02/28/10 (Final Update)
It’s finally over. I’ve seen the story through to the end, sampled my fill of side quests, and gotten stuck in more bushes than I ever dreamed possible. I’ve already written at length about the minute by minute experience of playing Kingdom Come, so what follows is my overall evaluation. Below the final review, you can still access all of the “in progress” updates as those go into far more depth than I plan to with this one.
So without further ado, here’s my final review of Kingdom Come: Deliverance.
I’ve been a lot of things in RPG’s before. I’ve been the first human Spectre, the Dragonborn, the Herald of Andraste, a noble-born lizard, and a genetically mutated monster hunter, just to name a few. I’ve been a silver-tongued trickster, a no-nonsense brawler, and a grizzled veteran who’s seen too much. I’ve saved the world and the universe more times than I can remember. The one role I can say with certainty that no game has yet given me the opportunity to play is that of “just some useless derp.”
Herein lies the conflict at the core of Kingdom Come: Deliverance. Namely that while the experience is astonishingly unique in many ways, the game itself bears more than a passing resemblance to its dorky protagonist. Henry flails about, struggling to accomplish even the most basic of tasks. Similarly, a great deal of Kingdom Come feels like it’s creaking and straining under the pressure of simply existing.
Menus take seconds to load every time you open them, inputs are frequently disregarded entirely, and the sight of a bush is enough to make your palms sweat. Inventory management is a chore given the lack of any ability to compare gear side by side, and saving the game requires the use of a costly item, meaning that there is no way to save and quit unless you happen to be directly next to a bed, and there is no exit button at all. I discussed many of these nuisances during previous updates so if you want a full rundown of the myriad irritations and inconveniences that plague the moment to moment gameplay, feel free to scroll down.
None of that even takes into consideration the plethora of bugs and glitches awaiting you. I’ve entered cities that rendered with no textures. I’ve had missions refuse to update or trigger. On one occasion I followed the objective marker telling me to ride a horse to the stables, and upon my arrival at said stables the mission updated, telling me to ride the horse to the stables. The game crashed fatally on more than one occasion, and the stingy nature of the auto-save system meant that I lost around half an hour each time. Again, these are all things that I discuss far more thoroughly below, so if you want to hear more, you know where to look.
To the credit of the developers, creating a game of this size is a massive undertaking, and it would have been just shy of impossible to deliver the finished product with no bugs. Even long-established and embarrassingly well-funded studios like Bethesda and Bioware have shipped titles that were swarming with performance issues, especially on consoles. The point being that the glitches and crashes are understandable, if not forgivable.
In a previous update, I questioned whether there was a game worth playing hidden somewhere beneath the ugly and barely functional surface. I can now safely say that there is, and when it works, it does so spectacularly.
The actual act of playing Kingdom Come is a lesson in selective blindness. After a certain point, I began not to notice the textures popping in or the way that Henry’s collar seemed to be inside of his neck, and I started to feel fully invested in carving out a life for myself in 15th century Bohemia. I learned how to read, trained to be a better rider and fighter, and courted the girl who had saved my life. The obtrusive load times were still there, and I continued to live in fear of getting stuck in another bush, I just didn’t care as much. I was finally having fun.
Managing the demanding network of interdependent systems at play became a thrill. I learned how much I could eat without suffering buffs to my stamina regeneration, and memorized where pots of free food could be found. I kept two distinct outfits on hand: one for fighting and one that would enhance my charisma to give me an edge in conversations.
Unfortunately, though, the rhythm that Kingdom Come finds in the minutiae of its gameplay is entirely lacking in its story and presentation. The actual narrative is a by-the-numbers revenge story that ultimately amounts to a lot of nothing, and the side quests are by and large entirely unmemorable. This is particularly frustrating because, as with every element of this game, during the times that it manages to get out of its own way for even one second, it shines.
There are a number of delightful story beats, including some debauchery with a local priest and a trippy incident with a potential witch coven that will stay with me for years to come. The problem is that these moments are few and far between, and worse still, they’re buried under a painfully dry history lecture. I continue to be impressed by the ambition of telling a dramatic story anchored by real historical events, but did it have to be delivered in the most blunt, uninteresting way possible?
The most egregious instance of this can be found in the epilogue, which consists of four seconds of gameplay and about twenty minutes of cutscene, every minute of which is used to explain the political situation in Bohemia and Hungry. In a way, the issues faced by the story are as symbolic of Kingdom Come as its main character. The game, like the narrative, is hugely ambitious but fundamentally flawed in its execution.
As for my part, I’m left conflicted. After all was said and done, I actually came to like Kingdom Come. Maybe I was right about having Stockholm syndrome after all, but even if that is the case, it’s impossible for me to recommend that anybody actually purchase the game. There is fun to be had, but it comes at the cost of so much omnipresent frustration that the experience is strained to the breaking point.
As an experiment to see how the RPG genre can be challenged and pushed, Kingdom Come: Deliverance is exceptional. As a game, however, it can never quit battling itself long enough to find its footing. It’s possible that extensive patches will improve stability enough to change my mind, but for now its safe to say that Kingdom Come, as I’ve repeatedly said about so many of its elements, works far better in theory than in practice.
02/25/18 Update Four
Here I am, about 20 hours further into Kingdom Come: Deliverance, and against all odds things are beginning to look up. Yes, the game is still a janky mess. Yes, it still crashes and frustrates me endlessly. No, I am not suddenly in love with it, but somehow I’m starting to find the fun buried at its core. Trust me, there’s still an extraordinary amount wrong or broken here, and all of it has and will continue to make me wonder if whatever enjoyment I derive from the experience is actually Stockholm syndrome, or if the game really just takes a while to find its groove.
As before, a few thoughts.
- In order to trigger a certain quest, despite having completed all of the required objectives, I needed to die to reload the game. I mean it was a pleasant surprise to awaken from the clutches of eternal darkness to see that the long-elusive waypoint had finally appeared, but the 45 minutes before my demise were befuddling and aggravating.
- I’ve started seeing numerous typos, either in selectable conversation options or subtitles. Examples range from minor offenses like extra spaces between words, all the way to young Henry inquiring “What power did the have?” in reference to the fabled sword of the Queen of Sheba. I’ll admit it’s a silly nit-pick, but even so, it’s emblematic of Kingdom Come’s overall lack of polish.
- Every single side quest or activity is a fetch-quest. Every single one. Occasionally, the developers will spring a second step on you part way through the objective, but these offer little variety as they are almost uniformly fetch-quests as well.
- Combat has become marginally more manageable, though that says far more about my newfound ability to exploit the system rather than any particular improvement in my meager skills or a heightened understanding of the system itself. It’s still clumsy and lurchy, but at least I feel a tad more equipped to deal with basic enemies. A little tip, always bum-rush archers and stab them repeatedly in the head. They usually die before they can get off a shot and for some reason, they have a strange aversion to using close-range weaponry during close range altercations.
- The horse controls are genuinely terrible. My beloved Pebbles seems to be half snake and possesses a serpentine ability to twist around the Y-axis, usually in directions I would rather he not go. The one interesting mechanic is the auto-trot, which enables horses to continue along a road or path with no need for steering. However, much like just about everything in Kingdom Come, this idea works far better in theory than it does in practice. Pebbles refuses to go down the most logical or direct path, even going so far as to turn nearly 180 degrees to resist my will. It’s always possible that this is by design, and as my Horsemanship stat increases I will have more sway over my equine friends, but at least for now it strikes me as a pretty serious AI programming flaw.
- Furthermore, horses get caught on literally everything; shrubs, trees, minor inclines, small logs, fences, and people, just to name a few. A little box in the center of the road scares me considerably more than an army of archers.
- Kingdom Come continues its obstinate resistance to allowing me to actually do any role-playing. On this occasion, my irritation is derived from the fact that my beloved Pebbles was not named so by my hand. Rather, he came into my life already bearing the moniker, thereby robbing me of the opportunity to dub him something far more ridiculous.
- The fast travel mechanic is frustrating, but I respect its consistency with the rest of the world and systems at play here. It would have felt oddly convenient to just be able to zap between cities at will in a game that demands so much of its players, and I respect the developers’ commitment to adapting traditional RPG mechanics to fit its unique framework.
- For all of the talk of realism, Kingdom Come is built almost solely on the back of game logic; a thing that is inherently unrealistic. For example, if you want to wash blood off of your clothing or weapons, you are required to visit a bathhouse or use a trough. A heavy rain that you stand in for hours simply will not do. Some tasty boar meat and a good night’s sleep will definitely cure you of that troublesome crushed chest cavity, and you’re always able to access belongings stored in chests located in rented rooms from the chest in your permanent residence halfway across the map.
- The story is still boring.
This update is already far longer than I had intended, but I quite enjoyed the little stories from the last one so I’ll leave you with one more.
I was sent, at the urging of my Lord Radzig, to a small town most notable for raising horses north of Rattay, our current base of operations. It would seem that a group of bandits came in the night, burning down barns and killing people as well as horses. Upon my arrival, I observe all manners of destruction and loss. A woman weeps over the body of her dead husband; laying in the mud, his blood mingling with that of his former steed.
As I make my way around town, I see many other such displays of emotion, and Henry cannot help but wonder aloud what kind of animals could be capable of such brutality. I pass more slain villagers, taking note of the poor man who crawled out to the lake, presumably to die near the water instead of in the light of his burning barn. Some trivial matter takes me away from the farm for a moment, but upon my return to the area, it immediately becomes clear that something has changed.
The dead have risen, and they are all T posing. Loved ones continue to weep over the places their bodies once were, and Henry still muses over the cruelty when examining their former resting places, but the dead stare forward, unfeeling. I try to interact with them, but it would seem that their physical forms have ascended to a higher plane of existence, as I pass right through them. I will never know what happened in that hellish place, but I cannot help but weep for the families. So much pain, and then to be cursed with the eternally staring and T posing etherial forms of their dearly departed…
Or the game glitched out and the character models reset to their origins without colliders. That first one sounds so much more interesting though.
I must confess, I am confused. In all of the above writing, I think I had precisely one positive thing to say about Kingdom Come: Deliverance. And yet, for the first time since I began this ordeal, I’m not dreading leaving my keyboard and returning to the controller. It’s possible that underneath all of the jank there is a game worth playing after all. It’s also possible that I’m right about having Stockholm syndrome. As soon as I’ve figured it out myself, I’ll let you know.
02/21/18 Update Three
So I’ve played a fair amount more, and I am sincerely beginning to wonder if the “thick layer of jank” I mentioned in my previous update is actually covering a game worth playing. While the complex network of RPG mechanics continues to impress, everything else seems fine-tuned to be as irritating and obtuse as possible. Even worse, when the game isn’t being a frustrating mess it’s most likely because it’s too busy being straight up broken.
I’m still not quite halfway through Kingdom Come: Deliverance, but I’m rapidly losing hope that the story will mature into anything interesting, that the characters will ever feel endearing, that the combat will ever become more interesting than it is floppy and chaotic, and that I will feel by the end of my journey that my time spent with Kingdom Come was anything more than beating my head against a game that gives so little back to the player.
Below are a few thoughts on my experience since the last update.
- For every minute I spend actually playing Kingdom Come, I spend five in a cutscene and ten in a loading screen. This includes an introductory cutscene that triggers every single time I load the game and is not skippable. I assume that the developers were using it to mask loading, but once the cutscene is over it dumps you back into another excruciatingly long loading screen. All of this is just to get you to the menu.
- The map is a mess of icons that all cover each other up. Additionally, the cursor periodically decides to disappear, forcing you to exit the map and reload it.
- The conversation mechanics are actually quite enjoyable when you stumble across a character who you need to convince of something. Factors like the NPC’s personality, your reputation, and even the clothes you’re wearing can impact whether or not you leave victorious.
- The inability to check the time of day without going to the “wait” menu is irritating. And I realize this may be nit-picky, but if you can access that screen with the touchpad, you should be able to exit it with the same key. This is not the case in Kingdom Come. Just one of a million tiny irritations that sour the gameplay when combined.
- Actually navigating the menu system is sluggish and awkward. There seems to be some input lag that I’m not much a fan of, and you can only directly access the map or the inventory without passing through multiple sub-screens. Also there’s no quit button, which feels like a baffling omission.
- Using the “Wait” mechanic takes an unbearably long time. It’s possible that they were trying to make it uniform; so that one hour felt the same as six, but all it does is wear down my patience.
There are two short anecdotes that I would like to share before I publish this update, and wait 45 hours for the game to load back up.
The first is in regards to a story mission just after you complete the lengthy prologue. Our young hero has enlisted with the lord of a now destroyed city who opposes Emperor Sigismund, and must thusly learn how to swing a sword from someone more experienced. It’s a complicated excuse to get the player into another combat tutorial, but this is not where the problem begins.
After completing the sword fighting tutorial, you are treated to an archery lesson. Archery feels wiggly and awful, and the sword has been my weapon of choice from the beginning of the game, so I performed rather poorly. That’s when Prissy McFuckboy appears; a highborn archer who challenges you to a little competition. If you win, you can take his bow for yourself. If you lose, you owe him money. This is where, as a seasoned player of RPG’s, I naively expected the game to let me decide whether or not to participate in this contest. I was wrong.
Prissy McFuckboy proceeds to trounce me with ease, landing every shot perfectly while I score a measly two hits with the rest careening off into the shrubbery. Not satisfied with this victory alone, young master McFuckboy challenges Henry to a duel with swords. Here again, I foolishly hoped that the game would allow me even the slightest opportunity to, I don’t know, role play as my character, but again I was forced into the fight. As it turns out, my opponent was not only an accomplished archer but also the most talented swordsman I had yet fought. I now owe him money, which as of now is a resource of which I have precious little.
Being penalized like this for struggling with a tutorial for a finiky and awkward combat system seems brutally unfair, and the game’s insistence that I not be allowed to speak for myself are emblematic of so many of Kingdom Come‘s problems. Also, it’s really, really frustrating.
The second of these stories is about my three-day quest to locate the Bailiff of Rattay. The game informed me that I must report to him in order to progress, so I dutifully set off towards the waypoint. Alas, when I reach it, the Bailiff is nowhere to be found. I search the surrounding area and the building over which the waypoint sits, but my progress is waylaid by locked doors that I categorically cannot open. By this point, I have been running around the city for the better part of a day so I trek back to my bed to try again tomorrow.
Upon my return to the place where I am told the Bailiff should stand, I am disheartened to find that he has stood me up again. Thoroughly fed up, I turn to the internet for direction. Apparently, the Bailiff tends only to be in the marked spot around noon, and is otherwise behind the aforementioned locked door. Why this would be the case, I have no idea. Regardless of my confusion, I set about waiting until noon so that I could finally start the quest. The Bailiff never showed.
So, now dejected beyond all measure, I set about sprinting back home so that I could begin anew again. The next day I decided not to use the wait mechanic for fear that I would miss the man I so longed to meet, and instead busied myself running in circles around the stockade. An entire day passed this way, and my dear Bailiff never did come outside. On the upside, my vitality stat leveled up from all of the sprinting.
As you can see, my relationship with Kingdom Come: Deliverance is beginning to strain. I want so much to like it, but every time I try to give it the benefit of the doubt, it finds a new and ridiculous way to raise my blood pressure. Things may yet turn around, but my hope is waning.
02/14/18 Update Two
I am currently around 10 hours into Kingdom Come: Deliverance, and so far the experience has been all over the place. Every time I see the original plan for a hardcore RPG that demands a great deal of its players beginning to take shape, it is contrasted by a game-breaking bug. For every instance of epic or compelling storytelling, there is a terribly awkward sequence or a Mass Effect: Andromeda level facial animation. At this point, I’m not sure if the game is destined for greatness, but at the very least I can feel it beginning to come into its own.
The story focuses on Henry, the son of a blacksmith in a small town in the Kingdom of Bohemia around the year 1403. His quiet life is shattered though, when Emperor Sigismund, half-brother of the king Wenceslaus, leads an army into his homeland. What follows is a fairly standard setup for a hero’s journey story that has few if any surprises in store, at least so far.
It is worth noting that most if not all of the voice acting is quite outstanding, but I do have to question why Bohemia seems to be inhabited almost solely by Brits, but hey, I’m no historian. The world itself flits back and forth between quite beautiful and pretty dumpy. It’s surprising to see an environment made in CryEngine look this dull, but given my own experience trying to make that engine do much of anything at all, I should be impressed that there’s even a game for me to criticize.
Similarly, the animations and character models peak at pretty good, and occasionally look like Skyrim rejects. Characters walk casually into walls, fall off of ledges, and glitch on world geometry. While this is far from uncommon to see in games of this size and scope, it’s still immersion-breaking. I found it particularly distracting to see my character’s skin clipping through his clothing with a frequency that almost made it seem purposeful. Again, this is understandable given the difficult engine and the scale of the game, but it feels like something that should have been ironed out by now.
In terms of the character progression, I’ve so far found it to be deep and satisfying. The leveling system is quite similar to that of an Elder Scrolls game, wherein simply doing an activity leads to an increase of aptitude, and then skill points allow the player to choose a perk or ability within that category. The system in Kingdom Come feels slightly more streamlined, but that could just be a case of personal preference.
I have yet to make my mind up yet in regards to the combat system. It seems to have borrowed the idea of directional attacks from For Honor and thrown in a stamina bar that requires tactical observation. In most fights so far, the act of throwing punches or swinging my sword has either felt wonderfully realistic and methodical or completely haphazard and arbitrary. It may just take me a couple more fights to get the hang of it, but at the very least it’s interesting.
Easily the best part of Kingdom Come so far is the way that all of its systems are intertwined. The player must manage energy, nourishment, and health. These can all be satiated with a combination of sleep and food, but sleeping for too long will make you hungry, and eating too much will slow your stamina regeneration down. It feels as if there is a massive web of linked mechanics to stay on top of, and for the time being, finding that balance has proven to be exhilarating.
A few unrelated thoughts:
- I understand that, given the intention to adhere strictly to the real history, it would require a great deal of effort on the part of the writers to create a female variant for the main character. Every social interaction she could have would be different, and much of the story hinges on a level of respect that, sadly, women just weren’t afforded during this time. Even so, it feels odd to have a massive open world Role-Playing game that doesn’t allow for female characters. I don’t necessarily blame the developers, and this certainly isn’t the first example of its like, but it’s interesting to see how limiting the removal of fantasy elements can be on the genre.
- At least on PS4, the lockpicking mechanic is so janky and horrible that it doesn’t seem worth bashing my head in over. I’m told that it’s far better with a mouse and keyboard, but alas I am limited to a joystick, and it’s borderline unplayable. You’ve been warned.
- I had a fatal crash that cost me about 30 minutes. That probably shouldn’t be happening in a $60 game.
- The save system is fiddly and strange. In an attempt to keep players from saving before every decision so that they can just reload if things didn’t turn out the way they’d hoped, Dragon Age style, Warhorse Studios tied manual saves to a costly purchasable item. While a good idea in theory, the autosave function is far from consistent and is, in fact, the reason that I lost that half hour when the game crashed. Again, I’ve heard that modders have fixed this on the PC version, but as before, I chose to purchase my copy on PS4 instead for some reason.
- Expect to spend around 4 – 5 hours in the prologue. It’s not exactly a thrilling start.
- The game fades to black for up to five seconds every single time you begin or end a conversation. Every. Single. Time.
- The load times are pretty consistently a minimum of 30 – 45 seconds and are usually substantially higher.
So far, Kingdom Come: Deliverance is nothing if not interesting. It seems like a phenomenally well-considered game with a load of potential buried under a thick layer of jank. I’m curious and excited to see if some of that potential begin to shine through a bit more as the game progresses.
02/13/18 Update One
Kingdom Come: Deliverance has an excellent elevator pitch. A story-driven, open world action RPG in the style of The Elder Scrolls series, but focused on realism in every aspect. There are no dragons, elves, or ancient mystical frosty dead armies. Instead, developer Warhorse Studios has chosen to focus on the minutia of the world to create emergent moments. Food will rot in your inventory, quests will time out if ignored for too long, and combat is grounded.
As thrilling as all of this sounds, there are a few problems facing me as I set out on this journey. To begin with, this game is supposed to take upwards of 50 hours to complete, and I was not provided with an early review copy. Consequently, this was always going to be a more extended review that would be updated as my impressions evolved and then eventually be finalized. Unfortunately, the other issue at hand is that there is a 20GB day one patch between me and actually playing the game, and my internet is cripplingly slow. So as I watch the progress bar inch ever closer to completion, I thought it might be fun to review the experience of waiting for something to download with poor internet. Well, not fun exactly, but better than staring blankly at my TV waiting for a miracle.
Rant Review: Waiting for Something to Download when you have Slow Internet
For decades, people have had reliable, well-trodden phrases to rely on when referring to something so mind-numbing and endlessly dull that it feels as if it may never end. Watching grass grow and watching paint dry are perhaps the most common examples, as they seem to relate to most if not all demographics. But if I may propose a new entry into the pantheon of popular reference, I feel strongly that it should be waiting for something to download with slow internet.
It may be more modern than its peers and apply only to certain age groups, but there is a clever cruelty to the boredom that it provides. Watching grass grow is a task with no conclusion. The grass will continue to grow until it is cut, and short of monitoring its progress from the seed, it can always be cut shorter. In the case of paint, one cannot simply tell that the paint is dry without a more tactile approach, which may or may not destroy all of the work done up to that point.
However monotonous these tasks are, they pale in comparison to the elegant evil of the slow download. While more goal-oriented than growing grass, the promise of hope serves only to make each moment darker. When watching paint dry, one assumes that the desired outcome is to eventually have a dry wall that will look much the same as the wet one. Presumably, the wall will have been colored so that it can be looked at and enjoyed, so in a way, the watching of drying paint is representative of the original purpose of having painted the wall in the first place. This is not so with downloads.
The download is a sadistic rite of passage that one must endure in order to engage in the activity that they had intended to do in the first place. It stands to reason that if something is being downloaded, it is the file being retrieved that was the want of the downloader and not the experience of its retrieval. Not only does this further distance the downloader from their goal, but has lasting implications for what they may or may not do while waiting for deliverance (in my case, both literally and metaphorically).
Like purgatory, the downloader exists in a place of perpetual inaction, fearful of anything that could prolong the experience. To browse the internet for snarky and overdramatic reviews of trivial inconveniences may cause progress to slow, and to take comfort in streaming entertainment is entirely out of the question. This may cause the downloader to alienate their family, as now it is not only one life that has been impacted. As time stretches before you, tasks that once seemed so tedious that they might induce a coma now sound bacchanalian by comparison.
Eventually, the downloader reaches a point where they want not for the experience that they had so desired some time ago, but only to see the end of the download. And so the download comes to rule our lives. There is no hope, no relief, no past and no future. There is only the download.