Game name: Kingdom Come: Deliverance
Release date: February 13, 2018
Price: US$ 59.99
Available on: Steam
Developer: Warhorse Studios
Publisher: Warhorse Studios
First person action RPGs are nothing new, but they usually involve magic spells, made-up continents and world threatening crises. Enter Kingdom Come: Deliverance, a title that promises to give us all the dungeons we crave without the pesky interference of mythological reptiles or wizards of legend. Developed by Warhorse Studios, a team of industry veterans with beloved titles such as Mafia 1 and 2 under their belt, this new game is the closest thing we can get to a modern first person CRPG.
Kingdom Come will not have us slaying dragons or saving humanity, instead choosing to cast the player as a nobody caught in the middle of a conflict he’d rather skip than face head on. When developers Warhorse decided to forego a character creation suite in favor of a set protagonist, they did so with a specific reason in mind, which is that our hero is just a blacksmith’s son, a decidedly average young man who needs to eat and sleep just as we do (thankfully, the food/energy meters deplete slowly enough to never become a nuisance).
The “down to earth” approach carries over to other aspects of the game, with the map taking the spotlight in an era where everyone is trying to sell us the biggest playable area. Instead of opting for that route, Warhorse focused on a small area where there are no major cities, and everyone knows someone from the neighboring towns. Here, a nobody like Henry can realistically become a recognizable figure as his adventures unfold, since we are talking about an area that wouldn’t even warrant a small province in a game like Wildlands. Of course, in order to make such a small area entertaining enough to be interesting after we’ve spent a hundred hours exploring it, the developers have filled it with stories and characters that not only make sense regarding the setting, but also add a much welcome human flavor to the proceedings. Camps in the woods will be full of life and activity during the day, with the workers going to sleep at night, taverns host the usual dice players and drunkards, and street vendors will try to get us to buy their merchandise as we move past them.
Go into the woods, and bandits might try to surprise you, or over-eager knights will chivalrously challenge Henry to a duel in abandoned crossroads, hoping to make some extra pennies or bolster their honor with a dubious victory over a small town blacksmith’s son. Wild animals follow their own daily routines, and poachers stalk their prey with ruthless efficiency, claiming innocence if caught (and sometimes even trying to pin their crimes on us).
Most quests will also deviate from standard open world tropes, dropping the infamously classic fetch quests in favor of more elaborate tasks that can be completed in all sorts of ways. Time will not always be on our side when completing jobs for the game’s NPCs, a mechanic that is cleverly introduced during the tutorial sequence (Henry’s father asks for some beer, and should we waste time on other endeavors after obtaining said beverage, it’ll be hot upon delivering it, thus teaching us that some quests have time limits, and that food will spoil after a while).
Our actions within the game world will not only impact the outcome of the quests we are currently pursuing, but also affect the populace’s opinion of Henry, and many quest chains are actually linked, with certain paths closing or opening, as dictated by our reputation and our choices. For instance, should we get caught engaging in unlawful activities in a certain town, the guards will not only subject us to a hefty fee (or some days in jail) but will also pat us down every time we enter that area, reminding us that we aren’t welcome there. This will also lead to important characters refusing to interact with Henry unless he improves his standing in the town (through good deeds or generous donations, a mechanic that probably references the sale of indulgences during that period). Conversely, if we don’t engage in unlawful activities (or are never caught in the process), people will soon learn our name and greet us with joy every time we enter a location we’ve already visited.
Being well liked in a specific town can be a boon during conversations that require stat checks, although players who prefer to be known in a more negative way will quickly discover that the developers have also planned for that playstyle with some perks that will open up conversation lines that would otherwise be hidden away.
Our clothes will also affect other people’s opinion of us, with most NPCs reacting favorably to Henry’s presence if he’s clad in a clean suit of armor or expensive linens. This system also lets us infiltrate locations held by an enemy presence, as factions that wear specific equipment will take us for one of them if we show up in their colors (this can be a double edged sword though, since friendlies will attack us on sight should we wear a specific enemy faction’s armor).
Moving on to Kingdom Come: Deliverance‘s combat system, we’ll quickly learn that Henry is anything but a trained fighter, so our first encounters with armed men may not end very well, forcing us to surrender, or even use underhanded tactics in order to gain the upper hand. The game simulates sword-fighting with a system quite similar to the one used in Ubisoft’s mostly excellent For Honor, though instead of confining us to three main attack directions, we’ll have to contend with six. A stamina meter is also in play, leaving us relatively defenseless once depleted, and forcing us to think before we attack. Enemy blows can be blocked or parried, and the same is also true for our attacks, so button mashers will be rewarded with a swift death should they ignore the nuances of the combat mechanics.
This system isn’t always perfect, and during my time with the game I frequently had issues keeping my targets locked, since it would seem that my mouse’s sensitivity settings were affecting the engine’s ability to track fast movements. I did not run into this problem when I tested the gamepad controls, so players who prefer to use that control method should have a better experience during fast paced melee combat scenarios.
Advancing through the combat-focused skill trees, we’ll unlock new combos (which must be memorized, as the game won’t provide combat-related tips in the HUD, in order to avoid clutter and add more challenge to the proceedings) and perks that can make our life easier should we decide to pick a fight with a well equipped opponent.
Gamers who don’t wish to get their hands dirty in messy melee situations can always opt for the ranged option, pulling out a bow and trying to pierce the enemy’s vital organs with well placed shots. Of course, Kingdom Come‘s semi-realistic approach extends to ranged combat too, so we’ll have to deal with a crosshair-less HUD, stamina management, and stagger animations that can cancel our shots if we get hit by an over-eager foe. Wearing plate armor will let us shrug off most blows, so it’s actually possible to play as a close quarters archer if that’s our wish (I got through a story-mandated duel using only bow and arrow, though I wouldn’t recommend this playstyle for most people). Aside from the stats increases bestowed upon us when acquiring new bows, we’ll also be able to use different kinds of arrows, with some being perfect against armored enemies, others against animals, etc.
Armor and weaponry play a big role in this world, not only limited to small stats increases, but actually governed by real-life use of medieval combat equipment. For instance, Henry won’t just equip a suit of plate armor like an Elder Scrolls hero would, instead having to mix and match different layers of protection in order to carefully balance weight and effectiveness in battle. A closed helmet will impede our vision, but at the same time, wearing it will prevent protect us from head injuries that would otherwise take us down surprisingly quickly.
Keeping in tone with the game’s realistic approach to combat, we’ll have to take care of our equipment, cleaning our clothes and weapons regularly, and taking them to armorers/blacksmiths lest they become useless. Should we forget to do this, other characters will regularly comment in the state of our equipment. Thankfully, Kingdom Come never goes overboard with the duration systems, so unless we are truly careless, we shouldn’t experience instances of prized weapons breaking down.
Weapons will require that we have a specific amount of points in certain stats, or they won’t perform as efficiently as they normally would. Interestingly, those stat points will be earned through ingame actions, and not through the classic XP bar method. For instance, if we need to buff our strength stat, we should try getting into fights (which will also increase our proficiency with whatever weapon we are using at the moment). The same goes for stealth, speech, lockpicking, etc. The more we use a certain skill, the higher it will level up.
Should we need a temporary boost for any reason, we’ll probably be able to obtain it through the use of potions (which must be crafted on an alchemy station or bought from an apothecary), Of course, since most of these items use an alcohol base, we might experience unfortunate side effects that will affect other stats negatively.
Alchemy depends on the player’s reading skill, which must be learned through a short questline unlocked shortly after we finish the tutorial section. We’ll have to obtain the ingredients ourselves, through simple gathering (which can be quite bothersome, since the game forces an animation upon us every time we pick up a plant) or from merchants that sell their wares in town markets. An interesting minigame will take place every time we wish to craft a potion, and we’ll have to add each ingredient manually, minding the correct order, the base for each beverage, and whether or not the liquid should be boiled beforehand. Once we’ve created a potion, if our alchemy skill is high enough, we can choose to auto-craft it the next time we need it, though we’ll still have to use an alchemy station in order to do this.
Kingdom Come‘s commitment to realism doesn’t always shine though, with small details becoming a nuisance as the story progresses. Until a recent patch, gamers weren’t allowed to save their game unless they had access to a relatively pricey potion or an owned bed, for instance (the 1.30 patch introduced a save on exit option that improves the experience in a massive way) and other quirks, such as the way the combat system works at the beginning of the game can conspire to ruin our day if we aren’t careful. Thankfully, Warhorse Studios isn’t a team of sadists, so there are many ways of getting past these obstacles, as well as certain concessions to make the gameplay more fun and engaging, such as horses that teleport to our location at the press of a button, or the aforementioned stat boosting potions. Player agency seems to be the name of the game here, and we’ll always be rewarded for thinking outside the box. As an example, there’s a story quest that seemingly forces Henry to disguise himself as a novice in a church in order to be able to identify and kill/abduct a criminal that’s hiding under the guise of a fellow novice. We could follow the instructions that appear on our quest log and follow the dreadful daily routine of the monks, forced to attend mass, create potions for a master alchemist, engage in nocturnal sneaking, etc. or we could simply infiltrate the monastery and kill our quarry without ever donning a habit. This freeform approach to problem solving will appear during most of the story quests, giving us a big incentive to replay the game with a different mindset.
Sadly, it would seem that building a believable (and highly playable) simulation of the Middle Ages requires quite a bit of horsepower and development time, so the game’s technical aspects aren’t as polished or optimized as I would have hoped. The quality of the visual assets in use is excellent, and it contributes a lot to the player’s enjoyment of the game world (forests were a highlight for me, as they were incredibly detailed and populated, something that so far has only been achieved by survival games that don’t need to simulate full towns, or titles of the caliber of The Witcher 3) but there’s a big downside to this visual fidelity however, which is that Kingdom Come‘s streaming engine doesn’t seem to be able to keep up with all the detail being thrown its way, and even high end machines will sometimes struggle with the texture loading process, resulting in characters that appear right before our eyes, or transform themselves from almost unrecognizable shapes into high-poly models. Gameplay bugs will rear their ugly head from time to time, ranging from weird physics malfunctions to missing quest characters, and other issues.
Performance also suffers, and the loading times can become unbearable if the game isn’t running from an SSD. On our 4K testbed (Ryzen 7 1700, 32GB DDR4 3200, GTX 1080ti), we had to lower the resolution down to 1440p in order to achieve playable framerates, and a lower end machine equipped with a 3rd generation i5 and a GTX 1070 struggled to maintain 40fps. Thankfully, the developers are aware of these issues, and they are actively working to alleviate them. The latest patch removed the loading screens that popped up before each conversation (one of my biggest gripes with the game) and performance has been somewhat improved on our high end setup.
Technical woes aside, Kingdom Come: Deliverance can proudly stand in the company of giants such as the Elder Scrolls series, even surpassing the latest entries in that venerable franchise when it comes to immersion and player agency. Its commitment to realism and historical accuracy may scare away some potential players, but those who decide to give the game a go may very well end up discovering their next favorite in the crowded first person RPG niche.
9/10 – Great.
PS: I am aware of the controversy surrounding the game’s director, but as far as I am concerned, this is a project created by a team of more than a hundred developers working towards a common goal and not the work of a single man. Condemning (or punishing) a group of people for the beliefs of a single individual within that group does not seem to be a rational thing to do in my humble opinion, and I haven’t been able to find any evidence that Mr. Vávra’s personal ideology affected the game in any way.