Kingdom Come: Deliverance had a ton of baggage attached to it right from the get-go, thanks to some rather controversial comments from the game’s director, Daniel Vávra. If the views, comments, or ideas espoused by Vávra affect whether or not you want to play the game, or support Warhorse (the developers) that’s your decision. Like any piece of art or entertainment, the final product does not exist in a vacuum and will always be associated with the people involved in creating it. If you firmly believe in separating the art from the artist, or feel that what is created will always be a reflection of the creator, that’s entirely up to you. If you feel Vávra is a problem and refuse to support this project, that’s cool, you do you. Just be aware that this review will not touch on any of that, and will focus only on the game itself.
Kingdom Come: Deliverance was pitched as a realistic RPG, “Dungeons and no dragons”, where the world the player inhabits is as brutal and unforgiving as the real one the game is based on. The combat is fierce, complicated, and visceral—but not impossible. Players must keep the protagonist—the initially simple blacksmith’s son, Henry—well fed, well rested, and…presentable. There are no magic spells, no enchanted elf-forged weapons, and no ancient tombs full of monsters and ancient, mystical artefacts. This is 15th century Europe in all its grimy, tedious, and mundane glory. While this is exactly what Warhorse promised during their initial pitch for the game, and precisely what many players will find the most appeal in, it’s not for everyone. If you’re looking for a breezy and cliché-filled adventure the likes of which we’ve seen a million times in games like The Elder Scrolls series and—yes, it’s true—The Witcher, you best look elsewhere. Kingdom Come: Deliverance —like the mostly historically accurate portrayal Warhorse wanted to create—is difficult, buggy, frustrating, and often tedious. But it’s also unlike anything else really out there in the fairly homogenous genre of Western RPGs.
The game drops you into 15th century Bohemia, the medieval land now known as the Czech Republic, which is in a state of chaos as the current king, Wenceslas, finds his position threatened by his half-brother Sigismund. Players are introduced to the character they will spend the next 50 or so hours playing as, a boy named Henry, son of a local blacksmith and your classic small-town kid who yearns for adventure but is plagued by his naivety about the bigger world around him. Following a brutal attack that finds him alone and on the run, Henry begins his adventure that will see him rise in stature—if this feels like a familiar tale, well…
While the story itself, and the many, many sidequests, are interesting enough—especially given that the events it follows are based on real, historical happenings and people—where the game really strives to set itself apart from its contemporaries is in the actual mechanics of operating and surviving within this world. This is not a stock-standard Western RPG that allows you to create a gorgeous demigod character with flashy armour, flaming swords, and apparently endless stamina. Henry needs to eat constantly—but not too much, as you’ll get full and clumsy—he needs to sleep, he needs to bandage and fix wounds properly without the use of a simple healing potion. If you don’t dress well, people won’t respect you. If you don’t clean the blood off your weapons, people won’t trust you or engage with you. If you think going to jail means a loading screen and temporary decrease in stats, well, have fun with that. Every little aspect of Henry’s physical condition and attire matters and has a big impact on the gameplay. While some of these elements can seem incredibly tedious, it’s refreshing to see this level of player engagement in the “Role Playing” genre. Sure, keeping track of all these things can seem overwhelming at first, but players will eventually fall into a rhythm where maintaining each aspect becomes second-nature.
Of course, speech, trading, and upgrading gear are important elements of any decent RPG, for a lot of players the real meat and potatoes is found in the combat. This area of the game is where many players, even RPG vets, are going to get a harsh dose of reality. Combat is detailed and technical, this is not a game for button mashers. Knowing what kind of weapon to use against what kind of enemy, where to hit them, how to block attacks and retaliate, timing chained attacks and combos, and that you can’t fight groups of enemies at once without getting killed is huge in Kingdom Come Deliverance. It’s a steep learning curve, but for this reviewer was the most rewarding aspect of the game to finally master.
It’s not quite Mount and Blade, but it’s leagues beyond the simple hack-and-slash combat of Skyrim and forces the player to think carefully about when and how to engage in a fight. Multiple layers of armour for each body part add to this system, and getting the right combination is key to being successful in a fight. Players can choose from a few categories of weapons, including various swords, maces, polearms, and knives, as well as ranged attacks with an assortment of bows. Learning how to best use these different categories and what to focus on leveling up was one of the better aspects of the game.
The visuals are good, but not mind-blowing, however, they do service the gameworld well enough despite becoming rather homogeneous after a while. Having said that, this particular are Medieval Europe didn’t have the most diverse range of landscapes and architecture, and Warhorse’s goal of not throwing in random Elf Ruins and Dwarven Mines definitely limited them to a narrow range of buildings and environments. It’s a huge world to play around in though, with plenty to do, just don’t expect to stumble upon a Necromancer who needs your help to clear out a den of vampires from the spooky tower on the hill.
The game also has its share of bizarre and frustrating gameplay mechanics, like a manual save system that requires hard to obtain bottles of liquor and—on console especially—a controller throwingly maddening lockpicking system, but these will apparently be addressed in future patches.
If you’re bored of the fireball throwing, dragonbone sword wielding classic Fantasy RPG heroes, and want a game that’s both difficult and rewarding, with some tedious but realistic survival mechanics, in a setting that doesn’t take place in an ancient land on a faraway world, Kingdom Come: Deliverance is pretty damn refreshing. Whether or not you find those kinds of things fun, on the other hand, will really dictate the level of enjoyment you get from the game. Either way, and ignoring the controversy surrounding “historical accuracy” and the social and political stances of the game’s director, it’s a hell of an original take on a very well tread formula that is both familiar and revitalizing for a rather stagnant genre.