When I was in grade school, I once asked my dad what was the single-most important invention in history. He said, “Hot running water, son.”
In school I’d learned about the cotton gin and the printing press, the automobile and the light bulb. Inventions that made history. So, at the time, I quietly scoffed at my dad’s reply. But you know how it goes. The older you get, the more you realize your parents were right about everything. And walking around the dark, muddy, mayhem-ridden towns of Kingdom Come: Deliverance makes me realize that, yes, my dad was absolutely right about the hot running water. That’s a contemporary convenience that can, undoubtedly, make or break the rest of my modern day existence. In other words, it just makes life easier.
But Kingdom Come isn't here to make life easier. What it does do is marry the walking simulator to the role-playing game, and give it a historically based Encyclopedia Britannica wrapper. It’s often messy. It’s sometimes glorious. It’s utterly compelling. I can’t put the thing down.
So, there I was, neck deep in medieval 15th century Bohemia, taking in the sun, rain, and Holy Roman architecture of Central Europe. I’m Henry, the kind but rascally son of a blacksmith. I live in Skalitz, a township known for its silver mining, and surrounded by rolling hills that look like a Windows XP wallpaper. When our story begins, a usurper to the Bohemian throne is about to burn my hometown of Skalitz to the ground, and there’s nothing I can do about it.
Kingdom Come’s first job is to humble you. With black eyes and bloody noses, and with cringe-inducing sword thrusts, it will break down your video game-given hero complex. It doesn’t even do that thing where it gives you a taste of power before stripping you of it. It simply starts you in a low place and then shoves your face into the mud a little bit more. That’s just for starters, like I said. Once you realize you can’t hardly defend yourself, let alone start a fight, then you’re ready to begin.
But at first, it’s just plate after plate of humble pie. During that early escape from Skalitz, I made the mistake of thinking the game would let me run at a reasonable pace to the next town. You know, take in the sights at a slow jog. Boy was I wrong. The attacking soldiers were not playing around. The moment I was told to run, I actually turned around to take one last look at my besieged town. I was immediately face to face with a heavily armed and armored Cuman soldier. He cut me twice with his longsword, blood filled my vision, and I died.
Okay, take two. People from the battlements tell me to run, and I find the run button. I don’t look back. But that soldier is on my heels. Like, I can practically hear him yelling in my ear. He stabs me in the back, I stumble. He stabs me a couple more times, and I die again.
Take three. The drawbridge to the castle is up, and my friends yell from above for me to run. My pinky finds the sprint button, and I put the pedal to the metal. My stamina is draining fast from the sprint, but I’ve obviously got to put space between me and this pursuing soldier. I’m running down a path away from the castle. The path switches back and forth down the steep slope, large rocks and hardscrabble shrubbery scattering in my way. Taking the scenic route was the wrong choice. I’m out of breath, and three or four more Cuman soldiers wait at the bottom of the hill. In broad daylight, and still being in everyone’s sight, crouching into the bushes didn’t help. I’m doomed. They gang up on me, while I’m in the bushes, and they treat me like a human pincushion.
Sigh. Take four. So, at this point, I’ve gone from a sightseeing trot, carefully picking my footing down a lovely country hillside, to scrambling over dirt and brambles for my godforsaken life, and spraining my ankle on a haphazard jump to avoid arrows aimed at my back. My breathing is heavy, I make it to the base of Skalitz’ hill, and, thank heaven, find a horse. It’s an invader’s horse, which doesn’t bother me for a second. I hear a woman screaming. Great. The invaders are raping the women before slaughtering everybody.
I wheel my horse around and gallop through the attempted gang rape. Thankfully (?), I divert their attention and they’re after me now. The chase is on, it’s on horseback, I’m barely clinging onto my last few hit points, and I’m going to be a long way from home before I survive this flight from my hometown.
I was angry that the game had the gall to kill me—multiple times—during my escape into the countryside. But the game also earned my respect in that moment. I was now required to respect the game’s intentions, its cutthroat motivations, and my very fragile, very human existence. I’ve been in an adrenaline-fueled escape or two in video games. They were often the most exciting sequences in an adventure. But this? This was not fun. This was terrifying.
There’s a lot to learn with combat. It relies as much on your stamina as it does on landing hits. If you go in, guns blazing (or, more appropriately, swords swinging), then you’ll be completely out of breath while your opponent more patiently, more skillfully, with six-directional swings, turns your out-of-breath body into a human shish kebab.
Kingdom Come’s entire conceit is that you have a lot to learn. And you’d better learn. Not just how to hold your sword above your head, charge up a swing, then quickly feign a low blow. Not just how to pull off a thrust-left-downright combo. And not just how to time a perfect parry and riposte.
You’ve got a lot of history to learn, too. Not just the history of the beloved Holy Roman Emperor, King Charles IV, and his party-hard son Wenceslaus. You also get to immerse yourself in a glossary full of the workaday life of medieval farmers and crafters, traders and beekeepers, kings and mercenaries. You’ll read about beggars and burghers, then see them pass in the streets. You’ll learn where folks go to the bathroom, how they toss it into the road, then watch them sweep their doorstep. It takes some getting used to, but you’ll hear “m’lord” and “m’lady” without an ounce of disrespect spoken into a greeting. People cheerfully call out, “Jesus Christ be praised,” without a hint of malice or atheistic irony in their tone.
But you’ll also see a person pray fervently in the church, then cuss you out if you bump into them in the doorway. There are definitely a lot of curse words. And they’re spoken just as earnestly as those prayers were.
In the beginning, as with most role-playing games, it’s easy to feel like you’re being funneled from one cutscene to the next, not really digging into the open world-ness of the map until a few hours in. That’s true here, too. There’s a lot of real-world history to set up. There’s a tale of revenge and redemption to work up to a boil. Kingdom Come takes the time to do just that.
Your character, Henry, is a great character. He has a stern jaw and a boyish charm. Despite your humbling beginnings, he doesn’t take a lot of crap either. He’s quick to smile, quick to forgive, and also quick to execute a “mercy kill” on a worthless bandit that’s ambushed him out of the woods. You can let people live, too. Every encounter doesn’t require a death scene. Life is precious, and your choices, when you see an enemy drop their sword and fall to their knees, reflects that. The “deliverance” portion of Kingdom Come: Deliverance has just as much to do with granting others mercy as it does delivering you from your sins.
So, on that note, be ready to learn a lot. Unless you’re a Chivalry or For Honor veteran, combat will be new to you. Lockpicking will be new to you. Pickpocketing, stealth, brawling, conversing, haggling. Even picking out a sword that complements your high strength, ignores your low dexterity, or compensates for your armor's restrictions—all of that will be new.
With such ambitious gameplay at its core, however, comes an equally ambitious set of bugs and quirks. Sure, audio dialogue is often chopped short when you bump into folks in the street. But the voice acting is solid, with a dramatic script worthy of an epic. And sure, there are times when you have to suspend your disbelief when the linear storyline tries to shake hands with the open-world side quests. Those two don't always jive.
My only real grievance comes from the save game system. The game autosaves, I think, after you complete a mission, be it main quest or side quest. I’ve also seen the game autosave, sometimes but not always, after I wake up from a good night’s sleep. But there’s a lot of open-world exploration and unscripted high jinks you can get into that don’t ping the autosave feature.
This is where Saviour Schnapps comes in. To manually save a game, you drink a draft of Saviour Schnapps, an alcohol. It’s a spendy bottle of brew from a trader, if you don't find any by luck. But Saviour Schnapps let’s you manually save the game once per bottle. But! Now you’re drunk from the schnapps. That may increase your charisma, but it dings your stats and abilities that require any fine dexterity. So that’s the trade off.
In theory, I love the idea. It’s an in-game method of stopping me from "save scumming" my way through a dangerous encounter. But in practice, it makes me bang my head against the wall if I, for instance, played for an hour over lunchtime, but didn’t do anything to trigger an autosave, and don’t have a bottle of Saviour Schnapps handy. Sorry, pal: you just lost all your progress over that past hour of gameplay. Heck, before I started typing this review tonight, I lost two hours of gameplay as I took a slow horse from the southern end of the map up to the northern end, gambling the shirt of a noble’s back in a duel, lending a barefoot monk some cloth to wrap around his feet so he could complete his pilgrimage, fending off two bandits and chasing off a third, reading Kickstarter contributors’ names etched into roadside crosses, revealing birds’ nests that (for some reason I haven’t learned of yet) get their own icon on the map, and basically soaking in the wonderful, wonderful open world of Kingdom Come on my way back to my hometown I’d been away from for weeks.
Then, approaching nightfall, I ran into a camp full of enemies. They hacked me to pieces in seconds. Mere seconds. And that was it. Nothing I’d done for the last two hours had saved my game. The game reloaded me at the start of a date I'd gone on with the miller’s daughter at sunrise.
And yet, here I am, with a straight face, ready to give this game a very high, very well-deserved score. When all is said and done, all I want to do is play more and more Kingdom Come. Its merciless first-person immersion, its nuts and bolts history lessons, its Bohemian art and architecture—all of it. It’s an achievement, even when it trips itself up. Even when Henry has trouble walking up a set of stairs. Even when I was thrown in prison for fighting, then charged with the additional crime of “not carrying a torch around at night” while I was still in prison. Even when my horse, which I stole fair and square from a bandit camp, won’t ever, not once, respond to my whistle call. (Okay, maybe I get that one.) But not even when I complete a mission to close down a tavern at night, then see all those people continue sitting around drinking, gambling, and carousing after I supposedly shut the place down.
Kingdom Come needs some spit and polish. The day-one patch provides some of both. But, like I said, you’ll still need a little suspension of disbelief to get you through it all. I’m cool with the little glitches. But I’m still learning how to live with the clever yet terrible save game system.
My final score is caught in contrasts, but the Holy Roman Empire is also a land of contrasts. It’s a land where adultery is a greater evil, but prostitution is a lesser one. Where alcohol is a scourge, but taverns are respectable. Where people to greet you with “God save you,” but want those begging refugees to get packing. Christianity can be a messy business.
I was raised Catholic. I know how to dip my fingers in holy water at the church entrance and dab it on my forehead, chest, and shoulders, making the Sign of the Cross. I once wore a cape that dragged behind me on the ground as I ceremonially placed a baby Jesus doll in a manger during midnight mass on Christmas Eve. Thankfully, I kept telling my Mom, “No,” when she asked if I wanted to be an altar boy. Despite being raised in a Catholic church, I learned more about Catholicism in Kingdom Come than throughout my entire childhood spent taking the bread and wine during the Eucharist. If you’re in the mood, this game will teach you a thing or two, whether it’s realistic sword handling, ludicrous crime-and-punishment systems, or the hypocrisy of man wallowing in original sin.
Kingdom Come will break you down. It will humble you. It will remind you that you’ve got a lot to learn. Whether that means making your fingers do more WASD gymnastics than you’ve ever done in a first-person game, or giving you the down and dirty as to the extended "services" provided at a bath house. It acknowledges what a thorough hell it is for women living under a complete patriarchy. It’ll also give you a feel for what it was like to walk through the streets of the Late Middle Ages, with its still-primitive technologies and its utter lack of plumbing. It might even immerse you enough in a time and place to make you better appreciate your modern day creature comforts, like hot running water, for instance. Kingdom Come isn't here to make your life easier, but you will be better for it.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
Randy gravitates toward anything open world, open ended, and open to interpretation. He prefers strategy over shooting, introspection over action, and stealth and survival over looting and grinding. He's been a gamer since 1982 and writing critically about video games for over 15 years. A few of his favorites are Skyrim, Elite Dangerous, and Red Dead Redemption. He lives with his wife and daughter in Oregon.View Profile