Despite offering an endless tapestry of intriguing tales to draw
from, the events of history remain criminally ignored by video games. Sure,
exotic locations like ancient Egypt and decades-old wars occasionally serve as
flashy backdrops for modern action, but too few games try to convey what life
was really like in a historical time and place. Kingdom Come: Deliverance
eschews the fantasy tropes of other open-world RPGs in favor of the real-life
characters and conflicts of 15th century Bohemia. Unfortunately, the engrossing
feudal adventure awaiting players is brought to its knees by a needlessly
restrictive save system and a litany of game-breaking bugs.
One of the most successful outcomes of Kingdom Come’s focus on
realism is the story. Instead of guiding an almighty warrior to predestined
greatness, you play as the unassuming son of a blacksmith whose world is turned
upside-down when an invading army pillages his village. Kingdom Come succeeds
in not only conveying the historical events of its small slice of European
history to the player, but doing so from a peasant’s perspective; much of the
political dealings affecting the fate of Henry’s home country are entirely out
of his control. The best he can do is serve Sir Radzig Kobyla and a small
council of other Bohemian lords, while hoping their efforts to retain power
intersect with his own thirst for vengeance.
Henry’s limited means make Kingdom Come’s story feel personal in a
way few games manage, and offer up plenty of meaningful choices and surprises
along the way. Some quests take Henry on hours-long diversions, such as
engaging in drunken reveries with a wayward priest, or entering a monastery
disguised as a monk to track down a reformed bandit. The narrative is far from
perfect (particularly the ending, which feels more like the cheap
tease for a sequel than a thoughtful commentary on Henry’s lot in life), but it
kept me going.
Kingdom Come’s focus on realism also results in a variety of
intriguing gameplay systems, from the
absurdly in-depth alchemy system to the demanding combat that takes hours to
fully comprehend. Every skill Henry can learn – be it lockpicking, weapon
maintenance, or even reading – offers another rabbit hole to devote his days
to. The perks you earn from progressing are less compelling, as many confer
stat penalties in addition to whatever they’re buffing, but I still enjoyed
learning the ins and outs of every activity.
Unfortunately, a few decisions made
in the name of realism frequently drag Henry’s adventure to a crawl. Kingdom
Come’s save system is downright draconian, requiring you to either drink an
expensive and limited potion (that also makes you drunk), or track down and
sleep in a bed you own just to back up your progress. The fast-travel system,
meanwhile, is a blatant misnomer, as it requires you to watch an icon slowly
travel to the desired location on your map, sometimes for 90 seconds or more.
Waiting and sleeping also require staring idly at a wheel for no discernable
reason, and are longer and more frequent than other RPGs that use the same
convention. Kingdom Come’s gameplay is already slow and laborious to begin
with, and these systems add nothing to the experience except pointless
downtime. Kingdom Come is not more challenging or intense or even more realistic
because of these additions. It’s just more tedious.
The save system is elevated from
“annoyance” to “fatal flaw” in the wake of the game’s ultimate downfall: bugs.
While my first 10 hours or so were relatively issue-free, the further I got,
the more things fell apart. Collision issues left me permanently stuck in
bushes, rocks, and other unstable geometry, requiring save reloads. I
experienced over a half-dozen hard crashes, caused by basic actions like
opening my map, pulling up the quest log, and unsheathing my sword. At one
point the “surrender” prompt became a permanent addition to my HUD, forcing me
to reload. Broken questlines consumed countless hours of progress, and in some
cases compounded each other; I had one mission grind to a halt when an NPC was
unable to sleep in his bed at an inn, because an NPC from a previous broken
questline was still sleeping there. I lost four hours of progress in one
session alone when the game inexplicably disabled saving of any kind.
After logging more than 100 hours
into Kingdom Come, I shudder to think how many more hours I lost to bugs.
Simply put, this is the kind of game where you should be saving every five minutes
to safeguard your progress – except you can’t.
Ultimately, Kingdom Come feels a
bit like homework. If the historical setting and focus on realism appeal to
you, then the deep gameplay systems and methodical pace are worth learning. If
you’d rather be a magic-wielding wizard or the unequivocal hero, on the other
hand, the source material will bore you almost instantly. Even if you are as in
love with the premise as I am, however, the countless technical issues Kingdom
Come requires you to suffer through land it in the stockade; until the
developer brews up a comprehensive salve of patches and polish, you should
avoid Henry’s adventure like the plague.
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