Correction: This review originally said the game takes place in the 11th century when it takes place in the 15th. Sorry for the inconvenience.
Let’s get the big thing out the way straight off the bat – as a game purportedly aiming for historical accuracy, Kingdom Come: Deliverance is the poster child of a school of thought that argues diversity is not needed in medieval settings because ‘there were no people of colour’ (or disabled people, or queer people, or anything like that) at the time.
While this is factually untrue, as many academics, historians, and commentators have explained every time this conversation pops up, games like Kingdom Come continue to present a specific image that fits in line with our cultural expectations (expectations themselves born of racism) of what medieval society was.
But when Kingdom Come: Deliverance tells me to brew a potion so I can see in the dark within the first four hours, ‘historical accuracy’ as a guiding principal flies right out the window. And this is all before even taking the sloppy design choices and technical nightmares into consideration.
This is all before even taking the sloppy design choices and technical nightmares into consideration.
Kingdom Come: Deliverance follows the story of Henry, a Blacksmith’s son in 15th Century Bohemia. The region has been gripped by war following a claim to King Wenceslaus IV’s throne, but while the royalty and nobility play politics, Henry must navigate and survive a tumultuous world of bandits, enemy armies and demanding liege lords to find his place amidst all this upheaval.
The characters at the heart of the game stand out for being remarkably multifaceted. Regardless of societal standing, everyone encountered feels very human – having flaws, making mistakes, but ultimately trying to do the best they can with their lot. Henry in particular is a fascinating character to inhabit, as the mistakes he make are often a result of his environment (such as being drawn into vigilante justice by his friends early in the game) rather than the player’s actions. He’s out of his depth at all times, and watching how he tries to remain moral and faith-abiding throughout it all makes him a notably sympathetic protagonist.
Beggars line the streets and guards shirk their duties at the taverns, while average folk go about their daily routines in the shadows of the nobility.
The game’s other biggest strength is by far the environments, which are constructed with an immense amount of detail. Beggars line the streets and guards shirk their duties at the taverns, while average folk go about their daily routines in the shadows of the nobility. The landscapes, from the cities to the countryside, look gorgeous, and once the game opens up a few hours in it really begins to feel like the real-world Skyrim we’d been hoping for.
The combat also tries to be more realistic than most others, adopting the directional melee we’ve seen from games like Mount and Blade, For Honor and Chivalry: Medieval Warfare. Positioning, reading the opponent and managing your stamina are all crucial in encounters, and there are a few nifty extras thrown in like countering and feinting.
Underpinning everything a complex set of stats that dictate your abilities in a much more in-depth fashion than the average skill points system often seen in RPGs. Speech is possibly the best example of this, as instead of there being a basic speech/intimidate/persuade mechanic, each character has their own personality and attitude toward Henry that can depend on social class, dress and even hygiene. It’s ludicrously in-depth, and having so many options to tip the scales in your favour before even approaching someone is an exciting take on age-old dialogue systems.
But, much like the dark ages themselves, for every good idea, there are is an annoying, backward one that drags it down. That engaging combat system? The lock on system is abysmal, with setting up the direction of an attack often leading to the camera wandering off and looking at anything but where you’re trying to hit. Trying to take on multiple enemies is a test of frustration even later in the game when abilities have been levelled up some.
Speech, stealth, and other non-violent solutions? They’re undermined by a save system that feels like it’s from an entirely different genre of game. Saving requires a certain type of potion which are expensive, scarce, and require skills to craft. The game starts off with three, and it can take hours before any more are acquired, demolishing any capacity for experimentation. In a game all about exploring the large medieval sandbox offered up, limiting saves to this extreme is nonsensical.
For every good idea, there are is an annoying, backward one that drags it down.
It doesn’t help that these systems – that could’ve been a harmless bit of jank in an ambitious game if implemented properly – are constantly picked at by an overwhelming amount of technical problems. Poor performance, clothes constantly clipping through each other, shoddy AI, pathfinding and the like all make Kingdom Come a nightmare to play. There was even a point where I couldn’t walk up the stairs because Henry was going at them like a sheer cliff instead. Even with the 20GB behemoth of a day one patch, wading through the bugs is a slog.
Then there’s the game’s aforementioned lax attitude to historical accuracy putting the game in an altogether unpleasant light. If a game is marketed as a historically accurate sandbox (as opposed to something like Assassin’s Creed, which presses history through a sci-fi lens), every discrepancy is a another cut to immersion – something that is crucial to an RPG, but less so to strategy games like Crusader Kings.
It firmly puts the game on very mean-spirited footing – magical night goggle drinks are acceptable in their world, but marginalised people who actually did exist at the time are not.
It isn’t all that surprising a medieval game has fury surrounding it regarding representation. It’s happened many times. Kingdom Come is a unique example, though, because Warhorse itself has stoked these fires over the years. And you know what? Whatever. People having politics I disagree with isn’t new, and getting into debates about the false binary of “artistic freedom” versus social responsibility isn’t something I’m interested in.
But for Warhorse to then happily include night-vision potions, special game-saving drinks, and a jumble of American and British accents in a Bohemian setting just makes the things it did deem acceptable to omit for its rather inaccurate vision of accuracy all the more suspect. It firmly puts the game on very mean-spirited footing – magical night goggle drinks are acceptable in their world, but marginalised people who actually did exist at the time are not.
Kingdom Come should’ve been good. It was perfectly positioned to be a unique and refreshing break from the magical, mystical medieval worlds we so often inhabit. Thanks to the bolted-together systems that just don’t fit together, technical issues galore, and a niggling sense the game isn’t presenting its historical foundations in good faith, though, it manages to fall flat in every way.
Review copy was provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.
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Platform: PC [Reviewed]/Xbox One/PlayStation 4
Developer/Publisher: Warhorse Studios/Deep Silver
Release date: February 13, 2018