This review-in-progress is based on the game before the 20.5GB day one patch, which will hopefully address the game’s many bugs and stability issues, some of which I mention below.
I am 20-odd hours into medieval RPG Kingdom Come: Deliverance, and I haven’t achieved all that much. If you need some hares hunted, I’m your man. Granted, you can get to within about ten feet of them before they scarper, so this is hardly an exceptional offer.
What else can I do, then? Well, I’m courting a rather lovely mill wench (game’s terminology, not mine) called Theresa, the daughter of a miller who has proven an invaluable fence for shifting my pilfered goods onto. I have also murdered – of course I have – but only a handful of people so far as I’m /still/ not much of a fighter. I’ll get there one day, perhaps. In the meantime, I am having rather a nice time bimbling around the fecund countrysides of Bohemia.
Find out how Kingdom Come: Deliverance’s blockbuster cutscenes were made – with a little help from Brian Blessed.
It is an absolutely beautiful place. Yes, you will have seen more dramatic and imaginative videogame scenery before, but I’ve never played a game that evokes actual nature as much as this. Distant hills undulate elegantly across the screen, forest floors are covered in bobbles of hand-crafted moss, and rich foliage leans into your vision from all angles. In the towns, too, the attention to detail is sublime.
Perhaps it appeals to my nostalgia for the many summers I spent in areas not far from where the game is set. Either way, this world – while not huge – is painstakingly created. It sounds great too, as the pleasing medieval score of flutes and mandolins makes way for grasshoppers and crunching branches underfoot when you go deep into the wild.
But the Bohemian wilderness is not only an easy way to escape the bustle of modern life. It also serves as a means to get away from the many stresses and frustrations of the rest of the game, some of which are there by design…
… while others aren’t.
Kingdom Come is a slow burner, brimming with intricate systems for you to understand. You need to eat and sleep to survive, but should you go foraging in the wild, don’t eat any old mushrooms you find as food poisoning can be deadly. Meanwhile, manual skills like pickpocketing, lockpicking, and honing your weapon are probably about as close as games have come to replicating the real thing.
To sharpen your weapon, for instance, you need to lower your blade to the spinning grindstone at the perfect angle, with flying sparks denoting that you are doing a good job (just remember to keep rhythmically tapping the button to keep the grindstone turning). It is very satisfying. Lockpicking, on the other hand, feels borderline broken on a gamepad but fine on mouse and keyboard. Every time you utilise a skill, you are not only levelling up that ability, but genuinely feel like you are improving your own technique in tandem.
But the success of these simulation elements is not consistent. The game would benefit from some of them being less realistic, lightened up if only a little. For example, to save you need to either find a bed to sleep in, wait for an auto-save during a mission, or buy a pricey ‘Saviour Schnapps’ – the last one I found after the day one patch was much cheaper than the rest, so maybe the issue has been addressed. Then again, I did buy it from a roadside beggar. This means I have had times, usually when idly exploring the world, when I would go a couple of hours without saving. Given that the game is alarmingly prone to glitching and crashing, the current save system really doesn’t sit well with me at the moment.
Swordsmanship is the toughest craft to master. You target specific zones on your enemy’s body, and need perfect timing to string combos together – all of this while keeping an eye on your stamina bar, which can be quickly drained by a kick to your gut and a few swings at your shield.
It feels fine when it works, but the targeting system seems to get confused when you are facing more than one enemy. Also, I am yet to get a sense that the combat is as realistic and physics-based as it was touted to be. Enemies don’t go down instantly from axe swings to a bare head, for instance, and hitting them with your sword feels distant and spongy. I accept, however, that Kingdom Come isn’t a game of instant gratification, and that I have much to learn in this particular area.
That is not to say Kingdom Come is bereft of more welcoming RPG elements. The levelling system includes cheeky, irreverent perks – not unlike Fallout’s – while towns are filled with lively characters and chit-chat, where eavesdropping at the right moment can open up some intriguing side-quests (I have already done my fair share of grave-digging). I like how the game embraces mundanity, too: this isn’t a world designed to make you feel like a hero, so even going on patrol to clear beggars from the streets, or hunting your first hare, feels like an achievement.
I am yet to complete the story but, so far at least, it’s well-written, with a cast of hearty, foul-mouthed characters who are very much products of the recent popularity of Game of Thrones. The protagonist, Henry, makes a forgettable first impression, but is slowly growing on me. He is enough of a blank slate that you can either play the bastard or the golden boy without any qualms.
This is an ambitious game, polished to perfection when it comes to atmosphere, but rough and cumbersome in many of its moment-to-moment interactions. I am yet to be convinced by the Oblivion-esque UI, too. Even so, learning Kingdom Come feels like a craft in itself. It is intimidating and beautiful, if disconcertingly unstable, and for all these reasons is worth more of our time.