Kingdom Come: Deliverance is an Open World Survival Medieval Simulator Role Playing Game or OWSMSRPG. It’s fabulously detailed; full of lush forests, quiet hamlets, and many NPCs for you to terrorize as you loot and pillage your way through the lovely European countryside. What’s more, it earns a seat among the more ambitious games to come out in the past decade of our indie gaming renaissance. It aims to take the formulas of modern blockbuster RPGs and ground those ideas and tropes in a realistic setting. There is no magic, only swords and bows. No living skeletons and ghosts, only normal people.
For the most part, it succeeds and presents an opportunity for us to discover what is actually fun about modern RPGs. Is the genre actually good when you wipe away all the fantasy, magic, and world-building that have propelled franchises like Dragon Age, Elder Scrolls, Dark Souls, and The Witcher into the mainstream? What happens when RPG mechanics are used to create an interpretation of reality.
Unfortunately, I don’t think Kingdom Come: Deliverance makes the best case for realistic RPGs. Its world is dull and tone deaf, and overall doesn’t take advantage of its opportunity to tell a unique and well-crafted story based on an interesting moment in history. That said, the game mechanics are creative and interesting, creating a fun experience with a forgettable story.
A quick note:
Before I give my opinion on the game itself, I want to acknowledge the controversies that have followed Kingdom Come’s release. We have decided to review the game as a separate entity from the opinions and behavior of its creator. However, we are not trying to ignore what other people have said about the game. Specifically, about the lack of people of color or how it portrays women. I do encourage you to voice your opinions on the game in the comments though, as these are important aspects for everyone when deciding whether or not you want to buy it. We also have an article explaining this decision I encourage you to check out, written by OGGs editor and chief, Galp.
Should you buy it?
I’m a bit late to the ball game here. But, if you’re still mulling over whether this belongs on your wishlist or not, I’ve got a good heap of opinions for you. But yes, you should buy this game.
Novel mechanics that allow for dynamic storytelling are what make this game. That strength lies in the small choices that you make instead of an overarching plot or theme. The kinds of armor and clothes you wear around town, what skills you choose, how you interact with local merchants all changes how the world reacts to you, to an extent greater than I’ve experienced before. In many ways, how you chose to live from day to day has more impact than the dialogue choices.
This is coupled with a skill-based combat system. Stats and armor do play into your ability to survive fights. However, you as the player must actually learn how to use the fighting mechanics. This will probably be the biggest turn off for people. It will frustrate you when you start, as the game doesn’t pull punches. You will have to practice timing and reflexes, just like you would in any other skill based game. If you enjoy simple block, attack, and roll systems, you might not find this very fun.
If the jokey acronym from the intro didn’t key you in, Kingdom Come asks you to do a lot. So I’m going to try to organize my review by breaking down each of the game’s distinct elements.
At its center, this is a hardcore RPG. The game is unforgiving and has very little quality of life inclusions when it comes to questing and combat. You will fail quests from time to time. The stat system will leave you a bit confused. But the complexity and difficulty allow you to experiment. By creating a space for failure, Kingdom Come creates a unique divergence from other RPGs. While most franchises try to simplify, here they use complexity to add an interesting layer of choice to their game.
For instance, there is no charisma stat. While you can invest time into getting good at casually talking to people by picking certain perks that help you talk your way through quests, you can also use your menacing strength to threaten everyone you meet. Or dress for the occasion, wearing rich clothing that makes people more receptive to you. Another option is to have deep pockets and throw money at problems. This is complicated further by each NPC responding differently to each approach available to you. There is a lot of nuance to what kind of a person you want to be with the stat system.
The physical game world of Kingdom Come: Deliverance is astounding. The amount of detail included blows my mind. It has everything an armchair historian could desire, from the differences between hunting in tended and untended forests; to perfect recreations of castles. All filled with detail, down to the indoor toilets and wooden armaments that most of us are probably ignorant of.
The story which leads you through this world is sufficient. It’s unspectacular but stays fresh by focusing on talking to NPCs and exploration. What is most refreshing, is combat is not the main focus. Fights are used to create climaxes throughout the quests, which improves the pacing of the game immensely. I never felt like enemies were being thrown at me thoughtlessly.
Unfortunately, the NPCs who reside in this world are pretty boring. It seems in their endeavor to take the fantasy out of RPGs, they forgot to replace it with anything. There are very few quests or NPC encounters where I felt the characters had any sort of emotion or motivation. Most NPCs only served as a plot device. Even the main character and his love interest are devoid of any realistic emotion. They have zero response to the horrors of medieval warfare which they are made victims of in the game’s opening.
A rant on flat NPCs
I can accept that in a franchise like Elder Scrolls, NPCs might have a have a more laissez-faire opinion of warfare when there are literal monsters outside their doors. Seeing your village massacred might not rank as high on the list of emotionally traumatizing events when it’s competing with the fear of said village returning to life and eating you.
But, when you are trying to sell me the idea that these NPCs are living in an interpretation of the real world, I do expect a bit more nuance as to how people might cope with the deaths of their entire family and all their friends.
Furthermore, while the game does a good job of creating a superficially realistic depiction of history, it lacks some much needed in-world criticism. It is all good and dandy to show that there is a caste system at work, where a person’s standing in society corresponds with their job and family; but the characters have almost no expression beyond that. Or in its depiction of women, there is hardly any dialogue referencing discontent, justification, or hardly any opinions at all about their place in society.
I can believe that people in this time period genuinely felt that their society was structured in a moral and good way. But I imagine they were still were filled with opinions and thoughts about their place in the world just as we are. Instead, NPCs act as empty and opinion-less as a fantasy farmer who watched his father die at the hands of giants and but figures, that’s just the way it is. This is Kingdom Come: Deliverance’s greatest failing.
The first thing you are tasked to do after starting a new game is to eat some of your mom’s freshly made soup, lest you starve to death before her eyes. You also have to be sure to get a few winks of sleep in from time to time or your character’s eyelids will envelop the screen in a terrifying and uncanny eyelid shaped darkness.
Personally, I found the survival elements to be underwhelming. You must eat so your hunger meter doesn’t reach zero. The longer you wait the more your maximum health will diminish. If you let your sleep meter hit zero, you pass out. Sleeping also allows you to save your game. You can only save without sleeping by buying special alcohol. I find this system to be a little silly. However, it’s a survival game so, obviously, it needed to be included?
The only reason I don’t completely dismiss the survival elements is that they do manage to add another level of depth to the game. Despite being unoriginal and boring, they do force you to interact with innkeepers and food vendors from time to time. It also requires that you put a bit of thought into your travel plans as you go from town to town. If you use fast travel without thinking, you could arrive at your destination exhausted and hungry unprepared for a fight.
I lost quite a few battles because my stats were lowered when I ignored my hunger. So I appreciate that there are real consequences that come along with the system, besides just keeling over. But it’s a missed opportunity – a complaint not specific to Kingdom Come.
Combat is where Kingdom Come diverges the most from mainstream RPGs. It is very difficult but learnable. Its complexity allows for an incredible amount of control and interactivity in the battles, something open world RPGs are sorely missing. Fights feel much direr and more interesting since victory is based on your own reflexes and instincts rather than solely on timing animations.
When you wield a weapon, you are presented with a five pointed star around the center reticle which locks on to your opponent. This star and its center represent six basic positions with which you can begin an attack. Say you want to swing your sword down onto your opponent’s head; simply move your mouse up and the top point of the star will be highlighted and your character’s hands will rise above his head waiting for you to initiate the swing with a mouse click.
From here, you have a huge amount of choice. You can try to fake out your opponent by clicking the attack button and quickly changing the direction of your attack or you can chain attacks by timing your swings and choosing new directions at the appropriate tempo. There are also combos which your character can learn and use to great effect. I’d compare its complexity to a fighting game, and I hope developers continue to explore new ways of presenting combat in RPGs, like Kingdom Come has done.
A bit on bows
If that all sounds much too complex and you’d like to use archery instead, they have managed to complicate this as well. Firstly, they removed the reticle when you try to aim, forcing you to learn intuitively how your arrows will fly. On top of this, your character’s hands are not steady, making aiming slow. Its near useless at first until you and your character both improve.
Furthermore, pulling an arrow back drains your stamina very quickly. Shooting more than one or two arrows with accuracy quickly is near impossible, especially early on in the game. But I enjoyed this complexity for both the sword and bows if no other reason than they dared to do something new and managed to pull it off decently. I don’t want to say either system is great, but they are functional and you will become good at the game after a while.
Available from: Steam