Kingdom Come: Deliverance Review
Kingdom Come: Deliverance has finally arrived after pulling in over $1 million in 2014 via crowdfunding on Kickstarter, and now its supporters have the opportunity to see what grew from the many seeds they planted. From our time playing, WarHorse Studios’ major debut is a great game that doesn’t entirely break, but rather bends under the developers’ ambitions.
- Kingdom Come: Deliverance is a loosely accurate tribute to medieval Europe, and when it comes to the development team’s desire for fun gameplay mixed with realism, the game succeeds in more ways than it fails. The combat is challenging whether I focused on melee or ranged, and I cherished how elaborate the physics system is as I layered my armor and watched the attacks of enemies glide off of me later in the game. Fighting is complex and, no matter how skilled I felt I was, I always ran the risk of returning to a save point if I wasn't geared up correctly.
- One of the most incredible parts of the experience Kingdom Come: Deliverance provides is a sense of absolute freedom. I could wander to essentially anywhere I wanted to at any time, as long as I’m ready to deal with the consequences. No matter where I was, quests were presented as is typical in an RPG of this kind, but I regularly would take note of bits of information an NPC gave me to find ways to complete a task more efficiently. For example, at one point I was on the hunt for an individual that had information about a group of bandits- the quest log on my map showed me a handful of places where I could find the next bit of information, but a couple details regarding what direction he fled in and the friends he usually spends time with put me on the right trail more quickly than running off to each marker to ask questions. Those details weren’t saved anywhere in the menus and, if I hadn’t been giving my conversations with random villagers my full attention, I’d have missed out. The game does hold your hand for a little while as you work through starting quests, but it gives you the opportunity to run off into the wild and accomplish things your own way if you want to risk it.
- The freedom and realism this game provides made me at first question a few design decisions from WarHorse Studios, such as the decision to not allow players to create a unique character. Henry is the game’s lead and, while you can shape him in many ways as you play, he has a story for you to experience- thankfully, it’s a good one. Henry is one of the most endearing lead characters of a game in my recent memory, and I enjoyed watching (and molding parts of) his growth to see how it impacted his interactions with lowborn and nobles later in the game. My Henry had a pretty wonderful relationship with both, which can be influenced by a variety of factors, and it's interesting to be able to navigate both worlds. Regarding Henry's skill progression, you're really required to practice to get better at anything, just like in real life. Whether it's lockpicking, combat, reading (yes, reading) or crafting potions, all the game’s mechanics are really involved experiences and practice legitimately made me more adept in addition to earning me skill points.
- The game is thankfully very similar to The Witcher 3 in that it's full of side quests and optional activities that don't bore you to death- they're actually quite unique, and avoid giving you repetitive tasks. Somebody went missing? There’s a fight club outside a home disturbing the owners’ sleep at night? A plague has broken out in the village? At every turn in this game I found myself diving deeper into side quests, rarely ever feeling like I was being roped into the mundane. A place where things do get mundane, however, is with the random encounters that happen as you're traveling between towns. At first, they felt as well-executed as the full-on side quests. At one point, as I searched for a young man that had info about bandits, I came across a dead body in the woods. I checked it for loot, assuming nothing out of the ordinary, before a woman ran to me, accusing me of murder. She startled me, but I noticed she was a bit out of her mind and seemed to be carrying the murder weapon herself. I accused her, she took off running, and I ended up losing her in the woods. It was a briefly terrifying moment in a game with none of the fantasy elements that usually anchor similar situations, but it was sullied as I kept running into the same thing over and over again. There are other random events that occur as you travel, but they all lose their luster over time. In a patch, the developers even increased the frequency of these occurrences, which I feel took away from a cool idea.
- Many frustrations found in Kingdom Come: Deliverance come from the way the developers handle saving your progress. There are autosaves at regular intervals, but manually saving comes with mechanics that can punish you if you abuse it. The game's manual saving is based on having an alcoholic beverage in your inventory, and early on, it can be an expensive item to buy, so I had to settle with managing my time wisely and being extremely careful with my decisions. As you progress, you find that you can craft the drink using Alchemy to save a great deal of time and in-game funds, but it’s entirely understandable if you’re too frustrated to care by then. The save system is a creative mechanic, but it's not polished enough to warrant a player’s investment into it- it's easier to just rely on autosaves.
- The launch version of the game is also plagued by technical problems: during my playthrough, it was not uncommon for a bug or series of bugs to put me in a position where I’d need to load up an old save file while needing to weigh the decision to go back a good bit into the game or deal with the consequences. Thankfully, the game was fun enough that I didn’t completely mind the idea of replaying bits, but it’s definitely something that held a great game back. The quests are very well done, so it hurts when you play through such an entertaining moment only to be derailed by a missing NPC or some other bug that ruins the quest outright, forcing you to either move on without completing it or load a previous save point. Maybe if the game's manual saving mechanics weren't so punishing, this wouldn't be as much of an issue.
- Unfortunately, Kingdom Come: Deliverance's focus on realism made other elements stand out in a bad way. I played as a character whose energy, nourishment, and overall health I had to manage by taking to time to eat and sleep. If I didn’t take care, Henry’s performance would suffer in various ways. These survival mechanics weren’t overwhelming and kept me engaged throughout, but were strangely absent when it came to my horse Pebbles (I never upgraded from the starting horse). Not having to worry about my horse’s well being other than when it gets skittish during a storm or battle was, in my opinion, a missed opportunity by the devs, but the real immersion-breaker is being able to instantly summon my horse to me. Some may understandably view this as convenience, but in a game that otherwise heavily emphasizes realism, it was a questionable decision.
- Story-wise, it’s a long, thrilling journey to the final chapter, but the developers made one head-scratcher of a decision near the end. No explicit spoilers, but the road to the game’s final conflict starts off beautifully. There's a twist focused on Henry that falls a bit flat, but the events around it are exciting For the majority of the game, I felt that I had a pretty neat bow tied on the game’s major conflict, but the first turn in the final chapter bucked that entirely and set me on the exceptionally jagged path to the final battle, excitement at nearly every turn. After a few significant moments that were obviously building up to a climax, however, the pace completely falls off a cliff.
Overall, Kingdom Come: Deliverance is a fantastic yet absolutely frustrating experience. I was treated to a memorable lead character whose development was unfortunately largely wiped away with a twist late in the game, along with a collection of incredible gameplay mechanics and quests plagued by bugs. Despite its downfalls, though, the good parts of the game are so good that it’s easy to overlook these flaws.