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Kingdom Come: Deliverance

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Role-Playing
Publisher: Deep Silver
Developer: Warhorse Studios
Release Date: Feb. 13, 2018


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PS4 Review - 'Kingdom Come: Deliverance'

by Redmond Carolipio on May 15, 2018 @ 12:30 a.m. PDT

Kingdom Come: Deliverance is an open-world, action-adventure, role-playing game featuring a nonlinear story and revolutionary, first-person melee combat.

Buy Kingdom Come: Deliverance

Kingdom Come: Deliverance feels like it comes from another land of RPGs, a different kind of tree from the current forest of games touting "RPG elements." Sometimes, it feels like nearly every kind of game has various kinds of role-playing elements in it, where levels are counted, clothing and weapons of varying powers can be purchased, and skills can be honed and boosted. Even sports games like MLB The Show and NBA 2K have single-player campaigns with a teaspoon of D+D. Who doesn't want a bat that adds +2 to your power hitting?

If that's the kind of RPG style you're used to, then this exhaustively intricate work from Warhorse Studios might feel a little overwhelming. Kingdom Come: Deliverance is a game dripping with old-school energy, where players weren't just asked to boost skills and attributes, but also to fully inhabit the skin of their character, building them and shaping them from virtually nothing. The game design makes you earn everything you can possibly gain, and it's on you to improve and excel to the point where you can move forward. It's not exactly rude in this approach, but it makes no apologies, either.

Your vessel for this odyssey is Henry, the son of a blacksmith and inhabitant of Bohemia around the 14th century, the time of the Holy Roman Empire. Every time you fire up the game, you're treated to stills and narrative about the state of the Holy Roman Empire surrounding the interplay between King Sigismund of Hungary and King Wenceslaus following the death of Charles IV. You'll be familiar with this background more and more, since this elaborate narration is mostly unskippable. It's slightly irritating at first, but less so once you remember your willingness to sit through the "Game of Thrones" intro every time.

While most RPGs generally like to shed most of the coils of realism, Kingdom Come: Deliverance wears them proudly, like armor. This is best reflected in Henry, who is not the son of a blacksmith in the way Will Turner from "Pirates of the Caribbean" was, where simply being around swords he made somehow granted him the power to waylay foes with advanced fighting abilities. Henry is as average a Joe as humanly possible. The first aggressive acts he commits are throwing poop at someone's house and engaging in a clumsy fistfight. But it's here, in initial pieces, where you get a taste of how much the game is going to demand of you. For instance, it turns out that Henry, in addition to his normal village life, is taking basic sword-fighting lessons from the local combat master, and he has to make time for another lesson. This is where you learn about Kingdom Come's rules of combat and the fastest way to gauge what the game's really about as far as playing it: hard work and perseverance.

Fighting anyone with fist or melee weapons consists of squaring off with your opponent and automatically locking on to him with a HUD that resembles a starfish. Each of the starfish's five points signify a direction for Henry's attack, which you select with the right thumbstick while you move around with the left. Then you can swing with the right trigger or jab with the right shoulder button. It sounds simple enough, but you also have to consider the opponent, who can block all of your attacks, swing from different angles and will also strike at open areas. As a result, you have to also select the correct direction to block by reading the guy's stance. Depending on Henry's level as the game progresses, you can expect a pretty brutal and fast death if you're not up to standard. This is not the game where one dude can take on a team of guys and expect to come out unscathed or even alive.

The more you play, the more you realize how much realism you need to take into account every day. If you've just been in a fight, you'll have blood on your clothes or look beaten up, so people (like merchants) might speak to you differently or get a little freaked out, which can affect your transactions. Remember to go to the baths, where you can wash yourself and your clothes — and pay for a wench, which gives you a temporary stat boost. If you're bleeding, remember to bandage yourself, or you'll risk bleeding to death. Speaking of merchants, they have actual business hours, so you have to factor in when you want to grab that new sword or potion. There's also an entire economy of trading and haggling and dealing in "hot" goods versus regular goods, all depending on how much of a mensch you are in your business affairs. You also have to remember to sleep to regain energy, and you have to eat something once in a while, otherwise your stamina will suffer.

I found that a key to navigating the slow-burning story through all these constraints is to simply accept the rules. Players who are used to action-RPGs or action games might be tempted to see if there are any ways to make the game less of a grind or find loopholes, like seeing if there are techniques to chop down enemies with ease or if getting a certain piece of equipment makes all the difference. If that stuff's out there, I hadn't found it after nearly 100 hours of playing time. Also, there's a discovered richness to being Henry that balances out most of the hardships he faces along the way. To get better at fighting, as in real life, Henry needs to train. The regular slaughterings of Henry by random bandits didn't stop until I started training for an hour or two every day with the captain of one of the local armies (cue "Highlander" training montage music).

It's like that for every skill, which makes Henry a shapeable character that you can actually build, brick by brick. I started to feel a real sense of pride and ownership when Henry started to easily win more confrontations than he lost. I trained in hand-to-hand combat and started winning fight clubs to get more money. Henry became faster and stronger. I could make him mine. That feeling of pride showed itself when I found a scribe, who then taught Henry to read, and that skill became extremely important in a later mission. Almost everything Henry can't do at an expert level can be learned or improved upon, making him a living and breathing person in the realm he occupies. If you keep up, the story builds from him being this poor sap whose parents were killed in a village raid into a trusted knight and prime investigator for nobles and royalty. Instead of a poop-tossing nobody, Henry's travels can lead him to solving murders, taking down corrupt lords and bandit leaders, drunkenly partying with a priest and then having to deliver a sermon, and living as a monk for a few days to infiltrate an enemy force and find out their plans. You can be rapt for hours and hours putting Henry into a variety of dynamic situations.

Unfortunately, much of that dynamism opens you up to encountering a small litany of rough patches and flaws. Combat, for all its intricacy, can still feel a little clunky and weird when there are raids and battles in larger groups. For instance, Henry takes part in a large raid where he helps a garrison take down a bandit camp. One section of the camp was whittled down to one commander, and I watched most of the garrison run to the guy and try to kill him. This led to a visual of tight cluster – almost a cloud – of swords and shields and helmets in one balled-up, concentrated area, all trying to kill one dude. It eventually happened after a few minutes, so the couple of stragglers who were running to nowhere could finally catch up and join the rest of us.

It seems the rest of the gaming universe has something to say about this feature, and so will I: The lockpicking system is almost unreasonably difficult to execute regularly on a console. It requires a synchronicity between the thumbsticks that I can rarely call upon successfully. You turn the lock with the left thumbstick while trying to keep the right thumbstick shakily affixed on a somewhat nebulous "sweet spot," with a turning radius and location that varies with each lock. It was excruciating for me and led me to almost mentally resign myself to not finishing some side-quests that were dependent on my lockpicking abilities. One part of a main story quest asked me to steal something from someone's locked chest, but I got so sick of failing at lockpicking that I eventually waited for the cantankerous bastard to come home and sleep, knocked his ass out and just took the keys to the chest. Mission done. No regrets.

Also, I encountered a few bugs, mostly of the disappearing essential character variety, even though the world map indicated they are supposed to be in a certain spot. Speaking of the world map, it focuses more on general direction and area, but it doesn't take into account whether someone or something is on a higher or lower floor, so there were more than a few instances of me wandering around an area for a few extra minutes. Conversations can sometimes get a little clunky as well; during the investigation of a grisly murder, there's a group of people Henry can question all grouped together. Henry started the conversation the same long-winded way with each person, even though they were all standing right next to each other. It was a little tiresome and distracting.

Despite the volley of these and some other issues that'll be unique to your experience, committing to the universe that Warhorse has built in Kingdom Come: Deliverance still carries an ultimately rewarding feeling. I wonder how much more I'd enjoy it if it were a little smoother (fast travel is not fast), but the atmosphere doesn't shy away from the brutality of the era, how rugged life was centuries ago as well as the omnipresence of God in their everyday lives, from conversation to action. I wonder if Warhorse will do for this time period what Koei did for Nobunaga and Japanese feudalism because there's enough special stuff here that makes me curious to see what's next.

Score: 7.7/10

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