Introduction

I wanted to wait another day or two since Kingdom Come: Deliverance’s launch, to see if any crucial patches might resurface along with a much needed GPU driver update. They’re not even late to this party, they simply haven’t shown up. So, onwards with this review for a video game that’s been a very polarizing experience for me and no doubt, countless other players which have eagerly awaited this title for years on end. And of course, it was not only my most anticipated game of 2018, but also I had high hopes that it would be among the best during this entire year. I know, we’re still early on in 2018, so there are many new titles on the horizon along with opportunities to shine or disappoint.

Kingdom Come: Deliverance is still a remarkable development debut for Warhorse Studios, which also served as the game’s publishers. It goes without saying that I’ve been keeping a close eye on the projects long road towards release. It’s been almost four years since it successfully received the funding it requested on its Kickstarter campaign. In fact, it drew enough attention to itself during those 29 days of funding, that it went way past the goal of £300.000 and actually gathered a million pounds sterling. The reason I’m boring with these details is meant to highlight to sheer production value of an indie game from a previously unknown developer. KCD promised a lot and eventually it delivered on nearly all fronts.

Story

You really can’t ask for a clearer picture of the historic context surrounding Central Europe during the Late Middle Ages. Crusader Kings 2 focuses on grand strategy involving several continents while the brilliant Assassin’s Creed II and its immediate sequels, were all about the Italian Renaissance and constant warfare between city states. Kingdom Come: Deliverance is the by the book video game on Czech medieval history. This isn’t even an exaggeration and I’m more than pleased to finally play within a region other than Western Europe (which has been done to death, concerning this time period). The year is 1403 and the Kingdom of Bohemia is in civil war after its negligent monarch was imprisoned by his half-brother, the former (and future) King of Hungary and Holy Roman Emperor.

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Yes, European history during the Middle Ages, was even more convoluted than present day politics. I’ll do my best to spare you any details which can be obtained from the comprehensive in-game Codex. I’m a history buff and I could probably talk your ear off about the historical figures in KCD, but I doubt you’d have the patience for such an undertaking. Very long story made somewhat shorter, players aren’t thrust into the thick of the action as being some valiant hedge knight or affluent nobleman. You shall instead fill the shoes of a blacksmith’s son and apprentice of sorts. Henry, known as Hal (not 9000) to his few remaining friends or as “Swiftfingers” by me. His historically accurate Czech name would be “Jindřich” though. Our young and strapping lad shall become a homeless orphan far too soon, since the crown usurper and his mercenary army shall lay waste to Henry’s home town of Skalitz. “If you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention”, right?

I guess that it fits our narrative purpose to have a protagonist who’s pretty much clueless about anything at the start of this adventure into the unknown. Players can mold Henry into various open-ended combat classes, which never get mentioned by name yet you’ll recognize the familiar route towards strength-centric melee fighters and brawlers or stealthier character builds relying on agility and finesse. I’m always gonna pick brain over brawn, but feel free to create the ultimate medieval brute, if you like that gameplay style. I’m all about avoiding as many conflicts as I can and the ones which do escalate, I find them safer to deal with from a distance. Ranged combat is even more challenging than swordfighting in KCD. I’ll discuss both of them in detail further below. Suffice to say, creating a competent stealth archer in this title, is going to involve a lot more training (not to mention trial & error) than in previously mentioned RPGs.

What should be appreciated for once, is that this isn’t a morally ambiguous tale from either start (in all recent Elder Scroll games, players start off as being prisoners of some kind) or finish. Sure, you could play the “bad guy” and go around stealing and killing innocents, but there are just as many incentives to stick closer to the chivalric code to which so many rich hypocrites are adhering to. Henry will be squire to some of them, before proceeding to a military rank that can be compared to a man-at-arms. Or a glorified scout if you wish. Get used to the idea that you’re not going to be the “chosen one”, the great savior of the realm or other gibberish which may shower you with various titles. Henry is a cog in a much larger mechanism. Yes, a war machine which shall rely on his contribution, but it won’t get stopped in its tracks in the absence of the protagonist either.

Kingdom Come: Deliverance’s map is focusing on just 16 square kilometers . This makes it slightly half the size of Skyrim’s territory and only a third of Witcher 3’s own map. I didn’t mind the relatively small territory, since it compensates this through its unique look and handcrafted locations which ensure that you won’t even see the same puddle twice, nevermind Skyrim’s “ constantly recycled” caves or catacombs. I do have to mention though that leaving Prague out of the picture, does dent the otherwise complex analysis of Bohemian history. You’ll have to contend with just Rattay, Sasau and Talmberg. Period appropriate location names, obviously.

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Battles and some quest are time-dependant. If you fail to show up for whatever reason (you spent all night drinking at the tavern and throwing dice, don’t lie to me), these events shall unfold regardless of your presence. Dealing with the aftermath may prove that some consequences can’t be role played to an endless extent. Whether you obey the law or not, penalties are still rather light compared to more realistic outcomes which usually involved torture followed shorthly by execution. It didn’t matter if you stole a horse or a loaf of bread. Peasants were expendable as far as the nobility was concerned. It’s all about perspectives and who’s swinging that sword, right?

Speaking of swords, like any good story involving medieval themes, Kingdom Come: Deliverance does feature a particular blade that serves as motivation and backstory in our hero’s case. You can reasonably compare this to Arthurian legends that also relied on weapons as powerful symbols. While it’s never a rags to riches story, it is a revenge tale up to a certain point. Our protagonist needed powerful motivation to steer his life onto an unforseen trajectory, afterall. It just goes to show that life during that period was simply too short, not to afford taking considerable risks and learning to adapt very fast to shifting and often times, absurd political machinations. It’s always about money and power in all its twisted forms. The chessboard never changes, it’s just the pieces that come and go. Rise and fall. At least this time, you get to play a more convincing pawn than in similar titles.

Graphics

Now I have to delve deeper into details that caused me no pleasure at all. I don’t like CryEngine not even a bit. I make no attempts to hide my “warm feelings” in regards to it or the pretentious and often times unstable, effects it claims to showcase. As if that could excuse an abysmal performance that inadvertently leads to scaling down from the options menu. First you start with the resolution and if that doesn’t help, you wind down the other details, almost praying that the game you’ve waited for so long, might become somewhat enjoyable instead of reverting into shiny slideshows. Unreal Engine 4 is buttery smooth by comparison, but let’s just focus on the task at hand. Kingdom Come: Deliverance is unfortunately powered by CRYENGINE (that’s how you’re supposed to write it now) in whatever edition it may currently present itself.

As expected by me, KCD ran very poorly during the first few days I got to play and test it. That is, before the current 1.2.2 version which still has a ton of issues on its own. Where should I start? The frame rate, why of course! I didn’t even hope that Kingdom Come: Deliverance, maxed out, on 4K resolution would run decently on my “mainstream grade” 1070 GTX. I was prepared to accept playing in the 50s range on 2K, but no. Not even 1080p would be stable and sadly, things still haven’t improved even after several updates. Of course, the GPU driver update hasn’t surfaced yet. Despite the heavy promotion which KCD gets from Nvidia, that is. The GeForce Experience application, actually had the nerve to suggest I not only play in 1080p, but also at low details across the board. That’s what they call “optimization” apparently. Nvidia Ansel support will be added at a later date, but they should first focus on making the game enjoyable, naturally.

I definitely won’t bore you with my other system specs. They fully qualify above the recommended section and I was disappointed to notice that it made no difference anyway. I was expecting bugs and glitches, since all open world titles are inherently featuring them at launch. But such inexplicable frame rate drops, regardless of resolution? That was an unpleasant surprise indeed. The cutscenes are divided into smooth 60fps FMVs (pre-recorded clips) or rendered with the in-game engine and locked at 30 frames per second. Don’t get me wrong, the game looks quite beautiful, regardless of those facial animations that may throw you off at least a bit. They aren’t the “my face is tired” kind of bad, like in Andromeda, but they sure aren’t the uncanny valley type either.

I have yet to find another video game who might do “facials” as realistic as LA Noire though. Speaking of another title released in 2011, did I mention that I can run Skyrim Special Edition (the x64 bit remaster of the initial version) on 4K, maxed out and 55fps on average, no matter what dense forest or intense battles I’m facing? How about that Kingdom Come: Deliverance, you think that CryEngine looks any better than Bethesda’s Creation Engine with high-res textures? The latter certainly performs a lot smoother, of that much no one can deny. Perhaps I’m being too harsh, but I really wanted to play KCD at its finest details and a resolution that could yield some epic screenshots. Can’t make decent desktop backgrounds from 1080p screenshots on a 4K native monitor.

In case you wish to hide the HUD temporarily, as I did just for the sake of the aforementioned screenshots, hit the ~ / ¬ button on your keyboard and then type “wh_ui_ShowHud 0” in the console window. To change back to full HUD, simply switch that 0 to 1. Hopefully, the dev team will introduce this minor option from the gameplay settings. It’s not like the User Interface is an eye sore, but it does break the immersion of a title which only features the first person perspective since it relies on realism as much as it could. I could probably go further into detail but I ranted enough about the many cons and several pros. The game map is a sight to behold and it just became one of my favorites, just for its distinct medieval art style.

Audio

Witcher 3 had Charles Dance among its voice actors, so of course Kingdom Come: Deliverance had to employ the talented Brian Blessed for that obligatory posh British accent that at least the nobility would use….in Britain. You know what, Warhorse Studios? I would have enjoyed listening to your project’s voice acting even more if I could have set the audio files to the Czech language. For authenticity’s sake alone, since I couldn’t speak or understand Slavic languages even if my life would depend on it. Or perhaps I could, but that’s not the point. I played Assassin’s Creed II and enjoyed it far more with Italian dubs and English subs and it made the game feel more connected to its simulated world.

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I try to do this in as many video games as I can, but I was surprised that you, as a Czech developer proudly showcasing parts of your national history, couldn’t include Czech audio files on the version of KCD I’m playing.I won’t consider this a weak point, but it’s more of a cautionary tale if you will. Authenticity demands no half measures. I had higher expectations from Warhorse than from Hollywood and their flawed vision of national identity, such as portraying Nazis in WW2 films that speak with Southern Californian accents. The soundtrack and general effects were more convincing, fortunately. I haven’t listened to a decent medieval OST since first playing the initial Stronghold title from the eponymous series. Kingdom Come: Deliverance’s music is flawless.

Gameplay

The already mentioned map is both gorgeous and far better than in many RPG counterparts I tested over the years. The fast travel option allows for some random encounters that don’t limit themselves to just highwaymen attacks. While you do need a horse for efficient travelling from one map corner to another, you’ll notice that when sprinting between locations on foot, you can always take the scenic route, so to speak. Shortcuts through the woodland areas, are always my favorites. You only have to worry about boars and bandits, since Warhorse has apparently opted against the inclusion of wolves and bears, despite their historic presence in Bohemian forests at the time of our simulated events. Don’t ask me why, I just hope that PETA wasn’t involved in this decision.

The core gameplay section has to be the combat though. It’s the selling point in all KCD trailers after all. And they didn’t mess this feature up, to our great relief and satisfaction. I truly haven’t seen better first person melee combat in any other video game prior to Kingdom Come: Deliverance. I was always bothered by the simplistic combat in the Elder Scrolls series, for example. I preferred to focus on archer types since at least ranged attacks still were more accurate than let’s say,  whacking a metal rod like a savage and watching foes drop like flies after a few random swings. KCD has finally done melee dueling a great amount of justice. Whether you’ll be fist fighting or using swords, maces, axes, halberds and so on, you aren’t limited to just a light or heavy attack and the option to block any incoming blows.

Just like in professional boxing, you need constantly move around your enemies, scanning for any openings, any weak points. Strike where they least expect it and then change your attack angle once more through the directional arrows or whatever keybindings you may prefer. I make it sound harder than it actually is. However, archery is ironically, the truly challenging combat segment but it can also be the most satisfying. One-shot kills won’t work very often unless you are really close to your target and you hit them in the head (failproof method that can kill even a heavily armored foe, if it’s not wearing a closed helmet). Obviously, there’s no aiming reticle during ranged combat and Henry’s lacking any skills during early game, archery included. And they still call it a peasant’s weapon! Guess that our protagonist skipped classes on pretty much all medieval life lessons.

Yes, there are no crossbows at all in the base game. Is this a problem? At the level which KCD wishes to play and simulate, you bet it is. Let’s focus a bit on the historic side. Crossbows weren’t just widespread during 15th Century’s Central Europe. They were literally the driving force for technological advancement, and subsuquent evolution of firearms on the continent. Gunpowder was already used with efficiency in Asia and the Ottoman Empire had adopted some early hand cannon designs, even if they were’t part of the standard equipment in 1403. Don’t you dare claim that crossbows weren’t important or used enough to warrant their inclusion in Kingdom Come: Deliverance. In fact, a crossbow was historically, the weapon which allowed almost untrained and unarmored peasants to shoot down and kill knights in full plate armor at an alarming rate.

It was so dreaded, that nobles and even some Popes, condemned this ranged weapon and banned it for short periods of time. Skilled archers would require intensive training for years, if not decades in order to hone their abilities and sheer strength or stamina. Longbows can be efficient against armored targets, but they still lack the penetration force of a crossbow at medium range. Not even the Church could stop progress this time though. What they feared, was already happening. After the widespread adoption of gunpowder in Europe, “knights in shining armor” were finally retired to the fairy tales they belonged to. Where are my KCD crossbows, Warhorse? In Steam community mods? You know that won’t cut it.

I barely scratched the surface after nearly 30 hours of testing the game out. I’m estimating that not even 100 hours would be enough to see through all side quests, since those have multiple choices and methods of accomplishing, same as with the main quests. You don’t have to worry about missing any mission deadlines if you haven’t even accepted the quest per se. Just make sure that you solve it in a timely manner after you did speak with all parties involved. Exploration is encouraged through the use of treasure maps that can offer you a sizeable early income boost and they sure are a cleaner alternative to theft and robbery.

Speaking of which, lockpicking and pickpocketing have their very own minigames which are rather difficult if you’re already accustomed to Skyrim’s interface. I never claimed that KCD is easy and I like just as it is, from this perspective. Stealing should be a high risk, high reward affair or otherwise the world would offer an unbalanced rivalry for the “true professionals in the branch”: the nobility and clergy, of course! They don’t like competition, do they?

Last but no least, I like how you can haggle with almost any merchant or skill trainer. Yes, you can negociate those prices in your advantage or “tip” the service providers and hope for more favorable terms with them. We all know that reputation and bribery in one form or another,  go hand in hand as the situation shall warrant it. Some things really never change. Clothes and armor are comprehensively layered and they can receive dirt and blood stains, depending on your in-game hobbies. Washing them is a constant concern, as the case goes for the weapons which require sharpening from time to time. I’m surprised that a blacksmith’s son can’t handle himself with a forge, but perhaps Henry really doesn’t take after his father. Taking baths is optional but I still highly recommend it. Unless you really wish to role play some weird type of character. I won’t judge, fear not.

Verdict

Kingdom Come: Deliverance might have received a perfect score from me, were it not for the fact that it’s showcasing an unstable performance across the board and also missing minor, but still crucial bits which prevent the game from truly offering an authentic 15th Century play through.

I noticed that very many players complain bout the saving system. I had no issues with it. You don’t need to spend a small fortune on booze for this specific role (Savior schnapps). Simply visit the aforementioned bath houses or rest in your bed for at least one hour. Not being able to quicksave every 10 minutes, taught me an important lesson of being more careful about my actions and the game environment. Does real life offer you quick saves, champ?

I can only hope that some future updates will iron out the many technical issues that still plague Kingdom Come: Deliverance. This title is a truly amazing experience for history fans that just wanted to simulate a realistic scenario involving absolutely no magic, monsters or god-like conditions and status for the story’s central figure. Instead of always focusing on being somebody, enjoy being an illustrious nobody for once. You’ll get by just as effieciently, if not better. Who pays attention to a foot soldier within an army of pompous knights? No one and it’s their mistake, not yours.

All the screenshots you see above, have been taken by me in-game through the Steam Overlay.