Published on February 26th, 2018 | by Nathan Misa
Kingdom Come: Deliverance PS4 Review
Summary: Kingdom Come: Deliverance delivers on its ambitious promise for a realistic, grounded open-world medieval role-playing game, with engaging and complex gameplay systems, weighty and tactical combat and an interesting main story slightly let down by a lack of polish and technical issues on launch.
More dungeons, no dragons
Fair maidens and noble knights, jousting and swordfighting, chivalry and glory – for better or worse, the medieval period is heavily romanticised in our favourite video games.
It’s more common than not to see things spruced up with a dash of fantasy and a pinch of dungeons and dragons to provide gamers with the ultimate power fantasy of ‘the chosen one’ hero, but Kingdom Come: Deliverance is the complete opposite of all of these things.
As the first hardcore open-world role-playing game I can remember that focuses on the darker, grittier side of the Middle Ages, Deliverance is the realistic medieval simulator I never knew I wanted. While made on a smaller budget compared to traditional games of its genre, Warhorse Studios has delivered something incredibly ambitious and special.
Kingdom Come: Deliverance is set in 1403 in the Kingdom of Bohemia, which is now known as the Czech Republic, with real-world settlements and historical battles represented in the game with breathtaking accuracy. Playing the role of Henry, the young son of a master blacksmith in the town of Skalitz, you’re gently introduced to the simplicity of medieval town life before the countryside is littered with bodies and swamped in violence after the unpopular but rightful King Wenceslaus IV is imprisoned by his brother Sigismund, who aims to take the throne by force.
Unlike other games where your character is the center of the universe, Henry is a nobody and all you can do for much of the tense opening hours is run away from the sudden slaughter. His powerless nature and the unfairness of it all sets the tone for the rest of the game’s story and the realistic experiences the game offers. There are no clear bad guys, scary monsters or magic powers here – just a personal but incredibly engaging story about a peasant trying to survive amidst a costly civil war (which really happened) between selfish nobles and ego-maniacal kings.
Kingdom Come: Deliverance’s main narrative rides the momentum of its explosive first act throughout, with well-acted cutscenes, interesting character development, tense stakes and the right amount of black comedy. I found Henry’s simple and close-to-the-heart desire for revenge for the murder of his parents to be more interesting than many other RPGs of late and while the standard tropes are present, it subverts many more during his arduous journey. He’s not the typical invincible hero or saviour of the land, and it shows in every aspect of the game.
For starters, all of Deliverance’s gameplay mechanics and systems adhere to historical accuracy as much as possible in the developer’s commendable attempt to maintain immersion, best illustrated through its combat and movement. You control Henry through first-person perspective, exploring numerous towns, cities and the countryside by foot and horse, interacting with NPCs and fighting hostile enemies with numerous weapons. Using your fists or sword requires a button press combined with precisely-timed analogue stick movements to dictate how and where you strike or parry, while aiming with the bow and arrow lacks a targeting reticle and you must line up the shot based on Henry’s positioning alone. All of these actions and animations, along with sprinting and dodging, requires stamina to pull off, and Henry tires very quickly without careful and tactical decision-making.
Instead of being a hero that can traverse the land in an instant and slash up foes effortlessly, it is clear from the get go there is a steep learning curve that requires patience to succeed. Henry starts off incredibly slow, clumsy and devoid of technique, making early-game navigation and combat incredibly challenging but rewarding when victorious. Enemies hit hard and every strike in melee combat, both delivered and countered, feels appropriately weighty and strenuous to pull off, making for some truly tense life-or-death battles I haven’t experienced in other comparable games.
Fighting more than one enemy at a time is extremely difficult (as it would be in real life) and knowing when to take risks, what armour to wear, whether to thrust or strike, or even flee for your life is key to surviving – and having fun. Approach this game like a typical action-oriented power-fantasy RPG and you will be left sorely frustrated and disappointed. I can recognise the slower, more methodical approach to combat won’t appeal to everyone, but the attention to realism and emphasis on footwork and outsmarting opponents is something I haven’t experienced very often.
Naturally, there is ample in-game training required and tons of tutorials contextualised through the main story quest path so players can learn the in’s and outs. I found the gradual progression and drip-feed of new combat options to be both fun and well executed, though some areas of melee combat do feel clunkier than they should, such as blocking and parrying. It’s definitely not perfect, but in terms of historical accuracy and making you feel like an outmatched peasant doing their best to survive against well-trained knights or seasoned bandits, Kingdom Come: Deliverance’s combat system is utterly enthralling if you push through and learn the ropes.
Quests in Kingdom Come Deliverance are some of the game’s strongest aspects thanks to strong writing, and it’s handled similarly to other major RPGs, with NPCs giving out tasks large and small for Henry to engage in on certain points marked on the map. The main questline is well-paced and engaging throughout as Henry slowly gets closer to his goal for revenge while interacting with a variety of interesting people, including a hilariously drunk priest, punchable but relatable spoilt noble brat and brave and honourable knight mentor. The high-quality of many of the side missions deserve a mention, too, such as courting one of Henry’s female friends or finding a translator to interrogate a captured Cuman soldier. Even the more mundane duties like patrolling a town or hunting game in a jovial competition are entertaining, and the game gives you considerable freedom in letting you approach them however way you see fit.
The deep and complex role-playing systems governing combat and Henry’s other endeavours are equally engrossing. You level up his 4 primary stats and 17 skills by doing, similar to the popular Elder Scrolls series, so that means if you want to improve your overall strength and be proficient with the axe or sword, you best get to using them a lot. There are also many more non-combat skills you must improve such as alchemy, lockpicking, pickpocketing, reading (Henry starts off illiterate) and even drinking. In between levelling up and combat, you also have to eat and sleep, manage 4 layers and 20 slots of clothing or armour, and even manage the freshness or quality of food items and your equipment, all of which adds up to reinforce the immersion of living and surviving in a realistic virtual medieval environment.
It took me hours of gameplay to grasp the basics of those systems before I even stumbled upon the various perks under each of your stat and skill categories which can be used to further customise your individual playstyle. I went the road of traditional sword and shield wannabe knight who can carry a ton of items with the mule perk and appeal to the nobility in dialogue via the high born perk, but there’s plenty of opportunities to develop Henry differently, such as into a stealthy thief, nimble rogue or even just a loud and aggressive alcoholic oaf.
In saying that, Henry himself is still a predefined character with his own motivations and values – but you can slightly influence according to dialogue choices and actions taken throughout the game to match the way you play. The charisma skill allows you to talk your way to your goals, though not all NPCs are fallible to smooth-talkers, so sometimes an aggressive approach via your strength skill or using your overall reputation in the town or city you’re currently in is necessary to proceed. Characters even treat you different according to how dirty or bloody Henry is or what armour or clothing he’s wearing (or lack of it).
This reactivity and attention to detail extends further to make the entire map feel like a living, breathing world. All NPCs have schedules, behaviours and stats of their own, influencing whether they might be successfully charmed or intimidated or haggled with or whether you fail a quest because you didn’t turn up at the time they told you to. Even the filler characters serve their purpose in acting as eyes and ears for if Henry gets up to no good with theft or murder, reporting you to the local authorities to face fines and possible jail time.
Looks and visuals, on the other hand, are a hit-and-miss. The choice of CryEngine 3 has resulted in amazing environmental presentation and detail, with villages and castles looking exactly as how you would imagine the medieval era to look – muddy roads, imposing fortresses, endless fields and idyllic horizons – and NPC inhabitants equally diverse in appearance, age, clothing and mannerisms, honestly reflecting what people actually wore then. However, the layering system seems to have certain armour and clothing combinations clip through and facial and movement animations aren’t exactly the smoothest, with lip-syncing outside of main cutscenes being particularly atrocious, but if you can look past these blemishes, the level of detail and immersion on offer is overwhelming – particularly on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One X, where the graphical settings are turned up and the frame-rate much smoother than on standard PS4 and Xbox One, which made compromises in resolution and FPS to compensate.
Unfortunately there has been a few not-so-great technical failures and poor optimisation which buyers definitely need to take into consideration before diving in. Many quests are prone to bugging out mid-way, with NPCs disappearing or failing to turn up, markers permanently fixated on irrelevant areas or the quest log refusing to update, with the only solution to reload a past save or waste time fiddling around for a solution. Load times are also, quite frankly, atrocious, and most evident in the two to seven second black screen you face each time you interact with every NPC in the game or check your map.
Thankfully, Warhorse Studios has plenty of free patches and updates planned to iron out the many bugs and issues that inevitably have arrived with their ambitious indie game, and in my experience the sheer quality of the game from launch day to now has far outweighed these minor issues – I’ve been too busy having fun storming castles and smooth-talking my way to the top of the caste system.
The Final Verdict
Kingdom Come: Deliverance is a slow-burner type of role-playing game that will appeal mostly to hardcore RPG fans willing to invest the considerable time necessary to learn and master all of its extremely intricate gameplay mechanics and stat systems – and who crave a more grounded, realistic story and setting rather than the traditional dungeons and dragons set-up.
It’s definitely a slow-burner in terms of learning the in’s and out’s of its complex gameplay systems and unorthodox combat mechanics, which are drip-fed for a number of hours, but stick with it and you will discover one of the most interesting and immersive video game experiences in recent years.
Primary Format – Games – Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Game Genre – Role-playing game
Rating – R18+
Game Developer – Warhorse Studios
Game Publisher – Deep Silver