An incredibly ambitious game that ultimately delivers.
Kingdom Come: Deliverance is a game borne of passion. Passion the art of immersive role-playing games, passion for the period of history which represents its source material, and most importantly passion for making good on over four years of lofty promises. When developer Warhorse launched their Kickstarter campaign for Kingdom Come back in January of 2014, the goal was merely to prove public interest in their idea in the hopes of securing a bigger publishing deal. While they eventually got that with Deep Silver taking on publishing duties for the game, it also went to prove just how much people resonated with the project — raising over USD$2 million and becoming one of the most successful video game projects on the Kickstarter platform.
Warhorse’s vision for Kingdom Come was simple: craft a unique open-world RPG based on a rich period of the medieval era with a steadfast focus on historical accuracy and unflinching realism. Okay… maybe not so simple. Fast forward to 2018 and the game’s long-awaited release is here, leading project backers, fans and onlookers alike to ask the same question — does this hugely ambitious passion project make good on its promise?
Starting out in the small town of Skelitz, players take on the role of Henry, son of a blacksmith and young man with a serious case of wanderlust. After running through a series of brief tutorials in the form of errands around the town, Henry unexpectedly gets his wish as a series of events leads him to being thrust out into the greater world with nothing but the clothes on his back and the sword in his hand. Kingdom Come’s story surprised me with just how engaging and well-rounded it is, something I was not expecting given the game’s proud status as a verifiably accurate facsimile of Bohemia in 1403. Henry’s story is personal and dramatic and manages to be so with nary a hint of the unreal (sorry, no magic or dragons here). Truly, the attention to detail is staggering. Warhorse went so far as to employ the help of historians to map out a significant portion of real-world 15th century Bohemia and to reconstruct the lives and livelihoods of the people in that time to a painstaking degree.
All of this obsession with realism runs straight through into the gameplay in Kingdom Come: Deliverance, and this is where the game truly stands out amongst the great open-world RPGs of our time. Unlike the protagonists in similar titles, Henry is not a magical hero amassing an increasingly overpowered collection of otherworldly weapons and powers. Henry is just a regular 15th century guy, and while he will grow stronger, wiser and better equipped over the course of this 80-plus hour adventure, he’s still as mortal as the rest of us. Fatigue, starvation, disease and even alcoholism are just as likely to end Henry’s tale early as a well-swung blade, and the game doesn’t shy away from punishing such mistakes. Checkpoints are few and far between, with the game only saving during critical story moments, when sleeping in your own bed or when drinking an expensive and precious brand of schnapps. Dying because you didn’t properly prepare for a quest or were ill-equipped in a scrap can easily undo an hour or two of play. While such harsh consequences might sting too much for some, there will no doubt be those that revel in pressure of these high stakes and there is something surprisingly refreshing about having so much control over your own wellbeing and yet being so vulnerable.
“the game truly stands out amongst the great open-world RPGs of our time.”
Probably the most enjoyable by-product of Kingdom Come’s aspirations of authenticity is in it approach to quest design, or rather, its multitude of approaches. While most of the problems Henry encounters on his journey can be solved with steel, violence is a risky proposition and often has lasting repercussions. Finding a creative solution to an objective is not only the wiser option in most cases, but can also be the most fun. Everything you do in the game influences the world around and other’s perception of you, from the clothes you wear and the wealth you possess to your personal hygiene. The game tracks an impressive number of stats relating to Henry’s social status and checks and balances them in every situation. Obtaining important information from a town’s local barkeep might be as simple as asking the right questions or loosening their tongue with some coin, or you could even attempt to intimidate them just by looking important. If all else fails, some light violence or poisoning might have to do the trick. It’s amazing just how much freedom and ‘emergent’ gameplay comes from the many systems and simulations at play, and some quests especially are designed to play out in unexpected and wholly enjoyable ways should you choose to act the pacifist.
For all of its impressive accomplishments and incredible detail, though, Kingdom Come does occasionally fold under the weight of its own ambition. While the game looks great, with its painstakingly-crafted towns and villages built from real-world knowledge and imagery and its gorgeous European landscapes, the CryEngine 3-powered visuals suffer from distracting pop-in and performance issues and some rough edges (at least on console). Animations are also jarring at times and although the smattering of pre-rendered cutscenes look quite nice, in-game characters tend to have a stilted and decidedly awkward way of moving and talking that undermines the sense of immersion just a little bit. More annoying are the numerous bugs that come as a result of so many variables in place in such a large outing. It’s not uncommon for things to break, and while most of the time glitches are the more innocuous kind with objects or NPCs doing wacky things, occasionally a bug might render a quest unnecessarily difficult, or, at worst, impossible. Thankfully, Warhorse are already hard at work on tightening up the experience and at the time of writing have released two substantial patches that drastically improve things.
Unfortunate issues aside, Warhorse have come out of the tail end of half a decade’s hard work, research and determination with a final product that they can be proud of. Kingdom Come: Deliverance isn’t a game for everybody with its punishing gameplay and history-geek sensibilities, but it wears its ideals with pride and brings a lot of fresh and well-developed ideas to the genre and will most definitely hit the right notes with its intended audience.