Platforms: PC (reviewed), Xbox One, PlayStation 4
Kingdom Come: Deliverance is not going to be a game for everybody. In fact, it’s the whole reason the developers at Warhorse Studios had to resort to Kickstarter to initially fund the project’s development in the first place: a lack of publisher confidence. The fact of the matter is that most people don’t want to play a game that tries to mirror real life. Some people argue that games are supposed to be “fun” and that’s all that matters, but accurate, engaging simulation experiences can be some of the most engrossing and immersive games on the market.
If you’re like me and the idea of sharpening your own sword at a grindstone, washing your clothes to get rid of blood, and remembering to eat so you don’t pass out from starvation all sound like incredible attentions to detail in a video game and not “annoying features” then Kingdom Come: Deliverance could be the game for you.
Most role-playing games want you to believe that you’re the hero of destiny that’s fated to save the world. Kingdom Come: Deliverance is not one of those RPGs. You start out the game as Henry, the son of a blacksmith. Your character oversleeps, stays out too late, and has no plan for the future. My first quest was to go buy charcoal for my dad, harass a villager for some money he owed my old man, and pick up a tankard of ale. It doesn’t get much more “boring medieval peasant life” than that.
The story kicks off quickly as a huge force of soldiers ransacks my home village, slaughters everyone including my parents, and forces me to flee on horseback. What follows is a tale of small-scale affairs and revenge as I seek out the man that murdered my family and attend to issues around the kingdom as an up-and-coming adventurer. I must have invested more than five hours before ever getting a real horse of my own and another five before getting my hands on a shield.
Deliverance is the kind of game that enjoys making you do the things most other RPGs would skip over with a menu or have happen through video game magic. If you’re dirty when you talk to nobility, your charisma suffers so you need to remember to take a bath and wash your clothes. If you go too long without eating then your energy will be drained and you’re sluggish -- but if you eat too much you’ll get bloated and lethargic.
This game is a slow-burner that requires a lot of time and attention, but the payoff is absolutely worth it. I often found myself talking to every person in a village just to see what they had to say or riding my horse through the forest, alongside a babbling brook, just to take in my surroundings. It’s been a long time since an RPG engrossed me so completely with its lush, dense environments.
Kingdom Come: Deliverance is going to attract a lot of comparisons to The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, but other than all being open world RPGs the three games couldn’t be more different. Deliverance is an intricate medieval life simulator that takes the form of an RPG, but it doesn’t try to dumb itself down for you. Combat requires focus and skill, not button mashing. The world lives and breathes with or without you, meaning you can miss entire quest lines if you take too long or don’t listen beyond journal entries. This is an experience that 100 percent aims for realism above all else, meaning no magic, no monsters, and no dragons. It shares a lot of the same broad strokes as its competitors, but has a very different heart and soul.
Hacking, Slashing, and Bashing
After spending dozens of hours with the game I am still learning new things. While part of this is due to the fact that many elements of Deliverance are needlessly obtuse and poorly explained, it’s more so due to the fact that many layers of the game only reveal themselves once you’re fully invested.
For example, melee combat is incredibly complex. Using either the mouse or a game pad (I played mostly with an Xbox One controller on PC, it just felt better for this game in my opinion) you must aim in one of five directions plus stabbing, like a star, before committing to a block or an attack. It’s similar to the combat systems found in games like Mount & Blade, Chivalry: Medieval Warfare, and For Honor -- but way more intense.
There are no visual icons to tell you which direction an enemy is attacking, meaning you have to just watch their posture and the game doesn’t give you a massive window to respond. If you miss your chance to block or counter, then you’re going to pay for it. Recovering in the middle of an enemy’s combo is incredibly difficult to do.
As you get deeper into the game you’ll learn about Master Strikes and Perfect Blocks, which are well-timed ways to immediately follow-up an enemy’s attack with a quick counter-attack. You can also feint your blows, changing direction mid-swing. And finally, there are specific combos. For example, with a short sword I can do a “double stab” maneuver in which I slash twice quickly, then stab towards their head in rapid succession. Each weapon type, from longswords and short swords to axes and more, all have their own skill trees with special combos to learn.
Speaking of skill trees, you gain experience in each individual skill by doing that action more often -- similar to Skyrim -- and you unlock perks as you level each individual skill up. Most of the perks are great too and actually alter/enhance the way you play the game. They’re far more meaningful than simple stat boosts.
Then in combat you’ve also got to take into account armor types and which slots are equipped. Did I mention each character can have up to 20 pieces of gear equipped at a time? Yeah.
A sword could easily glance off the arm of a heavily armored knight in full plate, but a mace to the head might be more effective. If they have a shield, that changes your strategy as well -- or if there are multiple enemies, good luck not getting surrounded.
See what I mean now? At first, Deliverance’s combat is just a tricky game of aiming where to swing and picking the right moment, but once you hit the twenty or thirty hour mark each and every encounter can feel like an epic duel.
All of these deep, complex, and confusing mechanics are going to be off-putting for a lot of people. I still struggle with fighting some enemies that I feel like I shouldn’t and a lot of it has to do with the combat system fighting me just as much as I fight it at times. And switching between enemies when surrounded is far more difficult and frustrating than it should be, which underscores the weirdness involved with a group of five men not just all bull-rushing at the same time to overpower me.
Making The Mundane Matter
One of the other major similarities to Bethesda’s game series that players may notice is that much like The Elder Scrolls, Deliverance suffers from a general lack of polish in some areas. From a distance the landscapes are beautiful and it’s one of the most charming game worlds I’ve ever visited -- with some amazing world building and intricate lore to boot -- but when you get up close you’ll start to see the cracks. Animations lack the degree of fluidity some gamers might expect in a game of this magnitude and many of the voice acting performances leave a bit to be desired.
Even after the massive 20GB day one patch load times are painfully long. Every time you speak with a character the screen fades out for a few seconds to load the conversation. Sleeping and waiting take a very long time. Performance hiccups here and there drop frames when they shouldn’t and I found myself getting hung on stairs and general village objects throughout the entire game.
When a game like Deliverance does such an incredible job emulating what life may have been like in a specific time period, the unfortunate side effect is that any blemishes stand out all the more prominently. Other than the performance issues mentioned above, a lot of minor quality of life enhancements end up feeling out of place.
Long Live The King
For example, riding a horse is exhausting in real life. So when your steed is galloping at full speed you have to worry about not only your stallion’s stamina, but your own as well. That totally makes sense. But it doesn’t make sense that I can teleport items between myself and my horse regardless of distance and that it magically appears when called no matter where I am.
Every person in the game takes so much care to point out when I look unclean or have blood spattered on my clothes and weapons, but then despite the absence of evidence or witnesses, the universe seems to magically know if I kill someone and punishes me as if a crowd had seen me do it. That design decision continued to baffle me.
There are so many things worth discussing in Kingdom Come: Deliverance it’s difficult to decide where to stop. It’s been years since a game has taken over my mind as profoundly as Deliverance. It’s quite obviously not a game for everyone, but if you can look past all of the annoyances and complex mechanics and confusing systems, you’ll find an experience like no other.
Deliverance is a game that begs for you to go out and explore it. It wants you to make mistakes, stumble upon enemies you shouldn’t be fighting yet, and get lost. It’s brutal, intense, and unforgiving. You’ll make stories, meet friends, and discover bits and pieces of real Bohemian history.