So after having played Kingdom Come: Deliverance for several hours, running and horseback riding through 15th century Bohemia, braving the elements and vicious bandits, and occasionally eating an overripe apple, I’ve made a very important discovery:
It must have really sucked to be a peasant in the Middle Ages.
I mean, you’re basically considered to be next to Methuselah if you make it to freaking Thirty-Five, because just about everything is out to kill you. Not only does your everyday life suck (rare chances to bathe, terrible diet, and back-breaking farm labor), but you’re constantly under threat of having your house/village/farm/etc. being razed to the ground by roving bandits/pissed off knights/invading barbarians/etc. and having your female relatives whisked off to God knows where. If you’re lucky, MAYBE your village is ruled over by a kindly noble who actually gets shit done. But you’re also just as likely to be ruled over by an asshole who cares nothing about you or your welfare and generally only cares about either he or their sons claiming the throne. For God’s sake, just a random scratch could get you put in the ground!
Fortunately, although developer Warhorse’s historical RPG does try to hew close to realism and accuracy, even they seem to understand that peasant life freaking blew. And we’re all the better for it, because what they’ve produced is one of the most engaging and entertaining RPG experiences I’ve ever played… Provided you have as much a tolerance for bugs as I have.
What Is It?
Kingdom Come: Deliverance is a long anticipated, long in development medieval historical RPG by relative newcomers Warhorse. Made up of veterans of 2K Czech (specifically writer and director Daniel Vávra and producer Martin Klíma), they set out to create an RPG experience that would eschew the dragons and sorcery of traditional western RPGs, and instead attempt to develop a game that revels in historical fact and accuracy.
There are no wizards in Kingdom Come, nor are there any orcs, elves, dragons or any such tropes. The game is neither a hack-and-slash power fantasy or a Conan simulator. You don’t start out as the chosen one, nor do you start out as some great bandit or person of nobility; you start out as a random peasant/blacksmith’s son named Henry who has all the flaws and faces all the perils of being a medieval peasant. Hell, you can’t even read (it’s a skill you have to earn)!. Much like Oblivion or Morrowind, you begin the game as a complete nobody, and it’s only through your determination and sheer force of will that you can get anything accomplished.
Before we go to the main story, a brief (well, relatively brief) history lesson is in order:
From 1347 to 1378, the Kingdom of Bohemia was ruled over by Charles IV. Charles, who as king ruled Bohemia but also reigned as emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, helped develop his homeland into a medieval power. His lasting contributions include construction of the city of Prague, the construction of the Charles Bridge across the Vltava river, and the foundation of the University of Prague. When Charles died in 1378, he was succeeded by his son Wenceslaus IV (no, not that OTHER Wenceslaus) who proved to not be quite as effective a ruler as his father (which is a nice way of saying that he preferred bathing wenches and gambling over affairs of state). Wenceslaus’s hedonistic behavior angered the noble families, so much so that they instead decided to rally around Wenceslaus’s half-brother, Sigismund of Luxembourg. Sigismund, fresh from the Crusades, took the initiative: he kidnapped his half-brother and had him locked away in a chateau in Austria. With the throne empty, Sigismund believed it was time to make his rule known to Bohemia: he gathered an army of sympathizers and mercenaries (including a large contingent of Cumans) and began a campaign of terror and pillaging across the land.
Did you get all that? Good. Because now the ACTUAL story begins:
You play Henry, the humble son of a blacksmith. You aren’t particularly bright, but you have a good heart, and your curiosity is egging you on to answer the call to adventure. Your daily life involves aiding your father in his work (he’s not only the town blacksmith, but also the personal blacksmith of Sir Radzig, the noble ruler of your village), running errands for your mother, and occasionally flirting with your girlfriend at the local tavern. Things have been getting chaotic in recent years, and the struggle over the Bohemian throne is only part of it: There are currently two popes claiming the head of Christendom (one in Rome, the other in Avignon), and general discontent with the Papacy is already spreading throughout Bohemia (in fact, in a little over a decade later, Bohemia would be torn apart by the Hussite Wars).
Sadly, this humble existence is robbed of you in only a matter of hours. Whilst taking a recently forged sword to Sir Raditz, one which he had commissioned from your father, Sigismund’s Cuman troops raid your village. Your mother, father and girlfriend are all killed, and you are forced to flee into the night. You recover, thanks to some sympathetic nobles at a nearby town, but out of some sense of honor you are driven to return to your now razed village in hopes of retrieving Sir Radzig’s commissioned sword. However, you are ambushed by a gang of bandits led by a bald giant of a man named Runt, who leaves you for dead and takes the sword for his own. After being nursed back to health by a miller’s daughter (and fellow survivor), you vow to enter into Sir Raditz’s service, reclaim the sword, and restore your honor.
And that’s just the first twenty hours!
Why Should I Care?
You know that village raid I just talked about? The one that changes Henry’s life forever? That actually happened: the village was called Skalitz and there are written records of the event, much of which was written and compiled under Sigismund’s orders. It really was under the rule of a Sir Radzig, who really was forced to flee (along with many other villagers) to the neighboring village of Talmberg. That’s not the only piece off history you come in contact with: remember my mentioning the future Hussite Wars? During the game, you come in contact with a local priest who has begun reading and preaching the ideas of a ‘a gentleman preaching in the common tongue’ in Prague, none other than Jan Hus himself (Hus would be burned at the stake for heresy a few years later, kicking off the Hussite Wars in turn). This is just a couple of historical pieces you’ll come in contact with: from historical personages to buildings and settlements, some of which are still standing in modern day Bohemia (now the Czech Republic).
That’s part of what makes Kingdom Come such an amazing experience. True, you aren’t a noble or a chosen hero, and you only play a minor part in the events unfolding around you (and many times you’re not entirely sure of the scope of them to begin with), but you are always aware that history is being made around you at all times, and the small part that you play is an important one, minor as it is. Every quest you undertake has a myriad of ways to solve them, and the possibilities are only limited by yourself.
As for the actual nut n’ bolts gameplay itself: Kingdom Come is a first-person action RPG, taking place in an open environment (which you traverse on foot or horseback) and utilizing a classless system. Instead of choosing a class, you gain skills and traits from what you do, over time gaining the skills of a soldier, a thief, a bard, a scribe, and everything in between if you so choose. You also gain skills through conversation: Like every good modern RPG, you converse with NPCs through a branching dialogue system. Depending on your skills at being empathetic, humorous, intimidating, etc. you can affect the conversations you have and how the people will react to you, with the results ranging from being slapped to getting free stuff.
There’s also a needs system, pertaining to your everyday basic human needs. You will get hungry, or sleepy, or occasionally get injured. Not attending to these needs will result in negative repercussions, usually involving your stats taking a nosedive or losing health and stamina. This doesn’t mean that you’ll need to keep food on you at all times, fortunately, as once again history is in your favor. Historically, peasant villages and taverns would have boiling pots filled with broth and food for soup, which anyone in need could access. Many times, these pots would also have nearby campsites that one could sleep at. Of course, you can still buy and store food, or purchase a nice bed at a local inn if you are so inclined, but it’s nice to know that you have something to fall back on. You also must take care of your personal hygiene if you want to talk to certain people, and this may require everything from simply washing your face at a trough, or visiting the local bathing establishment for a full wash (among other needs. The people of the Middle Ages weren’t prudes).
Of course, this is ultimately a story about war, and you will be engaging in combat. You can choose from swords, clubs, axes, spears, and archery. But remember, this is no hack n’ slash. Combat in this game, like real medieval combat, is kinetic and brutal. When engaged in combat, you will need to be conscious of the positioning of your weapon, the direction from which your opponent’s attack is coming from, and of your own stamina as each swing will require a certain degree of physical effort (swords are heavy, after all). This is accomplished by the use of a five-way directional targeting retical that helps you direct your attacks, and to keep track of your weapon’s position. Over time you will also learn combos to help you overcome more advanced opponents, as well as acquire shields and armor to help protect you from blows. Of course, you’ll have to make sure to keep all of this in good shape, and regular maintenance is a must.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
Considering that this is largely an independent project, the scale and scope of this game is an accomplishment in and of itself. But that doesn’t hide the fact that this game is riddled with bugs and glitches. Glitches are to be expected in large open world games, at least to some extent, but even then there is only so much one can tolerate: it may be funny to watch a kneeling NPC magically float down a hill, but it’s another thing to be in the middle of an important battle and then suddenly have the game crash on you (which happened to me twice on my PS4).
Then there’s some other issues, specifically involving game design: I rather liked the combat, but it does have a steep learning curve and some players may not have the patience to endure it, especially since one can be very easily overwhelmed by multiple foes or be taken down in seconds by a more advanced opponent. In fact, the very first combat situation you find yourself in (a fistfight with a drunken peasant) is sort of an exercise in trial and error.
Even more egregious, however, is the save system. Other than autosaves (which are activated whenever a new event begins), there are only two other ways the player can save their progress as of this writing: sleeping and using ‘savior schnapps.’ This is an alcoholic beverage that is somewhat expensive to purchase, and using it will often make you drunk (the effects of which can last for a time and affect your performance). It’s possible that the developers wanted to prevent save scumming, but its an annoying feature that makes saving extremely inconvenient for the player. Note that at this time of writing, Warhorse were discussing modifying the save system, so this feature may be gone in the future.
In the end, I greatly enjoyed my time as Henry. I’m a history buff, as anyone who listens to Let’s Weekend! will know, and as I knew little about 15th century Bohemia I went into this expecting an enlightening educational experience, if nothing else. What I got was all that and more: a genuinely engaging piece of historical fiction, with fun gameplay and a variety of possibilities. I knew that my effect on the world would be limited in the grand scheme of things (historically, Sigismund would make peace with his half-brother and would succeed his father as Holy Roman Emperor), but the little bit that I did take part in left a great impression on me. It wasn’t quite like Assassin’s Creed III (where I apparently was in the middle of every major event of the American Revolution), and that’s a good thing.
It may not be for everyone, but it certainly was fun for me. And hey, it’s not every game where you can visit the place you just skewered a Cuman raider in real life!