Deliver us from the kingdom of tedious tasks.
Where oh where to begin with this game... Kingdom Come: Deliverance is an open world RPG developed by Warhorse Studios that touts itself as being a historically accurate and honest depiction of life in 15th century Bohemia. Historically accurate it may be, but the clunky mechanics and buggy gameplay have dampened the game’s reception on console, despite it finding decent success with PC gamers.
So get your hay bed ready and make yourself at least 80% comfortable, because I’m about to tell you how this game went down with me.
Alternate Title: The Waiting Game
You begin your adventure as Henry, the son of a blacksmith, living in Skalitz. You spend your days hanging out with your hooligan friends and making eyes at the local beer wench, Bianca. Occasionally, you help your father make a sword or two. After a few moments of brisk tutorial-ing, you are thrust into the middle of an attack on the city, and from there, learning the basics of the game won’t come very easily.
One of your first tasks is to safely escape the city since the doors of the keep close before you can make it inside. On your way out, you notice a woman from town getting hassled by the intruders. You’re now given the option – save her, or just leave. Well, I wasn’t about to leave Theresa to fend these aggressors off by herself, so I decided to help her.
After about fourteen deaths, I decided that probably wasn’t the best course of action for me. I thought, maybe the game is trying to teach me something by showing me how underpowered I am – maybe I’m not meant to save her. So on my next load (long load times are something you’ll have to get used to with this game), I had my sword out and ready ages before I actually reached Theresa’s house, thinking, I’ll get the jump on them this time. Little did I know, there’s a rule in the game about having an exposed weapon within a town’s perimeter. Guards will attack you on sight if they see your weapon unsheathed. So now, not only did I have Theresa’s attackers to contend with, but also the city guards who had decided that I was a bigger threat than the marauders burning and pillaging our city.
Getting the hang of the game will be tough for some, especially for fans of other medieval themed games like The Witcher or Skyrim, where your character begins the game totally overpowered. There are no difficulty levels in Kingdom Come: Deliverance, the game is just hard, especially early on. And it has an unforgiving way of teaching you the rules.
There are tutorials for just about every piece of the game, from pickpocketing and lockpicking (don’t get me started on lockpicking…), to archery and horseriding. Tutorials appear in the form of walls of text that explain how to unlock things or pick pockets in theory, but putting those ideas into practice proves to be rather unsuccessful.
“I don’t have time for this”
There is an especially shady character that you meet early on in Kingdom Come: Deliverance who will offer to teach you skills such as pickpocketing or lockpicking. However, this game has very little patience when it comes to failure. For example, if you’d like to attempt lockpicking, this character will give you ten lockpicks and a safe to crack. The lockpicking is notoriously difficult in this game, and despite reading the tutorial and appearing to do everything correctly, you will most likely fail to pick the lock all ten times. This is merely because Henry is not at a high enough level to pick a lock correctly, which Warhorse would argue is accurate given Henry’s background. How would a blacksmith’s son have the knowledge to pick locks? They have since come to realise that the lockpicking might actually be too difficult, but we’ve yet to see how they will remedy this feature in the next update.
In addition to the lack of patience with lockpicking, this same character that gives you the lockpicks will also allow you to pickpocket from him for practice. However, even with this he will eventually lose patience. I was mid pickpocket when he decided, “This is useless”, and began to walk away. Once he walked away, the tutorial bit had ended, and he had caught me pickpocketing him for real, despite the tutorial ending mere moments before. Now he was shouting for a guard and I had to flee the city by diving down the river. An oversight on the developer’s part, perhaps, but a brutal lesson for me.
Fighting isn’t very easy to master either. You learn the basics in the very beginning, but you will quickly find that your movements are clunky and most weapons are unwieldy. In one of your first battles, you will undoubtedly smash the R2 button in an attempt to land any blow on your foe only to run out of stamina, and just in time for their flurry attack. Giving up in fights doesn’t seem to be an option either, as I discovered when I barged into a bandit camp and had one of its inhabitants follow me over a f**king mountain. I blocked and blocked for my life, since he was far too powerful for me to do any real damage to him. But every time I attempted to yield, he would just attack me harder. So, I had to back-step to the nearest town, a good ten minutes away in real time, and let a couple of the guards attack him for me (then quickly sheath my sword so they wouldn’t turn their weapons on me).
Tiptoe through the tulips
Where Kingdom Come: Deliverance doesn’t seem to lack patience is in their cut-scenes. There is a task dealt to you a bit later in the game where you need to weed a garden. Yes, you need to pull unwanted weeds from an herbalist’s garden for a modest reward. Does that sound tedious? I hope you said yes because it was tedious.
Pulling the weeds from the garden would have been one thing. I could spot what I needed to pull easily enough and everything was labelled clearly for me. But, there is an animation that plays every time Henry goes to pull up a weed or flower. I pulled, conservatively, eighty weeds from that garden. Which means I had to sit through an additional eighty seconds of the same animation of Henry bending down to put a weed in his pocket.
The worst part is, I failed this mission! To be fair, this has been rumoured to be a bug, but the task does not alert you when you’ve pulled every weed. So, if you’re used to a game letting you know, “Hey, this task is done, time to move on”, you will assume that you’ve missed a weed somewhere, even though you likely haven’t. You have to assess the situation for yourself and then let the herbalist know when you’re done. He’s supposed to go inspect the garden and let you know how well you did. What the game doesn’t tell you, and what I’ve only found out from reading about it (after a lengthy silent scream when I found out I’d failed), is that the weeds grow back. When you let the herbalist know that you’ve pulled all the weeds, you need to run back to the garden before him to make sure no weeds have grown in while you were away. So, be sure to take note, future players because if there’s anything worse than pulling eighty weeds from a garden in a video game that isn’t Stardew Valley, it’s being denied your full credit for doing so.
The saving system is similarly annoying, though admittedly I didn’t find this as troublesome as other players did. You have a finite amount of saves (unless you find a bed to sleep in). Saving requires you to purchase a liquor called Saviour Schnapps, a difficult task early on in the game when currency is nearly impossible to come by. This means that a player could potentially lose hours of progress unless they are wealthy or strategic enough to keep a few of these bottles stashed in their inventory.
There is a lot more that I could say about Kingdom Come: Deliverance. The developers are considering changing the lockpicking and savings features at least, but there are other glaring issues. For example, there is a repetitive random encounter that occurs where you discover dead body in the road. Someone will inevitably jump out of the bushes and accuse you of the murder. If your speech skill is high enough, you can always turn the topic around, and you will always discover that the person who jumped out of the bushes is the actual murderer (This encounter has never been different for me). There are bugs and general jankiness throughout, in both dialogue and gameplay but despite the negative rants above, I actually don’t hate this game.
It Ain’t All Bad
There are some surprisingly good bits to Kingdom Come: Deliverance, and it’s time it was given its due. Let’s start with the graphics. I hadn’t a hope of getting this game to 60fps on my PS4, but I’ve seen footage of the PC users who did and by golly, it looks pretty great. Even though the visuals weren’t consistently as crisp for me, there were some lovely moments where I did get to enjoy the scenery for a bit, and some especially vivid cut-scenes.
Though I despised the lockpicking mechanic, I actually really enjoyed how the game handled pickpocketing, once I understood how to do it. It’s done in a clever, thoughtful way that balances difficulty and skill, and you truly feel rewarded when you successfully pick your first pocket. Part of this might be because of how long it took for me to become barely capable of sort-of executing this skill. Though lockpicking is similarly difficult to master, I doubt I’ll ever be as fond of that feature.
The skill-building is done well in Kingdom Come: Deliverance as well. Skill points accrue as you perform relevant tasks, similar to how Skyrim’s skill levelling feature operates. There is a perk tree of sorts once you reach a certain level in each skill, but you will only develop the skills that you actually use. So, if you’re not that into archery, your shaky bow shots will not improve. I enjoy this approach to skill development, as opposed to arbitrarily dumping points into a category. It allows for a much richer, more nuanced character that is a direct output of how you play the game.
So, all told, how is Kingdom Come: Deliverance? Short answer – it needs some improvement. There are areas of the game that are so distractingly janky that it’s almost worth not touching certain storylines until the developers can get in their bug zappers. But it’s a departure from your run-of-the-mill medieval fantasy RPGs to be sure. In Kingdom Come: Deliverance, you are hopelessly pathetic until you get some levels under your belt, and the very act of living is a weight on your shoulders. Your constant need to feed yourself, get enough sleep, and maintain your health really hampers your ability to progress at times, but it does fit into the realistic picture that the developers are trying to paint you into. And that, I actually don’t mind. It’s the annoying bits that need to be addressed. Once the developers fix a few of these issues, I think we’ll be looking at an interesting game with some promise that could really stand out in a saturated genre.