Review: Kingdom Come Deliverance

{note: this is an early impression of the game based on an initial playthrough over a couple of days, a full review with score will be ready shortly}

Despite what the piles of fantasy books and movies might have told you, there are no dragons in Medieval times and certainly no magic.  Kingdom Come Deliverance, from new developer Warhorse Studios, hammers this fact home and, indeed, doesn’t shy away from the more realistic side of life in Bohemia during the 1400s.

Don’t expect a Witcher or Skyrim style experience here,  taking on anything more than a single bandit is asking for trouble and ‘potions’ are limited to the seemingly-arcane knowledge of medicine at the time, a sort of natural Red Bull you can learn to mix.  However, you can convince others to help you out and there are often more subtle ways to get what you want without resorting to fisticuffs.

Medieval Bohemia is an interesting place and time to pick. The story is set during a prelude to civil war, where the son of a great and well renowned king takes over the throne and pretty much ignores all the good advice his father ever taught him.  This leads to his half brother seizing an opportunity to take over, bleeding the land and people dry and trampling over anything that gets in his way.

Rather than starting out as anyone of note, however, you find yourself in the rather humble shoes of a Blacksmith’s son, without much in the way of charisma or fighting skills.  This leads nicely in to the tutorial style first hour or so of the game, where you’ll need to undertake more mundane tasks such as going to town, bartering and trying to retrieve money that someone owes your father.  While a pretty slow build up, it soon become apparent why developer Warhorse have chosen to stick you in such a backwater village and focus on family and friends, it heightens the impact of the events that catapult you into a much larger theatre; war and vengeance.  It also serves to show you just how the game deals with reputation, persuasion and, yes, the all important sword-fighting elements you’ll come to rely on.

The scope of the game soon opens up as you make your way through forests, battlefields, towns and outposts. It’s impressively huge and not in some artificial way that makes the world feel larger than it is.  It’s also deadly.  This isn’t a game where you can hope to fight of a whole group of armed enemies and live to tell the tale, sometimes one fatal stab will see you revert back to a saved point a few hours from where you were.  It’s quite brutal at times but never unfair.  The world is designed to be accessible but realistic (within reason), so finding ways around a battle with an unfair advantage is key, as is learning the art of persuasion and picking up a few social skills including doing your washing, finding safe foods to eat and having a bath.  Few NPCs will take you on your word if you’re covered in blood and smell like a dung pile.  Likewise, other people come and go and follow their own path.  Leaving important events when you’re supposed to be doing something to help can have disastrous effects.

The freedom to find different ways to complete tasks is impressive but it does lead to a few bugs.  Because of the scope of the game world and the many complicated branching effects of your actions, the game occasionally struggles to cope.  Being stuck in the scenery is a niggle but preventing you from talking to an important character or an NPC not fulfilling their part in a story can lead to frustrating restarts.  Considering the lengths the game goes to in order to give you freedom, it’s not surprising, but it still doesn’t make it any easier to live with.  Saving is also an issue for those used to the ability to save a game before long journeys.  The game will save automatically when sleeping or at certain points, but given the travel times between some quests that don’t have a quick travel option nearby, you can easily find yourself being killed at an inopportune moment and have to start way back in an earlier part of the game.  One solution is a drink you can concoct, which also saves the game at any point, but it’s costly and drinking too much can be harmful.

All these things, good and bad, are placed inside a believable and, at times, breathtaking world thanks to the CryEngine based graphics.  Forests, in particular, are wonderful to traipse through, with deer and boar, birds and other wildlife making them feel alive.  Streets and people look suitably worn and dirty with no Hollywood style take on the time period in sight.  The game world is pushed to its limits at times and, yes, beyond them as well.  This does lead to a few hiccups in presentation but it’s forgivable considering the atmosphere it manages to provide for the most part.

When it does get things right, Kingdom Come Deliverance feels like a living breathing Medieval world full of people going about their business during a time of hardship and it does a great job of making you feel like you’re part of this world, able to make a difference but equally not some superhuman fantasy warrior.  It’s very different from anything else out there and hardcore RPG fans, or those simply interested in living through part of Medieval history, have a lot to enjoy here.

 

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