To say I’m late to the party with this review would be an understatement. But such is the scale of Kingdom Come, both literally and metaphorically, that for a simple enthusiast reviewer like myself the task of A: playing enough of, and B: actually reviewing a title such as this is a tad intimidating to say the least. But lo and behold, it is done, and while I had my issues with the game, I can finally say that I understand it, for better or for worse.
There was a deal of marketing and a bit of hype leading up to the release of this medieval RPG, primarily with regards to the fact that Warhorse Studios were doing something with this game that many RPG fans have wanted in a big budget release for a long time, but had failed to receive – a realistic historical world. Most RPGs eschewing this in favour of fantastical settings and a pinch of suspension of disbelief. Yet Kingdom Come promised real life inspired combat and characters, meaningful and sensible armour and weaponry, and a world allowing you to live the life of a peasant blacksmith’s son in a war torn Bohemia.
In many respects the game is successful with this, and only in a few areas does it slip up. But the biggest question I feel, which I have seen raised in the salty rantings of others, is whether or not people were ready for it, or more to my personal opinion, whether it all works considering how everything is implemented.
The game takes place in 15th century Bohemia. You fill the shoes of Henry, a humble blacksmith’s son who enjoys little adventure other than the tasks his father sets him and the occasional pissing about with his mates. You are currently forging a sword for Sir Radzig, Lord of Skalitz where Henry resides, but shortly after completing it your home is attacked by an army of Cumins and everyone slaughtered, including your parents. Henry makes it out by the skin of his teeth, but ends up in the care of Sir Divish, Lord of Talmberg, who forbids him to leave until things are safe. Poo pooing that, Henry escapes and makes his way back to Skalitz. Unfortunately not much is left other than looters and charred corpses, and upon finding the bodies of his parents, Henry is ambushed and has Sir Radzig’s sword stolen. Things aren’t looking up for Henry, however after healing a second time, he pledges himself to Sir Radzig and vows to retrieve his sword, and somehow by extension avenge his parents and get revenge on the Cumins.
After this lengthy introductory phase, you are free to pursue your quest and explore the world as you see fit. While the wisest of moves would be to stick with the story for a while as you learn skills and manage the unique mechanics of the game’s combat, the latter is initially the most appealing, and while I ended up regretting this decision, it is to the game’s credit that this was the case.
The world created by Warhorse studios in Kingdom Come is very impressive indeed. Not only have they put every effort into created a realistic portrayal of the land at that time, from the settlements and buildings to farmlands and occupations of the people that live in the world, but the scope and scale is something to behold. I’m not going to attempt to argue about how it compares to the likes of Skyrim or The Witcher 3 in terms of map size, because I think that misses the point (both of those games are faster paced than this), however when it comes to detail and geographical design, Kingdom Come really shines. Travelling through a forest, passing over a stream, stumbling on a camp or windmill as you travel is part of the charm of the game’s world, and all are presented in impressive detail.
Of course, the settlements, people and the activities they provide are at the centre of what you actually do in the game, and these are also knowledgeably portrayed and expand and conform to the game’s presentation of 15th century life and the world you are playing in. You can hunt for meat and skins, then cook the meat for yourself or sell them and give the skins to tanners for a reward. You can booze it up in the tavern and gamble, challenge local brawlers to fist fights, learn to read, go down to the local bathhouse for a wash and to get your clothes cleaned (and some hanky panky if you fancy), and even engage in a bit of thieving. Towns are filled with shops and handy people, from scholars and armorers to grocers and butchers. The residents all seem to have something to get on with, even if that’s just begging, which gives the game world some life and regular characters.
You can look for work from people doing basic tasks like harvesting skins for a tanner, or weeding a priest’s garden. These are good for getting a bit of cash and perhaps using your skills a bit, however the main meat really comes from the main story and the side quests. With the side quests I found some of the more entertaining moments in Kingdom Come. There’s a lot of character put into some of these mini stories and a few of them err on the bizarre side. An early example includes probing a death at a Monastery, whereby you get enthralled in an investigation that leads you to question a multitude of factors such as the quality of the stone, foul play, and even an ostensible devil’s skull found on the site. Another involves you following some suspected witches into the woods and embarking on a hallucinogenic trip as you get drugged by accident. And my personal favourite, which to be fair was less of a side quest and more of a diversion off the main storyline, which was boozing it up with a priest and ending up delivering his sermon for him the next day as he was too hung over.
There are many diversions that comes from these quests as well. Not that I think the game throws quests at you left and right, but there’s often some bit of intrigue that spawns from you arriving at an area to deal with one particular thing. At the monastery for example, I was questioning the monks when one of them drew my attention to the sick and wounded taking rest there. I then spoke to the people and was tasked to find them help. Quests flow at a good pace and often naturally, which again helps with the overall feel and aesthetic of a game that prides itself on achieving a more realistic sense of time and place. The main quests on the other hand, take you on a journey that becomes bigger than what Henry had originally intended. And while I won’t spoil it for you, I will say that the people you meet and the priorities that are thrust upon you make for an intriguing and dramatic journey.
But this aside, I’ve come this way without mentioning yet the famed (or notorious) combat and gameplay. The easiest comparison to make would be with Torn Banner Studio’s multiplayer hacker Chivalry. The game is in first person and combat requires directional input. There’s no ‘press square for light attack’ business here, you click to the left to strike from the left, up to strike from above, so on and so forth. What this means is that fights play out like duels, with you attempting to anticipate your opponents moves while trying to get past their guard and score a hit. Combinations and special moves can be unlocked when you level up the required skill, and these could involve hitting left, right, and then stabbing to cuff your opponent in the face, or even grappling moves to throw your foe off balance.
The combat in general takes a bit of getting used to, but once you do, these duels become satisfying tactical affairs. Even when the fighting gets frantic, getting a lucky strike that reveals an opening is really enjoyable. There’s also a fair bit of variety with the weapons you can use, each requiring you to become proficient individually by practical training. For example, you may be good with a sword, but if you’ve never used a mace before then you’ll need to train a bit to become truly efficient.
This is where the game gets a bit complicated. You see, Kingdom Come takes the realism seriously with regards to its combat as well, not just the world. There are many ways to outfit your character, and many ways in which the people of Kingdom Come are outfitted, all with their positives and negatives. People in heavier armour tend to be more resistant to sword slashes for example, and so blunt weapons are the way forward (or a very well placed arrow). There are many layers of armour that you can wear, but you need to be aware of how they affect your stats. If you want to be a walking talking suit of armour, then by all means equip hefty gear in all your slots, but don’t expect to be able to carry very much in your inventory, and certainly don’t expect to be sneaking past anyone any time soon. Alternatively, you may prefer to travel light – perhaps you are going on a hunting trip and want to save space for meat and skins and want to be light on your feet – in which case be ready to flee if any trouble comes your way from bandits. The whole set up in this sense is about making intelligent decision in how you travel and prepare for whatever task you are about to commence.
This extends to the way some people see you as well. Fancier clothing makes you more approachable when it comes to speaking to people, and if you want to go around unnoticed then you might equip some more neutral items. The whole game is very involved in this sense, and as a result it keeps you on your toes. I often found myself in difficult situations early on in the game because I wanted a one size fits all solution to the challenges the world presented, but it wasn’t until I started taking this seriously that I started to overcome some of the issues. For example, I struggled to defeat some nasty bandits in an early main quest, and not being experienced enough with the combat I found myself dying repeatedly. A quick fix to this? Buy some heavy armour to absorb the blows and use my reasonable stamina to dodge and strike ad nauseam. Then once I grew tired of this particular quest arc, throw on some light clothes to engage in a bit of robbing for one of the millers.
It’s not just about having the right gear, however, and you are required to practise and ‘level up’, as it were. Though Kingdom Come does this slightly differently than most RPGs. It adopts the famed Elder Scrolls approach, whereby you level up skills by performing them. Use your sword to get better at using a sword, pick flowers to gain herbalism skill, so on and so forth until you gain skill points. But unlike Skyrim you can’t simply add a skill point into any category you desire, it must be in the category in which the point was gained. Therefore, if you practise a lot with your sword, you gain a point that can be used to unlock sword specific perks and abilities. It makes sense. Now you are skilled enough to pull off trickier combos, or you can learn how to increase your chance of bleeding an enemy, but your mace skill stays the same because you haven’t used it yet.
It’s not quite as ruthless as it may sound as some skills do cross over. For example, the more fighting you do the more strength you get and the more warfare experience you earn, which are useful across the board (higher strength is required to use certain weapons effectively for example), but to become truly proficient with a specific weapon you need to actually use it. There are places around where you can practise and gain experience. Some characters can be paid to just give you experience in a specific field, there’s a captain in one of the settlements who can spar with you, and plenty of quests and activities that appear to be designed to give you an edge in some way (attacking bandit camps is a perfect way to get in some fighting if that’s specifically what you want to do, and you get a nice bit of change in the process). However, unfortunately the game isn’t brilliant at telling you all this.
One of the biggest problems with Kingdom Come is in its accessibility, or lack thereof it. I don’t mean this in a whiny “oh the game’s too difficult, make the enemies easier” kind of way, but it very much puts the onus on you to search out the ways to learn and become better at the game, all the while punishing you for missteps along the way. This could have worked well, like a trial and error sort of thing – dip your feet in the waters of the world to see if you’re ready – but it’s not really possible to tell from the outset if what you are about to embark on is going to be too challenging for your current state. This works its way into the outfitting system. While it’s cool to have many different things that have effects on your stats, it’s very possible, nay probable, that you’ll outfit yourself completely inefficiently for a task – say, one that starts out peacefully but ends in battle – and end up struggling through it, dying and having to replay from your last save (more on this later) or worse actually failing the quest in question and just having to get on with the consequences (there are even a few time sensitive quests, so good luck if you find yourself entered into one of these and happen to not be wearing any good gear). The game has a real problem with direction in this respect, and it can make the title very difficult to properly get into.
Following on with this tough love attitude, the developers made the bizarre decision to restrict you on the save front. The game maintains a few triggers for AutoSaves including beginning a quest and sleeping in a bed, however for manual saves, upon the game’s release the only option was to use a consumable in the form of Saviour Schnapps. Now, as you progress in the game and find yourself more well-endowed financially and better skilled in alchemy, obtaining Saviour Schnapps isn’t all that difficult. You can make them by brewing at an alchemy station using ingredients you’ve picked or bought, or you can buy them from most traders. However for a long while this system is actively frustrating.
I don’t know about you, but when I play a game – especially an open world RPG that prides itself on some harsh gameplay – I want to explore it and its mechanics in order to learn how to play, and generally just enjoy the world as much as I can. But in order to do this effectively, for those of us that aren’t interested in a perpetual risk of ‘dire consequences’, a save function to use at our leisure is pretty essential, and for a long time you may find yourself trying to explore the world of Kingdom Come and either investing a silly amount in these Saviour Schnapps, or trying to save them and risking failure. And when I say failure I mean it. Replaying vast chunks of gameplay because you didn’t save before embarking on a seemingly light-hearted task, only to be beset by a group of bandits along the way and getting overwhelmed. It happened far too many times for my liking during the opening 20 or so hours, and is something you just can’t effectively prepare for.
It may seem like a lot to lay such an amount of criticism on such a mechanic, especially as I’ve mentioned that it does get easier to deal with, but this is in my opinion the worst aspect of Kingdom Come. Not just because it’s a little annoying, but because it prevented me from being able to explore and enjoy the world and its mechanics earlier on, and still later down the line is a constant consideration to avoid the ball ache of getting screwed over. The developers ended up patching in a save and quit option so that you won’t have to worry about quitting the game and losing your progress, but this save is deleted upon loading up the game again, so it doesn’t even serve as an inconvenient cheat of the system. No, instead you must spend time brewing or buying Saviour Schnapps or travel to a bed every time you want to save. It’s not just a hassle in terms of remembering or spending the time doing it, as the game has plenty of glitches that can ruin your time (including one that saw me killed by bandits before the game even loaded in). I respect that it’s perhaps a more immersive mechanic, fitting with the game’s realistic tendencies, but this doesn’t apply to other aspects. Fast travel is still here, AI seem deliberately stupid, allowing you to exploit them in many ways (including animals that don’t run fast or far when you’re hunting them), and no matter where you are, how far you have walked, all it takes to summon your horse is a quick sharp whistle and it teleports to your location. My question is, why take liberties in these areas for the sake of ease of use, but not in one of the most important areas of player experience?
Anyway, rant over. And much like the experience with Kingdom Come, though you may be filled to the brim with rage over being so mightily inconvenienced, there’s a hell of a lot to bring you back in. I haven’t spoken much about Henry, but although not without fault, he’s a unique and impressive character. So many RPGs want to immerse you in their world, yet they eschew relatable protagonists. The Witcher 3 has a mutated monster slayer in Geralt, Skyrim has the mighty Dragon Born, but Kingdom Come has the simple blacksmith’s son. Henry is likeable. He’s got some charisma, good determination and plenty of bravery, but he’s also got his Christian values of the time, gets offended easily by scandal, and can seem a tad out of his depth with everything he’s having to deal with. He’s a good catalyst to get you into the attitude of experiencing the world the way Warhorse Studios want you to.
Having said that, I will say Henry, dear of him, can be a bit schizophrenic at times, and this isn’t helped by the dialogue choices. He can be utterly aghast at something ‘unchristian’, wagging his finger and giving someone a good telling off, whereas other times it is perfectly acceptable for him to poo-poo sins and terrible behaviour, and then other times he even goes as far as seeming a little sociopathic. It’s more funny than anything else, but Henry does seem to have issues figuring out who he really wants to be.
I feel this probably has something to do with the writing, and unfortunately it extends somewhat to the quests. Many of the quests are impressive, as mentioned earlier, but some go in odd directions, or even end with little conclusion. The game boasts there being multiple ways to go about some tasks, but in order for this to be successful, the rest of the paths need to actually go somewhere as well. As an example, with the quest mentioned at the beginning of the review of the investigation at the monastery. It just ends. I found out what went wrong, discovered a plot, went to stop the plot, and didn’t find anything and the quest just sort of finished. You go back to original quest giver, where Henry tells him about his investigation of the stone at the monastery, but neglects to mention ANY of the other interesting facts about it. Very bizarre and anticlimactic. There’s also the romance quests. The first in the game is Theresa, who Henry knew from Skalitz. You talk to her, take her out on a walk – it’s actually quite charming. But then before it’s even begun, the quest ends with you two boning down and then NEVER SPEAKING TO HER AGAIN. Tell a lie, you can speak to her, but it’s only the generic dialogue that you could say from the very beginning. There’s no relationship to speak of. It seems a bit empty, even childish.
Having said all that, the game may be full of little annoyances, and one major inconvenience, but it is undeniably ambitious, and actually as a whole quite successful. Once you learn how the systems work, the combat becomes more enjoyable. Some have suggested that you can become overpowered by the end (with better quality gear), but I still find challenge in dealing with multiple enemies at once (duelling is one thing, but wait till you have multiple people going for you – they don’t wait their turn like in the movies). The world is brilliantly designed and very enjoyable to just take your time travelling and looking around, and with enough quests and activities to get on with you won’t be running out of things to do any time soon. I think if you prepare yourself for some inconvenience from the get go, and maybe read a few guides then you will avoid a lot of the frustrations I had. This doesn’t make up for them, but the rest of the game in my opinion is too engaging to let it get in the way.
+ Plenty of quests and activities
+ Loads of depth with combat and gear
+ Impressive historical insight and accuracy
- Not enough direction at the begining of the game
- Suffers from a fair share of bugs