Kickstarter has been an incredible ally to the games industry, helping greats such as The Banner Saga, Shovel Knight, Darkest Dungeon, and FTL get off the ground. But while Kingdom Come: Deliverance was another to blast through its funding goals over four years ago, it won’t be recognised in quite the same way.
Where to begin. There’s a clear desire to rethink the rule book in KCD and smash through some of the glass ceiling staples of the genre. And there are certainly design choices which provide food for thought for other studios. There are also others that come across a bit self-gratifyingly to appease the developer’s obsession with ‘realism’.
It’s pretty obvious that while a lot of time and effort has been spent developing KCD, it’s a really mixed bag across the spectrum. This is an RPG where you can get poisoning from eating bad food, exhausted from a lack of sleep, and even reprimanded for turning up to your quest late. Story missions can fail if you move too far away from where you’re supposed to be, and if you try to strike up a conversation wearing a certain outfit you’ll either be laughed at or taken more seriously.
It’s also an RPG where you can’t just save the game when you want because, in an effort to be ‘realistic’, creative decided that you either need to sleep in a bed, have a Saviour Schnapps potion in your knapsack, or rely on the unreliable autosave. Yes, those potions are in short supply and can cost money. True, it does make things a bit more refreshing and forces you to rethink your approach to almost every situation. But no, it’s not in the least bit convenient because there’s rarely downtime during a mission.
None of this is helped by the fact that KCD is absolutely full to the brim with glitches, bugs, and technical hiccups. Fair enough, most games on this scale are. You’re not going to craft a massive, living, breathing, open world without there being a few things you’ve missed. But for every hour I spent playing the game, I encountered, at minimum, two unusual, unscripted – and mostly unwelcome – events and that’s a pretty poor show. Some were minor like NPC pathing issues. Some were moderate like characters getting stuck in doorways or finding themselves unable to move. Some were downright severe like city guards randomly spawning to attack me in the middle of an isolated, evergreen forest. Or being physically pulled out of a casual conversation mid-sentence to forcibly continue the story I was purposefully trying to avoid. Clearly, they couldn’t wait for me to finish.
Then there was the time I couldn’t find the NPC I needed to continue my quest because they’d got stuck in a looping conversation away from the marker point and couldn’t be interacted with. And how I laughed when an entire questline glitched out, forcing me to reload my game – an autosave from a half hour previous.
Name a bug and I encountered it in Kingdom Come: Deliverance – screen-tearing, clipping issues, malformed textures. Put it this way. If you think Skyrim launched in a ropey state, you may want to wait a few weeks. Or just not bother at all.
To clarify, some of these issues were encountered in 1.01 which is where a quarter of my time was spent for review due to when we received code and were able to download the update. Make no mistake, though, there is very much a continuation of several issues in 1.02 – the enormous 21GB day one patch – which will need to be urgently addressed.
But it’s a stunning looking game. CryEngine glows and gleams like you’ve never seen it before. I was able to run the game on Ultra High settings on a Gigabyte Sabre 17w with an nVidia GeForce 1060 and it ran like smooth butter with the frame rate fluctuating between 30 – 40 FPS most of the time. Whether I was genuinely wincing from the refracting light, admiring the rustle and tussle plowing through each blade of grass, or gawping at the silky skin of my lovely horse, Kingdom Come: Deliverance did blow me away on more than one occasion. Plenty of time has been spent building this world and you can tell.
Same goes for the music and sound. This game is not only well voice acted, but the score is truly bolstered by choir vocals and jovial medieval ballads. Brian Blessed gives a commanding performance as Lord Konrad Kyeser and Tom McKay does a solid job of carrying the story as Henry, the young blacksmith’s boy who loses his family and loved ones in a horrifying raid on his hometown. You start the game proper seeking vengeance on the man who orchestrated it, all while unravelling much deeper consequences that affect those around him. The tone and atmosphere is spot on and the MoCap in KCD does a good job of immersing you in these bloody and brutal times, drawing you deeper into its world.
Unfortunately, though, the games’ issues go far deeper than face value technical ones. Combat for one, is some of the most divisive seen in an RPG, perhaps in any game. Admittedly, it may not be for me and could work for others, but on the whole, I found it to be a daunting, unrewarding system. To begin with, you have to move your sword or shield to deflect incoming attacks, then position them correctly ready for the counter. You can also step swiftly to the side and smash RT or RB for the counter-attack if you’re quick enough, and to gain even more of an advantage, you can feint your shots as if you’re seemingly going to attack from the left, then last minute swipe from the right.
Perhaps, you’ll start to feel a bit more comfortable with it after the tutorials, maybe even thinking you’ve got the hang of it. But KCD loves to lull you into a false sense of security. Because once you leave town you’ll get absolutely mauled by bandits looking for their next coin. Couple that with the save game frustrations, and you can see where this is going. The AI are like unrelenting wild animals wanting to eat you alive and at times, seem like they have a completely impenetrable defence. Not helped by the fact you’re losing big chunks of your stamina every time you make a successful block and counter as you quickly become drained and left defenceless. Seemingly, these rules don’t appear to apply to your opponents as they still charge you, hacking and slashing while you’re backpedalling or even trying to run away. Except they end up tackling you to the ground almost every time, so you’re pretty screwed.
Thing is, it never feels like a Dark Souls where you can recognise some of your mistakes, learn from them, and become better. Sadly, it feels like you’re relying on luck a lot of the time and to be honest, that never really changes. There’s no steady progression, no leniency and certainly no hand-holding. Which would be fine if I felt like I was actually making improvements.
We haven’t even started on the archery, yet. For every kill you make with one arrow, you’re liable to have wasted about 20. Don’t expect any crosshairs here to line up your shots, you’re going to have to line them up yourself and hope KCD has got it physics right. Which doesn’t seem to be the case. Sometimes it might look like you’ve made a direct hit on your prey, but the arrow has actually gone into the rock behind them or the ground in front of them. Sometimes it looks like you’ve lined it up perfectly, but then the arrow sails in completely the other direction. It’s pretty soul destroying and more than a little bit tiresome. And really, I’m not even sure practice actually does make perfect.
Also, KCD has the single worst lockpicking mini-game I have ever seen implemented anywhere. I’m not even sure what the development team were thinking with this, but with the right stick you need to find a sweet spot and wait for the cursor to turn yellow. Once it does, you need to do a full rotation with the left stick. The problem is, as you move the left stick, the position of the sweet spot also moves, meaning you’ll also have to turn the right stick as well. The full rotation of the left is also quite resistant depending on what difficulty you’re attempting and the time you have to pick the lock is never nearly enough. Oh, and any failed attempts will be so loud that they can be heard by anyone nearby. And believe me, these people have hearing like bats! Again, might not seem like a problem as many will want to play as a law-abiding citizen, but the game essentially encourages you to go stealing and / or breaking into places from some of the early quests. So this is a problem.
And since realism is considered one of the game’s selling points, you shouldn’t come into KCD expecting a historically accurate representation of the times. Sure, Warhorse hired historians on a full-time basis to talk them through day to day feudal life and in many aspects that research shows through as true and authentic – for instance, learning about the nature of hunts and the lifestyles of executioners. But considering they’ve prioritised things like pretzels – apparently a 15th Century thing, who knew – over various races and cultures – because the devs claim there were none – I’m not going to take their depiction of the times seriously. A quick trip to the library, visit to a museum, or simple search on Google would tell them, and their historians, otherwise.
Kingdom Come: Deliverance is a massive game. There’s hours of story content here, tons of side missions, lots of different ways to play opening up some fun possible scenarios to share with friends, and a wealth of beautiful scenery and weather effects to take in, all worked on by some clearly talented people. But KCD is inherently flawed in so many different ways that it’s very hard to pay attention to its good traits long enough not to be distracted by the bad. Yes, a few patches could help alleviate some of these issues and bring the rating up just slightly, but the root of KCD’s problems goes deeper still and cannot be so easily fixed or forgotten.
+ Content rich and value for money
+ Some of the best visuals in the genre
+ Stunning MoCap performances and sound
– Riddled with bugs of all types affecting all aspects of gameplay
– Save system is not convenient and lends itself to frustration
– Combat feels luck-based and AI mostly overpowered
– Some mechanics miss the mark, like lockpicking
Kingdom Come: Deliverance
6.5 out of 10
Tested on PC