Kingdom Come: Deliverance Review
Kingdom Come: Deliverance has been considered an ambitious title since its announcement. Originating on Kickstarter in 2014, the game promised an immersive and brutally realistic RPG simulating medieval life and combat. Warhorse Studios, the development team behind it, went through years of work, and even expanded their original team from 20 members to over 200. Many players were hopeful but ready to be disappointed as its release date neared. It is a pleasure to announce that Kingdom Come not only delivers, but exceeds expectations with regards to storytelling, and medieval simulation. The game is only held back from being a true masterpiece by technical issues and save-ruining bugs.
The game opens by introducing the historical setting of Kingdom Come: Deliverance, 15th century Bohemia (now the Czech Republic), and the village of Skalitz. Henry IV has recently died and given way to his hedonistic heir, Wenceslas. Wenceslas’ cousin, Sigismund the Red Fox, smells this weakness and capitalizes on it. The Red Fox proceeds to pillage Wenceslas’ territory and to take him captive. This civil war serves as the bloody backdrop to the world of our protagonist, Henry, son of a blacksmith.
However grand the setting, the tale begins quite typically. Henry’s mother chews his ear off about his boozing and his friends’ bad influence on him. Your first task is to convince your mom that you’re not an idler. From the outset, this paints Henry as a believable, and relatable protagonist. Though some were concerned about the lack of a character creation, Warhorse Studios’ protagonist is a wonderful addition to their world. What the game lacks in avatar customization, it makes up in storyline choices. Within your hometown, you either proceed to commit some shenanigans with your friends or act as a dutiful son should. This sets out the fact that Kingdom Come’s morality system is not tied to a visual. The choices you make are impactful and will dictate whose respect or scorn you earn.
Of course, this innocent beginning can’t last. Henry’s tale takes a turn for the worse when Skalitz is besieged by Sigismund’s forces. Wounded, Henry flees the city to warn another nearby lord of the situation. Kingdom Come: Deliverance is ultimately grounded in a real medieval violence that shapes and defines the character of Henry. Whether he becomes a brute, a rogue, or pampered dandy, the protagonist’s voice actor and personality resonate with a consistency that is rare in modern gaming.
It is refreshing to see the protagonist of an RPG be thrust into a tale bigger than himself, and to strip the typical narrative of a “chosen one”. The campaign is well voice-acted for the most part, and it is easy to remain invested in Henry’s tale of revenge. This is facilitated by a quest system that rewards player initiative. Most objectives are accomplished through non-linear means. This often requires that the player listen to NPC dialogue attentively, or make some deductions based on environment. While one can zoom through the game’s content, participating in secondary activities and quests will take a good 50-75 hours of your life.
Indeed, it is clear that Warhorse Studios wanted to create an immersive experience for the player. Kingdom Come is ultimately a simulation of a medieval world. It purposely seeks to create systems that engage with the player and force them to react and respect the world around them. Beyond the systems which deal with hunger and energy, the game largely revolves around theft, combat and charisma.
Theft (which my “Henry” did plenty of) actually held some weight in Warhorses’ Bohemia. Vendors, once they began to notice Henry’s acts, stopped selling to him unless they were paid a hefty bribe. Guards would stop him on the street at random to check his inventory of stolen goods. Spending time in jail leaves Henry lethargic for a few days, depending on the amount of time you’re locked up. This means theft is impactful, and tense, which is a welcome addition to modern RPG’s. The lockpicking system worked well but required some getting used to. Pickpocketing is a harder system to get used to, and while it’s well-implemented and unique, having a peasant awaken to your high-level pickpocketing when they’re sleeping felt odd. The difficulty of your attempt was, realistically, never communicated. However, failure sometimes felt arbitrary, and that was disappointing.
Combat is a central aspect of Kingdom Come, with the game successfully recreating period-specific longswords, maces, axes and polearms. Once locked into battle with someone, one can input directions with the mouse to swing from different angles, or to stab. The beauty of this combat system comes out when you realize that the skill, and difficulty of an opponent is not linked to additional health. Indeed, it is your opponent’s armour and his proficiency with his weapon, which sets him apart from Henry. Attempt to fight a guard as a welp, and you’ll be overwhelmed by a flurry of blows you can hardly wrap your mind around. Difficulty in combat is thus tied to a “game-ified” system of armour, but also developed player skill in battle.
The only major issue with combat comes out when fighting in tight areas, or the woods (of which there are plenty of). It is easy to press up against a bush and to get stuck and die. Then again, this only adds to the realism of the experience. Playing with mouse and keyboard, it was also easy to jerk slightly to one side and unlock from an opponent. This sort of mistake is costly when fighting more than one skilled swordsman at the same time. It is unfortunate to note that the player is not always the cause of his death.
The “charisma” aspects of the game revolve, as it did in Medieval Europe, around one’s wealth, proficiency with prose and alcohol. When confronted with a skill check, whether by a suspicious guard or a withholding witness, Henry can choose to appeal to their emotions, to use a “speech” skill, or to intimidate them. Each of these routes proves more effective towards particular NPC’s, and are influenced by different elements. Speech is a developing skill which evolves as you speak and convince the citizens of Bohemia. Appealing to emotions is linked to a particular NPC’s feelings towards Henry. Intimidation, on the other hand, is dictated by the armour Henry wears, and whether or not his sword is bloodied. It’s a system that works very well to provide alternatives to violence, adding to the roleplaying experience. Indeed, though violence is central to the game, it is possible for Henry to never take a life, and achieve a “pacifist” ending.
Henry’s campaign occurs within a beautifully rendered medieval Bohemia. Though demanding, the landscapes Warhorse Studios have created are certainly realistic. Though bigger open world maps have been seen in the last few years, the smaller Kingdom Come’s world is dense with materials, forests in which you can hunt or wander aimlessly, and tiny details to pick up on. Warhorse Studios’ Bohemia is also set to the theme of some wonderful period-specific music performed by Czech artists. The darker moments of the game are introduced by ominous tones, while combat music is animated and exciting. However, these tracks sometimes bleed over one another in unnatural ways, usually as a result of the tonal switches a player’s actions might imply in the game.
Overall, the world really feels lived in and the people with whom Henry interacts feel real. It is possible for the player to imagine an NPCs routine, their purpose. This makes your interactions with them gain weight in a world that responds to the protagonist. Despite these positive elements, the game’s engine holds the player back from total immersion. The game demands a bit of tweaking on PC to obtain a solid framerate. Even then, it often dips to the high 20’s when riding through towns. The Cryengine on which Kingdom Come runs has always been demanding, but it feels jarring when compared to recent AAA releases. Unfortunately, the player’s experience is also limited by pesky bugs, and some CTD’s. These bugs often revolve around camera positioning, cutscenes that go black and only provide audio, and a lot of pop-in. However, they can go as far as to block quest progression and require the reloading of a save. These issues detract from what is otherwise an immersive and exciting experience.
I consider myself lucky that my experience with Kingdom Come: Deliverance has not been too difficult. With only two CTD’s in more than 50 hours, technical issues were not enough to take me out of the world. The realism which they have managed to fit within their towns and vales is something novel. Galloping on a horse as the sun peaks over the horizon feels great. Clashing blades for a good 20 minutes to take down an armoured knight held a realistic amount of difficulty.
Ultimately, the game’s controversial save system is a good analogy for the game’s design. You can only save if you have a specific item in your inventory, or sleep in a bed. Being tied to your actions will either feel like a good thing or be too limiting. This system should be an indication as to how much Kingdom Come’s world will appeal to you. While I loved it, it is clear that such commitment to design around medieval realism is not for every crowd.
Kingdom Come: Deliverance was reviewed on PC with a GTX 1070, 6th generation i5 CPU.
- Immersive World
- Responsive combat system
- Impactful choices and consequences
- Period specific music
- Optimization issues
- Some bugs and CTD's
- Some systems better implemented than others
- Graphics + Sound9
- Lasting Appeal10
- Fun Factor8