My experience with Kingdom Come: Deliverance has been something quite its own. The game starts you off as the son of a blacksmith—not just a peasant, rather someone who stands among the more elite of the peasantry. Think of Henry as the son of a respected local businessman. He’s poor, but not as poor as those who are not the son of a blacksmith.
The first thing that popped into my head when I started my first play session was: “Wow, this place may actually exist.” Many games use the real world as inspiration in their art and design. Fallout, Assassin’s Creed—real places showing up on a map isn’t anything new, but here it feels different. It’s that sense of immersion for which the developers have strived, the humble-looking structures and castles that really make Bohemia of the Middle Ages come to life. Normally in games, fortresses are made with a sense of scale and power to them as suited to the narrative and gameplay; each one made to look tough and imposing and, more importantly, fun to run through. And that’s where the sense of realism hits you hard in Kingdom Come: Deliverance. Everything possible was made to represent their real-world counterparts, without the glamour—function over beauty. It’s through that aesthetic the awesome look of the game shines through. From weapons and armor, clothing and muddy streets—the atmosphere of Kingdom Come has made the experience a powerful character unto itself that cannot be missed.
However—there are times I would have preferred Warhorse Studios put gameplay over realism, such as the save system (mainly due to frequent crashes I’ve experienced, which has cost me several hours of progress, to say the least) and the lockpicking mechanics coupled with the need to overcome it. Near the beginning of the game, after the world becomes open to my misadventures, I was given the opportunity to visit the local executioner and steal a ring from his abode. Whether or not you choose to take part in this particular quest is up to you, but as I’m a just an innocent, happy-go-lucky kleptomaniac, I decided to go through with the challenge. I waited after dark before sneaking into the executioner’s home, stark naked (because armor makes a lot of noise when you’re trying to play it low-key) and found myself blocked by a lock door. The quest-giver, the miller who happened to save your life by offering you a place to sleep after the events that bring you to the town of Rattay, taught me how to handle such an setback, so I thought: “Oh, this’ll be easy.”
I spent the following 2 real-world hours trying to open the door.
You see, failing to pick a lock in-game, the pick can break, making a distinct, loud, noise. The sound of the break resulted in the executioner waking up, punching me in the face and forcing me to reload a prior save if I wanted to do it right, and I did want to very much. The times I did manage to get through the door, I was met by 1 of 2 locked chests that the ring “might” be in… As you can imagine, I quickly grew frustrated, but I eventually achieved my goal. With persistence. So... much... persistence...
Obviously. I became quite proficient picking locks after that ordeal, and that’s the highlight of the realism portrayed in Kingdom Come: Deliverance. You aren’t some hero who can take on the armies of Lords and Kings by yourself. You are one man against the world and, as in real life, you learn and grow by your experiences. The same is true with combat.
When you start out, everyone you meet is better than you at everything—fistfights, swinging swords, drinking, walking, etc… It can feel overwhelming at times, especially if you’re used to the way other games treat you as the hero from the very beginning. In the Witcher 3, you’re Geralt of Rivia, Professional Monster Slayer—you carve your way through human enemies like a hot knife through butter, but with Kingdom Come, you are one of those tiny humans that are little more than fodder for more skilled opponents. It takes time and dedication, for yourself and your character, to progress in skill and ability. Essentially, the more you do something, the better you are at it.
After my great theft at the executioner’s place, the miller sent me to his buddy down the road to hand the ring off. Simple, right? I headed out straight away and was nearly at my destination when I was beset by two bandits from out of the blue. Instead of running, I turned to face them having experienced this in games all my life. My first real taste of combat in the game. Until… they got me in a few hits and started laughing at my lifeless corpse.
And I forgot to save after I got the executioner’s ring… so, I had to go through that again. Fun. *It wasn't.*
There’ve been moments of brilliance with my time with Kingdom Come: Deliverance, but there has also been one or two instances that involved me screaming at my television due to the way the game is designed; putting realism over gameplay in respect to the player.
In towns, NPC’s all have their daily routines, and some are vastly different than others. Not all the shops open at the exact same time, so you have to figure out when they do. Sometimes characters sleep in and unlike with other games, you cannot wake the majority of them up (which I found annoying). Simply, I now have to take my time in the real-world to wait for them for an undetermined set hour according to their schedules. There are times at night, when I arrived at my local lodgings after a long journey between towns, desperately needing to sleep to get my energy back up and store my overabundance of spoils taken after my revenge against those bandits that attacked me prior, that I found the Innkeeper and his Alehouse Maids asleep behind locked doors, leaving me unable to rent a room until morning (defeating the purpose). It’s the small things like that I found incredibly frustrating, aside from the far too frequent crashes. And it’s here that I would have liked gameplay to have been put ahead of realism to save my time in the real-world in a +60 hour campaign. Combined with the abnormal loading screens, taking me back to my younger days in Morrowind, that time adds up significantly.
Imagine going between your in-game map and your inventory. Basic UI that should take seconds and popping up near instantly in recent games like Dragon Age and Horizon: Zero Dawn—with Kingdom Come, there’s a noticeable delay and load period that makes you hesitate whether you want to open and switch between those screens at all. It’s not so bad to be unplayable (on the contrary), but it’s obvious the menu system could use a lot of optimization. [With the recent patches to the game, the UI seems to have been addressed by a small degree.]
That goes double for the main menu when you boot up the game. There’s a good three-minutes between seeing the last of the logo screens and when you’re able to hit “continue,” into your most recent play session, followed by another 36 second load screen. At least the time getting to the main menu is met with an artistic telling of the game’s backstory much in the sense of Wither 3's intro, comic book-style scene—but unlike in that game, in Kingdom Come, it takes quite a while before you can skip it. Follow that up with the amount of time the game makes you wait while you’re… waiting, a mechanic essentially to skip time when needed like what you'd find in the Elder Scroll’s games, but construed in the sense that it moves at a snail’s pace and goes even slower the closer the indicator gets to when you want the timer to end. That, too, can be where the developers could have put gameplay over realism to at the very least to save the player time already being spent replaying those lost 5 hours due to an unexpected crash.
Here’s the issue I feel the developers need to put to the top of their to-do list. I’m used to playing on all platforms—PC, Xbox, PS4 and Switch, but I’ve been playing Kingdom Come on Xbox, and I cannot recall the last time a game so frequently crashed that wasn’t on PC. For console players, this is understandably a low point for the game and the people at Warhorse Studios. Losing hours of progress due to an unstable build is not fun for anyone involved, and for the casual gamer, it can be enough to put them off what is an ambitious and beautiful work of historical dedication. Many times, when I was in the middle of a fight and the screen starts stuttering, I’d have to see if gameplay would continue or completely freeze and jump back to my Xbox One’s home screen. Thankfully, most of these instances were just hiccups and you’re able to play again for a while, but it’s when the game crashes, especially at an awkward time, like, before you save, that forced me to walk away from the game for several days before coming back to redo everything I had already done. What bothers me most about these moments is that they happen at times where what’s happening doesn’t seem to be demanding on the system. Majority of the instant crashes that occur are when I am fast traveling and looking at the pretty map roll by, or when I am busy doing some inventory management right before I was about to save. For a game fresh from birth, these problems are understandable, but accepting that doesn’t make them, when they happen, any less than an unfortunate happenstance that must be addressed.
[As of build 1.2.5 - I am still very much experiencing these crashes and freezing of the game.]
With all that said, I cannot tell you how much I’ve been enjoying Kingdom Come: Deliverance despite these problems. Every detail shows the pride and handcrafted care of the developers. It’s a niche concept, but one I’ve been looking forward to for a long time. Despite the technical problems with the game, the fact I keep going back to it and enjoying myself really says something about what the team at Warhorse Studios have created. The story pulls you forward, as do the side quests and activities. It teaches you rather than show you, and once you learn, you can become unstoppable. Train yourself with a wooden sword, you’re able to survive a bout against one guy. Continue to fight with a real one, and your character’s reaction time and reflexes adapt as you the player learns and adapts. It’s a wonderful experience that immerses you (sometimes too much) in the world of a bygone era; a very real, shitty world, where peasants were little more than slaves (or serfs) and history was defined by the lively exploits of the ruling classes.
One of the greatest aspects of Kingdom Come is the Codex system. The idea is nothing new to games—we’ve seen iterations in Dragon Age, Mass Effect and a variant in the Witcher series—but none were as intricate as what’s on display here. It does not only tell you about the characters you see in the game (that is the least of what it does) but it more than anything explains to you what life was like for everyday folk during the Middle Ages. You come to understand their history and their struggles, laid out in an easy to read format much in the style of Assassin's Creed. It’s what I feel more games should attempt, especially in AAA titles. I spent hours reading through the content of this codex, and I left feeling an understanding of this world I’m experiencing through the battered eyes of Henry, our blacksmith’s son.
I look forward to what Warhorse Studios has planned for Kingdom Come. I know this is but Act 1 of 3, but once they fix the technical issues that plague the game, I do believe it’s Game of the Year material for many outlets. It’s an ambitious title that fails in some areas and brilliant in others, but I cannot and will not deny the pride and talent the developers have shown. It has made one of the most memorable gaming experiences I’ve had since the Witcher 3: Wild Hunt came out and shows more heart than money-grabbing titles such as Star Wars: Battlefront 2 and FIFA. This is what a video game should be—not a service, but an immersive experience that’s so good, you can forgive the technical mishaps that are unforgivable in any other game. What Kingdom Come: Deliverance achieves is something unique, inspired by what came before, but shining with its own suit of steel-plated originality.
Addendum—as of writing this, I have since tested the limits of the combat system and tried to see how much our Henry can go up against without dying. As it happened, I attacked a town guard in Rattay and proceeded to eliminate the garrison by my lonesome. It was a lot of fun in the Grand Theft Auto rampage sort of way, and through it I found new exploits I could use when dealing with overwhelming odds. It seems if you run around and attack opponents without engaging in direct combat with them, you can pretty much defeat anyone in a few hits. Essentially, you just need to rush them. Laugh at their corpses and then loot all their stuff. That sounds horrible, and it is, but my game crashed soon after and
I luckily saved right before. I did it so you don’t have to. Goodspeed, my Henrys' of the world.