REVIEW IN PROGRESS
It's a serf's life in 'Kingdom Come: Deliverance'
By MICHAEL S. DARNELL | Stars and Stripes | Published: February 13, 2018
There is a certain rhythm to open-world roleplaying games. First, you start off as nobody. Then you get a sword. Then you become Lord and Master of Everything That Ever Was and Will Be. Then you get bored and begin to see how far you can say, drop kick a dragon skull down a mountain. Then you find that you’re enormously bored and turn off the game.
“Kingdom Come: Deliverance,” from Warhorse Studios is basically the opposite of all of that. It’s so far the in the other direction, in fact, that it takes a bit of getting used to.
This feudal life simulator has been a long time coming. Not necessarily because Warhorse took too long to make the game, but because it’s the game roleplaying game fans have been asking about for actual decades.
In “Kingdom Come,” you start as a nobody – a blacksmith’s son named Hal. Hal is quickly reminded that he’s a nobody when his village is raided by nobles who aren’t there to kill the “chosen one” or any other nonsense. No, they’re there because a few lords are having a petty squabble over money. Think Game of Thrones, but from the perspective of one of the guys shoveling manure in the background instead of one of the Lannister jerks.
Hal then gets his ass kicked, has his sword stolen by some mangy, low-level bandits, then gets his ass kicked some more before almost dying of – wait for it – a getting his ass kicked so much.
At that point in the game, I fell in love with “Kingdome Come.” It was then, when laying in a bed of straw in a realistic looking hovel, that I realized that no matter how long I played the game, I was likely never going to become the king of 15th century Bohemia, nor some grand wizard flinging fireballs out of my armpits. I was going to be Hal. A peasant. A nobody.
With those expectations firmly in check, I began to explore “Kingdom Come.”
There is a lot to discover here, far too much to unpack within a week’s time – hence the review in progress. Here are the basics, though.
Hal is on a mission of vengeance for reasons I won’t completely spoil here. But again, he’s not a lord with deep pockets – or even a weapon to his name. He has to work his way up to being more than a beggar on the streets.
He lives in a feudal society. You’re not going to discover massive metropolis’ here. The biggest cities I’ve discovered during my dozen plus hours of play would barely qualify as villages.
I was very impressed on how detailed the world was and how true to life they felt. The areas are built up in a logical way, and the various building feel like the artists at Warhorse designed them to feel realistic and not “realistic, but in an awesome video gamey sort of way.”
There is no handholding whatsoever in the game. This works both to pleasantly surprise and annoy in equal amounts. The good aspects of this come to the forefront when doing simple tasks like sharpening an axe. In a game like “The Elder Scrolls,” you’d tap a button and wait for the axe-sharpening animation to begin.
Not in “Kingdom Come.” You’ll have to manually adjust the angle of your blade, apply pressure with the thumbstick and tap the left trigger to pedal the whetstone wheel. It’s refreshing for skill to play a part in even simple tasks.
Another fantastic example is brewing of herbal remedy and other such concoctions. You’ll have to grind the herbs, boil the water and muddle the mixtures by hand. Oh, but first you’ll have to read the recipe book and follow the instructions.
What’s that? Hal can’t read? Of course not. He’s a blacksmith’s son, not some milk-drinking scholar! So, you’ll first have to hunt down a rare scribe and pay him to teach you how to read.
Again, attention to detail is the bread and butter of the “Kingdom Come” experience so far. I’ve been on hunts, poached wild game, attempted to become the world’s worst thief, paid money to take a bath, got accosted by highwaymen and had food I held on to for too long spoil and give me food poisoning.
When it’s dark out, Hal needs a torch to see with. When he’s hungry, he has to find food. When he gets overly sleepy, he’ll stumble around, eyes fluttering open and closed until he finds a bed to rest in.
In short – this is a true roleplaying experience. Your role just happens to be a sort of everyday guy with everyday guy needs and abilities. It’s a breath of fresh air in a genre that has become so stale as to become mindlessly formulaic.
However, there are some fairly serious issues with the 1.1 and 1.2 builds of the game that I have to point out. All open world games come with bugs – there is no avoiding them in a game with so many things happening and so many geometries butting up against each other. Even with those expectations, the number of bugs that have forced me to restart has been fairly high.
I’ve been unable to go through any doorways. I’ve gotten stuck in geometry. I’ve been stuck in dialogue sections where I’ve been unable to select any response or exit. The lockpicking mechanic goes beyond difficult and into “don’t even bother” territory. I’ve had two hard freezes of the game when attempting to pickpocket (if I didn’t know any better, I’d think Warhorse made thieving mechanics terrible in order to force me to be a good boy. Never.)
In short, it’s an open world RPG made developers who – while seasoned individually – have come together to create a new IP in the single most difficult genre in which to do so. Bugs are to be expected. And I would find those easy to forgive – except for the fact that you’re not able to save at will.
See, in “Kingdom Come” you’re only able to manually save by drinking “Saviour Schnapps,” an item that is – at least in the open dozen hours of the game – very hard to come by. The game does save at what it deems to be major points, but for the most part, those are few and far between.
I understand why Warhorse wanted to limit saving. They wanted the game’s decisions to carry weight. What good is the making a hard choice or building a game where actions have consequences if players can just save-scum their way through?
Well, outside of the subjective debate between the right to save anytime versus pre-determined save points, the fact is that limited save options are an active detriment when applied to open-world, bug-heavy games, such as “Kingdom Come.”
I can accept losing time because I made a bad choice within the game. As a long-time fan of Bethesda and Obsidian, I’m super forgiving of bugs, too. It’s infuriating, however, to lose time and effort because the noble I was supposed to follow got stuck in a fencepost and upon reloading, I’ve lost 20 minutes of gameplay.
So far, Warhorse has patched the game a couple of times since sending out review copies. There is hope that they fix this broken mechanic. I pray that they do, if only to provide the option to save more frequently, even if they stick with the limited save mechanic.
“Kingdom Come” is a mixed-bag so far. But it’s a mixed bag that’s heavy on pleasant surprises, wonderful world-building and excellent roleplaying opportunities. If you’re able to overlook the expected open-world bugs and some mechanics that clearly need fixing, you’re going to have a great time with “Kingdom Come.”
A copy of this game was provided for review purposes.