Kingdom Come: Deliverance PC Review
There is no shortage of RPGs set within something similar to medieval times. From series like The Witcher, The Elder Scrolls, Dragon Age and Baldur’s Gate, each one brings its take on living in those old days, but they all go down the fantasy route with their design and story. This is where Kingdom Come: Deliverance offers something different. On the surface, it seems like any other Western RPG with similar settings (The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is one that comes straight to mind, thanks to the game’s perspective, setting and user interface), but the developers decided to go for a more realistic approach, removing all the fantasy elements and bringing an RPG that does its best to keep itself in the realms of reality while trying to feature historical accuracy. This enables Kingdom Come: Deliverance to offer a rather unique experience.
This approach to a more realistic adventure certainly had problems before even coming to the market. This is the first game by Czech Republic based independent studio, Warhorse Studios, a team that while has video game experience (The director was once at 2K Czech), still had a challenge ahead of them trying to get investors interested in a game that was promoted as a title grounding itself in a medieval reality. Various investment attempts failed, but to prove that there was an audience for this type of game, the studio went to Kickstarter and raised over £1 million. Even then, people kept giving to the point they had raised nearly £1.5 million, which wasn’t a dream away from the initial £3.6 million budget they set to create such a ambitions game. It should be said that the game is missing some of the features originally advertised in the Kickstarter, but even then, what was created is still great.
From its story this ambition isn’t clear to see, as the setup is one familiar to the genre. Kingdom Come: Deliverance is set in the Kingdom of Bohemia (now known as Czech Republic) in the year 1403. Players are put into the shoes of Henry, a son of a well-known blacksmith who is living in the small town of Skalitz. Henry is introduced as a likeable young man who is committed to seeing out every job and promise to the end. This is what drives him to want to be a swordsman, but his father is against letting his only son take up arms, instead, learning him the trade of blacksmith and sending Henry on errands.
The beginning of the game is rather mundane, living out the life of Henry, picking up bills, shopping and chatting with the townsfolk as the game delivers its tutorials. But soon things take a huge turn turn for the worse when the town is attacked and pillaged by an army, killing Henry’s parents in the process. Henry barely escapes with his life, seeking refuge in a nearby town. This life changing event causes Henry to seek out revenge for the death of his family, but there is so much more Henry needs to learn and do before he can even deliver this promise.
The general overarching story is entertaining, and it surprisingly feels like it was stripped straight from a medieval TV drama or coming across as a less flashier Game of Thrones. There is war, politics, nobility and rank all fitting into the plot, which is given a believably performance through cutscenes, from general chitchat to the importance of the land being overthrown by the approaching army, there are many aspects of Kingdom Come: Deliverance that should seem boring, but somehow manages to keep it interesting. Apart from the theme of revenge for Henry, he often plays second fiddle to the main story itself. He feels like a small person in a grand scheme of things, rather than a story that revolves around the main character that some of the fantasy games like to go for.
But being Henry, you still get to be involved in your own personal stories that bring abundance of moods and feelings. He might not be some 100 year old monster slayer or a long lost relative to a king, but in a bizarre way, the fact that Henry is so mediocre, such an ordinary person living a rather normal everyday life in Bohemia – who just happens to get tangled up in the bigger picture when his town was attacked – gives the game a more credible experience with Henry, as he begins to grow over the course of the game.
And I’m not joking when I mean grow, as when you first take over Henry, the guy cannot fight, cannot read and does not know how to swim (the latter you cannot learn). The game promotes the idea that what you do is how you learn, so growth is done by gaining experience in specific categories, allowing Henry to get better at performing said actions. Other games have tried similar mechanics, but none go as deep with the statistics as Kingdom Come: Deliverance – Henry’s growth feels natural, because it’s from what you are doing as as player – and not only is there more categorised tracking for Henry’s actions, the game pushes this further to his surroundings, as also the people living in Bohemia and their interaction with him alter depending on Henry’s currently build and appearance.
Seeing a notification of a level growth is something that can’t help but feel gamified, but even so, Kingdom Come: Deliverance takes care in making sure it doesn’t come across as a cheap thing to accomplish. Nearly every action is adding to a statistic in the background. Want to become a sneaking master? Then keep creeping around and silently knockout people until you gain new perks in stealth that will let you reduce footstep and armour equipment sounds or even allow a stealth kill on unsuspecting foes. Need to get better with a bow? Use it more, same with axes, swords, maces and using Henry’s fists. General stats also work on top of those based around combat, such as defence and warfare that can help a lot in combat. An amusing one is the Knight in Shining Armour defence perk that makes your opponent become dazed in sunny weather due to the glint on Henry’s gear, but it also adds a nice charisma bonus as people think you are a noble knight.
Combat will become easier as Henry gets better. Controls can take a little while to get used to, as the game employs a lock on system, and through that the player then can determine which angle to swing their weapon at, while also using ducks, blocks and parries to keep the opponent at bay. Combat is almost like a dance off between two people, as you sway in and out from the enemy, dodging his moves and following up with some swings of your own. It becomes harder when taking on more than one enemy, as the reticle can sometimes jump between targets, making it a challenge to parry or defend against all of them – in other words, it becomes a bit of a mess in the the large scale fights. Combat is performed the same for any melee weapon, but using bows is another story in itself, because there is no reticle, so players need to understand their bow strength to determine how much dip the shot has. The first tutorial has Henry training against a noble, and it’s here where you see how hard it can be. Most other games would have you nearly getting a perfect score, thanks to aim assistance and reticle, but here, I didn’t even hit the bullseye once, as I had to deal with inexperienced arm movement and my lack of using a bow. Hunting animals is a good way to practice, plus it increases not only the bow, but hunting skills as well.
Things become a lot more interesting within the game’s systems when learning skills away from combat. There is a whole skill dedicated to drinking alcohol, as drinking such beverages not only makes Henry become drunk if he has too much, but alters how NPC’s will react to him. A small amount can enable buffs to persuasion and charisma while cutting out that hangover, however, drink poor quality alcohol or drink too much will decrease stats, make the screen go blurry causing Henry’s movements to sway, or even worse, become ill from alcohol poisoning. The abuse of alcohol can go one step further, where Henry begins suffering from alcoholism, which the game descries as “you’re an alcoholic, so you now look and behave like one. Your strength, agility, vitality, speech and charisma are reduce.” Only a special hair of the dog drink can help cure that debuff. Other none combat skills are alchemy, herbalism, horsemanship, hunting, maintenance (looking after gear), pickpocketing, and reading. Reading is an interesting one to jump into, as it becomes a sort of puzzle in itself and blends well into the quest system, demonstrating the game’s openness and how the stats alter how you go about them.
A good example is a quest where you are involved in figuring out who grotesquely murdered a villager. There is one part in that quest where you can read a book to find a lead by looking for people who were sentenced a few days ago. If you have no reading skills, you have to either ask someone to read the book or look for other clues, but if Henry has gained the ability to read, even just a little, so that the letters are jumbled around, you can use your real life brain to decipher what is on screen and then use that as means to continue the quest. If you’re not bothered or too lazy to do it, you can fall back on getting someone to read it for you. That’s only a small example, but quests often have multiple ways of accomplishing the requirement.
It’s an impressive system that mostly manages to keep together what controls the happenings in the game’s lush world. It’s not as large as something like Breath of the Wild or The Witcher 3, but the small scope in its open world enables Kingdom Come: Deliverance to focus on bringing one that both looks and feels great to be playing in. The beautiful countryside is litter with large forests and colourful flowers, while towns are dressed in wooden huts and muddy paths, set in front of castles and monasteries. CryEngine 3 is used as the engine for the game, and it works wonders in bringing a bright look to this time era, something that is often portrayed as gloomy and dark in video games and sometimes TV shows.
Actions matter in its world – if you keep breaking into people’s property or get caught stealing then you will sometimes get an option to pay a fine, but other times it’s off to serve some jail time. Look dirty? Then nobility will want you to keep away. Eat old food? Then prepare to maybe suffer from food poisoning (I died a slow death in the wild due to this. Not pleasant!). This mixed with the variety of quests that try to not revolve around being fetch quests enables the 50 + hours I spent finishing the story feel worthwhile that I think I’ll remember some of my amusing moments with Henry in the future.
It’s not all rosy for the game, otherwise I would be happy giving it a higher score than it’s received at the end of the review. Minor issues are with the save system. Saving is done either when the game deems a quest objective of importance was completed or if you sleep in a bed you own. To be able to save anywhere you need an item called saviour schnapps, an alcoholic drink, but this cost money (unless you steal them *wink*), and since it is alcohol, abusing the save system means Henry is on his steps to becoming an alcoholic. This limited save system was done so that the choices and actions performed kept their consequence and people could not just save scum to erase it. That wouldn’t be an issue if the game was 100% bug free, but it isn’t. It’s had a patch recently that made it better – it also included a save and exit option, allowing people to save whenever they need to exit the game for whatever reason. When loaded back up this save is then deleted.
Bugs are what distract from all the great things Kingdom Come: Deliverance manages to accomplish for the genre. The limited save system doesn’t help with all the bugs I experienced, which some caused me to loose progression. I have had the game completely lock up on a load screen twice, once losing 15 minutes of progress. I also ran into an issue where I could not get into a building as the doorway would not let me pass. I tried to be clever and get it to force me in while closing the door, which worked, but then I could no longer get back out, even trying the same trick, as the door pushed me back into the building – a reload of a save was the only way for me to become unstuck. There is a patch that hit Friday 9th March 2018 that addresses a lot of the issues people are finding. It also sorted some lock-picking issues, which I should mention is probably the worst part of the game, it’s so ridiculously hard to perform that I often gave up trying to do anything resulting in lock-picking. Thankfully that has been made a little easier. I personally waited after the game’s 13th February release until the publishing date of this review to give them time to fix problems, and it seems the reception is that the developers are handling it, but since a lot of my experience was pre-patch, it made sense to tell you my issues during my time with the game, plus some crashes have still happened in this current patch.
The recent patch also bumped performance, as before it was unoptimised on the highest settings. I saw frame rates as low as 28 and as high into the 90s before patch, now it is happy sitting between the 52-90 range, a much more smoother experience overall. That is using a Nvidia 1080ti at 2560×1440 resolution. With any weaker graphics card, some settings might need to be moved down, but there are plenty of visual options to play with that finding a smooth setting should be easy enough. On the audio side, it might not feature anything catchy or something that I will listen to in the future, but the soundtrack goes well with the world and the quests. The voice actors mostly put in a solid performance, but some of the NPCs and lesser key characters do feel flat compared to the performance put in by Henry and the rest of the characters that get decent screen time.
One last thing I should note is related to the huge codex that keeps adding entries as the player discovers them in the world. I am a sucker for learning new things about places I could never experience, and so seeing this sort of encyclopedia of medieval Bohemia and learning about their religion, structure, habits, and also the stuff that you might not really want to know, such as their toilet usage, was all fascinating to me, as if I was in my own personal history lesson. It also helps to set up the struggle between the two armies involving siblings Wenceslaus IV and Sigismund and the right to the throne, giving plenty of information to fill in the gaps for people who don’t know much about Bohemia and its feudal system.
There are incredible things going on in Kingdom Come: Deliverance that it’s a shame I have to score it lower than I would like, due to the issues with bugs and glitches that soil the experience. If those problems eventually get fixed, then look at this score with an additional point, but for the meantime, those problems can cause a loss of progression, which isn’t a good thing. It’s an impressive piece of work from a small team, who manage to challenge the bigger AAA studios at bringing an engrossing role-playing experience that makes something that sounds mundane on paper into a highly enjoyable time. Warhorse Studios’ aim for a game grounded in realism and its delivery of an historical story combined with smartly implemented stats that govern the player and the world of Bohemia has paid off, and it enables Kingdom Come: Deliverance to offer a unique experience in the genre.