Role-playing games frequently feature slaying dragons that block out the sun, mystical elves wielding ancient enchanted weapons, sci-fi blaster wars on far-off alien worlds, and androgynous teenagers dressed in ferocious clothes with an excessive number of zippers and buckles.
When people consider their preferred gaming genre, these are some of the first images that come to mind. That is why Warhorse Studios’ extraordinarily realistic video game Kingdom Come: Deliverance has become such a significant sensation.
It is true that this is not the first game to eschew fantasy and science fiction cliches in favour of a historically realistic setting, but very few have done so with such a satisfying outcome, let alone taken the open-world path and succeeded well.
Any review of Kingdom Come: Deliverance must undoubtedly begin with a warning that the game is not for those who are easily swayed. Because life might be challenging, this game, especially in the first half, does not hesitate to completely destroy the player in an effort to be as realistic as possible.
It is not that things grow simpler as the game progresses; rather, players are better prepared to confront new challenges since they have had more time to familiarise themselves with the game’s numerous systems and level up their talents. The crucial word here is practice, and while it will not make everything flawless (there are still many obstacles to overcome in the game’s later levels), it will at least enable players to enhance their abilities.
This isn’t a game that’s difficult just for the purpose of being difficult; everything is done in the name of authenticity. Players assume the role of young Henry of Skalitz, an ordinary blacksmith’s son living a modest existence in the kingdom of Bohemia, today’s Czech Republic, around the beginning of the fifteenth century. Henry spends his days helping his father at the forge, flirting with the local tavern wench, and getting into mischief with his friends.
Henry has no formal weapons training, no money, and only a cursory knowledge of horseback, as befits his position in this genuine mediaeval society. If it sounds like the early hours of the game severely limit players’ abilities, it’s because they do. Kingdom Come focuses mostly on the role-playing aspects of being an RPG, with gaming coming in a distant third. This is fantastic for immersion, but some gamers will find the price of entrance to be excessively costly.
Amazingly, since the game’s release, a Hardcore game option has been introduced, upping the ante on realistic play by, among other things, hiding the combat reticule, eliminating quick travel, and requiring players to navigate by markers and the position of the sun by removing the in-game map.
Discussion on the game
Bohemia is an area rich in culture, silver, and towering castles, nestled in the center of Europe. The death of Emperor Charles IV, the kingdom’s revered monarch, has thrown the kingdom into turmoil: conflict, corruption, and discord are ripping the Holy Roman Empire apart.
Wenceslas, one of Charles’ sons, has inherited the throne. Wenceslas is a naive, self-indulgent, and unambitious ruler, unlike his father. Sigismund the Red Fox, Wenceslas’ half-brother and King of Hungary, detects Wenceslas’ weakness. Sigismund sails to Bohemia under the guise of good will and kidnaps his half-brother. Sigismund is now free to loot Bohemia and grab its riches because there is no ruler on the throne. You’re Henry, the son of a blacksmith, and you’re caught in the middle of it all.
When a mercenary raid, ordered by King Sigismund himself, burns your village to the ground, your quiet life is destroyed. You, Henry, are one of the few survivors of the carnage, which is a cruel irony. You end up in the service of Lord Radzig Kobyla, who is building a resistance to the invasion, without a home, family, or future. Fate forces you into this terrible battle and thrusts you into the midst of a blazing civil war, where you help fight for Bohemia’s future.
The dedication of developer Warhorse Studios to its mission is unquestionable. The Czech company has rebuilt a significant portion of its own old rear garden. Players can wander through the muddy alleyways of straw peasant villages and lively walled towns, ride along horseback routes through scenic farmland, hunt for game in sun-dappled forests teeming with birdsong, or ride along bridle paths through picturesque farmland.
From the outside, remarkable castle cities appear large and ominous, yet on the inside, they are lively, active, and pleasantly colorful. In literature, history is frequently seen through a sepia lens, but this isn’t the case here. Medieval Europe is alive and well.
Warhorse drew in a plethora of academics to act as historical specialists and advisors on the project to ensure that players get the most accurate recreation of medieval life possible in Kingdom Come. An in-game codex fills with extensive stories of Bohemian life, from historical people, conflicts, and locales, to rules controlling everyday existence, religion, even how toilets and plumbing functioned back then, and everything in between, as Henry wanders the region and overhears bits of information.
If Henry goes too long without washing, the citizens, especially the nobility’s acute noses, will be less excited about him. Food will rot if not consumed soon, guards will detain Henry if he is caught walking about town at night without a flashlight to guide him, and even the rapid travel mechanism will only get Henry to the intended area faster than normal as time passes and his energy and hunger levels fall.
The list continues on and on, and it can be difficult to keep track of everything when you first start the game, but all of these intricacies are integrated in such a way that they quickly become second nature. The world of Deliverance begs to be explored, and the game allows you to do it in a variety of ways. Henry’s job resembles that of a squire or a page, as he runs errands for everyone from millers to lords while learning as he goes.
You’ll look for missing horses, solve crimes, defend villages, and fight in violent battles. Many problems can be addressed in a variety of methods, such as stealth, talking, or fighting your way into an opposing camp, and mastering talents such as reading or alchemy opens up even more options. In one endeavor to uncover heretics, a written confession is used to locate their secret place of worship. Henry will be absolutely baffled by the cryptic metaphor that exposes its location if you haven’t been working on his literacy.
Whatever game you choose to play, swords will clash and blood will be spilled at some time. Combat serves as a useful barometer for Warhorse’s take on realism, incorporating real combat methods that players are inspired to learn through a system that allows them to strike, block, and perform combinations from five distinct angles. It’s challenging but rewarding, and it encourages the player to approach combat with caution which few other games do.
Combating more than one opponent is incredibly difficult unless you’re riding a horse or using a bow to whittle down enemy ranks. Another nice detail is that duels aren’t always life and death fights. Losing fighters have the option of surrendering to mercy, and the victor must determine whether or not to respond honorably. The main premise of fighting, which involves swords, axes, maces, spears, and other medieval equipment, is to move beyond hit-or-miss strikes. Henry, like his opponents, has five different hit zones that must be individually targeted.
Strikes to the head, arms, and legs require various command inputs that consider the opponent’s armor in each place as well as whether the strike is being adequately blocked. With each hit performed and received, a stamina meter depletes, typically functioning as a buffer before damage begins to eat away at the health bar. It’s a convoluted concept that takes a lot of time to master, and when you mix it with Henry’s lack of combat skill and armor, early clashes against trained and equipped soldiers seem terribly unjust.
Once Henry has attracted an opponent’s notice, the game will not allow him to heal himself, therefore there is no way to heal by going to the pause menu and having a quick meal in the middle of a combat. These little details adds multiple layers to a world that is progressively developing as you play through it. Everything is governed by a deep simulation. You will be sentenced to prison if you are caught stealing. During a fist fight, if you unsheathe your sword, your opponent will back down and possibly apologize.
If you’ve had a bath, nobles will be more likely to talk to you. People on the street will shout your name and sing your praises if your reputation in town is very good. You will wake up with a hangover if you drink too much. You’ll make less noise while sneaking if you take off your clumsy plate armour. Food poisoning is caused by eating spoiled food.
It helps that Henry is a likable protagonist. He isn’t really interesting, but we believe that is the point. He’s so ordinary, so plain, that his presence gives the story a solid, relatable base. He’s just as shocked by everything as you are as he reluctantly leaves his old life behind, becoming a servant for a lord who takes a liking to him, and finding himself on the frontlines of a horrific battle.
But his passion and tenacity keep him afloat, and he’s a good guide through the tangled culture and politics of this harsh, unforgiving medieval society. Throughout the game, Henry learns about and even participates in a number of historical events. The entire game is set against the backdrop of the fight for Bohemia’s throne, as a sudden vacancy in the monarchy drives the region’s noble houses, all of whom play major roles and are surprisingly well fleshed out, into chaos. The writing is excellent; Henry’s interactions with the game’s characters are very human, whether he’s developing genuine friendships with them or deferring to them in emotional displays of respect.
Several optional missions in the game exist only for the purpose of character development, resulting in some of the most honest and real connections we’ve seen in a long time between video game characters. It’s a true tribute to Warhorse’s designers, particularly lead writer and game director Daniel Vávra, who have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that realism can be just as enjoyable as fantasy fiction.
But all of this comes at a price. Kingdom Come, like many other games with this degree of detail and ambition, is plagued by problems. The simulation is rich and complicated, but it also feels as if it could come crashing down at any moment. Characters becoming caught on walls or floating in mid-air in cutscenes are largely harmless. But there are occasions when it’s more serious, such as when my archery opponent refused to take his shot, trapping me in an interminable limbo. Or the conversation that kept repeating the same three lines of dialogue indefinitely.
Add in some desktop crashes and other janky oddities, and you’ve got a game that’s in desperate need of polish. The game’s voicework and soundtrack greatly aid the cast of characters, as well as the general immersion in the world. The primary character cast sounds fantastic all around. From the calm and stately Sir Radzig to even Henry himself, the performers are completely convincing.
Brian Blessed, a venerable Shakespearean actor, even makes an appearance at the end of the main campaign. The game’s music, which consists of period-specific tunes played on authentic instruments, is equally amazing. One small gripe is that much of the music becomes monotonous after a while, especially for those who are trying to finish the game as quickly as possible.
Even without accounting for the budget, Kingdom Come appears to be a fantastic film. The planet is alive and well, and it appears that the most of it was hand-crafted rather than computationally created. Towns appear to be a good size. Granted, they may be smaller than they should be because we haven’t identified every citizen and military, as well as their housing spaces, but the world still feels real and lovely.
What we have discussed so far may imply that Deliverance is a callous or cruel game. There are often sweet moments of love and joy among the specters of war and death, and Henry himself is charming for a vengeful peasant. Deliverance isn’t very interested in delving through the issues it raises.
Henry sits down in a tavern to question a town priest about a murder in one odd incident. They talk about the importance of confession and how wealth corrupts people and societies. The evening devolves into an insane scene of rowdiness, culminating in Henry preaching the morning sermon because the priest is too intoxicated to do so. In a nutshell, this is the story of Deliverance.
It wants us to take its medieval world seriously while also wanting it to be a fun place to play, and it is constantly attempting to strike a balance between these two aspects of its nature. It’s easy to immerse yourself in its rich and lively medieval scenery if you can accept its eccentricities. Kingdom Come is a truly satisfying role-playing game set in a complex, reactive universe, bugs and performance difficulties notwithstanding.
There have been rumors that the gaming developer and ex-Netflix CEO Erik Barmack are working together. With Warhorse CEO Martin Fryvaldsky, Barmack will produce the live-action version. Both studios are presently looking for screenwriters to work on the production. Kingdom Come: Deliverance was praised by the ex-Netflix CEO. “It’s particularly intriguing that video games with rich narrative, such as ‘The Witcher’ and ‘Kingdom Come: Deliverance,’ are remarkably flexible, and local but global at the same time,” he said.
The Kingdom Come and Yazuka adaptations, he said, are part of a larger effort to deliver “wonderful, non-US worlds that are locally relevant, but with the regional and worldwide popularity that players are seeking for as they become more and more global.” Kingdom Come has demonstrated that smaller games can compete with big-budget event games, he believes.
All things considered, make sure to keep your eyes peeled out for the possible movie adaptation, and in the meanwhile get this game and live out your fantasy of living in medieval times, and if it isn’t a dream of yours, this game will definitely change that feeling by the end of its gameplay.