You are the chosen one, and the only person who can possibility save our world! That is a sentence that you will never hear in Kingdom Come: Deliverance, a realistic RPG that will test your patience as much as your combat metal. But don’t worry, that’s a good thing.
Kingdom Come: Deliverance comes from new developer Warhorse Studios, and could very well be the most ambitious project to ever come out of an indie studio. Sure, that means that Kingdom Come might lack a bit of the polish of a AAA title, and had quite a few funny and frustrating bugs in the early days, but the game is mostly stable now about a month after its release.
Warhorse wanted to change the way that people thought about role-playing games, and for the most part, they succeeded in a huge way. Kingdom Come features a large open world that corresponds to the old-world land of Bohemia, which today would be part of the Czech Republic. Many of the surviving old castles, monasteries, towns and landmarks found there today are represented in the game, as well as quite a few that existed at the time, but were since destroyed. Every effort to faithfully recreate life at that time, around 1403, has been made. As such, life is hard, and sometimes cheap, but you won’t find any elves, dragons or wizards wandering the countryside. Well, you might find one sort-of wizard, but he’s just a charlatan.
In Kingdom Come, you are not a knight, or a prince or even a captain. You begin life as a blacksmith’s boy. Everyone calls you a peasant, especially the nobility you cross paths with, though technically you are either a merchant or tradesman in terms of social class. Anyway, you are near the bottom of society’s rungs, though as you get out and explore the world, you will realize just how great your life is compared to many other people. Your age is not really defined, but you are probably somewhere between 16 and 20, old enough to have a fiancé, but still considered somewhere between a boy and a man by everyone in the town where you live, including your parents.
The first couple hours of Kingdom Come is almost idyllic. You fool around with your friends getting into trouble around town, tossing dung at someone’s house because of his annoying political banter, flirting with your girl who works at the tavern, playing dice, drinking at the pub, and helping your father in his forge. Honestly, I could have stayed there for a very long time, even though your character, Henry, is obviously developing a bit of wanderlust for the world outside of his hometown’s walls.
Even in this idyllic first part, the gritty harshness of Kingdom Come shines through. There is obvious tension around racial lines between the native Czech people and “those outsiders” from Germany and Hungary who are migrating into Bohemia in large numbers. And people are poor. One of your first missions is to try and collect a debt for your father from a man in town who honestly doesn’t have very much at all. Like most missions in Kingdom Come, that can be accomplished in a variety of ways, from incredible speech prowess to a fist fight, to plotting with your mates to gang up and teach the deadbeat a very painful lesson.
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It won’t be long before you are driven out of your hometown, quite literally, as the political turmoil of the day claims it in the form of an invading army hellbent on death and destruction. This begins your overall main quest in the game, to get revenge for the death of most everyone you loved. However, vengeance is a long road, and there are a lot of ways to get there.
Because Henry has almost no combat training, (he will have a touch if you sneak away with a traveling knight for a few lessons in the prologue) you will be at the mercy of most “bad guys” you encounter. Even a simple roadside bandit is going to be a tough fight at first. Henry is also mostly out of shape, having low strength and agility and even charisma to start. You might have a few perks here and there depending on how you create your character, but Henry is no hero build, at least at first.
Leveling up involves using skills, just like the classic Morrowind game. So, if you ride a horse everywhere, your horsemanship skill will go up. The same goes for related skills. Hunting a lot with a bow (people or animals) will not only level your archery, but also your agility. Some skills, like lockpicking, mostly need to be improved with practice on their own, though trainers do exist in the world, as well as rare skill books you might find – assuming you know how to read, which at the beginning of the game, you do not. Finding someone to teach you how to read should be an early priority for Henry in my opinion. Like most everything else in the game, the quest to literacy is an interesting one, with a touch of humor.
So, there you are, an illiterate, unskilled, poor peasant ready to face the world with cotton pants for armor and, if you are lucky, a rusty sword. And unlike a game like Skyrim with its auto-leveling of enemies, Kingdom Come won’t hold your hand. If you walk into a bandit camp and think you are going to bash everyone to death and take their stuff, you will find out how quickly a game over pops up. It’s not an unfair level of difficulty like Bloodborne or something along those lines, but does follow common sense rules. If you have never fought anyone in your life and see a man in full plate armor with a two-handed sword who obviously does that for a living, they are probably going to be able to crush you if you annoy them too much. And, in addition to trying not to get killed by violence, you also need to manage your hunger and tiredness levels, just like in real life.
Money in Kingdom Come is a big deal, mostly because you don’t have very much of it. You might work for days doing legitimate quests, only to have to spend your wages on smoked sausage and lentil soup at the tavern just to survive another day – with some mead to wash it down of course as you are not an animal. That does not leave very much left for upgrading your armor or even washing your clothes at the public baths, something you need to do, because yes, your clothes get dirty and that lowers your charisma until you soap up.
There is a short cut to riches in the game, which like real life, or the dark side or whatever, involves doing less than noble things. The Millers in Kingdom Come, including one who takes you in after the traumatic events at the start of the game, make up an unofficial thieves guild. If you pass the initiation, you can not only do underhanded quests for them for good coin, but also sell them stolen goods that you pick up just freelancing out in the world. Other vendors in the game can somehow spot stolen goods most of the time, but the Millers won’t care once you are one of them. Honestly, given that the game even sometimes considers stuff you loot from bandits as “stolen,” it’s probably a good idea to join the guild even if you don’t want to become a professional thief. Besides, their quests are challenging and fun, and there is a lot of shiny stuff you can buy with stolen loot, to say nothing of the lockpicking, pickpocketing and stealth training the Millers offer to those on their good side.
There are a lot of quests in the game. Kingdom Come is one of those titles where you can get lovingly bogged down in side quests and forget all about the main plot for a while. While some side quests are time dependent, meaning if you dillydally too much you could fail them, for the most part the main quests let you tackle them at your own pace. Most quests can be solved in various ways, so if you think up a clever solution to a problem, give it a try. I was pleasantly surprised more than once thinking that I had outsmarted the game with a unique solution to a quest, only to find that the game anticipated my move.
Eventually, regardless of what you do, you will encounter combat. On the surface, the combat interface seems really clumsy, just flailing away at your opponent and hoping for the best. And that is pretty much what Henry must do at first. But eventually you can train with sword masters who will teach you how to block, how to counter, and how to set up powerful, unblockable combos. And the combat moves are different for each weapon, so knowing how to fight with a short sword will not make you a master of the mace and shield for example. So, expect a lot of training time, especially since different weapons are more or less useful, such as warhammers working against knights in heavy armor. Between the training and eventually getting better equipment (there is a sword called Needle in the game for GoT fans), you will start to feel more capable, though every fight is still a challenge.
Archery is yet another form of combat, and unlike most other games, you won’t immediately become a sniper killer as soon as you pick up a bow. Your bow will waver around a lot until you get more skilled, and stronger, and there is no aim cursor, so you have to practice a lot just to get mildly proficient. If you are playing on the PC, you can cheat a bit and add the aiming cursor back into the game. Bring up the console with the tilde key and type “Wh_Pl_showfirecursor 1” to activate it. You will need to type it every time you start a new game session, so you could perhaps use it while you are learning to shoot and then not in the game world, but I leave it on all the time. Even with it, you are not going to get good without a lot of practice.
Graphically, the world looks really amazing. Playing on the PC, you have a choice of graphics settings. For a medium-powered gaming rig, medium settings provide a good balance of cool looks and good performance. On Ultra settings, it looks as good as most other open world RPGs, and better than quite a few.
I will say that the developers made some strange, I would say poor, choices when it comes to the gameplay interface. The biggest one is how you save the game, which requires that you have a bottle of expensive Savior Schnapps on your person. And yes, drinking it makes you drunk, which is a bad thing to do right before a dangerous mission. However, the alternative is getting killed and then having to play perhaps hours of gameplay again because the autosaves are far too infrequent. Supposedly the developers are working on a patch for this, but have been dragging their feet. I get the impression they don’t really want to give it to their players. But come on, we bought the game, let us play it however we think is fun.
On the PC, there is a mod that allows for unlimited, non-schnapps related, saves available on the Nexus that has been downloaded hundreds of thousands of times. I would highly recommend it. In fact, it’s probably the best reason to play Kingdom Come on the PC instead of the console. Console gamers will just have to wait, and hope the developers don’t provide a watered-down version of the save-anywhere feature from the PC. Come on Warhorse, this is not 1995. We stopped chasing save diamonds back in the original Tomb Raider. Give everyone the feature they want and move on.
I love Kingdom Come: Deliverance. Sure, it could be a lot more polished, and some of the design features are questionable, but the fact that I, and many other players, love it anyway speaks volumes for how good it is. You practically have to go all the way back to 1995 and Sierra’s Conqueror A.D. 1086 to find another realistic, medieval and historical 3D RPG. If want to get a little mud on your boots, and actually have to worry about it, then do yourself a favor and sojourn into the beautiful, horrible and hauntingly realistic world of Kingdom Come: Deliverance.