Kingdom Come: Deliverance Completed

2436 wc

I’ve been holding off on writing about Kingdom Come: Deliverance until I was done, but finally, after 86.7 hours according to the save game file, and 108 hours according to ManicTime, between February 20 and this past weekend, April 8, I finished the game.

An interior in Kingdom Come: Deliverance. Spectacular scenery and lighting is common.

I say “finished,” but what I mean is that I reached the The End screen, the point at which the developers believe your characters’ story has ended. Like most “open world” games, there are still many more side quests I could do, and there are a lot of random encounters in the world, but I’m never interested in that stuff once I finish the main story.

In brief, my review concurs with most of the other reviews I’ve seen: The good parts are fantastic, while the bad parts are horrible. It has numerous problems, but it was at least compelling enough for me to persevere to the end, which is more than I can say for a lot of other full-price games I’ve purchased.

The Good

You may have heard that this game has some problems. It definitely does. But I don’t regret buying it at launch for one main reason: I am glad to have supported a game which took some very big chances, and had a clear creative vision that they must surely have known wouldn’t resonate with a mainstream audience. For that I will give them endless praise and kudos.

The overland map in Kingdom Come: Deliverance.

We consumers complain constantly about boring, cookie-cutter games, and rightfully so. KCD is exactly the antidote that we say we want. Something different, something unique, something new. The developers took tremendous risks with their gameplay choices. They ventured way out on a creative limb. The results are debatable, but the point is I haven’t seen a “big budget” game take so many chances in a long time.

If you’re the kind of person who likes to “vote with your dollars,” here is your chance. I personally hope a lot more games take the kind of chances that we see in Kingdom Come: Deliverance. The first couple of weeks of playing this game were giddy times, because everything was a brand new learning experience.

The combat is incredibly inventive, albeit puzzling and difficult at first. The good news is that you can get through a whole lot of the game without bothering with fighting, except for the Baptism of Fire quest I will mention below, which requires you to duel one-on-one with a very difficult enemy. I almost rage-quit the game there (because I had been avoiding combat up to that point). I’m sure I fought that guy a hundred times. In the end, it was mostly luck that I got through it.

I love the fast-travel map. I love maps in games, and this is one of the best maps I’ve seen in an RPG recently.

The scenery and landscapes in the game are fantastic and I loved exploring them. It has one of the best, most realistic outdoor settings I’ve ever seen in a game. The screenshot possibilities are endless, and it even supports that new-fangled Ansel thing.

A birch forest, one of countless amazing scenery screenshots I could have placed here, which looks a thousand times better in the game.

I love the old school “feel” to the UI, it reminded me a lot of old RPGs from before 3D games. (It was also clunky and hard to navigate sometimes, particularly in the inventory, but it looked neat.)

I loved that it was more of a historical fiction story than a fantasy story, which was a nice change of pace in the RPG space. More on historicity below.

The voice acting was pretty good, at least from the main characters. Better than I would have expected. (I could have done without the American accents, though. Do American accents sound exotic to the rest of the world? They don’t to me. Especially in a “historical” setting.)

The Bad

Unfortunately Kingdom Come: Deliverance has tons of problems.

This is a direct quote from the patch 1.4.1 release notes, and I think it sums up all you need to know about Warhorse’s apparent development process:

There is a distinct possibility that the save files created with version 1.4 might be corrupted. We highly recommend going back to your old save files that were created with version 1.3.4 or older.

If you finished main quest Baptism of Fire and the following quest (Questions and Answers) did not start, reload any save from Baptism of Fire and progress through the battle. The quest Questions and Answers should start after the duel with Runt.

If you’ve played the game, you’d be losing your mind over the idea of having to replay “Baptism of Fire.” It is the most difficult, most annoying quest in the entire game, the climax of which involves defeating a very tough enemy in single combat. You really, really don’t want to have to redo it because of a game bug. (Unless they also nerfed that fight a lot in the same patch.)

Shortly before the game broke and I couldn't continue the Questions and Answers quest for two weeks. Damn you Sir Radzig! Why did you have to walk back to Rattay at the end of this cut scene!

Based on watching their patches roll out, and well over twenty years of my own experience with software, the development process at Warhorse looks like a disaster. There doesn’t seem to be any discipline, no quality assurance, no testing, no nothing. Even the patch notes are thin, like they don’t even write down what they’re doing. It looks like a bunch of guys hacking out code in their basements, not using source control, pushing executables directly from somebody’s hard drive up to Steam and hoping for the best. I’m sure it’s not that-surely that can’t be possible in the modern world-but that’s how it looks from the outside. When you roll out a patch that breaks something so bad you have to roll out another patch to fix the first patch, more than once, that’s a symptom of a sloppy development process.

I couldn’t play the main quest in the game for two weeks because at one time it was broken so badly I had to wait for the 1.3 patch to fix it. Not surprisingly, that was when I lost a lot of enthusiasm for the game.

The End

Now let’s talk about the story. To be blunt, don’t buy this game if you want to experience a great story. I was pulled in at first, but it fell off a cliff for me in short order. It meanders often, and it suffers from a glut of tropes and cliches (not to mention outrageous anachronisms). Sometimes that works, and here it might work for younger audiences (or if you haven’t seen these tropes and cliches a thousand times already), but it didn’t work for me.

For me, the churches were the most amazing places to look at in the game. I don't know enough about religious iconography to know if these are authentic or gibberish, but they sure look convincing. These are the walls from inside a small church in Sasau.
For comparison, this is a picture of medieval artwork I took on a fascinating trip to the Cloisters museum in New York in 2004.

I’m not going to spoil the ending. I can’t, because there is no ending. By which I mean that there is no resolution to the story that they started, and it is a major disappointment. Not only that, but the epilogue actually starts a new story without resolving the first one, and then it ends that one on a cliffhanger. They clearly intended to deliver more story later, as if they were writing the first book of a trilogy.

I’m not joking here. The main quest that is in your journal for the vast majority of the game, the driving force for your character’s motivation throughout, does not conclude at the end of the game. It’s still there as I write this, unfinished, even after watching the end credits roll by and a big The End screen. I was stunned. I can’t remember ever seeing that happen before in an RPG. It should be prominently mentioned, shouted from the rooftops, in every review of the game, but of course reviewers rarely complete a game before doing their reviews, so I never saw anyone call it out. It’s another huge risk that Warhorse has taken, but I don’t approve of this one at all.

There are really only two possibilities: They crafted the end of the game specifically to coerce you to buy DLC. I will not. I will never buy DLC to complete a story that should be in the base game, and you shouldn’t either. (Especially since this story wasn’t that compelling. The part that’s missing is like, meh, whatever, it never really mattered to me anyway.) I will applaud if they release the conclusion of this story as free DLC, but otherwise, nope, sorry, hard pass.

I really enjoyed trying to puzzle out how medieval people used the constructions seen in the game. Here is a series of trenches filled with water that I can only guess was used as some kind of a disposal system for the tanner.

The other possibility, which I think is just as likely: Warhorse ran out of time and they had to kick the game out the door before they were finished. I’ve read reports that imply they put the game out before they might have liked. Certainly the number of bugs and basic quest issues imply a lack of polishing time. It wouldn’t be the first time a game ran out of funding and had no choice but to release before going bankrupt.

Beyond the lack of an ending, the story suffers a lot from inconsistent pacing. There are a number of times when the story seems to be building to something, there is some interesting action going on, some nice cut scenes to set things up, and I get invested in what’s happening and I want to see what happens next, and then you have to do some tedious sequences (*cough* monastery *cough*) or even just wait around doing nothing. One time you’re getting ready to attack a castle and you have to stop and wait two full game days. What!? What am I supposed to do until then?? I killed a lot of time in this game by sleeping or just standing in place using the “wait” feature, because there’s nothing else to do, if you want to see the next piece of the story. (I should say that there was always a good, sensible reason for the waiting, but that doesn’t excuse the killing of story momentum.) You can wander off and do a side quest or something, but I don’t particularly like to get distracted once I’ve become invested in the main story.

Conclusion

I’ll try to wrap this up quickly. (I feel like I’ve been taking a lot of what should be 1000-word pieces and turning them into 5000-word pieces lately. This one is almost 2500 words now, and I could still add tons more. It’s hard to condense 100 hours of experience into something so short!)

A lot has been said about the “hardcore” difficulty of the game, but it is just like any other skill-based game: Once you get over the learning curve of the non-standard mechanics, the game becomes just as easy as any “casual” game. Dark Souls, for example, is fairly straightforward after some practice, and so is Kingdom Come: Deliverance. It’s like learning to play piano or guitar. It’s hard at first, but after a while, it comes naturally.

The game looks beautiful, but graphical performance is just awful. It’s not like, say, ARK which is consistently slow. With KCD, the frame rates fluctuate all over the place. There is no consistency to it whatsoever. Sometimes it hums along perfectly at 144 fps (my monitor’s refresh rate), and other times it chokes out a 15 fps slide show. (Counter-intuitively, it’s often in the cut scenes and conversations that the frame rate plummets.) I tried to fix it by fiddling with settings for a long time, but I gave up and just suffered with it. My guess is that it’s not so much a GPU issue but more of an issue of CPU optimization.

Ansel support lets you freeze the game, move or rotate the camera anywhere in a scene and apply color filters to take screenshots. The game is a first-person POV so you never see Henry from this angle in the game.

I could write thousands of words on the historical accuracy of the game, and I’m no expert, but from the perspective of a casual medieval enthusiast: I feel like they portrayed the technology of 1403 reasonably well, but in terms of medieval society, they cherry-picked what they wanted to show and ignored what they didn’t want to deal with. There is a lot of modern vernacular in the dialog, for example. Other areas where they fuzzed over the realism is in dealing with horses, which don’t need food, water, or stabling (unlike you), and in the instantaneous donning of massive suits of plate armor with a mouse click. I think their portrayal of medieval Christianity is a train wreck. It was like the writers got their information from a Wikipedia article or that Showtime series The Borgias, and had never been to church even a single time in their lives. For example, there is one point where Henry tells someone he is “home for Advent” when the game clearly takes place in Spring. (Hint: Advent is right before Christmas.)

By the way, there is no character creation in this game at all. You play Henry, who looks and sounds exactly one way, period, the end. You don’t even have much control over his behavior in conversations, either. I might argue that because of that, Kingdom Come: Deliverance is more of an adventure game than a role-playing game.

Anyway, while I’m glad I got it, Kingdom Come: Deliverance really needed more time to bake. I can’t in good conscious recommend it for general audiences. I would wait for a sale. Especially any sales that includes DLC.

By the way, I have no earthly idea what “Deliverance” has to do with any part of the story in the game. Or “Kingdom Come” for that matter.

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