«Kingdom Come: Deliverance»: So real you can smell the steaming horse poop
Games generally start with a bang: In «Sykrim», a fire-spewing dragon prevents your execution at the very last moment. During the first mission in «The Witcher 3», you are battling against an enormous bird of prey with your sword and crossbow. In «Kingdom Come: Deliverance», you are hurling – wait for it – horse manure against the wall of a house because its inhabitant badmouthed the king. The debut of the young Czech studio Warhorse doesn’t aim to be an over-the-top fantasy saga. Instead, the realistic medieval RPG «Kingdom Come: Deliverance» is down to earth and refreshingly different.
It’s 1403 and Bohemia (today’s Czech Republic) is plagued by unrest after the decease of King Charles IV. You play Henry, a blacksmith’s son. You’re neither a chosen one nor do you have super powers a voice that can hurl people through the air. Henry is a regular guy who is involuntarily involved in a bloody civil war against. As is typical for role-playing games, you embark on several quests, battle against bandits, find superior equipment and discover new places. The difference to other RPGs is that everything unfolds at a leisurely pace. This means you can truly immerse yourself in the world around you – a definite highlight of the game.
Medieval to the core, except sometimes
Warhorse put a lot of effort into recreating 15th century Europe as accurately as possible. Take the geography for example: The landscapes, houses and streets were reproduced to the T, paying great attention to detail with the help of historical data and satellite maps. And it shows. The world that was created feels real. If you see a house by a river, it looks like it belongs there. In other words, the world created for this game looks legit and not like the result of somebody’s fantasy. I’ve never felt quite as transported back to the Middle Ages than in this game. Although the creators of «Assassin’s Creed» also went to a lot of trouble to reproduce historical worlds, the gaming aspect was still at the forefront. «Kingdom Come: Deliverance» feels like the most mind-blowing and vivid history lesson ever.
I’m definitely not the most patient of gamers but had absolutely no problems travelling long distances on foot. On the contrary. I enjoyed the surroundings and took in every little detail and the people going about their daily business in a (mostly) very lively world.
Unfortunately, even «Kingdom Come: Deliverance» fails to keep up the illusion at all times. For example, I’m one of the only people travelling on horseback – this would have been highly unlikely at the time. Or take the miller who’s still lugging around sacks of flour at ten in the evening. Or being followed by the entire garrison for assaulting the town watchman. Or being held accountable for a murder in the forest, even though the rabbits and wild boar will hardly be called to the witness stand. Moments like these gnaw away at the medieval magic. Fortunately, these moments are rare.
What’s more, you won’t encounter a single person who is black, fat (except perhaps Hanush) or of short stature. Everybody’s white and of average height. This could be connected to the studio’s chief designer’s allegedly dodgy views on minorities and migrants. And frankly, this leaves a bitter aftertaste.
Not being swamped with quests adds to the overall atmosphere. They’re manageable and seem like they would have actually been taken on by somebody in Henry’s shoes. He starts off by earning a few pennies with small jobs collecting things, running errands or hunting. Later, some of the quests involve exorcisms, horse murderers or missing priests. The scenarios are almost always believable, pleasantly diverse and can often be solved in many different ways. Despite all of this, Henry is not the most interesting of fellows. But this only puts a tiny dampener on the story.
Life in the Middle Ages was tough
Henry needs to eat and sleep regularly. What’s more, he needs to make sure the apples and pancakes in his inventory don’t turn mouldy as this could give him food poisoning and have a negative effect on his health. Be careful not to collect everything in sight. If you’re caught stealing, you’re thrown in a dungeon. This has a negative effect on your relationship with NPCs.
However, your stealing skills only get better if you regularly make use of the five-finger discount. In «Kingdom Come: Deliverance», practice makes perfect. A lot of physical activity improves your vitality and increased swordplay make your weapons skills better. Skills are taught by certain people (mostly for money). And last but not least, you also receive experience points which can be invested in various perks. Less bleeding, a better bearing load or advantages in talks with aristocracy. All of the above gives you a lot of flexibility.
And now for the combat system. Here too, Warhorse has opted for a realistic approach. Enemies without heavy armour kick the bucket after about two solid blows. The same applies to you. Your adversaries can be attacked from various directions and you can choose between tricks, blocks and counterattacks. Basically, the system allows dynamic battles that require reaction and tactics. Unfortunately, you will often encounter enemies with perfect blocking skills and endless stamina that will not hold back when it comes to destroying you with combination blows. Fistfights are also on the chaotic side and tend to end in a clicking frenzy until the enemy finally hits the floor. Nonetheless, I found the fights to be challenging and diverse. Except for archery without a target cross, which is extremely tricky to master. However, the game is supposed to be realistic, right?
The technology is a double-edged sword
If you see Cryengine, a hunger for hardware is bound to follow. «Kingdom Come: Deliverance» is incredibly easy on the eye. But the detailed surroundings, light effects and high-resolution textures come at a price. Even with a GTX 1080 Ti, there’s no way I can play at 3440 x 1440 pixels with a constant 60fps on ultra. However, as this is not a shooter game that requires lickety-split action, it is still very enjoyable with fluctuations between 30–50 fps. What’s more, it still looks very nice on high or medium.
Only the facial animation is a bit wooden. Luckily, the English dubbing voices almost make up for this drawback.
The lowdown: A somewhat bumpy but worthwhile ride into medieval times
The realistic world of «Kingdom Come: Deliverance» truly captivated me. The picturesque landscapes, massive castles and hustle and bustle in the streets create a unique atmosphere. If you’re looking for a little decelaration and have time to immerse yourself into the game, you’ll thoroughly enjoy historical Bohemia. The story is captivating and will keep you keen for hours with its many quests. Nonetheless, the lazy game tempo and certain very rudimentary tasks are not for everyone. Plus the fact that you’re not entirely free when it comes to saving might also annoy a lot of gamers. But it does effectively prevent players from constantly robbing people or trying to open every treasure chest just because they can. This makes the game even more realistic. In any case, mods are available for this problem (at least for PC).
On the downside, you pay a high hardware price for the fancy graphics, and a multitude of bugs somewhat dampen the overall gaming experience. This is no high-end AAA game. But if you’re into a more rustic kind of experience, «Kingdom Come: Deliverance» does not disappoint. It’s a very ambitious game that will have more than just medieval enthusiasts excited.