I’ve been playing Kingdom Come: Deliverance pretty solidly for the last few days, but it’s a colossus of a game, and I’ll need to put more time in before I’m comfortable reviewing the thing. In the meantime, here are some scattered impressions from my first 25 hours in Bohemia.
The setting is beautiful
I wasn’t sure about the idea of a medieval RPG without any dungeons and/or dragons, but I’m finding the grimy, understated realism of Kingdom Come’s setting really refreshing. The world isn’t as vivid or dramatic as places like Skyrim or Skellige, but it’s enormously atmospheric, with some of the finest virtual woodland I’ve ever seen in a game. I recommend taking a break from questing, finding the nearest forest, going for a wander, and listening to the birds. It’s wonderfully peaceful, at least until a wild boar knocks you on your arse.
It rarely holds your hand
In a lot of modern RPGs I feel like I spend more time blindly following icons on a map than exploring. This is a problem Kingdom Come brilliantly avoids by only marking the general area where something you need to find is. If you need to track someone down, it won’t mark their location on the map, just the town they live in. And it won’t mark the location of a bandit camp, but the swathe of forest it’s hiding in. This forces you to do some of the legwork yourself, making for a much more satisfying and immersive role-playing experience.
The world reacts to you
I’ve been sharing notes with other writers who are playing the game and I love that we all have stories to tell: about quests we completed differently, fun stuff we found while exploring, or moments of accidental chaos. A complex simulation governs Kingdom Come’s world, and while it’s a bit creaky and prone to bugs—it often feels like it could collapse at any moment—it makes for a wonderfully dynamic, reactive world. You can go to jail for a variety of crimes, highborn NPCs will be friendlier if you’ve had a bath, troublemakers will back down if you unsheathe your sword, you’ll get a hangover if you drink too much… and those are just a few random examples. There’s a lot to discover.
You can get creative
This reactivity extends to the way the quests are designed. There are multiple ways to approach objectives by gaming the systems and being creative: to the point where Kingdom Come often feels like an immersive sim masquerading as an RPG. Sneaking into a man’s house at night, keeping his dogs quiet with scraps of meat, stealing a ring from a chest in his bedroom as he slept, I couldn’t help but think of Thief. And that’s just one of several ways to get the ring. Other people I spoke to took a completely different approach, including one who just killed the sleeping dogs with a bow. Jesus.
It’s buggy as hell
But all this comes at a cost. Like many games with this level of depth and ambition, Kingdom Come is a festival of bugs. Some of these are harmless, like characters getting stuck on walls or floating in mid-air during cutscenes. But in some instances I’ve been left with no choice but to reload a save or, in severe cases, completely restart the game. In an archery contest my opponent refused to take his turn and left me trapped in an endless limbo. After a tavern brawl, a three-second loop of my character grunting wouldn’t stop playing, forcing a restart. And I’ve had a couple of good old-fashioned crashes to desktop.
And that’s fine
Here’s the thing: I don’t care that much. I usually have a low tolerance for buggy games, but I’m having so much fun existing in this simulated medieval world that it hasn’t deterred me from playing it once. I’ve always had an affinity for scrappy, ambitious games that bite off more than they can chew, and Kingdom Come falls neatly into this category. You’ll just have to decide whether its general lack of polish is charming or, well, annoying. I’m leaning towards the former, although I imagine some of you won’t be quite as forgiving.
Shame about the performance
One thing that definitely isn’t charming is the performance. I have a GTX 1080, an i5-6600K overclocked to 4.5GHz, and 16GB of RAM, and the frame rate is all over the place. It’s fine in the countryside, clinging to 60fps with a few dips to 50-55. But when I go somewhere with a lot of geometry, like a big town or a castle, it sinks as low as 20-25fps. This makes moving around feel sludgy and unpleasant. I tried lowering my resolution from 1440p to 1080p and bringing the graphics settings down to medium, but the stuttering was still there. I’m not sure if this is a problem with my specific setup or the game itself, but the inconsistent frame rate has been a problem since I started playing—and is continuing even after installing the latest, patched up version of the game.
The save system is… interesting
My worst gaming habit is quick-saving every five seconds. About to pick a lock? Quick-save. Moments away from a big fight? Quick-save. But in Kingdom Come, you have to drink booze called Saviour Schnapps to quick-save, which gets you drunk and is quite expensive to buy. So I just don’t bother. I rely entirely on auto-saves, which happen at key points during quests, and sleeping. But you have to own or rent the bed you sleep on for it to save. It’s a clunky, slightly arbitrary system, but does give your decisions more weight.
You can be a detective
Occasionally Kingdom Come turns into a medieval police procedural. Henry finds himself investigating a brutal murder on a horse farm, which involves questioning people, chasing leads, and hunting for clues. It’s a long, entertaining series of quests, and it’s even possible to completely screw up a line of investigation, forcing you to find some other way to solve the crime. Henry doesn’t have Geralt of Rivia’s fancy Witcher senses to help him find the culprit, but he’s a competent amateur sleuth all the same.
Henry is a nice boy
I’m surprised by how invested in the story I am. The setup didn’t sound particularly interesting or imaginative: bad people burn village down, man embarks on quest for vengeance. But the easy, likeable charm of protagonist Henry—the unassuming son of a blacksmith thrust into a world of lords, ladies, war, and politics—gives the game a solid, relatable foundation. Strong supporting characters and varied, unpredictable quest design make for a compelling narrative, and I genuinely care about this lad.
But Geralt he ain’t
He can handle himself in a fight, but within reason. I learned this the hard way when four hard-looking bandits clad in armour were trying to squeeze some information out of me. I told them to bugger off and they destroyed me almost instantly. Because of course they did. You almost have to rewire your brain when you play Kingdom Come and remember that you aren’t Geralt: you’re just some bloke who’s a bit nifty with a sword, but basically untrained. The combat is fantastically weighty and violent, and every single fight (of which there have been surprisingly few for me) feels like it really matters.
Kingdom Come: Deliverance is a really interesting game, and as soon as this is published I’ll be wading back in for more swords and not sorcery. Look out for the full, less rambly review in the next couple of days. Come check the game out at the PC Gamer Weekender in London this week, too. We’ll also have the developers on-stage.