After years in development, Kingdom Come: Deliverance has finally been released. The game had been on my radar for some time. An action roleplaying game set in a real world setting with no fantasy elements and a “realistic” sword fighting system, how could one not be intrigued? However, after viewing some rather clunky beta footage, I had demoted it from day one purchase to pick it up when it’s on sale. However, when the game released to some minor online controversy, I had to pick it up and give it a go. Between this game, and the controversy surrounding The Witcher 3, it certainly seems like American leftists in the “gaming community” have some sort of weird axe to grind against eastern European developers. In their minds, the demography of medieval eastern Europe was exactly the same as the 21st century United States, which is just a ridiculous belief. So, is Daniel Vavra, the game’s director, an evil “alt right” dudebro and is this game an evil white pride simulator, or is it just a good action roleplaying game?
The action roleplaying genre has not been in a good place for the last several years. The success of Bethesda Game Studios’ Skyrim brought a round of lobotomization and castration to the genre that has rendered many titles practically unrecognizable as roleplaying games. Even 2015’s much praised (including by yours truly) The Witcher 3, despite boasting an impressive open world, was incredibly light on roleplaying elements. From a gameplay standpoint, Kingdom Come reminds me very much of the pre-Skyrim games in the Elder Scrolls series. Game protagonist Henry has a laundry list of abilities and skills to level up, and this is done through use. Use a bow a lot? You will increase not only your archery skill, but also hunting (if you’re shooting any of the game’s fauna), warfare (if utilizing archery against human opponents), and strength. Use a longsword in combat? You will raise your strength ability, as well as your sword, warfare, and defense skills. Leveling up your skills and abilities contributes to advancing your main level. Every two or three levels, you get to pick a “perk.” These perks work much like the pre-Bethesda fallout games, they provide bonus abilities that allow you to tailor the game’s protagonist to your particular play style. While the game utilizes a classless roleplaying system, it definitely disincentivizes the Skyrim style god of all things approach. If you think you are going to don a full suit of plate armour and be a thief or assassin type of character, that will not work. Plate armor is too noisy and also very conspicuous. And while there are perks under the stealth and maintenance skills that will help you to overcome the noise issue, plate armor will still prove too conspicuous and visible for effective stealth. In short, it is a roleplaying system that incentives you playing a role, a novel concept in 2018.
One of the main selling points of Kingdom Come: Deliverance throughout its development was the promise of “realistic” sword combat. Now, i am not a practitioner of HEMA, classical fencing, whatever, so I can’t speak to it’s realism. What I can say is that the melee combat in the game is challenging and rewarding. Swinging a sword consumes stamina, as does a standard block. However, a “perfect” block consumes no stamina and often results in your opponent being momentarily left open for attack. As such, charging in head first all guns blazing will often only result in death. Instead, patience, timing, and some modicum of tactical thinking is rewarded. The basics of the combat system boil down thusly: in combat, the game’s dot reticle is surrounded by a five point “crosshair” that represent the various limbs of the human body. You can target specific limbs, the torso, or the head and slash at them by left clicking. Right clicking will deliver a thrust to the targeted limb. A basic block, which consumes stamina, is executed by holding Q. However, losing stamina will cause you to drop your guard and leave you unable to counterattack. A perfect block is timed to the moment your opponent launches his attack. I’ve watched youtube videos of many people struggling with it, but I’ve found it fairly simple to grasp and quite a fun change from the usual “mash button x to make thing dead” system.
For my fellow thieves, the stealth is quite a far cry from the norm. Rather than a percentile roll adjusted by the type of armor you’re wearing and your target’s own sneak skill, it is based on a few factors: armor noise, conspicuousness, visibility, line of sight, and level of darkness. There are perks that can be taken that will help reduce the noise you make, and your visibility to a degree, but you will never be able to sneak up on somebody right in front of them in broad daylight. The ability to sneak up on someone and non lethally incapacitate them is also a welcome feature if you’re the type that likes to take the nonlethal approach to stealth. The pickpocketing mini game can be a little frustrating at first, but is quite simple once you get the hang of it (and if you don’t have a cut rate keyboard like I do). The unusual lock picking mini game is simple and effective. I’ve heard some complaints about it, but I enjoy it. It works better than most. The lock picks also aren’t made out of glass like they are in the games made by a certain Maryland-based RPG developer.
Archery can be frustrating at lower levels. Below bow level 5, Henry can not hold the bow properly, so it shifts back and forth wildly. This combined with the lack of an aiming reticle can make things downright infuriating at lower levels. However, once you level up a few times, it’s not such a difficult system.
Like many action RPGs in the modern era, Kingdom Come takes place in an open world. This one is based on a region of Bohemia in the early fifteenth century. The world is rendered beautifully. The trees, rocks, grass, and various flora all look great and I haven’t yet encountered many washed out or overly pixelated textures. What’s more, the world is seamless, with no loading doors between interior and exterior environments. This makes acts of breaking and entering far more interesting, as it is possible for guards to see you through a window picking through an NPCs belongings. With no loading gates at the entrance to towns, this also means that enemies can and often will chase you all the way back to town. Crime is tracked independently by each town. So if you get in trouble in Ledetchko, guards in Sasau aren’t going to care. Your wanted status also fades overtime. Getting caught committing criminal acts will lower your reputation in a particular area. Below a certain point merchants and even residents will stop speaking to you. A situation that, of course, can be overcome with that most effective of social lubricants: money. Haggle too aggressively with merchants? Eventually they will become frustrated with you and stop doing business.
There is a simulation element to Kingdom Come as well. Henry gets hungry and tired, therefore it is imperative to eat and sleep. Eating too little can make you less energetic and less effective in combat. Eating too much will also lower your stamina and make you more sluggish in combat. Neglecting sleep and food can also lead to death. Using skill books also somewhat ties into this survival system. Rather than simply activating the book in your inventory, Henry must take a seat, whether that be a bed, a bench, outhouse, whatever, and then study the book for a period of time. Studying consumes energy and nourishment. Of course this is par for the course with Kingdom Come. There is an aspect of simulation to almost everything. The limited fast travel system is not instantaneous and also depletes nourishment and energy. You can also be attacked whilst on the road like in a more traditional roleplaying game. Alchemy is also an in world activity. Making potions is animated and done in real time.
Of course, being an open world game, Kingdom Come is not without it’s glitches. There are more than a few graphical hiccups. Most of them are the usual people walking on air, lying on air, sitting in front of a bench rather than on it, etc. Although, I can honestly say that I’ve experienced them less in this first outing from Warhorse Studios than I have in certain other AAA action rpgs. The lip syncing on the audio is also a little off, but I assume that can mostly be chalked up to English not being the native language of the developers. There is also a limited amount of texture pop in. I also get a bizarre glitch where in the game freezes if I kill a chicken with a bow and then attempt to loot it. Of course, the problems I’ve encountered seem relatively minor when you consider that this was a kickstarter funded indie game and the first outing by a new studio. Again, I’ve seen veteran AAA developers release games with far more catastrophic, if not outright game breaking issues.
While I will agree with the assessment of some folks out there that the game could have benefited from another short delay to fine tune some things, it is far from unplayable. With a little over 40 hours in, I have greatly enjoyed my time with Kingdom Come: Deliverance. I can say without the slightest bit of hyperbole that it is definitely the best action roleplaying game that I have played in years. Between the roleplaying system, the simulation aspects of the game, the combat, and the open ended nature of many of the quests, this game represents something that hasn’t been seen in the genre for almost a decade. With the runaway success that it has been having, it has also proven something that some of us have argued for years now, that the profligate streamlining undertaken by companies like Bethesda, Bioware, and CD Projekt has been completely unnecessary. If you haven’t played it yet, and you have a rig that can run it, I highly recommend giving this little first person revenge tale a go. Tune out the histrionics from Vice and Polygon, this is not some alt right nazi gamergate simulator, it is simply a fun action roleplaying experience. One that, given it’s smashing success, will hopefully provide a guiding light for the genre going forward.