For the King! – A Review of Kingdom Come: Deliverance
Kingdom Come: Deliverance a very special role-playing game. It trades high fantasy elements for true historical realism; protagonist Henry is infallibly human and as we play through his life during the conflict of Bohemia–what is now modern-day Czech Republic–witnessing his literal rise to power (seriously, he starts out absolutely skill-less, leaving his aptitudes up to the player) through real adversity, is a humbling, and even educational, experience.
KCD isn’t about dragons, or draugr death lords. It isn’t about magic, or sex on a stuffed unicorn (looking at you, Witcher 3). Rather, it’s about a people. A real place, with real historical significance, and one I will remember for quite some time. The game begins innocently enough, our hero Henry awoken by his mother so he may tend the forge with his father.
From the expose, it’s clear Henry and his family are close and loving. His mother worried about the shiner on his face, and his father–as they do–asking about the girl, concerned about his son’s social outings. These characters are well-thought and well-written, as are most of the primary characters. Henry, though, is special. Not simply because he’s our protagonist, but because of his progression; even in the smallest of dialogue options actually FEEL like something he would say, and Tom McKay did an amazing job bringing Henry to life. Further than the on-screen and audio experience, Henry is nothing but genuine. His care for everyone around him is not foregone for his own measure–something we see often in role-playing games–and his willingness to do better is nearly palpable.
I always say however, a good character is only as good as its setting and without the historic accuracy of Bohemia and its conflicts, our cast of characters would be flat. Warhorse Studios’ research for this game is off the charts; literally everything–even down to the subtle twists in roadways, to the shape and scale of every featured town and city–is placed exactly where their real-world counterparts exist today. YouTuber Resonant compiled a great video regarding the geography:
As evident, the game steeps itself in realism, but it extends to even Henry and his abilities. He starts off tabula rasa–blank slate. He is piss poor at literally everything. All stats at zero, Henry is yours to mold. That being said, some of the skills–lockpicking, pickpocketing, and combat specifically–are quite arduous to control in the wee hours of narrative. Henry, surprisingly , is a pleasingly quick learn and the more you perform certain tasks, the better he becomes. Once you start unlocking perks in chosen skill fields, Henry begins to shape into the master we are all used to being in other RPG titles.
One might be mindful, however. Things like fighting, sneaking (and any skill included, like picking locks) are very much frowned upon in the kingdom of Bohemia, and YOU WILL be penalized for such activity. Depending on the severity of crime committed, fines may be levied, jail time served, and skill levels are even reduced.
Here’s a good place for a story: early on, a specific side-quest requires you to get a ring from the executioner. It may be obtained in multiple ways, and they are not evident; you could buy it off him, had you the groschen, but this early on, you likely do not. You could steal it, but that requires a level of lockpicking and stealth not yet obtained. So really, the only option is to fight him for it. Or so it would seem, then. And so I did. And he nearly killed me. As I was bleeding out, he ran to the guard, who subsequently arrested me. I was jailed for an in-game week–and I actually had to wait in real life, about 15 minutes–for this time to be served. When I was released, all my skills had been reduced by one level and the city of Rattay did hate me something awful. I could not buy anything from anyone.Needless to say, I reloaded a save, found a load of groschen tucked in an unmarked grave, and payed him off instead.
While unfortunate, this experience showed me something amazing about Kingdom Come: Deliverance: its systems. Extremely deep and very well-thought, the game is constantly working behind the scenes–in true RPG nature–to calculate Henry’s reputation with each individual town and city, broken down by nobility, guard, and citizens. It further breaks that down by class; if you dress like a peasant, nobility will treat you like one, and if you dress like a noble, peasants will constantly beggar for coin. There’s a happy medium here, but the game leaves it up to you to define Henry’s character. The economy also plays into this; the more you spend and successfully haggle with a shopkeeper, the higher the reputation becomes, and thus, prices.
Every system in this game is on a scale. Tip one end too low, the other end rises and vise versa. Henry’s charisma and speech have effect on these systems to a point, but if you purposely raze a town to the ground, well. There’s only so much charisma to save you. Warhorse’s diligent work payed off beautifully.
All that being said however, the game is plagued with bugs. From innocent-yet-immersion-breaking texture pops and issues with draw distance, to quest-breaking glitches (especially in parts of the mainline), KCD’s technical issues nearly rival that of a Bethesda game. And this is a game that has been in early access for four years. These technicalities should have absolutely been taken care of prior to official launch.
Nevertheless, in spite of its lack of technical prowess, there is a LOT going on, under the hood. It doesn’t dismiss the issues, especially the quest-breaking bugs, but it at least lends some credence as to their occurrence. The most recent patch tried to address some of the pop-in, but failed to quell the tide completely. These should most assuredly be fixed down the road, as for some, they might warrant quitting.
Not for me, though. Kingdom Come: Deliverance is a special gem among so many other open world fantasy titles, and if for nothing else, begs to be experienced rather than played. Henry is an extremely well-built character, and no matter what choices players make for him, Warhorse created logical and believable dialogue and pathways to venture. While the narrative can be slow to start through the tutorial levels and fairly linear, it is lengthy and has its share of twists. The systems underneath the game continue to be awe-inspiring for me, and I certainly tip my hat to this new studio for such ambitious work.
Though I am absolutely thrilled with it and look to its future, sadly, the game-breaking bugs do keep it from stardom.