Played on Windows.
Also Available on PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.
Kingdom Come: Deliverance was released last year to a big fanfare, it was a major release as part of the Kickstarter campaign for a new game heavily focused on realism that started in 2014, though while it missed it’s release date of 2015 by a couple of years, it seemed to deliver on what was promised. But how is the game itself?
Admittedly, I’m looking at this game due to the Humble Monthly Bundle of August 2019. It’s been packaged with Surviving Mars, and while this game was on my radar, I wasn’t planning on playing it, as it wasn’t the type of game I thought I’d be interested in. But more on that later.
To start with, for a small Kickstarter game, admittedly the math is a little off. While this game earned 1 million pounds on Kickstarter, the budget of the game is about 36 million dollars from reports I’ve seen, so this is a rather major game. Though to put this in perspective, this is about half the cost of a Skyrim which originally released five years earlier than it.
Though honestly, Kingdom Come looks extremely good even without considering the budget. The world is lively and vibrant and it feels like a majority of the world has been hand-designed, rather than just procedurally generated. Towns feel like an appropriate size. Granted, they might be smaller than they should be, as I haven’t counted every citizen and soldier and their living quarters, but the world feels authentic and beautiful.
The towns in Kingdom Come are lively with several typical businesses. You can find an inn, and grocer in almost every town. Most people gather at the inn for drinks and food, at appropriate hours, but almost every house also has a cooking pot or a stove of some sort, along with a simple sleeping area. This is a world that feels more lived-in than just existing as a playground and that works. Simple things such as books are left with the scribes rather than pieces of the house. Most houses appear run down or cluttered, and many locations feel less than ideal, which gives a more realistic feel.
Once you leave one of the small towns or castles, rather than a suburb, you are transported to the outdoors and everything from wildflowers, forests, plains, and fields. While almost every path is remarkably well kept, you’ll also be able to find several well-designed areas of interest. There are a few shrines, and graves, several interesting sites, hunting locations, and even random houses in the middle of the countryside.
The towns and villages look great. Here Henry is staying in the keep but the cramped quarters feels right in some way.
The point is that everything here feels well designed, while most of the houses are very similar, that’s probably correct for the time. Similarly, castles are large semi confusing places made for fortification rather than exploration. Horse farms are large taking up wide spaces and filled with people including stable hands, rather than just the owners. Even churches are different than people expect, due to the different time period we’re in.
Much of this game revolves around realism, and that’s a theme we’ll talk about often when relating to Kingdom Come, but these pieces show a great attention to detail and push for realism. While I’m not a historian, I am acutely aware of the different layouts of the towns, and the focus on the church, which has an interesting feeling for the town design, as well as the world around it.
The one area I think the graphics struggles with is the people. Admittedly Kingdom Come Deliverance looks amazing from top to bottom, but when you start to focus in on the characters, you start to notice little problems. In the 90s, game developers and gamers were acutely aware of the “Uncanny Valley”, Kingdom Come may not have gotten the memo to steer clear of the valley.
It’s not that a majority of the characters are problematic most NPCs in the game look rather good, but those that don’t have noticeable problems. The uncanny valley highlights these issues because everything else looks almost right that a minor issue becomes a major one. The main character’s mother is a good example, she has what looks like unkempt hair, which makes sense because she works around the house and in town. The problem though is that her hair doesn’t move when she makes large moves in cutscenes because it’s not a cloth/hair sim, it’s just a model attached to the head, and it is really obvious.
I was somewhere off to her left, probably near the camera, but she talked straight forward as if she was a blind woman.
Other times I was able to make her eyes look downwards an unnatural amount where she should have eventually turned her entire head to look. Other characters have similar problems. I’ve seen everything from the main character positioned behind a pole to have a conversation, to issues with sitting and unnatural look angles. These are rare but they bring the player out of the illusion the game has set up, and admittedly, it’s the fact that so much of the game is done at such a high level of quality that these become a larger problem.
Overall though, Kingdom Come looks rather good for where it came from and the experience of everything is only enhanced by how beautiful the world can become in almost any view.
I’ve switched the order of discussion here since so much of the game’s push has been based on the quality of the realistic gameplay and experience, as such after the amazing graphics, we should talk about the gameplay.
The fact is, while this is a “hero’s journey” type of experience, our main character, Henry, isn’t exactly a hero at the beginning of the game. He’s a blacksmith’s son and with the game’s push for realism is given a low understanding of all things that make a typical hero. While the player can give two major stat points to their character at the beginning of the game, the character still will start as an extremely weak character.
In fact outside of a little sword practice that the player has with a roving mercenary, he’s not built for the game ahead of him and the player will have to guide him. Whether it be a fistfight in the opening chapters, talking to various characters, or bartering with people, every action in Kingdom Come: Deliverance grows Henry’s skills, until he starts to become somewhat respectable in those fields.
However these skill growths are quite realistic, players won’t become a great sword fighter after one lesson, and the same is true for every stat and skill Even plucking almost every herb in a massive field only gains about 5 levels, and this is after picking more than a couple of thousand flowers.
It’s an RPG, there’s going to be tons of loot to gather and eat.
There are many skills in Kingdom Come: Deliverance each with their own growth. The main level of the character is raised through individual actions not just levels acquired. Each major stat, such as strength or vitality, has its own level, and each type of combat, getting their own skill level, and then generic skills such as warfare and more.
The fact is, Kingdom Come is heavily invested not only in an RPG where you play the role of Henry but also allowing you to develop Henry throughout the game. Will he be an unskilled farmboy for the rest of his short life, a skilled orator, a stealthy thief, a great warrior, or all these things. Everything is available to the player, and the player can make Henry into any type of character as the game progresses.
The interesting thing is that much of Kingdom Come: Deliverance’s story allows for Henry to proceed as any type of character they want. Most combat in the game can be avoided whether by a silver tongue or even having other men join the cause. Where a single man might be able to beat a young Henry soundly, having three of his chums join the fight turns that same fight into child’s play.
The open nature of Kingdom Come’s world took a decent amount of time and skill to craft narrative choices, and a branching story that allows the game to accept almost any input or action from the player to continue moving the story along. This can be anything from Henry slaughtering an enemy to stealing an item, bartering for the item, or even satisfying another objective so the quest doesn’t have to be directly accomplished.
At the same time, the game script isn’t perfect. An early scene where Henry is on the run has a scene where a female character is in peril and screaming for help, and the player is supposed to go interrupt her… well, rape. Players are able and likely to ignore this point, as they are on the run themselves, or assist their friend.
This woman is telling me my way to a quest objective, but the farm she is talking about is where we are standing.
Personally, I didn’t even see this moment in the game outside of a shout where I wasn’t sure which direction it came from. At the moment I was running from oncoming enemies who had killed me a few times and were sure to do it again, but after that point, the game constantly told me that I had “Saved Theresa” including listening to it into the story and bringing it up right after. That’s a good thing, but I didn’t intentionally do that in the game. Maybe my whistle for the horse distracted them but it wasn’t something I actively did and feels like false praise.
There’s another part where there’s a hunting competition between a lord and Henry, I killed a single bunny while having difficulties with the archery system in the game, and yet was declared the winner, when I checked my inventory I had 10 hare corpses, perhaps I picked them up from elsewhere, but the game didn’t care that I only killed one hare, it gave me the win and again treated me as I had done such.
The game’s script is easy to break in these ways. I didn’t find any way to permanently break it or to do so on purpose, it just is set up that I was awarded wins and accolades I didn’t deserve and it made me feel more like a liar than anything. It’s not that I was trying to or actively lying to the Lord, as the game could have called it out, and gave the player a feeling for that, it’s just that the game incorrectly assumed I won.
Speaking of the difficulties with the archery system, that is the one place most players will need to consider when looking at Kingdom Come Deliverance. The realism pushed by Kingdom Come: Deliverance is mostly in the combat.
Swordfighting is done through a six-point system, where the sword can be held to attack the left or right upper or lower body, the head, or a stabbing attack. Each region can also be defended against, though it seems players can defend from almost any attack by holding the “Block” button, so while directionality does look interesting, it appears the block system only uses that for the speed of defense.
Sword fighting with this system is quite interesting and with some tweaks, I might have found it better. Though Sword fighting tends to have two major problems. At the beginning of the game, Henry is unskilled with it. The one lesson he gets doesn’t give him an advantage. The problems begin with most enemies being relatively skilled with the sword. I struggled to find targets where I could practice my sword fighting and in the story that we’ll talk about in a moment, there’s only two real training session before your first real fight, which you will get demolished in.
Sword fighting was always going to be a major skill, this is one of two “Safe” battles, but it’s still challenging.
I focused more on avoiding sword fighting when possible, as when sword fights did come up in the game it often required unskilled Henry fighting against skilled swordsmen or two or even three swordsmen at a time. This becomes a problem as this isn’t a game where the play is intended to take on multiple enemies at least at the beginning.
There is a giant melee much later in the game where I found myself having a better time, and enjoying these large scale battles. It made me wish this is where the game started with the sword fights. Giving the player multiple targets, as well as an ability to get around the enemy’s block easily and then be able to block themselves while giving more of a chance to learn the skills, as well as getting experience without worrying about being trounced.
Sadly, this melee was right before a major boss encounter which forced my mostly unskilled Henry, now bleeding from the melee into a critical battle against one of his major foes. I was unable to get an attack in and ultimately fell to him quickly every time I attempted it. This was the first real combat that didn’t allow a speech check or another way around it, suddenly sword fighting is mandatory, and unless players heavily worked on this, it’s going to be a problem.
As much as I enjoyed the sword fighting, the way the game presented it at first as something to avoid, and continue to give the player very challenging fights, made it clear that it was something I wanted to avoid, rather than spend valuable time on. If the game had a better ramp up perhaps I’d have stayed with it, but finally, when it became a mandatory event, I realized how much I neglected it due to speech being a more usable skill.
The same is true for Archery and lockpicking, though at a greater level. Archery requires a limited ammunition, which I’m sure players can find somewhere, though would be a large expense, and yet I struggled to find a seller, though I’m sure some are out there. With twenty arrows I was only able to hit a single bunny, mostly due to no firm targeting reticle, a shaky hand, and a moving target. Just learning the game’s physics was challenging, which changes depending on the arrow.
But, this is the intended experience. Players need to expect a very large skill barrier to many actions that games tend to give away and, honestly, I get the idea. The idea of challenging players to become better at archery, combat, and lockpicking, not through picking up a controller but investing game time, and energy to learn the skill is clever and is one of the much-heralded features of the game.
The issue I found with it is that there’s not a clear way to get a large number of arrows or lockpicks, which I actively did look for and didn’t find a seller for picks. Nor is the player given chances to practice these features before the game threw me into the deep end. Even when the game offers a practice session, those tend to only last a handful of arrows or 10 lockpicks, and in the lockpick experience, it began on an “Easy” chest, with limited instruction, when there are “Very easy” locks that probably should have been the starting point.
While I find these features to be frustrating, I do really appreciate the idea, the player must spend multiple hours or days to become proficient at any skill, and that idea really works, it speaks to a larger idea of realism in games, and while I would hate for this to become the norm, in one game I like it as an idea. The part that can be frustrating is that players will have to look where to buy arrows or lockpicks that break a bit too easy, as well as places to practice all these skills as the game doesn’t seem ready to give those.
The bigger problem is the community around it has already found the solutions and they’re not great. Players can knock out characters of the main story using stealth, lay them on tables and attack them repeatedly to raise their level to the max 20. There’s a list of places to practice your lockpicking as well. Yes, the realism is better, but the fact is, players are forced to game the system in many of these cases because players aren’t given solid ways to practice their skill as they should be. And maybe part of that is due to the story.
We finally reach the story. We have a good looking game, and very realistic gameplay and stat systems.
To start with, I want to say I think many parts of the story work well. The writing is well done, the voice acting is solid, though the lip sync can be a bit off, possibly due to the computer hardware and load times. The characters and motivations are well designed and Henry connects with several interesting and unique character.
The character designs and looks are really good. I really enjoyed the story that I saw.
The problem I really have with Kingdom Come’s story is that over the span of three to four in-game days, I was a blacksmith’s son, a refugee fleeing from raiders, standing watch on a castle wall, a town guard, a lord’s page, and then joining a rather major lord’s service.
Yes, Kingdom Come is extremely realistic in how it’s portrayed the middle ages, the time period, the fighting, even the turmoil. The problem though is that it is highly unrealistic in how fast our character is promoted, and this combined with the inability to train sword fighting or archery in a reasonable time makes the game both harder and feel off. Even having a simple sparring match before each of these promotions or making the player demonstrate some skill would have given the player a reason to focus on specific skills, but if you can walk around the town one time as a town guard, you’ve done enough, you’re instantly promoted.
The other side of this is that you can’t really “do” these jobs. While I find the radiant quests of Fallout rather pointless, due to the fact they aren’t needed, Kingdom Come definitely could have benefited from the same radiant quest system, giving Henry jobs and tasks that involved practicing his skills, whether they be sword-fighting or archery. Instead, the game seems to urge you forward with the story so fast that you’ll be rushing to the next major “job” before you even performed your last one.
One last interesting thing is that the armor that Henry wears can effect the view the player has which is a nice touch.
In fact, Henry tends to fail these early jobs more often than succeeding at them, whether it’s abandoning his post, getting scolded for fighting, or almost losing the lord he’s a page to, Henry’s success rate is a bit low in the early days, and yet again he’s constantly promoted to higher and higher positions.
It feels off, in that Henry really could have done more with the story, or the story could have been slower to develop since much of the game relies on slower progression. If Henry walks off and becomes a great swordsman before taking on his first job, it would be fine to allow him to progress quickly, but Kingdom Come allows the quick progression even if Henry is barely more than a farm boy. They give him the position of a soldier, the job of one, and yet have provided the skills to do little more than beat a training dummy.
Yet again, I do say that the story writing and elements are well done, it’s just a major problem of pacing and not testing the player to ensure he’s worthy of each title he earns.
Now sadly, I also have to admit that I haven’t been able to finish Kingdom Come: Deliverance. I reached a point where the story got me into a major fight and I wasn’t prepared for, and while I couldn’t beat that fight, I also wasn’t that interested in continuing the story. This is after about 20 hours of the game, and from what I read, there’s at least double that involved in the story.
Now I do like to finish my games so I can fully review the game, I will say that I don’t see any real change to my ratings, while the later hours will flow better, and from what I have read they are, I also am not that interested in continuing on myself. Kingdom Come: Deliverance is a solid game, good story, and interesting characters.
But I think that the skill system is the litmus test of the game. If players enjoy working their skills up rather slowly or finding exploits that allow that as well, then Kingdom Come: Deliverance will delight them. While the combat isn’t 100 percent time period accurate, as sword fighting would be a little faster, essentially the first landed hit would likely also be one of the last, and it was a lot faster than this game appears. However, it’s a much more in-depth system than most RPGs and worthy of the praise.
At the same time, while I criticize the story speed in the early moments it’s a great tale, it’s just when one looks back at it, it’s unrealistic, which is strange when everything else pushes the believability of the experience.
What I’m saying is that Kingdom Come is fine for the right type of player, the one who wants to earn his rewards, stats, and victories. I think a majority of players will want to quickly rise to the “hero” role and ascend to the main character status. It’s more frustrating here because the story pushes that quick ascent to these lofty roles without skill checks, and personally, while I found the swordplay to be interesting, I didn’t find a game I wanted to continue to the end.
Ultimately I give Kingdom Come: Deliverance a
Final Thoughts: A very realistic game, that may be too realistic for its own good, but if one wants to feel like they are part of the middle ages or sword fight for real, then this is worth a look.
Stats 20 hours played, 6/82 achievements earned. Did not finish the game.