Kingdom Come: Deliverance was concepted in 2009 and has been under development since 2011. The game is a first-person single player RPG set in medieval times. Realistic and open world, Warhorse’s debut title aims to immerse the player in an authentic and lovingly recreated Bohemia in the middle of a royal civil war.
After the death of Emperor Charles IV, the Holy Roman Empire started tearing itself apart. The heir, Wenceslas, couldn’t keep the Kingdom of Bohemia together, and his half-brother (and King of Hungary) Sigismund decided to take it for himself. Kidnapping Wenceslas and setting his army loose on the region, Sigismund laid waste to the Czech kingdom.
That’s where Kingdom Come: Deliverance picks up. You, Henry, are the son (sorry, ladies) of a blacksmith, which has his life shattered when a mercenary army raids the peaceful village you live in. You’re one of the few survivors, and lost without a place to call home, seek the service of Lord Radzig Kobyla and his burgeoning resistance.
That whole journey takes place within the first three hours of the game, and it is a largely linear experience. Warhorse suffers a bit from Kojima-syndrome, constantly moving the plot via several minutes-long cutscenes that are extremely engrossing. They’re easily one of the high points of the game, featuring amazing visuals and brilliant music which complement natural animations and well written dialogues.
The playable sections themselves are quite engrossing too, spending just enough time with people to make you care before moving the plot along. Afterwards, the game starts to open up when you wake up in a riverside community, nurtured to health by a young woman from your now-gone village, but you are only truly let go a couple of hours after that. Once your are trained, kitted, and able, the game sets you free to pursue main and side quests at your leisure.
Like Skyrim, Kingdom Come allows you to level up each attribute just by using them. As you explore and fight and horse ride, you naturally improve your skills and learn new abilities, resulting in a very organic and immersive levelling system. While Deliverance doesn’t rely on artificial attribute points to increase stats, you do get points to spend on perks that affect the way you interact with the world.
And what a beautiful world it is. The Bohemian landscape is uniformly gorgeous, with photorealistic terrain and a brilliant use of sunrays and lightning to set the mood. Roads, villages, and castles look eerily authentic, providing a unique look at what medieval life was probably like.
That immersion is without a doubt Kingdom Come’s strong suit. Guards patrol, sheeps roam around the countryside, citizens go on about their duties – you can even watch a blacksmith produce a sword from start to finish, red-hot blade on water and all. The game’s arcadian vistas and immersive visuals suck you into its world, making the simple act of walking around satisfying.
To compliment the visuals, Deliverance features one of the best compositions of the last few years. Composer Jan Valta created a brilliant soundtrack that perfectly fills every moment of gameplay, made even more effective by the dynamic system that changes the music on the fly. With a fantastic use of mostly period accurate instruments and a truly nuanced and diverse soundtrack, Kingdom Come: Deliverance’s talented score is worthy of a Hollywood production.
On the interaction side, the gameplay’s focus on realism makes survival a factor in your daily existence. Sleep is represented by “Energy”, and food and thirst are thankfully combined into a single “Nourishment” stat, requiring you to tend to your bodily needs. Luckily, Warhorse got the balance right, letting you play for a quite a while before bothering you to gob something down.
Meanwhile, sleep heals most of your injuries, which are something you will gather quite a lot during your time with the game. Kingdom Come’s fight mechanics use inverse kinematics to determine the reactions of combatants to impacts based on the speed and weight of a blow, both from long and short-ranged weapons. You manage a fatigue meter for both attack and defense during engagements, and getting hit can cause anything from a concussion and bleeding to broken bones (and elementarily, death).
Bows have no crosshair, and swords use slash and stab control mode comprised of six angles of attack, requiring you to actually learn to use them. While bows are problematic due to a weird shooting mechanic that makes arrows disappear on hitscan, the melee combat system often works quite well, with a nice weight and heft behind it that gives you a satisfying feedback.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of fistfights: during my first five hours with the game, I’ve got into three of them, each requiring over 30 punches to beat the opponent. The first fight alone took 15 minutes to complete – levelling up my fistfighting skill by two points – and my rivals would consistently block my attacks and dodge every jab as if they were some mythical ancestor of Muhammad Ali himself.
Making matters worse, if one of them managed to get a single hit in, they would follow with a flurry of four or five punches that would knock my health down about 95% – even if they were a peasant and I was wearing armour. As the game progressed, that subsided a bit, but it never felt fair or right – not only did fights take way too long and required three dozen hits for me to win, I could lose any fracas if I was punched only three or four times. I’m not sure if it was a unique consistent bug or a real balance problem, but it was utterly and absolutely infuriating.
The whole authentic angle comes back full force to affect armours, and the player can equip several pieces of equipment in the same slot. A full armour set involves a gambeson padded jacket, chainmail, plate armour, and a flashy tabard surcoat on top – the latter used historically both to facilitate battlefield identification as well as look fashionable while murdering folk.
However, all that armour provides a setback – you are unable to jump due to carrying 50kg of metal on your back, and pulling your faceplate down protects your face but also severely restricts your view, thanks to the slit visor. It’s a game of balance – either wear light armour and remain mobile and aware; or go full knight and lose those things, but become severely less vulnerable in return.
Unfortunately, that complexity doesn’t extend properly to the quests themselves. Plot branches and dialogue choices are very limiting, often offering only one or two ways of doing something and begrudging experimentation. That is actually one of the Kingdom Come: Deliverance’s main problems: it’s not really a very good RPG.
Right from the beginning, the game has a pretty clear idea of who Henry is and should be way before you step into his shoes. Dialogue and quest progressions are often non-encompassing and limiting, preventing you from truly developing the character’s personality as you please, and as a result, Warhorse’s debut title feels more like a medieval narrative simulation with RPG elements than a real RPG like Mass Effect or even Skyrim.
A few hours into the game, you are given a mission to get a ring from a corpse. Upon digging it out, you realise the executioner might have gotten it and the game orders you to return to the quest giver. Naturally, I talked to the executioner about it, and after passing a speech check, he says that yes, he had the ring, and asked me if I wanted it – at which point my character automatically blurted out “No, I don’t need it.” Taken aback, I went back to the quest giver miles away, and he promptly told me to go talk to the executioner about the ring (which now had a dialogue option amounting to “Yes, I want the ring”). That is not a problem per se, but frankly, it is the sort of blatant oversight that should be immediately apparent when making a game that markets itself and purports to be about choices.
While its production values are through the roof, the game does suffer from quite a sizeable number of unpolished features and bugs. During my playthrough of Kingdom Come, I’ve got stuck on walls, had characters teleport, and animations bug out in immersion-shattering ways. It is quite common for NPC’s to jerk between stances or have their items disappear in thin air, which immediately breaks the immersion the game works so hard to achieve.
Making matters orders of magnitude worse, the game lacks any sort of quick or manual save function, instead relying on an in-game item called “Saviour Schnapps” to save your progress. The problem with it is that it is a consumable item that gets you drunk, which benefis immersion at the cost of convenience.
While the inability to save made my decisions much more lasting as I couldn’t just reload something that went wrong, it quickly became a nuisance – the game’s autosaves are few and far between, meaning you can’t easily stop playing when real life calls, and may very well lose hours of progress if the game or the system fail for any reason. You feel a hostage to the game, unable to rely on it to autosave your progress, and asking something in exchange everytime you play if you want to save your progress. It is absurd.
That is not the only design and technical aspect of the game that is under-delivered, as the dialogue system in the game is surprisingly non-fluid. Unlike the masterfully executed cutscenes, talking to someone is a stilted and artificial process, which always involves a cut to black transition and quite often a full loading screen. After several hours with the game, I stopped approaching random NPC’s to talk because I was tired of waiting several seconds to see if they had a dialogue choice worth my time (they often didn’t).
Performance, thankfully, was quite good, with the CryEngine delivering powerful visuals that have been clearly optimised during development. Weirdly, Kingdom Come’s controls were clearly designed with consoles in mind, and the PC suffers at the short end of the proverbial stick. Virtually every menu and interaction, from melee combat angles to lockpick and pickpocketing minigames are made for a controller’s thumbsticks, to the point that some of them are literally unplayable due to horrible design.
Aside from betraying a surprisingly lack of care towards the PC, this control scheme even affects your performance in fights. Blocking in combat default binds to Q, leaving you unable to strafe if your defenses are up, while attacking involves a confusing angle system that may make complete sense with a fixed spring-built thumbstick, but has no meaning on a mouse relatively positioned on top of a gamepad. Similarly, there is also no auto-walk function or sprint toggle, and galloping involves a very weird double press then hold of the Shift button, which is annoying and quickly becomes physically painful. You would expect a proper PC control scheme to be tested for what’s arguably the platform of choice for RPG’s, perhaps with even a intuitive click and drag sword strike patched in, but that’s unfortunately not the case.
In the end, Kingdom Come: Deliverance is a very good and immersive title, but it suffers from technical issues and some surprisingly misguided design decisions. I was completely enthralled by the first three hours of the game, but the more I explored its systems, the more grating they became. It never stopped it from being a great title – and it occasionally recaptured that magical immersion from the first few hours – but its issues are so severe that they effectively ruined my enjoyment of what is an otherwise very good game.
KINGDOM COME: DELIVERANCE VERDICT
A very good and immersive title that suffers from technical issues and some surprisingly misguided design decisions.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Getting my first full set of armour.
Beautiful open world
Amazing voice acting
Horrible save system that gets in the way of the player
Terrible balance in some fights
Control scheme feels like a PC port