Kingdom Come: Deliverance is an incredibly ambitious game. It’s an open world adventure set in medieval Europe that has no fantasy elements, realistic combat mechanics, and little in the way of modern conveniences. Instead of starting out with some character defining power, the player is a mere peasant with nothing special about them. As an open world adventure, it’s like little else out there and I had huge hopes that this long-delayed Kickstarter game would deliver on its lofty promises.
With a war looming over the throne after the death of Emperor Charles IV of the Holy Roman Empire, the player takes on the role of Henry, the son of a blacksmith in the humble town of Skalitz, whose parents are killed during a raid by invaders. The story takes inspiration from historical events and is generally well told, tense, and full of intrigue. The fully voiced English cast has really decent writing backing them up, but are let down by some lacklustre sound mixing. It’s obvious that Henry’s voice was recorded in a different room to other cast members.
I’m not going to beat around the bush here: Kingdom Come: Deliverance’s biggest issue is performance. It’s practically unplayable at times because of regular slowdown, no matter which settings I had the game at. When things get frantic; mostly when there’s a battle going on, the performance tanks horribly even on the lowest settings – my PC runs a Core i5-6400 with a GTX 1070, more than capable of the recommended specs – to the point of freezing with alarming frequency. It got in the way of attempting to enjoy the gameplay more than it was worth bearing with.
But performance drops are just the tip of the iceberg. Long loading times are rampant throughout the game. Pop in is also frequent and while this can be mitigated by reducing the graphical settings, this barely helped in my time with the game. On top of this, character models popping in would occasionally change people’s appearance entirely. As for the character models themselves, they march straight into the uncanny valley. It’s understandable given the ridiculously large open world, but it’s still off-putting.
I can actually see where they were going with the combat as the more realistic approach is part of what drew me to Kingdom Come: Deliverance. When fighting one on one, the game performs relatively well and I was able to competently block attacks. Using the mouse to direct where attacks are coming from, along with feints and blocks is cumbersome at first, but this I eventually got used to and for most one-on-one encounters I was able to defeat opponents with relative skill.
However, when there’s more than one assailant, especially if there’s a big battle going on, the frame rate tanks to levels where it’s incredibly difficult to react. Often I would be doing rather well, only for some unseen foe to take tons of health off. I’m no stranger to unforgiving combat – I play and enjoy the Dark Souls franchise, after all – but the difference here is that I’m not enjoying combat in Kingdom Come: Deliverance because of the major performance hits.
Henry does also have the ability to fight using a bow and arrow, but really this felt even more of a farce. Ranged combat has no reticule so relies on guesswork by design, which is certainly more realistic but made all the more difficult by the swaying aim. This is by design, as you need to improve your archery skills, but discouraged me from using them unless in extreme circumstances, and even then it had as much impact as a spit ball through a straw.
Where Kingdom Come: Deliverance does excel is in its world building. Set in Bohemia in the Holy Roman Empire, there’s an eastern European vibe to this medieval landscape that translates well from market towns full of beggars, to country roads littered with bandits. Admittedly the characters in the English language dub are a blend of British and American accents that sound very odd together, but when the game allowed for it, I did get sucked into the world.
In a way, there’s a lot to compare to similar open world games such as Skyrim, only this game opts for a realistic and historical take on the genre that’s honestly refreshing. What’s also quite refreshing is how NPCs who give Henry quests won’t always wait too long for him. If someone says to meet them in the evening in the tavern, you may fail the mission if you don’t or have to find a different way to complete the quest. This non-linear approach is par for the course with many of its contemporaries, but the living world aspect is a remarkable achievement.
Even Henry’s growth as a character, while not wholly original, fits the game like a glove. Henry starts out as a smelly, ignorant serf, who can’t read, can’t wield a sword, and has little experience as a blacksmith. Through obtaining coin, he can pay someone to teach him the basics of reading, which look as if the words aren’t spelt correctly. As he levels up his reading ability, the words become clearer, simulating to our more literate age how not being able to read would be.
It’s not just reading though. Talking to people and using conversational types to respond in certain ways when given a choice allows Henry to gain the gift of the gab. Perks earned individually for each main level, each stat and each skill upon ranking up allows for bonuses to be applied, usually with some negative consequence for others.
There’s no shortage of content on offer and while it is entirely possible to run into the same random scenario when travelling again and again, word for word, the amount of side quests that require a bit of thinking and problem solving is staggering. Occasionally the map loses waypoints, though I get the feeling this was intentional to build tension rather than inconvenience the player.
Speaking of inconvenience though, saving is a huge point of contention and it’s completely by design. The game only saves if Henry sleeps in a bed, you hit a checkpoint in a quest, or drink a special brew called Saviour Schnapps. This doesn’t really affect the game badly, but if accosted and murdered by bandits, then it can send you back quite a distance to the last time the game saved for you. Having an arbitrary way of saving on the fly is part of the problem here and hinders more than it helps.
If Kingdom Come: Deliverance has a ton of bug fixing to improve the performance drastically, it could be a hidden gem. It’s clear that the game, despite its grand ambitions, was simply not ready for public consumption. Shimmers of brilliance are there and had it seen more time in the oven, or set its ambitions at a more reasonable level, it could have been brilliant and scored significantly higher as a result. Alas, Kingdom Come: Deliverance is another cautionary tale rather than a trend setter.
Version Tested: PC
Disclaimer: During the review period, a 23GB Day One Patch was released. Review reflects performance of Version 1.2 with this patch.