Stu: In my first hour or two of playing Kingdom Come: Deliverance, it did everything right. "The nobler you're dressed, the easier time you'll have talking to nobility", we're told. And if you're covered in blood, it'll be easier to intimidate people. Presumably, that only applies if it's not your own blood, and the person you're talking to wasn't the cause of it gushing all over you. You're cast into a filthy, peasant-strewn world of feudal obedience, and shoves you halfway through Campbell's hero's journey in the first couple of hours, where it deposits you covered in mud and penniless. And so you'll stay for the next million hours of your life, and the game draws you into its beautifully-rendered, historically detailed world of violence and struggle.
At this point, it somehow manages to do everything wrong.
Which, of course, is me being overly-dramatic to try to get your attention. But many of the things that were so carefully built to create a living, believable world suffer a bit when integrated into the necessary construct of a game. Sure, it's great to have a limit on saves to force a player to consider their choices with care. Sure, it's great to have a complicated and challenging swordplay element. It's great to up the realism of lockpicking with a tough subsystem that will eat through your lockpicks at a terrific speed. And missions that time out without warning you ahead of time that you're on a tight time limit is also probably realistic, I suppose. But combine all of these things and you're left with a cartesian product of frustration.
Take ten attempts to kill two bandits because they've got swords and chainmail and all you have is an old stick and a tabard covered in mud. Then struggle to pick the lock of their chest, staggering throughout the land in search of more picks while bleeding profusely, and finally - finally! - get the lock opened, and before you can get the thing back to the guy, the quest expires, and the last five hours of your life have been for nothing.
I failed a quest to uncover heresy in a town due to the quest expiring - why? Had the Reformation happened early? Why was this a timed quest, and how was I to possibly know? After searching for hours to find a cache of treasure (because the treasure map was all but useless) and getting beaten by some bandits on the way, I staggered back toward town before getting killed by someone I'd annoyed somehow and had to go back hours to play the same section again.
Rather than enhancing my immersion, these things kill it off. Wearily arriving at a tavern after dark, the place is invariably locked up, so I need to wander around in search of a specific section of ground the game's decided is suitable for sleep. This wandering in search of somewhere to collapse takes up an inordinate amount of my time. I've abandoned alchemy altogether as something I just do not understand, and probably never will without studying playthroughs on Youtube. The plot is intriguing but occasionally let down by some lukewarm scripting and an LA Noire-style problem where your character acts in completely stupid ways because the game takes control from you. At one point, I chose to try on a shirt and ended up sleeping with a nobleman's wife, presumably signing my own death warrant later in the story. Not what I had in mind at all.
Despite these errors of judgment by the designers, there's so much to love in KCD. It's so close to being wonderful. The world feels rich and believable, and set-piece locations are occasionally breathtaking. The real-world setting added immeasurably to my enjoyment (full disclosure: I'm a history buff) and doesn't suffer at all in my opinion from the lack of goblins and dragons. The costs of keeping your equipment well-maintained keep you in that struggling phase when all RPGs are at their best, before things get too easy, for an extended time. Many of my gripes have already been mercifully modded out, and despite my laundry list of complaints, the things KCD does well make my heart a-flutter.
Jon - Kingdom Come: Deliverance owes as much to Deus Ex and System Shock as it does Skyrim. This is the closest we’ve come to a genuinely open-world immersive sim. Every action feels like it has a consequence, and even the most inane of errands can potentially be completed in countless ways. The simple act of getting an item from someone’s house can be done through brute force, or stealthily picking locks, capitalising on your witty reporte, giving them food poisoning, trading for something they need or getting a gang together to intimidate them.
It’s a sandbox in a way few open-world games are, with layer upon layer of moving parts. This can lead to some unexpected hiccups along the way, particularly in the manner in which Kingdom Come: Deliverance forces you to live with the consequences. The save system is harsh, and what feels like hours of progress can be lost, but it’s also playing into the aftermath of your decisions. Without mods, you can’t reload before a conversation and choose the optimum path, or have another shot at the killing the bandit without crippling your foot this time. It’s harsh, but Kingdom Come doesn’t feel like a game that gloats in its difficulty, more in breaking away from the trope of being the all-action hero that can solve the entire world’s problems. You can’t, and you won’t, and that’s part of the journey.
Lord knows Kingdom Come: Deliverance isn’t going to be for everyone. Even the most ardent fan could probably list an extensive array of flaws. It’s imperfect, but delightfully so. It’s the sort of game that doesn’t really care what you think, instead solely dedicated to its creators’ chief goal - a realistic, deeply immersive role-playing game. Being a game, that realism sometimes falls flat on its face, often ultimately highlighting the unreal, but it feels churlish to complain when the result is so delightfully unique.
It’s all delivered in a story that’s fairly grounded for the genre, perhaps overly so for some. It’s a classic tale of revenge, but this time from the perspective of a village peasant who isn’t the all-conquering hero we’ve come to expect from role-playing games. Everything you do is a challenge, whether that’s finding some boots to wear without ending up arrested, or trying to take down a single soldier if you’re sustaining an injury. It’s a game determined to make you work for what you get. Combat is supposedly realistic, relying on well-aimed jabs, parries, and thrusts. It’s all very slow and deliberate, and totally unlike the visceral, aggressive combat, you’d expect from a real duel to the death. On this front, it’s less Braveheart, more Princess Bride at 0.25x speed. Go on, try it, it’s almost exactly the same.
Kingdom Come also takes a wildly different tangent for long-time exploration enthusiasts. While much of KC:D looks gorgeous, its grounding in reality means you’ll rarely be surprised while exploring. A forest is exactly that, just a huge clump of trees, perhaps with a few bandits and cabins. You aren’t going to be ambushed by a powerful monster or uncover some incredible loot. Instead, this means you’ll be funneling from quest to quest, doing what needs to be done yet rarely curious enough to set off on your own path. With nothing to find at the top of a huge hill, your only reward is the satisfaction of getting there and the inevitably incredible view.
Yet while I’ve greatly enjoyed my time with Kingdom Come: Deliverance though, I have ultimately bounced off for now due to crippling performance issues that I’m suffering. I’ve been playing with a GTX 970, Intel I5-4670K and 12GB DDR3 RAM and I’m really struggling for performance, particularly indoors, at night time, and during fights. I even switched out for a GTX 980 Ti and found it struggled. The constant single digit dips even on Low really do harm the enjoyment for me. A lot of this may be down to my hardware, but it’s the same hardware which provided a perfectly playable experience in Assassin’s Creed Origins, one of the most demanding games around. If there’s the slightest doubt that your PC is going to struggle to run Kingdom Come: Deliverance at playable frame rates then I have to recommend you take a wait and see approach in order to see how it’s patched over the coming months.