Sunday 25 February 2018

Kingdom Come: Deliverance - Warhorse Studios

Kingdom Come: Deliverance

Kingdom Come: Deliverance is a huge game. But that’s as much to do with its laborious gameplay and plot as it is the actual length.

The premise makes sense: after the success of RPGs like Skyrim and The Witcher 3, plus TV shows like Game of Thrones, developer Warhorse Studios have delivered a historically accurate medieval RPG. There’s a sprawling open world. There are lengthy quests and deep systems. There’s first person combat. It is, essentially, Skyrim without the magic and dragons, i.e. the good bits.

The game’s opening offers a history lesson. Set in 15th century Bohemia, it explains the past of Charles IV, the Holy Roman Emperor, the rise of the hedonistic King Wenceslas and the invasion of the king of Hungary. This continues in a myriad of codex entries that teach everything from character profiles, to everyday medieval life. The attention to detail throughout is certainly impressive, the game’s world an authentic representation of the grimy, dangerous way of life.

Kingdom Come: Deliverance - Warhorse Studios
This all forms the backdrop for what is, ironically, a fairly trite plot by RPG standards – initially at least. You play as Henry, son of a blacksmith in a small village who longs for adventure. When **spoiler** his parents are killed in an attack, it’s left to you to avenge their deaths. What follows is a story that sees him rising in the ranks of the medieval class system – that mostly involves improving his stats.

There are some lovely touches to the game. The music for instance adds contemporary flair, with lutes and flute melodies punctuating the intimate silence and an orchestra adding epic grandeur. The maps are also wonderfully presented, hand drawn and with vibrant detail, while loading screens show beautiful concept art.

When it comes to gameplay, however, Kingdom Come: Deliverance is a slave to its vision of realism. Everything has a complex system, from conversations, to lockpicking, maintaining energy through food and sleeping, pickpocketing, bartering and so much more. Rather than letting you simply play the game, it stalls the flow with minigames and obtuse, cumbersome menus that barely explain the mechanics.

Medieval life was undoubtedly a slog, but that doesn’t mean the game should be too. Time is a precious commodity and Kingdom Come: Deliverance spends too long wasting it. Many of the quests are tiresomely mundane. Others have time sensitive elements, but this mainly requires you to wonder around aimlessly while NPCs do what they’re meant to. Even simple things like sleeping or fast travelling leave you staring at the screen…waiting.

Kingdom Come: Deliverance - Warhorse Studios
This is exacerbated by horrendously long load times that seem to crop up in the middle of gameplay. Even the title screen takes an age to load and plays the same introductory story each time. Perhaps the most savage waste of time, though, is the save system. The game saves automatically at key moments, but otherwise you must sleep in a bed or drink a special alcoholic beverage that’s not only expensive and in limited supply, but gets you drunk thereby limiting your abilities. It is a needless constraint that leads you to either play non-stop for hours or risk redoing huge chunks of the game.

And then there’s combat. It’s here that the developer’s mantra of realism falls apart. Their aim is for a system of stabs and slashes that reflect actual sword fighting from the time, allowing you to aim at different body parts using the right stick, feint attacks, block and dodge. Except in first person it’s near impossible to gauge depth – you’re either too close or too far from the enemy. Each frustratingly slow swing of the sword has a slight lag from input, lending combat a sense of realistic weight that nevertheless feels cumbersome. Throw in more than one enemy at a time and it’ll really test your patience. The game does at least offer multiple solutions to any quest, often allowing you to skip combat altogether, something that definitely comes recommended.

Kingdom Come: Deliverance - Warhorse Studios
The game’s presentation is inconsistent. In static screens it all looks beautiful and cut scenes are delivered with cinematic flair. In motion, though, it’s full of wooden animations and texture pop-in that pulls you out of the immersion. And while the voice acting of Henry himself is earnestly done, the general disparity of accents and abilities lends the game an amateurish feel. On the whole, it lacks the life and character of its fantastical competitors.

What really mars the whole experience, though, are the bugs – on PS4 at least. Just exploring the world, you can feel the game engine coughing and spluttering beneath your thumbs. Characters clip into one another, lines of dialogue are cut off or overlap, and your character frequently gets stuck on the scenery (small rocks are seemingly insurmountable). Some of this has been ironed out in the hefty 20gb day one patch, but the game still feels clunky and janky, lacking polish.

It’s clear that a tonne of research has gone into Kingdom Come: Deliverance. As the first game from the Czech developer, it’s an immense undertaking and an ode to their country’s past. The final result, however, feels like Encarta: The RPG. It’s a slog and a chore to get through, a lumbering ox of a game that’s too bogged down in history to actually respect the player. It’s not good, nor is it bad. Worse than that: it’s simply boring.