Unlike most open-world RPGs, which bestow upon the player great power andgreat responsibility, Kingdom Come: Deliverance puts you in the role of a common peasant, and the game seems determined to treat the player like a peasant, too. Between its questionable, arguably sadistic save system and its plethora of bugs, Kingdom Come: Deliverance was easily the most frustrating gaming experience I’ve ever had, so much so that I began to feel trapped while I was playing it. There are things to like about Kingdom Come: Deliverance, like its understated but thoughtful map design, and somewhat engaging RPG mechanics. But I could never shake the feeling that I was playing a game developed by a team with a clear disdain for player enjoyment, a team that wrongly considers opaque design decisions that punish experimentation a more “realistic” and difficult experience.
Prior to its release, much was made about Kingdom Come: Deliverance’s “twist” on the RPG genre: this was supposed to be an historically accurate answer to series like Elder Scrolls and The Witcher, where a medieval aesthetic was due to the fact that the game was literally set during the tail-end of the middle ages, not in some fantasy world that doesn’t exist. Taking place in Bohemia in 1403, two-and-a-half decades after the death of Charles IV, the Holy Roman Emperor, Kingdom Come: Deliverance tracks the conflict between Charles IV’s successor, King Wenceslas IV, and Sigismund von Luxemburg, Charles’ more ambitious son and Wenceslas’ half-brother. It’s an interesting period and geographical setting in European history that often gets overlooked by popular culture in favor of the English monarchy of the middle ages.
Most of the major political movements of the time, however, fade into the background of Kingdom Come: Deliverance, which places players in the leather booties of a doe-eyed blacksmith’s son named Henry, who witnesses the murder of his parents and the tragic razing of his village at the hands of a steely general leading a contingent of Sigismund’s army. Henry flees his home to warn neighboring villages that those who remain loyal to Wenceslas will soon face the same fate. Driven by the motivation to avenge his parents and his village, Henry joins up with a loyalist military effort to protect Wenceslas’ rightful claim to the Bohemian throne.
The main draw in Kingdom Come: Deliverance isn’t necessarily what it is, but rather what it isn’t. You won’t be fighting trolls in a fantastical world as an unstoppable lone wolf à la Geralt; you’ll be traveling a quiet countryside, taking on one or two bandits at a time as Henry, a completely inexperienced swordsman and relative nobody. This is one of the game’s greatest strengths and one of its greatest weaknesses.
Kingdom Come’s setting is easily its best feature. Bohemia itself is artfully designed and evocatively mundane. The villages, castles, and surrounding rural areas are as convincingly realized as anything in Skyrim. The forests are especially noteworthy, emphasizing a convincing density and creating uncanny horizons to gaze at as your horse tramples its way across Bohemia’s expansive dirt roads. Just don’t look too closely, or you’ll begin to notice blemishes, pop-in, and less-than-stellar vegetation models—all the marks of poor optimization, at least on the Xbox One version I was playing. Same goes for the majority of the character models you’ll encounter. Faces (specifically one that bears a striking resemblance to Bill Hader) will be repeated ad nauseam, even in characters you’ll meet and talk to while you’re on quests. At one point, a master tradesman making an exquisite crown from one mission shared the same face as a villager chasing down a thief and calling for his murder over a stolen piece of bread. These kind of details will immediately take you out of the experience. That being said, despite the unimpressive graphical output and lazy character design of its inhabitants, Bohemia’s design slowed me down in my tracks more than once to take it all in.
Henry, on the other hand, isn’t as compelling as the world he inhabits. More resembling a silicon valley hipster playing dress-up for a Renaissance Faire than an actual medieval villager, Henry is a wholly unremarkable character who, for some reason, becomes tasked with some important military investigations, despite his improper decorum and overall plainness. Solely defined by his vengeful motivations, Henry lacks any other discernible characteristics or, for that matter, any admirable skills, and my own investment in the character’s journey suffered for it.
You can’t create your own version of Henry in Kingdom Come: Deliverance, leaving you with the dopey default Henry, but you can at least make some decisions in terms of his attributes and skills. The game’s approach to character building should be familiar to Skyrim players—instead of earning skill points to then spend on different attributes or branches of a skill tree, Kingdom Come: Deliverance increases each skill the more you use it. Want to become a better fighter? Then get in more fights. Want to improve your swordplay? Then use a sword. How about buffing your abilities with a mace? Use a mace. The same goes for skills like speech, horsemanship, and even drinking. The more you do things, the better you will be at them. It’s an intuitive system that leads to making interesting decisions about where your specific skills lie. When you reach a certain level in each skill, you can then acquire a more specific sub-skill, but it’s usually at the detriment of another skill. Let’s say you want to become stronger and more agile; you can equip a sub-skill to do just that, but it will come at the cost of your charisma and speech. It’s an interesting way to approach the role-playing aspect of role-playing games, even if it does underscore some of the more nefarious player-unfriendly design choices.
One of those design choices is the survival elements of the game. As far as annoyances go, Kingdom Come: Deliverance’s take on the survival genre is probably its least offensive misstep. Throughout the game, Henry will not only have a life bar and stamina bar, but he also has nourishment and energy meters that must be managed. If your nourishment dips too low, you might starve to death, but if you eat too much, Henry will become lethargic and his maximum stamina will take a temporary hit. Same goes for your energy meter; while there’s no penalty for having maximum energy, let it dip too low and Henry will likewise suffer in his stamina usage. In theory, it’s an interesting mechanic to include in an RPG, but in practice it barely ever registers as a significant obstacle. Sleeping will become second-nature (and I’ll explain why later), and managing nourishment is as easy as finding one of several stewing pots in every village and simply helping yourself to some grub. Likewise, Henry can get dirty, which I’m told is supposed to affect the way NPCs regarded Henry, though I never really witnessed this in action, as wash baskets are ubiquitous across Bohemia. These mechanics lacked the depth necessary to make them engaging parts of the game, and end up seeming like a cynical talking point that lets the developer pretend like there’s depth where there isn’t any. They seem to be in the name of creating a more “realistic” representation of life as a peasant, but instead they end up becoming shallow afterthoughts that simply task players with managing a stupid chore.
Likewise, the game’s core combat is on its surface an interesting twist on first-person melee combat and a supposedly “realistic” representation of actual sword-fighting. Kingdom Come: Deliverance utilizes a five-point striking system that resembles the five major striking zones of a sword fight. When you lock onto an enemy, a cursor with a small star will appear over them. Each of the star’s five points represent a zone, letting you determine which part of their body you’re attacking. If they’re holding a shield on one side, you’ll probably want to attack their opposite, more vulnerable side. You can block incoming attacks, though that will take up stamina, or you can parry an attack by timing your block perfectly, and sometimes this will even leave your opponent open to a counterattack.
The problem is that this combat system’s adherence to “realism” means that if you get ganged up by more than two enemies, you’re almost certainly going to lose. The success and failure of my strikes and blocks often seemed entirely random, leading to some pretty monotounous back-and-forth bouts. Oh, and trying to run away will almost certainly result in Henry getting stabbed in the back, thanks to the enemy’s inhuman ability to track him across the countryside and catch up with him. Besides, when all is said and done, I felt like I already played a better version of Kingdom Come: Deliverance’s directional combat system in For Honor. What was supposed to be a “revolutionary” combat system ended up not only feeling stale, but also undercooked, as several fighting techniques just never seemed to work.
Sometimes, Henry would refuse to throw out an attack, and as often as I tried to kick my opponent away, my kick button never seemed to do anything at all. Add to that the inconsistency of my attacks based on the terrain; if Henry was standing on anything other than the flattest of ground, he would sometimes step backwards as he was attacking, making him whiff a stab he should have easily connected against an enemy. I’m assuming that this was a bug, but it made taking out archers perched on a raised garrison much more frustrating than it needed to be. Likewise, the first major boss fight I played was literally impossible for me to beat, so adept was the enemy swordfighter. Looking up videos on how to beat the boss resulted in half a dozen tutorials that showed players tanking hits and kiting him with a bow and arrow. If literally every tutorial about how to win one of the first epic sword fights in the game involved cheesing the enemy with a bow and arrow, then I’ve got to suspect that something was wrong with the game and not me. Regardless, these kinds of issues don’t service a combat system that’s as slow, deliberate, and clunky as Kingdom Come: Deliverance’s.
Unfortunately, besides the clunky combat system, there isn’t much actual gameplay in Kingdom Come: Deliverance. A vast majority of the quests will involve you traveling to a village, talking to a villager, and then following up with that villager by traveling to another village to talk to another villager, sometimes breaking up the monotony with exciting action like sleeping or playing dice because you need to wait for an NPC to finish a task for the quest to progress. All this sleeping, waiting, and fast-traveling means that you’ll be staring at different variations of loading screens way too often while playing Kingdom Come: Deliverance. You’ll feel like you’ve spent hours doing nothing at all, playing what basically amounts to walking sim.
I especially felt like I wasted hours upon hours playing Kingdom Come: Deliverance thanks to the amount of times that I had to replay large chunks of the game due to the one-two punch of its laughably buggy nature and its unforgiving save system.
You may have heard about Kingdom Come: Deliverance’s massive day-one patch and subsequent multi-gigabyte updates. While I believe the day-one update downloaded for the Xbox One version I was playing (as the title screen claimed the version I was playing was 1.1), the patch didn’t seem to help at all. I encountered bugs left and right throughout my playthrough. Some were genuinely enjoyable, the way that the movie The Room is enjoyable. At one point, after beating two of my rivals in an archery contest, they exited the grounds by walking backwards across the entire village. Another time, I called my horse and he ended up trapped on the stairs of a nearby castle. These hilarious glitches were joined by comical character teleportation and oddly placed cameras during dialogue, chickens liberally phasing through walls, and NPCs who were walking around town without heads.
I can sometimes overlook and even appreciate these kinds of glitches and bugs, but the problem with Kingdom Come: Deliverance is the frequency with which I had to replay entire quests because a bug made it impossible to progress, wasting at times several hours of gameplay.
Let’s talk about the save system first. There are three ways to save, and only one way you actually seem to have any control over. The first way to save is to drink a Saviour Schnapps, a consumable item that also happens to be the most expensive non-weapon or -armor item in the game. You can only carry three Saviour Schnapps at a time, but you’d probably break the bank even owning that many. This method of saving the game worked fine, but I hardly found myself able to afford or wanting to spare the Schnapps, in case I needed them in the future.
The second way to save is to start certain quests. Now, the game usually auto-saved at the beginning of every main story quest, but starting side quests proved to be wildly inconsistent. Sometimes it would save at the beginning of a side quest, sometimes in the middle, and sometimes not at all, without any evident rhyme or reason.
The third way to save is to sleep. At least, that’s what I thought, but his method was also completely inconsistent. Sometimes I would sleep and it would save, but sometimes it wouldn’t, and I could never figure out if certain times or a certain amount of hours slept triggered a save, despite experimenting with every possible outcome.
Because of these inconsistent save methods, I’d often go hours without saving my game, which becomes a major problem when a bug completely halted my progress, making it impossible to continue a quest and forcing me to reload without having given me the opportunity to freely save for the last couple of hours.
One time, I had spent about two hours doing side quests and generally exploring the map, picking up a few extra groschen here and there. I tried to sleep along the way, as I didn’t want to spare any of my rare and pricey Saviour Schnapps, but it wouldn’t save. Frustrated, I decided the best course of action was to finish one of the main quests, which would lead directly into another main quest, thus saving the game. But the priest who was supposed to meet me at the tavern in the evening never showed up, and when I went back to the church to check on him, he was standing in the same spot he’d been all day, practicing his swordplay with the same rote dedication I’d seen in him hours earlier. I tried waiting until the next evening, and the next, and the next, and still the priest wouldn’t budge. Finally, I resigned myself to reloading my last save, losing all the progress I’d made on the aforementioned side quests in the meanwhile, never to return to them.
Another time, I was told to wait for a friar to finish researching a disease I needed to cure, based on the perceived symptoms of villagers in a nearby town. I would have researched it myself, but the side quest that taught me how to read was unfortunately the victim of the previously-described reloading incident. Therefore, I had to wait an entire in-game day for the priest to finish his research. I decided the best use of my time was to accomplish a few proximal side quests, which I did. You’d think I would have learned at that point. I returned to the friar’s home and slept, hoping it would save my game—it did not. Finally, the friar determined that the disease was the plague based on the symptoms I told him (which I also double-checked against a couple of online guides, just to be safe), and told me to meet him in the village after he prepared the cure. I did that, and after feeding the cure to villagers…they all died. Fortunately, that didn’t end the game, but a captive I needed to talk to who was suffering from the disease was one of the victims. I was told to grab the note from his body, but when I returned to where he’d been sleeping, the body was gone—he despawned. In fact, the quest marker was nowhere to be found on the map, meaning I was forced to reload and play that entire segment over again, losing another few hours of gameplay.
Overall, I spent over 30 hours playing the game, but my in-game progress is only 19 hours. That’s 11 hours of time wasted because the game bugged out and forced me to rewind hours of progress. Kingdom Come: Deliverancesucceeded in doing what no game has done before: It was so broken that it broke me, so much so that I quit before finishing it.
These were only the most extreme examples of these kinds of bugs. The game also suffered from just weird occurrences that made me feel like I was the butt of a joke. One time, a nobleman who I was required to accompany on a hunt told me I wasn’t allowed to take a horse, so I had to follow him to the hunting grounds the entire way on foot. At one point during our hunt, he told me to mount up, even though he expressly told me not to take a horse. Even then, I’d attempted to mount a horse that magically had appeared at the hunting ground, but the game wouldn’t let me. Then, as we were making our way through the forest, we ran into a wild boar, which fled after the nobleman hit him with an arrow. The nobleman yelled at me to mount my steed and follow him, and then rode off, leaving me to stand in the middle of the rain like an idiot. A moment later, the game notified me that I failed that part of the mission.
Another one of these instances happened during what was supposed to be an epic raid of a bandit camp. I alone was tasked with taking out some archers, but when I chased them down, they ran away—again, backwards, and in perfect synchronization—until one simply vanished. I attempted to investigate the archer’s sudden disappearance, but the game blocked me from pursuing him down the road with an invisible wall. Again, the game notified me that I failed that part of the mission a moment later.
Oh, and also: you take damage for running or walking into your horse. No, that’s not a joke.
These kind of odd problems and inconsistencies in the design continued to stack up, and please believe me when I say that, any other time, this normally wouldn’t have bothered me that much. However, after losing so much time because the developers made the utterly baffling decision to employ the most sadistic save system when they knew their game was so vulnerable to game-breaking bugs and poor scripting, my patience ran out. So many of my problems with this game would have been solved if they’d simply “gamified” Kingdom Come: Deliverance just a little bit by adding a quick-save system, relegating the current save system to a higher difficulty.
Like with any feudal servant experiencing some version of Stockholm syndrome, I felt somewhat obligated to find things to like in Kingdom Come: Deliverance, but in the end I took the only course of action that made any sense, and rebelled against its tyrannical hold over me. Kingdom Come: Deliverance has little respect for your time or patience, and it takes every opportunity to remind you that. In the eyes of the fiefdom, the player is worse than worthless.
What could have been an intriguing, unique, if somewhat underwhelming RPG is completely crippled by a terrible save system and game-breaking bugs. Kingdom Come: Deliverance’s well-publicized adherence to historical accuracy pays off in its thoughtfully designed landscapes and intriguing combat system, even if its survival-style mechanics fall somewhat flat. It’s just a shame that the more positive qualities are doomed to exist within a game that ended up being unplayable.
M – Mature
|Kingdom Come: Deliverance is available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by Deep Silver for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of one to five stars.|