What if you stripped Skyrim of the fantastical creatures and magic? Would it still be fun? Warhorse Studios seeks to answer that question with Kingdom Come: Deliverance, their first title. Instead of dragons and Dwemer ruins, Kingdom Come takes a more historical approach. It's a risky gamble, as real life tends to be a lot more mundane than fiction. I mean, who wants to play in a world filled with disease, manure, and illiteracy?
Apparently, there's something to the combination of kings, plate and chainmail, religious intrigue, and horseriding that brings to mind Medieval Europe. Though Western fantasy includes fictional elements, the Feudal system and the arms of the time are a common thread. Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, and countless other works are similar if only for the system of governance and technology.
But does the Medieval aesthetic work in a game without all the wizardry and impossible creatures? Warhorse stripped most elements we're used to in this setting down to their real-world roots and crafted an open-world game around a story that is based on real events. Somehow, it works, not only as a basis for the plot but as the foundation for the various gameplay systems.
Kingdom Come: Deliverance Review: Futile Feudal
The game takes place in the Kingdom of Bohemia (modern day Czechia) in 1403. Politics were pretty complicated in 15th century Central Europe, so bear with me on this. A whole bunch of stuff came to a head in 1403. The Western Schism is underway, and multiple Popes are claiming leadership of the Catholic Church; a strong Holy Roman Emperor, and King of Bohemia, Charles IV had died; leaving his less than stellar son Wenceslaus IV in charge; and Wenceslauce's brother, Sigismund, who is also King of Hungary, has kidnapped his brother and is pillaging the Bohemian countryside.
Many of the nobles in Bohemia remain loyal to Wenceslaus, but Sigismund is "acting in his name," so to directly challenge him would complicate things further. Sigismund is King of Hungary by marriage, and he's just undertaken a crusade against the Turks that was a massive failure. Since he doesn't have the connection by blood to Hungary, the Hungarian nobles decide not to recognize his authority anymore. Sigismund wants to keep Hungary, so he decides that raiding Bohemia to bankroll the troops he needs to keep Hungary and his various other possessions under control is a good idea.
Of course, to the serfs, none of this matters so much. As long as they're fed and not being killed, politics is only something that affects them on the most basic level. Unfortunately for them, Sigismund's mercenaries are unscrupulous, and there's enough of them to crush any resistance the local lords can raise.
You take on the role of Henry, the son of the blacksmith of Skalitz. Skalitz is home to a large silver mine which is a primary source of income for the crown of Bohemia. Henry is a layabout, and when you take control of him at the beginning of the game, he's quite listless. I won't ruin the story for you, but quickly after you start events transpire which thrust Henry into a position that eventually involves him in the political intrigue of the day.
Kingdom Come: Deliverance: Bohemia
Though it's only a small chunk of the overall Kingdom of Bohemia, the region Kingdom Come takes place in is a gorgeous mix of the city and countryside of the 15th century. In addition to several hamlets, there are two large cities on the map which are where you can find the nobles and merchants of the region.
I played the game on PC turned up to ultra at 2K, and I think the game is gorgeous. The textures of the grass and dirt are very detailed as are the weapons, armor, and clothing. The one place where the game somewhat falls a bit flatter is on foliage. While the trees and grass are pretty, the various plants and shrubs are slightly lacking in detail in comparison. You have to get way up on them to tell, but that's a necessity at times because gathering herbs for alchemy is essential in this game.
Considering that this is technically an indie production though, the graphics are stellar. Not to be critical, but I get so used to the 8-bit, lo-fi aesthetic that most indie studios go for and I forget that some indie productions can rival AAA games when it comes to presentation. Kingdom Come runs on CryEngine 3, and it positively compares to some of Crytek's offerings. The closest comparison I can make would be Skyrim with some great texture packs and less janky animation.
Kingdom Come: Deliverance Review: Building Henry
In Kingdom Come, your stats are all influenced by your actions. On Henry's adventure, you have a ton of different approaches you can take to complete quests and fight, and it's up to you to choose what you want Henry to be good at. While Henry is his own character, with a back story, desires, and needs, you can decide how he goes about securing his destiny.
In addition to traditional RPG stats like Main Level, Strength, Agility, Vitality, and so on, there are individual skills that signify how good you are at specific actions. Kingdom Come works a lot like The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, in which the more you do something, the higher your stats go. So instead of getting a set amount of skill points to allocate when your main level raises, you continue to keep doing a particular action until it improves.
The more you sword fight, the better your sword skill is going to get. The more you get successful speech checks and haggle with shopkeepers, the higher your speech skill will get. There are also some trainers that you can pay to raise a certain skill level by one point, but there's only a limited amount of times you can do this. Additionally, you can read certain books to get a skill bump, but first, you'll need to learn how to read.
That's part of the allure of this game. Instead of starting out with infinite potential and just assigning numbers, you have to focus on practicing actions, or learning how to perform them before you can do them in-game. While you start out as a fumbling, illiterate, oaf, if you work at it you can improve whatever aspect of Henry you want, but the focus on action enhancing skills means you don't have the time to develop everything.
Kingdom Come: Deliverance: Mortal Combat
One of the things that sets Kingdom Come apart from its contemporaries is its combat system. It uses a combination of physics and stat-based aspects to simulate what combat was like in the Middle Ages. You can't just flail a sword around, hold down a button to block, or shoot a bow with 100% accuracy through crosshairs.
Striking and defending in Kingdom Come is a very time-based ordeal. Your stamina plays a vital part in your combat capabilities. Strike too many times with a sword, and you'll find yourself out of breath. Let an enemy pummel your shield, and you'll see yourself reeling from their attacks. You have to time your strikes and defense if you hope to survive, and early on it's a difficult affair.
When using a sword, ax, or mace, you'll get the option to swing from five different directions or thrust the weapon forward. To get past your enemy's defense, you'll have to pick the direction furthest away from their weapon or shield and try to hit their weak spot. Enemies have the same stamina system you do, so combat is often a matter of attrition. You have to wear a foe down and hope they leave themselves open so you can slip in a thrust or a slash. As time goes on, you'll learn combos from a trainer which help you push your enemy off guard, allowing you to stun them or causing a bit of damage. Perfect blocks, timed to an icon on-screen will allow you to negate the stamina drain from blocking, and when you raise your skill and learn the ability, allow you to counter an enemy in the same move.
However, if you're using the wrong weapon type, it can take forever to take does a foe, even if you're slipping past their guard. In 15th century Bohemia there are several kinds of armor you'll encounter, and each of them is strong against a certain weapons type. Your run of the mill bandits will often have leather armor, and thick cloth for protection, which can be penetrated by any of your weapons. However, when you start facing chain and plate mail, you'll find your sword glancing off, and you'll need a mace so you can bash the armor in. There are 14 different slots just for armor in Kingdom Come, and finding the combination that gives you the most protection from enemies is a big part of the drive to gather loot in the game.
Bows too face the same issues with plate armor that swords do. However, the bow is king in this game if you can learn to use it. You won't get to equip Henry with the stronger bows until you raise your strength some, but once you do life gets a lot easier. In melee combat, anything more than 2-on-1 is going to get you killed probably. With the bow though, you can backpedal and aim for the vulnerable parts of your enemies while staying out of their reach.
If there's one issue I have with the combat system, it's that bows are so overpowered. Once I figured out how easy it was to fight with them at close-range I rarely used my sword and shield anymore. On the flip side, aiming the bow for long-range targets is an exercise in futility, since Henry doesn't hold it in a way that makes sighting along the arrow feasible. I like the focus on authenticity, but man it's frustrating when enemy archers have 100% no-scope 360 accuracy, and I can't hit them 50 feet away.
Kingdom Come: Deliverance: The Clothes Make the Man
Henry is a serf, even if his father was an artisan and commanded a little more respect than the average peasant. Though you'll find yourself in the employ of nobles throughout the game, you're still pretty low on the totem pole. However, the way you conduct yourself will determine how many people react to you, and making sure you look nice and speak kindly is a big part of keeping your reputation up.
In the 15th-century people couldn't check your LinkedIn to see who you work for, so appearance was everything. In Kingdom Come your clothes, armor, and weapons can become dirty, broken, and stained if you don't maintain them. Depending on how you look, people may react in deference to you, in fear of you, or in disgust of you.
If you traipse through Bohemia without every washing off or having your clothes laundered, people will think you're a beggar. Dress in cheap clothing and claim you're in the employ of a noble, and people won't believe you. Try to negotiate with someone when you're covered in blood and people will fear you. Wear full plate armor with a lordly banner displayed, and people will call you a knight.
Clothes also do more than defend you. Several stats are affected by what kind you wear. If you want to be stealthy, you won't want to wear plate and chain mail; you'll want to wear light armor and cloth. If you want to improve your charisma, you can don the threads of the nobles. And, you can disguise yourself as an enemy if you wear their standards.
The reputation system is based on location, so if you do something criminal (like stealing or murder), you'll be hated and hounded in that community unless you pay a fine or do jail time. However, that won't extend to other communities, so people can love you in one town and hate you just down the road.
Also, there seems to be a reputation for the area outside of cities. While my Henry was adored by the masses in almost all towns, for some reason, the random wanderers I met during fast traveling hated my guts. I don't know whether this is a glitch or not, but for most of the game, anyone I met during a fast travel encounter hated me so much I had to pay them to talk to me. This was frustrating because several side quests and activities involve these random encounters.
The fast travel system works a bit like Fallout 2, where there is the chance for random encounters with enemies or random wanderers. Unfortunately, either through a glitch or a small pool, I kept getting the same encounters over and over, and sometimes a meeting would trigger, and no one would be there to interact with.
Kingdom Come: Deliverance: Living in the 15th Century
Henry is a regular Joe, and this means he needs food and sleep like any average person. In the game, you have to keep tabs on Henry's hunger and sleep gauges if you want to keep him at peak performance.
Eating is not only a necessity to keep him from starving to death (which can happen), it also helps to give you a slight health boost. Food items are reasonably plentiful in-game, but they also have a freshness rating you have to watch. Fresh food gives Henry health and nourishment, but if it's spoiled, it can give him food poisoning. Additionally, you can cook food to provide it with an extra boost to nourishment and make it last a little longer.
Sleep ties into your stamina. If you let your energy levels deplete too low, Henry will fall asleep on his feet and be worthless in a fight. Fortunately, finding a bed to sleep in isn't too hard. You'll have your own private bed in a few locations in the game, and you can always get accommodations at an inn for the night if you're on the road.
Kingdom Come: Deliverance: Hands-On Crafting
There are two relatively minor aspects of crafting that stood out to me, and that I loved. Kingdom Come has a robust alchemy system. You're not crafting magical potions though. Instead, you're using combinations of natural herbs to make medicines or poisons to apply to your weapons. However, the alchemy in this game doesn't just have you pick two or three ingredients and RNG whether you succeed or not. Instead, you have to brew each creation yourself.
To make a potion or poison, you have to go to an Alchemy Table. This table holds all the tools you need to craft, including your recipe book. Before you can craft an item, you need the recipe, which you can either buy from a merchant of find in-game. Once you have it, you'll have to read it. If Henry hasn't formally learned to read yet, it's still somewhat possible to decipher a recipe, but you're going to have a hard time.
Once you've learned what ingredients you need for a potion, and you've gotten ahold of them, you can start brewing. Using the Saviour Schnapps, one of the recipes you'll use most in the game (and that you start with) as an example, you'll need to gather two Belladonna and one Nettle. Once you have those, you'll need to boil the Nettle in wine for two turns of the sandglass, and grind the Belladonna in a mortar and pestle and add it to the Nettle. Then once you boil it for one more turn of the sandglass, you can pour the concoction into a phial for storage.
The process of brewing potions lends a more frantic feeling to crafting because if you deviate from the recipe, you lose the ingredients and don't get a potion you can use.
Another crafting aspect I liked was the Grindstone. You can repair bladed weapons in Kingdom Come by sharpening them on the Grindstone. Each weapon has a sweet spot that you'll have to find to sharpen it, which rewards you by throwing a shower of sparks. If you grind it wrong, though, a cloud of black smoke will billow out. If you sharpen the weapon right, you'll see its luster return, and the chips in the blade return to a fine edge. If you do it wrong, though, you'll damage the weapon further.
Both these processes give crafting a more hands-on feel that a lot of games are lacking. Mixing two components and pushing a button or just selecting to repair an item is too hands-off, and I liked getting to feel my items as I made or fixed them.
One thing I would have liked to see, that perhaps will be added in a later update, is more of Henry's blacksmith background put to use. I would have liked to have crafted my own sword or armor, perhaps with the ability to customize it. Also, repairing armor and clothing is more of a pay a vendor or press a button to use a repair kit thing, and I'd have liked to see a mini-game to repair those items like you do swords and axes with the Grindstone.
Kingdom Come: Deliverance: Saving Grace
This game is obviously more than a bit like The Elder Scrolls series, and save scumming in those games is so common it has become a "treasured" video game meme. Warhorse put the effort in to make this game feel a bit more like real life and wanted to limit save scumming by eliminating a quick save system.
There are two ways to save in the game. The one you'll depend most on is autosaving, which triggers after you sleep or after significant events in the game (like getting or finishing a big quest). However, you can create a manual save by using Savior Schnapps, an item you can craft or purchase in-game.
Unfortunately, this makes the game incredibly frustrating at times. Even when you're decked out in full plate with an excellent sword and bow, it's not hard to get overwhelmed if more than a few enemies surround you. One false move when entering an enemy camp can have you biting off more than you can chew and dying.
Additionally, more than once an autosave didn't trigger after I slept, or it triggered when I was in an unwinnable situation. This meant I had to go back to the last autosave, which is typically 30-45 minutes prior. It wouldn't be as big of a deal if the autosave system weren't sometimes bugged when you sleep, but I found myself more and more dependent on Saviour Schnapps as the game when on.
Fortunately, once you get into the game a little bit, it's not too hard to find the ingredients to make Saviour Schnapps, but woe be to you if you forget to keep one or two on you at all times.
Kingdom Come: Deliverance: Bugs, Bugs, Bugs
When you have a vast open world game with so many intricate systems like Kingdom Come, there's bound to be bugs. Unfortunately, the review copy I played on PC had quite a few of them, with the most frustrating being crashes to desktop.
The game has its fair share of harmless bugs, like your horse getting stuck in a fence or a bush when you're trying to jump over it. The solution to this is just to look away from your horse and whistle at it, and it'll unstick itself. However, some bugs are potentially game breaking. At least temporarily.
I ran into a glitch where even though you open a door, it randomly acts like it's still shut. Once, I was able to enter a room with only one entrance and exit, only to find that there was an invisible wall blocking my way out. I tried closing and opening the door again several times to no avail. The only solution I had was to pop a Saviour Schnapps and reload, which fixed the problem. However, if I hadn't have had a Saviour Schnapps on me, I would have lost 30 minutes of progress because the game decided the door was closed no matter what I did.
There are also some issues with cutscenes in the game. Several of them skipped over dialog or ended prematurely without any input. This also happened at times with dialog. There's also an issue that if you're too close to someone when you initiate dialog, the camera angles will be wonky, which takes all the drama out of a situation.
The game isn't any more buggy than Skyrim was on release, but without a quick save system, even minor bugs can be compounded. Nothing takes me out of a game more than losing progress, and it makes Kingdom Come more frustrating than it has to be.
Kingdom Come: Deliverance: A Tough Call
I love Kingdom Come: Deliverance, and it's a game I see myself playing through again multiple times. There's a lot of replay value here, with it taking around 40 hours to clear the story, and there were plenty of side quests and activities I ignored due to time constraints. The hard part about assigning a game like this a review score is that there are definite flaws that are apparent, but the wonder of the time I spent in 15th century Bohemia makes them seem trivial in comparison.
I'm scoring this game high conditionally on the anticipation that many of the issues with the game will likely be corrected pretty quickly. A lot of them seem to relate to triggers misfiring and I doubt extensive work will be required to correct them. However, before you buy, make sure you look into whether or not the same glitches are still being reported. If the same problems with the game persist, you can go ahead and deduct a half point off the total.
The save system is horrible, and there are bugs aplenty, but Kingdom Come offers a unique experience that I don't think any other title can replicate. Kingdom Come shows that historical games can work and be immensely entertaining without taking too much license with the record of events. It's an enthralling look into a time and place that isn't taught with any real emphasis in the United States and helps paint a picture outside the United Kingdom, France, and Spain that seemed to be the focal point of a lot of European History classes I've attended.
If you want a bug-free experience, don't get Kingdom Come. If you want an excellent, open-world RPG that feels like a hardcore version of an Elder Scrolls game, then don't hesitate. The fact that an indie studio was able to release this only four years after their Kickstarter is insane to me, and it's games like this that set the bar higher for AAA developers. Warhorse did a magnificent job crafting Kingdom Come: Deliverance with only a fraction of the funding that an Elder Scrolls game would receive, and I can't wait to see how it supports this game and what its future titles have in store for us.
Disclaimer: Kingdom Come: Deliverance was reviewed on PC. Copy provided by publisher.