Kingdom Come: Deliverance is an open-world RPG set in the 15th Century kingdom of Bohemia (modern-day Czech Republic). Starting out on Kickstarter back in 2014, this ambitious project promised to provide a realistic medieval experience with large-scale battles, several different play-styles and emergent gameplay. While the final product ultimately fails to deliver on many of its lofty promises, Kingdom Come: Deliverance is commendable in its quest to at least try to be original and authentic. Regardless of its shortcomings, and they are numerous, it’s difficult to argue that there’s anything else quite like Kingdom Come currently on the market.
You play as Henry, the son of a blacksmith in the small mining village of Skalitz. Henry is unremarkable in every way, he’s not particularly good-looking, he’s not inexplicably talented at archery or swordplay, nor does he discover some magical object that endows him with special powers. He’s just another illiterate peasant learning his father’s trade, trying not to catch the plague and daydreaming of being a knight. This simple life is violently disrupted however by the usurper King Sigismund arriving with his army, who promptly try and erase Skalitz from the map. As one of the few survivors, Henry is taken under the wing of a local lord and is soon swept up in a world of politics far greater than himself.
If you’ve ever played an Elder Scrolls game or the first title in the Witcher trilogy, then you’ll know what to expect from the general vibe of Kingdom Come: Deliverance. A lush, immersive world rendered in a decidedly grounded style. Houses, barns, stables, taverns, castles, all feel far more realistic and true-to-life than other games in this genre. Even the various roads, trails, muddy market squares and hunting tracks feel like places I’ve walked in real life, as opposed to just being a slightly different texture among the endless grass. The same can be said for the natural landscape: forests are dense and intimidating, rivers wide and often impassable and cliffs pose a real threat to those who dare get close to the edge.
This same unique sense of realism permeates the narrative and gameplay itself. Your clothes and armour will get damaged in fights, if you don’t clean yourself regularly people will react accordingly during conversations. You have to make sure Henry gets enough rest, as well ensuring he doesn’t go hungry. Individual parts of Henry’s body can be injured, for example, slipping down a cliff can cause damage to your feet, meaning for a certain amount of time you won’t be able to sprint. The fancier your clothes and armour, the better people will treat you and vice versa.
The implementation of all these realistic mechanics put me in a rather unfamiliar position when playing these types of RPGs: I wasn’t sure what to expect. I found myself asking questions that would never have occurred to me playing a game like Skyrim, for example. If I sleep in a full set of armour, will Henry be less comfortable and therefore wake up less energised? I wasn’t sure, but I wanted to meet the game halfway. Because Kingdom Come presents a realistic world, the role-playing element is more appealing too. It’s refreshing to not necessarily know exactly what to expect from a game.
In a similar vein to The Elder Scrolls series, Henry improves his abilities simply by repeating them. If you keep banging away at bandits with your sword, your sword stat will increase. The more you drink, the more alcohol you’ll be able to tolerate and so on. There is an impressive array of these skills, from herbalism and alchemy, lockpicking and pickpocketing all the way down to horsemanship and hunting. Each of these skills has their own set of perks, which are unlocked with points gained from levelling up said skills. It’s a familiar system but one that fits in very well with a realistic world, it’s extremely gratifying to go from struggling to shoot a hare from 2 metres away, to landing an arrow right between the eyes of an enemy soldier.
Melee combat is as unique as it is clunky. When engaged in combat you lock on to your enemy and the crosshair takes the shape of a five-pointed star, with each point representing one of the directions you can move your weapon. Moving the mouse up to the top point will enable you to strike at your enemy from overhead (with the left mouse button) or alternatively block and incoming overhead attack from your enemy. The same goes for every direction. You press ‘Q’ to block and/or parry, with a little green shield icon appearing in the middle of the star indicating the window for a successful parry. On paper, this seems appropriately manual for a realistic game, but unfortunately, it doesn’t flow anywhere near as smooth as it needs to. Switching targets is spotty at best, turning to face a different enemy often caused me to spin around completely, it’s not always clear when you’ll be able to execute a parry, but most importantly: it’s just not that fun.
There’s a fine line between fun and frustration when it comes to realistic mechanics in video games and Kingdom Come’s journey along that line is often shaky. What makes this much, much worse is how riddled with bugs and performance issues this game is. The main reason this review is so late is that for a period of around three weeks I could not progress the main story due to a bug that somehow stopped a cutscene, and thereby the next quest, from triggering. Performance is pretty unstable across the board but bearable for the most part with the exception of the larger skirmishes that involve 10-20 soldiers where the FPS dropped to an absolute slideshow.
These “large-scale” battles that were one of the main features of the Kickstarter are an all-around mess. A cutscene would play featuring hundreds of men, which then transitioned to gameplay and it’s just Henry and six other guys who have been conveniently tasked with doing something far away from the main fight. There were other in-game cutscenes that completely broke, one played the subtitles of a rather significant battle along the bottom of a silent, black screen. Another had what was clearly meant to be a shot of a battle, but showed only one soldier standing there awkwardly. Given how pivotal these battles are in the narrative, it’s a real shame they don’t meet the otherwise completely serviceable story and dialogue.
The script overall is good, with some decent voice acting across the board. There are a handful of rather stilted performances, but these are found mostly with the supplementary characters rather than any of the main cast. My bigger issue with the voice acting is the bizarre decision to use American voice actors for a fair number of characters, including one of the main Lords Henry will be dealing with. On one hand, I can concede that English accents in 15th Century Bohemia don’t make much sense either, but somehow an American accent is far more jarring.
Kingdom Come: Deliverance is an ambitious title that prides itself on doing something that most other games with this kind of budget simply aren’t doing. Realism permeates every aspect of this world from the carefully designed landscape, villages and castles, to the demanding combat, survival elements and armour degradation. This ambition is unfortunately built upon unstable foundations, with bugs that stop progression, break immersion and turn what should be an impressive final act into a tedious slog. Ultimately its scope is both its downfall and exactly what makes Kingdom Come: Deliverance worth checking out. If you have a high level of tolerance for jankiness, performance issues, bugs and glitches and value realistic, sim-like RPGs, then don’t let my score dissuade you.
Kingdom Come: Deliverance was reviewed on PC with a Steam code provided by the publisher.