Developer Warhorse has taken on a mammoth task with their first game, the open-world RPG Kingdom Come: Deliverance. Billed as a “realistic”, historical RPG; a dungeons without the dragons; a Skyrim-inspired tale of revenge and redemption set in medieval Europe; Kingdom Come is a massive first attempt from a fledgling studio that is an absolute masterclass in incompetent game design. By my umpteenth hour into the game, I was certain that hell did indeed exist, and I was wading through it.
Kingdom Come places you in the shoes of Henry, the son of a blacksmith in Bohemia, 1403, during a period of royal upheaval that has plunged the land back into civil war. During a raid on his village, Henry watches helplessly as his parents are murdered and, vowing revenge, sets off to get it. Along the way, Henry will have to first learn how to fight, pledge himself to the employ of a lord and, eventually, help to restore the rightful king to the throne.
Deliverance really wants to be a realistic take on the whole "virtual life" scenario that the Elder Scrolls series has popularised - and indeed it does have some good ideas - but it also wants to be a story-driven game and the two parts of its identity regularly crash, like two cars skipping an intersection, and end up destroying any sense of immersion either side has attempted to create.
And then there are the bugs. Oh my word, the bugs. . .
Before we get to that, the good first. Deliverance’s setting and story is mostly good and has some really enthralling elements. Bohemia’s history is wonderfully interesting and the game's codex, while not nearly as in-depth as I was expecting, is deep enough to enlighten many of us to a period we probably have no idea about. The landscape has been as faithfully modelled to the period as possible, with the developers having visited locales and experts in medieval combat to get the taste and feel just right. There’s also a significantly impressive amount of fully voice acted roles.
On the realism front, Deliverance goes out of its way to make you feel like a second-class citizen, though the story beats do destroy some of this illusion later on, and there are some cool ideas that come into play when you go traipsing off on your own when questing.
For instance, a quest in which you have to find a missing stablehand that leads to some bandits can be tackled in a couple of ways. You could go after the bandits and complete the quest, or you could get crapped on by your commanding officer for going off on your own, who then also comes along to help you fight the bandits. In an age where gaming has taught us all to be the lone-wolf, hell-bent on destruction, I didn’t expect the game to crap me out for making what is, in reality, a bone-headed decision to attack some armed bandits, in the woods, on my own.
Continuing the realism agenda, Deliverance gives you buffs if you're willing to concern yourself with the basic need to sleep, to eat and to practice your skills to get better at them (ala Elder Scrolls). It’s entirely possible to starve yourself to death or bleed out from a wound if it’s not seen to quickly enough.
The buff system ends up being a chore that rarely matters. Keeping yourself constantly fed becomes a tedious mechanic and later in the game seemed to be sporadic in its appearance.
How you present yourself, how you dress, is also supposed to matter, whether for talking to people or trying to stealth around. Heavier clothes make more noise for instance and supposedly no one wants to talk to someone covered in blood or dirt. Regardless of how dirty I appeared, or whose blood I was wearing, citizens spoke, traded and gave me quests regardless. I’m not sure trusting someone who just looks like he’s come from a slaughterhouse to find your missing son is the right idea, but hey, realism right?
Whether I was wearing nothing but my basic undies or some armour didn’t seem to matter when I tried sneaking around either. NPC’s always seemed to know I was there, while at other times I could run through a snoozing camp in the dead of night and no one would bat a sleepy eyelash. Try to pick a lock or stealthily knock out someone, however, and you’ve got everyone coming for you.
Having your character level-up in different speech tactics, displayed on the screen while you’re playing, may help from a gaming perspective, but certainly destroys the immersion. How you choose to roleplay Henry eventually doesn’t matter as you just end up choosing which speech options will lead to success, and even then it can still fail. Some conversations force you to choose quickly while a timer bar empties at the bottom of the screen while others are timeless. NPC’s can’t seem to remember that you’ve spoken to them before either, leaving you to retry conversations until you get them right.
RP’ing Henry falls down since how you may want to play him; aggressive or helpful; doesn’t matter when the game wants to funnel you down a specific path. Choosing to be respectful during one conversation doesn’t matter when the very next cutscene has you being a total tool to the person you just kowtowed to. Henry’s personal story arc, then, ends up feeling a little false. The blacksmith boy that makes it as a knight feels at odds with all the realism, racism and classism the game throws at you. It’s even worse when you’re waylaid on the road because that’s what the story wants, rather than you actually failing at a fight. One encounter had me going up against a group of bandits but, because I had to be knocked out to continue the story, I couldn’t swing my sword at them at all and just sat around being clubbed into submission.
NPC’s who walk in circles, or stand around like clothing shop dummies because you haven’t hit a trigger is the worst. Watching a cook stir the same pot for hours on end, or spending two game days in the wild only to find NPC’s in the same place you left them because you hadn’t activated the next part of the quest shatters the illusion. Even the Elder Scrolls and Assassin’s Creed series do a better job at making the world feel lived in.
The games combat system is, without a doubt, one of the worst I’ve ever used. Despite the attempt at realism, it’s another broken, illusion-destroying system. There’s always a tiny yellow dot in the centre of the screen. Arm your bow though and the dot disappears, leaving you to judge your shots with a wavy in-game arm. Arm your sword, however, and the yellow dot becomes a yellow star, helping you to align your sword strikes with different parts of the body using the right analog stick while you move with the left. Once again, “realism.”.
And that save system? You can only save in-game through a potion (realism!), while the system autosaves at specific points or when you sleep. Even this doesn’t work correctly though and the game can’t even load the correct save when you continue, usually placing you hours behind your actual progress. Which leaves you to manually reload, assuming the game saved correctly in the first place. Most of my playtime in Kingdom Come consisted of 6 or more hours of work rendered obsolete when I died through the horrendous combat or bugs, only to have the game load me back at a save from four days prior, while my latest save hadn’t registered. Once is fine, nearly everytime, is not.
There are far more of these issues than I can list here, but you get the gist.
Then we have the quest bugs. Calling them numerous would be an understatement and trying to list them all would expand this review into pages and pages of text. The further into the game you get, the worse they become, and since they’re all linked deeply to the games systems. From quest breaking bugs to the nightmare combat, it all helps to make Deliverance a truly unplayable mess. What is amusing in the first hour, is rage fuel by the 20th.
From staring at the corners of rooms during cutscenes, to people walking through horses, to your arrows flying harmlessly through targets, to Henry been unable to jump over either an ankle or knee-high obstacle, I lost track of just how much issues the game had.
Some of my favourites are the ones that get you killed. At one point I was spawned twenty feet in the air during a cutscene, only to fall and take critical bleeding damage when it was over. Cue the bandaging tutorial (bleeding needs to be bandaged to stop) and, after using every bandage in my inventory, I died because they didn’t work and there weren’t any healers in the castle. Reload, repeat.
Others include Terminator-style enemies who will follow you all over the countryside, cutting you to pieces while others may simply retreat by running away, backwards from you, and literally disappearing into the foliage. Watching an NPC who is still sleeping magically have his armour appear on him and then kill you with a flurry of strikes before your lock-on even initiates is incredibly frustrating.
The combat bugs are, without a doubt, the most frustrating as the game doesn’t recognise your button inputs four times out of five times, nor does it register many of the strikes you land on your enemies. Dying because your block doesn’t work, or your kick doesn’t work, or you just stand around uselessly while pressing your attack button waiting for something to happen, is the height of incompetent design. It’s even worse when you get beaten to death by a guy in his underwear while you’re fully kitted out and he’s blocking your sword strikes with his bare arms.
Kingdom Come, however, makes the worst mistake a piece of entertainment can by being, ultimately, completely, utterly, boring and tedious. There’s a reason we play games, and that’s to escape the drudgery and stress of life, but to have it slammed down your throat by boring gameplay design is unacceptable. Deliverance's quests follow the formula of going to point A to speak to someone, then to point B, then to point C, back to A, maybe have a fight, and then back to A. Repeat ad naseum for just about everything. You’ll get to see all of Bohemia because you’ll have to travel there and back all the time. There is a fast travel system, but its name is a misnomer as it has you watching a map as a player icon travels across it to your destination, sometimes for 30 seconds or more.
When all these issues combine during in a quest, it becomes soul destroying and I think an example is in order.
An early quest required me to accompany a lord on a hunt. As a nobody, I wasn’t afforded the luxury of a horse and had to traipse behind him on foot to the destination. Which was an interminable, 15+ minute Sunday stroll in real-time. Having to eat, I popped into my menu to chow down, only to fail that part of the quest. Thankfully the game just required me to get to the hunting location and after a couple of attempts (I was roleplaying ya know!) at staying on his tail and failing, for one buggy reason or another, I just took off to the camp and after a 6 minute plus full sprint, stopping to let my stamina refill, I left the lord in the dust and made it to camp. Within seconds of my arrival, the game spawned him in magically on the road behind me. Fine, fair enough.
Eventually, we had to hunt boar and, after wounding one, the game told me to mount up to chase it down, even though I didn’t have a horse (good continuity tracking right there), which meant another failed attempt. Next up, I had to find the lord and rescue him from some Cumens (really bad guys, like, really), only to die repeatedly at enemies with god-like blocking skills. Stealth wouldn’t work as the game didn’t recognise my inputs to choke them out. Through sheer luck, I managed to untie the lord and watched in disbelief as the enemies did their amazing backwards running escape. And bang, I was warped into town on the brink of death.
This is the point where someone usually yells out, “Git Gud!”, and that would be a fair enough call if only the games combat system was working. Imagine playing Dark Souls if only one of your inputs was recognised for every five attempts during any fight. What should have taken me about 30 minutes to do only ended four hours later.
Kingdom Come feels like a game that was nowhere near ready to be released, even after four years in development. In fact, it feels like a game that was released just to bring in the cash flow to finish it. Some areas have more work put into it than others. There are repeating character models for humans and animals, low-resolution textures and models, bad pop-in, poor game design, and more bugs than I’ve ever seen in any product before.
I delayed this review more than I would have liked in the hope that each successive, and massive patch might make the experience a better one since I was clearly playing an unfinished, more than likely quality-control skipped product. But no such luck. It’s telling that the Xbox One install size for the game is 21gb and that the Day One patch was 22gb. I’d hate to think just what a mess the unpatched version of the game is. Three patches later and I still felt like banging my head against a wall would be more entertaining and productive than playing this.
It’s entirely possible that Warhorse may actually patch this to be the game they set out to make, but right now, I can’t recommend this at all. It’s been one of the worst gaming experiences I’ve ever had.
Any interest I had in Kingdom Come: Deliverance, Warhorse has defiled and set ablaze in an incredibly shallow grave.
*Reviewed on Xbox One.
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PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
13 February 2018
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