battle later on that I would be condemned to die in over and over because I hadn’t honed my skills? There’s no talking my way out of that one. Henry can’t simply go looking for bandits as the world is so perfectly scaled and wonderfully designed that finding badguys for the sake of it will waste a lot of time. Again, we come around to carefully thinking out every single thing before we do it so Henry is ready for his final showdown with the killer of his parents.
Despite all of this, the inescapable slow burn learning process in Kingdom Come: Deliverance is extremely satisfying. The depth of unlockable skills in everything from drinking, to horsemanship, to speech, to combat is honestly quite remarkable. Many of the skills are not directly beneficial. For example, Henry could learn the Night Rider perk which allows his horse more stamina at night time but it will have far less during the daytime. Or perhaps he could activate the Lowborn perk to have better speech skills with peasants, while his speech skills with nobility will take a big hit. This kind of interplay in the skills section lends wonderfully to the idea of shaping Henry into the person you think he needs to be in order to find success. In the wake of such delightfully full character development, my issues with lockpicking and combat fade away. This aspect of the game, like many RPGs has kept me playing as I experiment with new things in order to lead to the unlocking of a perk.
At the time of writing, you’ve doubtlessly heard by now that Kingdom Come: Deliverance has its share of bugs. In all honesty, they are never that problematic. [EDIT: this is sadly not the case in hindsight. It turns out, I was very lucky with my selection of quests. Further playtime has revealed a terrible infinite loadscreen, trapping the player into one segment of the game, never to continue lest they load a far earlier save. With this terrible unresolved issue in mind, I now change the final score to what you see today.] Examples include briefly headless characters in cutscenes, long load screens just to speak to someone and invisible walls on stairs that must be climbed. Just lean left or right until Henry continues up the stairs… These bugs beg the question as to whether or not Kingdom Come: Deliverance was truly ready for a full release. However, Warhorse Studios is working hard to patch the game in several areas and hopefully these issues will be ironed out before long. Overall, the RPG mechanics leading to your long list of priorities at any given time will keep you immersed in the world of Bohemia.
Graphics And Sound
Kingdom Come: Deliverance is powered by the CryEngine, the graphics suite of which has never really sat that comfortably on consoles. As such, I was worried about Kingdom Come: Deliverance’s performance on consoles. Rushing into certain areas on your horse means the game can’t quite keep up meaning you’ll be exposed to some serious texture popping on buildings and on the ground. Trees in the distance suddenly morph into greater detail as you approach them, the frame rate drops from time to time and painful as it is to admit – the character models are awful. It is clear to see a compromise was made for consoles in the areas of texture depth to save on processing power.
Although there are times when Kingdom Come: Deliverance is astoundingly beautiful. Great stretching views across the land as the sun sets looks absolutely fantastic as light rays pierce through the trees. Indeed, the lighting on offer from the CryEngine often saves the day as, depending on the time of day it gives the game a polished, photorealistic look. How good Kingdom Come: Deliverance looks really depends on whether or not your machine is keeping up at any given time. Take the time to go hunting in the woods around midday and the game will look like a realistic Firewatch.
On the other hand, Warhorse’s design of the game’s sound is remarkably thorough. Walking through the forest, the player will be treated to the tweeting of birds that only happens during daytime. Depending on how much armour Henry is wearing, we’ll hear it clattering as he moves about. Stepping into a church and speaking with someone will reveal the acoustics within that sound so good, I’d love to have a noisy sword fight in one of them. It's also refreshing not see a sword go "shwing" whenever it's drawn… Forget the movies, scabbards don't do that.
Voice acting on the other hand, is not so dependable. While it is a joy to hear Brian Blessed boisterously voicing Sir Hanush of Leipa, other characters do not shine through quite so well. Henry is a little flat but his charisma starts of at the low level of 2 and, after all, he is just a peasant boy.
We all have that one bar that we like to go to. The locals don’t like it very much and it’s got its problems but that is “our” bar that we’ve grown fond of. Kingdom Come: Deliverance is the equivalent of that bar for me. It has its problems, some of which would be damned to hell were it any other game. Although there’s a reason you haven’t heard too much bad press about it. It’s incredibly easy to forgive the game of its failings when it offers this much quintessential RPG gameplay and fantastic world design. Warhorse Studios have taken the time to build a snapshot of today’s Czech Republic and wind back the clock on its design all the way to the 15th Century.
An essential part to creating a game that feels rewarding and fun is building a learning process for the player first. A process of gradual self discovery. Kingdom Come: Deliverance offers that up in spades and if Henry sucks at fighting, flirting or horse riding it’s only because he hasn’t done enough of it. As a result, his ineptitude is never frustrating. It’s just a signal to the player that there’s a heck of a lot of grinding to be done. If you’re into that kind of thing, Kingdom Come: Deliverance is for you. It will provide you with literally hundreds of hours of taking care of Henry and sheepishly stepping into the next big event, hoping things will be OK. When all’s said and done Kingdom Come: Deliverance is nothing short of impressive and will be even more so once we get a few patches. A grown up RPG for grown up players
+ Incredible depth of RPG systems
– Painful character models
+ Impressive world design
– Bugs and frame rate issues
+ Unique approach to player relevance
– Impossible lockpicking on consoles