Kingdom Come: Deliverance. You may have heard the name, but not played the game. It was little over a year ago when the unheard-of developer, Warhorse Studios, released their first (and only) title, to a meagre reception. Slated to be a hyper-realistic, true-to-history RPG romp through the medieval Kingdom of Bohemia (now part of the Czech Republic), Kingdom Come had all the characteristics that should have appealed to a much wider audience but ultimately failed to do so. The early launch statistics show that the game struggled to accumulate one million copies sold within the first two weeks; by comparison, The Witcher 3 (a similar title and also developed by a European studio) achieved 1.5 million pre-orders and subsequently four million copies sold in the first week.
So, am I here today to establish just how badly this title performed? In a word: no. I absolutely adore Kingdom Come: Deliverance and all it stands for, and feel that even a year later, the wider gaming community needs to hear just how underappreciated this title is. This article is written in the wake of the news that Kingdom Come has sold just two million copies in its entire lifetime (albeit a short one), a statistic that I feel is absolutely criminal.
Firstly, let’s take the setting: 1403, in the developing Kingdom of Bohemia, central Europe. This is an Imperial State, belonging to the Holy Roman Empire. The map is comprised of a series of walled cities, open-plan towns, straggly villages and rolling hills. There’s lush forestry, gently flowing rivers and wildlife in abundance. What makes this feel so special is that it’s all completely real. Now, I’m not saying they’re the first to utilise a real-world setting in a game, but it is one of the best recreations I’ve ever seen. This isn’t your New York, London or Rome. It’s an obscure, unheard-of patch of settlements in the middle of nowhere. The developers themselves are a studio based in Prague, an office located mere miles from the setting of this game and so the local accuracy came as no challenge to them at all.
Following on from the location, I’d like to highlight other aspects of complete accuracy. The game walks us through a conflict in the region, starting us out on our journey as a lowly blacksmith’s son and rising through the ranks to become a frontline commander of sorts. This conflict is real, as are a fair selection of the characters featured. Further to this, the conflict and combat were studied intensely by the developers who worked hand-in-hand with experts and historians to ensure that any tactics or manoeuvres used were absolutely precise to the time.
These features alone lead us to eventually explore a world that feels – quite simply – real. There’s no over-the-top magic, no oversized weaponry and certainly no “God-mode” enemies or lengthy boss battles. While some may argue this takes traditional elements away from an “RPG”, I say it only exists to polish the game further. Every stroke of the sword is a real practice, every herb you pick exists and every man you fight behaves as a man should. The closest we get to the unreal or supernatural is the “performance enhancing” potions that can be brewed throughout play.
On the subject of “the men”, it’s worth also highlighting that the NPCs you interact with and the general populace that fleshes out the world are also very well done. Warhorse has implemented a fine engine that sees characters live ‘real’ lives. You can follow a particular person as they wake in the morning and leave their home to work a market stall through the day, only to return home at night, perhaps eat some dinner and then go to bed. The voice acting, while sometimes strange, feels gritty and well-written enough to be believable.
However. You knew something like this was coming…
I won’t beat around the bush: the game is notorious for bugs and glitches. I’m not saying it’s a maybe – you will experience bugs on your playthrough. I can’t tell you what these bugs may be, as the list doesn’t seem to be exhaustive, but some of the more prominent ones are: NPCs loading partially, late texture pop, horses glitching through stationary items, falling through the world, spontaneously aggressive guards and stretched-out visuals.
Did any of these spoil my game in any way? Only marginally. Kingdom Come has supplied me with so many hours of enjoyment that I’m willing to look past a few bugs. I can honestly say I’ve never played a game where I get just as much entertainment from strolling through a forest picking herbs as I do engaging in bloody, lengthy combat with a gang of brigands. In my book, any game that encourages you to look past the rough edges to the beauty within is well worth the playtime.
One of my favourite things about this title is the ingenuity. Warhorse has taken a game that on the surface appears to be very simple and laced it through with so many clever and in-depth aspects. The ‘perk development system’ is quite a standard affair but bears more relevance to the era: herbalism, horsemanship, drinking and reading are some of the skills you can level up in-game. The latter skill, in particular, is quite well done, as players will find themselves unable to read any literature (as the words are jumbled) until they level up their reading skill. This again is accurate to the time, as a young blacksmith’s apprentice would have had very little exposure to reading and writing.
Another element of ingenuity is the combat. It’s not just ‘slash-and-stab-and-hope-to-win”. You have to be tactical on each skirmish and employ a collection of dodges, counters, ripostes and attacks. You have to fight realistically to beat an enemy’s defence and wear them down. Ultimately, a one-on-one fight with a well-trained soldier can take you a couple of minutes to finish and can often be tense throughout. There’s a fair range of weapons to pick from, and they all behave differently. Once again, I’ll establish that every new move you unlock or learn is accurate and would have been used by real fighters, hundreds of years ago.
All this realism gives the game an air of complexity, but it’s not a tough learning curve. You’ll have to manage your intake of food and drink, as well as ensuring you’re getting the right amount of sleep. The “survival” characteristics of Kingdom Come are possibly the most advanced I’ve seen in a game by such a small studio. If you take fresh food and keep it for too long, it’ll go bad and as a result, you’ll become sick. You have to plan ahead of time and ensure you’re taking dried, or long-life foods out on longer journeys. If you eat something heavy, you’ll fatigue faster. If you’re in a scrap and you’re wounded, the respective part of the body will have some negative buff for a duration, until you get a chance to heal up. Even saving the game has survival elements: you can either save by sleeping in an owned or rented bed, or by drinking a “Saviour Schnapps”, an alcoholic beverage that allows a save anywhere in the world.
At this point, we’ve established that Kingdom Come is: graphically fantastic, entirely realistic, the right amount of complexity and most of all, clever. Yes, it’s also buggy, but that’s not an overwhelming issue.
So, what’s the story like? What is Kingdom Come actually like to play through?
Genuinely, it’s fantastic. I can honestly say I was gripped to the story from the opening minutes of the game. There’s a helpful and in-depth opening cinematic that aids in setting the historical scene and after that point, it’s all systems go. In the first few hours, you’ll deal with heart-wrenching loss, rage-fuelled combat, a smart multi-faceted dialogue system and choices that will shape the entirety of your playthrough. If you’re the kind of player who considers themselves a completionist, be prepared to log over a hundred hours in Kingdom Come with ease. There’s a bounty of side content to enjoy, as well as challenges, collectibles, the lengthy story itself and some well-designed and brilliantly-written DLC. However, for the more casual player, Kingdom Come is still approachable. There are options in place to essentially speed up the process, such as unrestricted fast travel, skippable scenes and shortcuts; plus, almost none of the side content is required to actually complete the main game.
At the moment, I’m breezing through my second run of Kingdom Come, and am absolutely loving every minute. In contrast to what I’ve written above, I’m yet to experience a bug this time around but am only at about a dozen hours played. However, I’ll see this story through to the end once more and will take all it throws at me as it’s genuinely and ultimately worth the effort. If you’re a PC gamer, Kingdom Come regularly enters sales on Steam but is usually priced at around £39.99. Console gamers are able to buy it digitally for around £50, or on disc at any price between £25 – £35.
If you’re a fan of open-world RPG titles, anything medieval or are just interested in the history of the era, it’s definitely something to consider.