Kingdom Come: Deliverance is a game of extreme contrasts. On one hand, it is an artistically beautiful game with an original feel that is marred with inconsistency and a sense of underdeveloped concepts. This duality is also complicated by the troubling statements and allusions to realism by some of the developers. Waypoint Radio has a whole podcast devoted to discussing it and the Eurogamer review has a good run down as well.
A game set in during the Holy Roman Empire with royal intrigue and vassals in conflict is right up my alley. With equal parts Crusader Kings, Mount and Blade, and Witcher, it should be something I would play forever. The game, itself, is beautiful to look at and the environments are pleasantly constructed. The area has a very lived in feel and it nails the immersion into a medieval setting. Very few games can compete with the architectural detail and care that Kingdom Come: Deliverance has. Witcher 3 has some great fantastical places, but KCD feels like a real place (and thats because it is).
While the main issues I have with the game are mostly on the gameplay side, the developers were asked about POCs in the setting, and expressed doubt that any significant non-white people existed during the game’s time period. However, the idea that a game set in 1403 in medieval Europe with only white people seems like a biased take especially when put against numerous sources from history. The blog MedivalPOC has a great post about this. Furthermore, the near certainty of the developers on other historical aspects of the game is fraught with overreach. Many of the details of day to day life especially of the lower castes is lost to time. History, especially during a period where many people couldn’t write, is a patchwork puzzle, and, to be absolute in pronouncements of the 15th century, feels like a poor reading of the historical record. In a game with many concessions to historical anachronisms, Kingdom Come’s insistence on its accuracy seems, at worst, ill-placed, and, at best, troublesome.
The developers have tried to emphasize this realism with tough combat, food consumption, medieval hierarchy. I appreciate the effort, but this is where the game is inconsistent. While there is a definite nod towards “realism”, there are still healing potions to restore health, even though they aren’t easy to obtain early in the game. Trunks in any inn that you rent are connected to your home base which allows you to grab items from miles away. Your horse has its own inventory that you can access instantaneously regardless of distance. Food is hardly an issue as you can help yourself to various pots of stew strewn around the world. My character is almost never hungry that the system is almost an afterthought. There is also a buff called “Alpha Male” (earned after you sleep with a woman), which seems like a poor fit for the mostly "mature" and serious tone of the game. Put together, the “realism” of the game seems half-baked and underdeveloped, which is a major disappointment. The game does a great job of capturing the feel of the period (or at least some version of it), but it falls short of the goal of unbridled realism.
The fighting system while trying its best to simulate the moment to moment intensity of medieval combat is also lacking. It tries to be simplified while also realistic, but it ends up being neither. Slashes to the head or eyes do little to deter opponents and its feels like enemies are still the bag of hit points like they are in every game. Most early fights involve attacking a few times and then backing away hilariously from your opponent until your stamina regenerates. Fighting multiple opponents is a trial mostly because the lock-on system has a mind of its own. It is exhilarating to claim victory in particularly hard fights, but the actual combat can feel like a chore.
The biggest in-game issue is the save system. As a player, you can only save with an item called Savior Schnapps, sleeping, or using the bathhouse. This is central to making the game feel like it has consequences - adding drama to decisions and combat. However, the game has major issues with bugs. I’ve had multiple quests fail or become impossible to complete because of in-game jank. With savepoints few and far between, it becomes aggravating to replay sequences over and over. The save system even started to bug out on me; saving only when it wants to despite sleeping in my bed or an inn. I’ve had to resort to a mod to enable unlimited, anytime saving.
While the game is beautiful to look at and can be extremely immersive (I’ve already logged almost 20 hours in the game), its underlying systems don’t support it in a consistent way. The game is billed as the most realistic medieval RPG by its creators and fans. However, there are concessions for video game conveniences in some places but not others. There is a good game somewhere in Kingdom Come: Deliverance, but the present game is just a bit undercooked.