Beauty can easily be found in the ordinary. For anyone who grew up in rural surroundings much of Warhorse's Kingdom Come: Deliverance will be familiar; rough country lanes, the plants growing wild alongside fields of grain, the hush of the forest and burble of becks are all familiar and help ground the historical events portrayed in the game.
Set in the kingdom of Bohemia, the modern day Czech Republic, you play the part of Henry, a blacksmith's son who finds himself one of few survivors when his village is raided and burned to the ground. Through luck and perseverance Henry finds himself rising through the ranks to become a warrior and get revenge on the man he deems responsible for the death of his loved ones.
Warhorse Studios has strived for a degree of realism in its medieval RPG. There's no magic, nor will you ever fight a dragon or other mythological creature. Instead you will be fighting against people of varying ability and armaments. When you begin Henry has no ability for combat and even winning a fight with the local layabout will be difficult. You will also have to contend with hunger, exhaustion and illness.
In Henry we find a rare thing in RPGs - a character who starts of as a nobody and actually feels like one. He's a bit dull-witted and lazy and he isn't immune to doing dumb childish things - like throwing dung at someone's house because he doesn't like what the owner said down the pub. He doesn't know how to use a sword and he's pretty rubbish at fist fighting.
In other games you're told that your character is no-one special, but they always turn out to have a power or some hidden secret that gives them power and purpose. Henry wants revenge but he has no power. He fumbles his way through encounters with powerful people and only the sympathetic nature of the lord his father worked for saves him from a life without direction and probably a slow agonising death in a ditch.
In the beginning I found the combat system a bit too clunky at times, with enemy intentions difficult to read until I found my own ways of dealing with this. I constantly backed away and moved to one side and as soon as a swing was taken I would respond with a flurry of sword pokes aimed at the least armoured portion of their body.
Ideally combat works by shifting your stance to aim for one of five directions or stabbing centrally. You can tell where an enemy is aiming to give you a chance to counter effectively either with a parry or shield block. If you have more than one opponent then you are in for a bad time until you learn to kite them and keep them all in line of sight. Alternatively you can just leg it.
Archery can also be a great tool in dispatching those who wish you harm, but when you first pick up a bow be prepared to sway around like a drunkard. Couple this with a lack of aiming reticule and hitting anything becomes incredibly difficult. This encourages you to use the dot on the screen before drawing your bow to aim and to hope you can release your arrow as it sways over where the dot had previously been. Because of poor collision detection, however, you will sometimes see arrows going through targets without doing any damage - although scoring a perfect headshot does feel rewarding.
Henry can pick up many quests on his journey and each one is either related to the larger story or is its own separate plot that will further serve to illustrate what life was like in medieval times (spoiler warning - it was short, messy and brutal). All of the quests are fully voice-acted and whilst there are no award-winning performances the actors do a solid job of selling the setting. Henry, especially, sounds perfectly ordinary whilst remaining engaging. This brings me back to one of my favourite things about Kingdom Come
- how grounded everything is. The people sound like ordinary folk, there is no bluster or grandiose characters that we would normally find in melodramatic fantasy games. These types work perfectly fine in fantastical settings but here would've been out of place.
Kingdom Come: Deliverance
is a massive game from a relatively small developer and that means not every bug was ironed out before release. Thankfully, most of the bugs I encountered were harmless and usually quite funny. When starting dialogues I would be treated to seeing characters drop in from the sky, or spinning around wildly. The most painful bug I have encountered so far features an alchemy table that, when interacted with, would send you floating in to the sky. Harmless if you catch it straight away and land on the roof, only falling a few feet. Not so harmless if you catch it a few hundred feet up and plummet to your death.
This bug helped highlight one of the worst game design decisions in the game - the save system. The game saves when you sleep for a full night (or possibly through a whole day) but this didn't always trigger a save for me. It also saves at the beginning of a quest, potentially leaving you without saved progress for hours. There is a manual save but that requires an expensive item that also gets you drunk, and whilst drunk you are useless at almost everything.
On paper the system sounded like another layer of the semi-realistic approach, but in practice you can lose three hours of progress because an alchemy table triggers your own personal Rapture, you can also die unexpectedly on the road during a quest and lose a large chunk of progress. This system is currently a fixture, but a future update will see it being reworked.
Despite the jankiness through most of the game there is also a lot to love in Kingdom Come: Deliverance
- from the setting and the grounded characters, the fascinating story told against real history opens a doorway for future games set in the past without the need for fantastical or sci-fi elements. I still have a lot to see in this game but for now I'm waiting on some of the promised updates before I continue my journey.
[A brief note about the PS4 version - I also received the console version of the game and whilst it wasn't as pretty as the PC version, sporting slightly muddy textures, I did find that I preferred the gamepad controls to mouse+keyboard.]
+ Brilliant setting and choice of historical period.
+ Henry is a loveable idiot who provides a perfect POV for players.
+ On PC it is stunningly beautiful in its ordinary realism.
+ The layered armour system is great if you like that sort of thing (I do).
- The save system actually caused me to rage quit on several different occasions.
- Combat is clunky, but has potential with tweaks to be amazing.
- Even though they are mostly harmless there are far too many bugs to let fully slide.
SPOnG Score: 7/10