So normally I would launch right into the review, but in the case of Kingdom Come: Deliverance, it’s impossible to talk about the game and ignore the controversy surrounding the founder of Warhorse Studios, Daniel Vavra. My intention is to create a well-rounded and informed review that will inform your purchase decision as a potential consumer for the game. So I would feel remiss were I to ignore this aspect.
Vavra has come under fire for a combination of things. It began when he rebuked calls to include people of color in the game. The creative director reasoned that the narrow setting of the game, Kingdom Come: Deliverance takes place over four square miles in 15th century Bohemia, made it very unlikely to encounter anyone outside the dominant ethnic group of the area. If it had been left at that, not many people would have had an issue, but Vavra held an increasingly crass and reactionary stance in response to the criticism that felt like he was doubling down. As time wore on, he became more open and challenging towards “SJWs” who he saw in all challenges to his increasingly bombastic political positions. Vavra would increasingly go on targeted rants on social media lambasting various strawmen of the people criticizing him, and the trend only got more pronounced with time. Now, this is the kind of thing he’ll do as a serious statement. At this point, merely mentioning this aspect is enough to incite a mob of reactionary backlash from right-wing individuals on social media. A truly sad state of affairs for what could be a good game.
All of that said, I’m not going to to knock points off of the game for the stances of Vavra or certain members of the community. I may vehemently disagree with their political positions, but I still made attempts to divorce those political positions from this creative work. I’m still going to point out some obvious examples of unnecessary expression in the game when needed.
I do feel the need to point out that it’s realistically impossible to completely divorce a creator from their creativity. We all place some aspect of ourselves in our work, so there are likely some elements of the game that will offend some players, it is a brutal medieval setting rife with warfare. Again, pointing out all of this is simply an attempt to create an informed purchase decision for you, the reader. Some readers don’t care, some do, it’s up to you to make that decision for yourself.
Now to the actual review. . .
If I had to describe Kingdom Come: Deliverance in one word or phrase, it would be “EuroJank”. It’s a mess, but not always a bad one. It’s almost like if Dwarf Fortress and Mount&Blade had a baby that was then raised by a bunch of weird Europeans. And I both love and loath it for that.
The systems at play here are complex, sometimes frustratingly so. But for me, it was an exercise in patience, as I learned to handle my skills with lockpicks, blades and my tongue more proficiently, things became easier. The game isn’t easy, but it just ramps down from a steep learning curve into a more enjoyable experience.
One thing that Kingdom Come: Deliverance clearly sets out to do is to use a meticulous amount of detail to immerse the player into a stinking, wretched and brutal world. And oh boy does it succeed. From having people fear your blood-soaked person to stinking up the place because you haven’t bathed in several days; Kingdom Come: Deliverance really works on your emotions and expectations to set a nice tempo and feeling of realism.
The environments look great, even on lower settings. Even down to the food sitting around on tables throughout the region. And if you don’t chuckle the first time you pick up a bowl of food and shove the bowl and all into your pocket, something is wrong with you.
The realism of the game makes it far too easy to fail and die while wandering around. It might come from broken legs after tumbling down a small embankment, it could come from getting accosted by bandits while attempting to fast travel. There are so many little hidden gems of unintended hilarity in Kingdom Come that you just need to find them for yourself.
The game DOES NOT hold your hand when it comes to controls, mechanics or navigation. It’s just a tiny sliver of an open world that you’re set loose in to do whatever you want. In my first few minutes with the game, I ended up falling down a hill and breaking my leg so severely that I bled to death as I explored the starting town. Then the actual game kicked off and I learned my first lesson, 15th century Bohemia really freaking sucked.
While I was working with my blacksmith father on forging a blade for a local noble, I’m introduced to the world and some basic controls with a handful of simple fetch quests. I’m introduced to my first bit of combat when the town slouch hands me a beating for attempting to collect a debt he owes to my father. Once the noble shows up to collect his freshly-forged blade, I get a glimpse of Kingdom Come: Deliverance and its humor. As the noble offers me a chance to swing the blade, my character proceeds to demonstrate just how truly awful he is with said blade. It’s one of the more interesting ways I’ve seen a game communicate the “Hey! You Suck!” message to the player.
But all of this joviality immediately falls away when the Cumans come marching in. It was from this initial and brutal introduction that about five hours of story-heavy gameplay got started. Those first five hours are the only real introduction or hand-holding you’re going to get, so don’t get used to it. But for now, back to the beginning.
One of the most terrifying experiences of that early game was seeing an enemy army march over the hill and proceed to slaughter and burn my village as I ran screaming for the hills with an arrow in my leg. It’s a great sequence that is littered with a variety of intriguing moments that set the barbaric tone of the title overall. Be forewarned that the first potentially offensive scene comes up as a minor distraction in this section. You as the player have to stop a female friend of yours from being violently assaulted by the invading army, and this comes after you just watched your parents being callously murdered. It just felt a bit unnecessary given that the medieval and gritty tone was already well understood even that early in the adventure.
There are other more subtle expressions of misogynistic or otherwise offensive elements sprinkled throughout the game as well. A perfect example of this is the “Manly Odour” skill, a skill which grants a bonus to charisma when talking to women but a penalty to stealth. These kinds of design decisions are a perfect expression of an outdated and idiotic attitude that’s been injected into the game. And yes, assuming women only like men who stink because they smell “manly” is idiotic. No one likes BO, and stop using it to virtue signal your sexist assumptions, game designers.
There are a lot of these moments of brutality and bloodshed either shown or inferred throughout the game. Frankly, this isn’t a game for the faint of heart or those with sensitivity to the kinds of brutality described here. You have been warned.
From that bloody point onward, you need to hit the ground running to accomplish your goals. The game won’t hand you success, you need to earn it.
Every single system in the game plays into how you can succeed or fail in accomplishing tasks, and there are myriad alternate ways to tackle any objective. I’ll leave it up to your own experimentation to find out what ways work for you to solve the challenges before you, because that trial and error is where the most fun lies.
The combat is one of the best parts of the game, by far. Even fighting a drunk with your fists feels savage and chaotic. Screen effects and sound queues really sell every hit. I was really unprepared for those first fights against a fully-armored opponent too, I learned after repeated failures that it’s better to distract these enemies than to fight them in the early game. This is where the whistle you use to summon your horse comes into play. I won’t give you more of a hint than that. Although I do have to say, I hate the archery system as I found it too fiddly for my liking.
At times, it feels like many of the aspects of the game were inspired by Elder Scrolls Skyrim mods, along with the appropriate level of polish. There are some interesting ideas in the various mini-games for lockpicking and haggling, or in the character skills system; but overall the execution leaves a fair bit to be desired. A lot of the information you’ll need to learn is buried in a labyrinthine mix of menus that you’re going to be referring to often. And then you have to contend with the bugs, which you will encounter. Remember how I said this had elements of Dwarf Fortress? Well, it’s the combination of unintentional hilarity, weird bugs and the need for an expansive wikis-worth of information that makes that comparison so apt.
The game is buggy, there’s no getting around it. Pop-in was near constant on the PC version for me. And the framerate drops consistently with graphical options like shader effects turned on. I also noticed a few issues with the AI pathfinding getting hung on terrain during fights.
The actors, scenery, and textures do look fantastic on the highest detail level – but unless you have an extremely beefy system, you probably won’t be able to enjoy it that way. The PC version isn’t particularly well optimized.
The game has had three major patches since launch, with another on the way to fix performance and quest-related issues. There are a lot of game-breaking bugs right now, and I’d genuinely advise anyone interested in picking up the game to wait a few weeks for some of the major bugs to be ironed out. However, if you’re on a slow internet connection and are downloading it from Steam or another source, feel free to pick it up now if you really want it. By the time you finish downloading the game and its patches, a lot of the bugs should be dealt with.
One of the major things I would recommend waiting for is the updated save system. As it stands, you can only save at certain points, like when you’re drunk off your ass. There is no way to just save and quit when you want. But Warhorse is patching in that option. Other aspects like the notoriously difficult mini-games are being adjusted as well.
The systems themselves hide a lot of complexity that you need to learn through either intuition or experimentation. For example, you can’t really know how an armor set will limit your vision or mobility until you use it. There’s a lot of these teaching experiences in the game, and they aren’t so bad once you come to terms with the feel that Warhorse was going for.
It’s a $60 game that’s janky as all hell. If a much more violent and oppressive – and less polished, Skyrim experience is your type of game, and you can deal with the issues, then pick it up. If you’re not super sold on it after reading this review, but still interested enough to buy it, it’s a good recommendation for a Steam sale pickup. Be aware that future updates could make it more appealing as bugs and other issues are addressed.
By and large, Kingdom Come does its brutal setting right, with a level of detail rarely seen previously. It keeps the focus very small-scale, which worked quite well to deliver a consistent experience, at least in tone and feel. The overall experience is one of an interesting and innovative approach to open-world RPGs that is sadly let down by technical flaws.
There are some other problematic issues with the game from a non-gameplay standpoint as well. The primary storyline centers around a somewhat predictable set of tropes and stereotypes. The invading Cuman army used by one side in the struggle can be interpreted as a stand-in for certain contemporary political opinions and their interpretation of the current refugee crisis. That is to say, the Cumans could be taken as a racist stereotype. I can’t say if this is coded, and thus unintentional, or not, but it’s definitely there due to the way the Cumans behave as an invading force when that’s juxtaposed with the political opinions of some of those involved.
If you enjoy unforgiving open worlds with a heaping helping of jank, then Kingdom Come is right for you.