For a few years now, Kingdom Come: Deliverance has been gathering its troops and setting up camp outside the gaming community’s moate, ready to unleash its brand of historically-accurate RPG. We’ve watched in awe as arrows carrying trailers and walkthroughs looped over our walls to give us a taster for what would eventually come.
Since the game is based on real events with some real historical figures, avoiding spoilers will be a lot easier than usual. Set in 15th century Holy Roman Empire, KCD is the story of Henry of Skalitz, a blacksmith’s son. 1403 Bohemia is not a stable place as the ineffective and lazy Wenceslaus IV’s reign has seen quiet grumblings amongst the populace and the decay of law and order.
Wenceslaus’ idleness doesn’t go unnoticed and foreign invaders have been a-razing. At the beginning of the game proper, players assume the role of Henry. Henry watches something terrible happen and vows revenge and to retrieve the last blade made by his father. However, Henry stumbles into something much bigger than a bandit raid.
The plot doesn’t ask for much suspension of disbelief. Kingdom Come: Deliverance does an amazing job of hurtling the player forward while grappling with its mechanics, RPG elements and sleep/eat system.
Surviving outside of towns will mean careful progress and getting to grips with lodgings, bath-houses and shops
Role With It
KC:D is as close to a ‘pure’ RPG as console owners have had in while. Absolutely everything needs training, everything decays and every stat counts. Warhorse’s attention to detail in balancing its skills and traits also deserves praise. Instead of a simplified RPG system, Warhorse went with an all-encompassing and versatile set of metrics and perks. Once a player has ranked up a few times, they should have a handle on how to drive their character in their chosen build direction.
A player can effectively play Kingdom Come: Deliverance in several ways. The bully, the sneaky archer, the silver tongue and probably a few more character builds are all viable for 90%+ of the main quest. The penultimate mission is probably the least flexible task – you really need to be effective with blunt or heavier weapons and speech.
However, the rest of the game is open for players to choose their answers to most problems. At least, once they have struggled their way through Henry’s early incompetence.
Many of the game’s skills can be levelled up with books and you need good horsemanship to traverse the ample map – the game gently coerces players in this direction and then rewards a player’s patience and perseverance when they master them
Education, Education, Education
As mentioned, Henry is a complete duffer to begin with. In keeping with the story, he is an apprentice blacksmith with absolutely no other skills – this forces players to learn the world and the game’s levelling system. Surviving outside of towns will mean careful progress and getting to know lodgings, bath-houses and shops. The early game is tough and KC:D takes many hours to get going but it prepares players for what lies ahead.
For example, Henry cannot read and is awful on a horse to begin with. Many of the game’s skills can be levelled up with books and you need good horsemanship to traverse the ample map – the game gently coerces players in this direction and then rewards a player’s patience and perseverance when they master them.
Entire towns pop from a blurry, simplified geometric mess to a slightly less blurry one at no more than two or three dozen metres
They Actually Did Bottle Bohemia
Kingdom Come: Deliverance is an incredibly ambitious game in many respects. The map is not oversized to a point of geographical inconvenience but perfectly measured for a man on a horse. The detail of KC:D‘s landscape, towns and hamlets is stunning – everything feels handmade and worn.
The village layouts make sense. Superficially speaking, it’s a slice of Holy Roman life complete with a code of law, a public that reacts to our hero appropriately and all the inconveniences of medieval living.
Out in the wilds of Kingdom Come: Deliverance are the game’s most beautiful vistas. The graphics engine struggles under its ambition in the urban areas but its lush forests, rolling hills and dirt-trails are incredible to behold. Once a player is handy enough with a weapon, simply roaming the countryside is as absorbing and delightful as any of the rest of the game.
The fauna, while glitchy, begs to be hunted. The hare, the boar and the deer are a lot of fun and very lucrative to hunt. Finding a camp filled with bandits or thieves is challenging and similarly rewarding. The mechanics for hunting, combat and general survival are exacting to a point where nothing can get truly boring.
Many players will not like being ‘abandoned’ like this – but they need to suck it up to enjoy KC:D to its fullest
Better from a Distance
Kingdom Come: Deliverance‘s dedication to detail and scope mean that up-close, the game is quite ugly. Towns and villages suffer from low-quality textures and some poor LoD swapouts. This reviewer played on PS4 Pro and found the swapouts to be very jarring. Entire towns pop from a blurry, simplified geometric mess to a slightly less blurry one at no more than two or three dozen metres.
Player models are lifeless with hilariously underdeveloped animations at times. Seeing even important NPCs marionette a farewell is an immersion-breaking experience. Voice-acting is spotty – some of the NPCs are well-voiced and enunciate realistically while others over or under-do it. This inconsistency is almost worse than all-round poor quality as the player will be whipped from their RPG hypnosis by the shouty fruit-seller or the pre-occupied blacksmith.
In Kingdom Come: Deliverance, Warhorse mix classic RPG point-to-point missions with some far more obtuse objectives
Getting Lost in the Game, Literally
When a game aims at realism, it can be expected that mission markings and instructions will be vaguer and demand more thought from the player. In Kingdom Come: Deliverance, Warhorse mix classic RPG point-to-point missions with some far more obtuse objectives.
Many players will not like being ‘abandoned’ like this – but they need to suck it up to enjoy KC:D to its fullest. The best missions in the main quest are ones where the player needs to figure it out for themselves. Skulking the bandit camp, preparing for the big raid and finding squeelers to hunt Runt will have you running circles around yourself unless you take the time to measure your surroundings, the info you have and info you need.
Timing is Everything
While RPGs have a habit of telling you to hurry but players can generally go and forget the main-quest for a while. Exploring the map, robbing everything and levelling up.
In Kingdom Come: Deliverance, events will change depending on when you initiate the quest or when you arrive. There were several junctures where I rolled up to a mission to find it had already started and my friends were in trouble. Other players I spoke to arrived on time and prepared well, making the missions easier. This agency is refreshing but adds more bugs to a buggy game.
I couldn’t climb ladders at one point. Henry was invisible in cut-scenes or would slide slowly away while his voice remained. Animals I had slain sank into the ground. Some cut-scenes caused the game to crash more than once.
Bugs, Glitches and Breaks
When the word ‘ambitious’ appears in every single preview and pre-launch PR, I get scared. Nowadays, this phrase usually means ‘broken at launch’ and Kingdom Come: Deliverance definitely falls into this category. My review is very late as you can see; not from my usual laziness but because I was sent back many hours by several bugs.
I lost four hours because I couldn’t sit down. I would lock into place next to the chair until I went into sneak mode. Unable to continue or even save the game at a proper bed, I went through all my save files before I found an unaffected one. I couldn’t climb ladders at another point. Henry was invisible in cut-scenes or would slide slowly away while his voice remained. Animals I had slain sank into the ground. Some cut-scenes caused the game to crash more than once.
The list of bugs is extensive. While Warhorse are releasing updates as soon as they can make them, expect to see many technical problems on your first playthrough. Many open-world RPGs suffer from similar issues so I am not sure how hard I can hit Kingdom Come: Deliverance‘s range of technical shortcomings.
The Witcher 3 is now a masterpiece but it was chock-full of game-breakers on launch. Anything Bethesda has ever made is riddled with them but they get a free pass from most people. However, KC:D feels buggier than these at launch, even with a 25+GB patch on Day One.
There are areas of the game that can be interpreted as ‘poor’ or ‘realistic’ depending on your point of view. The game takes hours to get going; a player won’t own a sword for over two hours. The economy is asphyxiating for the first 5-10 hours of the game; rewards are low and obligatory spending will be quite high.
I, for one, enjoyed the struggle. Being forced to learn maintenance for weapons and armour, cooking meat and vegetables I had gathered myself and doing any oddjobs I could find was how I learned the survival basics in an organic way. No overbearing tutorial, no breadcrumb trail. Players will genuinely appreciate the gear a bandit drops after a tough battle and any time a stat levels up, they will rejoice.
Pickpocketing outside the training mission is somehow even harder than Lockpicking and the penalty for getting caught is steep enough that a player will be occasionally jailed or cut to ribbons
The game’s insistence on player skill is epitomised by its incredible alchemy mini-game. A player will follow recipes they have learned by boiling a solvent like wine or oil. Grinding an ingredient, turning the hourglass, adding to the pot at the correct times etc. This particular mini-game is probably the most satisfying non-combat RPG system I have ever used. This games nobody slaved over an open fire for hours honing his craft until he had skillz like Walter of Albuquerque himself.
But for some, this may be too much to handle. Some people prefer RPGs where the economy is broken in your favour. Where nonchalantly mixing stuff together makes superstuff or where gear choice means nothing beyond higher DPS. A great number of players may not be comfortable spending a dozen hours in a low-power state, carefully selecting your next move.
Combat is imprecise in every form. Archery has no reticle and lining up a shot even after levelling up is never straightforward. Trying to follow the arrow at the off-centre angle we are presented with is unintuitive. Melee weapons attempt a For Honor–style wheel around which players direct attacks but it usually ends with spamming stabs at the opponent’s face.
Warhorse will hopefully fix some of the worst bugs that the game has to offer and on that day, we may have a classic on our hands
Probably Too Far Now
There are some skills which might have been taken too far down the ‘difficult’ route. Lockpicking and pickpocketing are exceptionally hard to begin with. Even the practice lock will eat dozens of picks. Lockpicking costs a punishing amount of coin as picks seem to break immediately. Pickpocketing outside the training mission is somehow even harder and the penalty for getting caught is steep enough that a player will be occasionally jailed or cut to ribbons.
Every other skill or characteristic can be gently trained as you carefully explore Bohemia but these two are scarcely worth the effort. As a contrast, combat can be extremely tough to begin with but their are hundreds of opportunities for a player to hone their chosen fight-craft so this area of the game seems fair.
It’s possible to fight your way to competence but it’s so difficult to succeed at level 0 in a lockpick or pickpocket mini-game that a player might avoid them. That is, until they (sort of) need these skills for one single main-quest mission.
Similarly, riding a horse will at first give a realistic dose of motion sickness as you flail about a horse that you don’t really own yet. The player is compelled to ride the horse despite the discomfort and barely notices as he/she masters the steed.
Warhorse have promised to fix this issue around lockpicking and given their speedy updates so far, I believe them. No mention of pickpocketing yet; not as much as a ‘git gud’.
Happy Ever After
Kingdom Come: Deliverance is the hardcore historical action-RPG that people have been begging for but not without significant baggage. The tremendous detail and bespoke game assets are dulled by poor texturing (on PS4 Pro, at least). Immersion is broken by jarring LoD swaps and laughable NPC animations. The game’s depth and breadth make it a slog until a player is powered-up and used to it.
KCD also suffers from many technical issues, ranging from awkward clipping to full-blown crashes. It asks a lot from players already interested in its premise and setting but gives a lot back in return. Warhorse will hopefully fix some of the worst bugs that the game has to offer and on that day, we may have a classic on our hands.