Game: Kingdom Come: Deliverance
Developer: Warhorse Studios
Publisher: Warhorse Studios and Deep Silver
Reviewed on: Xbox One X
Games like Kingdom Come: Deliverance (Kingdom Come) tend to be few and far between. I can only imagine the figurative amount of blood, sweat and tears that has been invested by Warhorse Studios and how they must feel today as the review embargo lifts and reviews like this begin to emerge. Based on the twenty or so hours that I’ve spent with it, I am confident that it has most certainly been worth the four years of development time and multiple crowd funding drives that have brought it to bear.
Kingdom Come is a relatively hardcore western RPG that is based in Bohemia during the fifteen century. A detailed, well written plot focuses on Henry, the son of a well respected blacksmith in service to the lord of a local castle during the tumultuous reign of Wenceslaus IV. The kings half-brother, Sigismund, has identified the opportunity to expand his influence by kidnapping Wenceslaus and eliminating his key allies, which, of course, leads to much pain, suffering and displacement for the common folk.
I’m going to avoid any major spoilers in this review (especially given the fact that the introductory scenes last three or four hours alone) but suffice it to say that Henry is soon on the road with nothing but his wits and a meager amount of food to sustain him. I have read that Kingdom Come’s Bohemia is a faithful and realistic recreation of the area – which is fantastic for those in the know – but as a game world, it is very nearly flawless, albeit not the biggest I’ve ever seen.
Even so, it is far from small. Rolling hills extend far beyond the horizon, whilst castle towers jut imposingly through dense forest. Babbling brooks cut impressively through the landscape alongside well-trodden paths and under the rickety bridges that occasionally cross them. When you look at towns and villages on a macro scale, their design feels incredibly realistic, with cart tracks that take the long, easy way up to the castle gate, whilst smaller footpaths snake between immovable boulders and gnarled trees.
On the Xbox One X, at least, the game runs extremely well at 1440p with just a little jerkiness if Henry rotates rapidly (the game is played from a first person perspective.) I can’t actually tell whether that is because of frame rate drop or simply because the CryEngine 3 that Kingdom Come is built upon has a feeling of slight sluggishness in almost all games that use it. Either way, it is hardly noticeable, which is great given the state in which games of this complexity often launch in nowadays.
Texture pop in and draw distance are more of a challenge, although it would take an especially harsh critic to suggest that the overall visual impact of Kingdom Come is anything less than breathtaking. For starters, everything within about twenty meters of Henry is staggeringly detailed, with everything from background features like whitewashed walls and timbers looking close to photo realistic. More importantly, the detail on peoples faces, their armor and their clothes is right where you would expect it to be. My personal favorites include features like torchlight reflecting on a gleaming breastplate, then reflecting just as brightly from a recently created puddle – it goes far and beyond what I’ve seen before.
The accompanying soundtrack is almost as impressive, although there are some odd voices among the otherwise stellar cast. British fans will appreciate the appearance of Brian Blessed among the cast, whilst main-man Henry has a gentle, country bumpkin voice that fits his character well. There are countless other voices to pick from – from wizened crones to eloquent lords with buttery American accents. A few seem to jar with the setting at first, but as you become more and more immersed into Henry’s story, everything begins to slot together.
Sound effects are also spot on, with swords clinking and clanking together (or thudding into flesh and leather) convincingly. Most of the time, things will be more peaceful, so the whinnying of horses, the banging of hammers and the song of passing birds is a more common counterpart to Henry’s adventuring – all of that is done well too. The musical score is peaceful and pleasant when it needs to be and just a little more rousing during battle – although I do think it falls a little short of what the genre has seen before.
At a mechanical level, Kingdom Come does deliver a few new concepts, whilst also tweaking some that have perhaps been included in other RPG’s (or survival simulators) before, but which aren’t always very well implemented. Combat, for example, is based on a two button system that allows Henry to either stab with his weapon or to swing it in various directions thanks to input from the right stick and an on screen crosshair shaped like a star. It’s similar to Mount & Blade really, albeit a bit slower and more deliberate, with a stamina system to manage.
So far, I’ve had no trouble with the system when using weapons and it can actually be quite tense, trading parries and blows, circling one another and looking for a killer opening. One hit kills are uncommon, but if Henry is left open to a sword, axe or mace attack in anything less than decent armor, he’ll be bleeding and broken very quickly, which certainly made me think twice before rushing into uneven combat situations. Players will even need to layer armor in order for it to be effective, for example by placing a padded jerkin under steel plate armor – it’s a very detailed (and interesting) system and I am far from reaching a comprehensive understanding of it at this stage.
One reason why you might want to consider any combat carefully is due to the fact that game saves happen relatively infrequently – either because of key quest triggers (which are inconsistent to say the least) or when Henry consumes an expensive drink called Saviour Schnapps. As ever in games like this, the biggest challenge here comes during the early game when Henry has no money and most of the menial tasks available to him pay only a fraction of the cost of a single shot of this most precious liquor.
Less of a concern (but thankfully not quite an annoyance) is the games nourishment system, which forces Henry to eat regularly, but rarely makes it a tremendous problem to do so. Most houses have pots on the stove that can be eaten from without causing their owners to accuse Henry of stealing, whilst fruit and other snacks are often found lying around. In fact, food is so abundant that I do question the inclusion of a nourishment based system, but it does tie in with the games overall desire to appear as realistic as possible.
There’s actually a lot more to say about Kingdom Come, most of which is positive. It has an excellent levelling system that works a bit like the last two Elder Scrolls games in that it is based on usage. There are also some interesting perks that make the player think a little. These things are managed in a nicely intuitive inventory system and the map featured in Kingdom Come is one of the best I’ve come across in a similar game.
There’s also more to say about the game world – about how stealth is tough but rewarding and lockpicking is much harder than it is in other games. Trying to hop up a cliffside like you would in Skyrim will usually result in Henry falling and tumbling down the hill – possibly breaking both his legs and sometimes even dying outright. Imagine that possibility weighted against the fact that you’ve not saved for an hour and you can imagine how you might have to approach Kingdom Come differently to other RPG’s.
Now, I’m not going to give Kingdom Come a score just yet, but I can say that it’s looking very, very good so far. It might even be pushing to be included in more than a few Game of the Year lists, even if it is only February. It looks and sounds superb and whilst I did find the odd glitch, none of them broke it for me. It’s a tough game that has traditional challenges in the form of difficult combat for example, but it also introduces features like falling, a punishing save system and there is the potential to starve to death, I guess.
If you like a high quality, story driven RPG that also has detailed, crunchy mechanics, then not only could you do much, much worse, but you can hardly do better. I hadn’t been playing Kingdom Come for long before I was making references to The Witcher 3, Skyrim, Fallout, Breath of the Wild and so on. That’s tough company to keep, so the fact that I was even thinking it is a ringing endorsement. I should know for certain in a week or so, but right now Kingdom Come is looking like an almost essential purchase.
Score to follow