Let’s get one thing out of the way: Is it realistic? No. Is it authentic? Absolutely.
Careful attention to detail makes all the difference, and Warhorse managed to create a believable reinterpretation of medieval Bohemia. What the game lacks in the supernatural, it makes up for with fierce political intrigue, interesting characters and wonderful quest design.
The world, which is beautifully rendered in CE3, feels fairly fleshed out and its inhabitants go about their daily lives in small, but logical ecosystems. They adequately react to the player character, yet the world does not revolve around him. I found this to be an incredibly refreshing take on a genre that likes to put the protagonist at the center of the universe.
Indeed, quests move on or fail if you do not show up on time, and you can’t solve every problem in existence. Not because your choices don’t matter, but rather because you are a part of a living world, and Kingdom Come manages to convey this better than any other game in recent years.
The story follows Henry, a blacksmith’s apprentice, on a quest for revenge after his home is ravaged by the hands of a foreign army. During his journey across Bohemia he gets to meet the nobility, duel knights and dive into various romatic escapades until he finally finds his place in the world.
What makes Henry work as a protagonist is that he is exceptionally unremarkable. He’s not without a personality, but having a relatable character in an authentic world makes it that much more immersive. Unlike most side characters, which are discarded after their questline comes to a conclusion, Henry develops quite a bit over the course of the game, but never loses the essence of what makes him great.
A lot of time in the game is spent on listening to characters talk, and safe to say the writing and voice acting are superb. The facial animations are pretty good as well, resulting in the characters being able to to convey their intent, attitude and feelings in a believable manner of speech. Long transitions in between lines of dialog make conversations feel a bit stilted, but they are enjoyable to listen to regardless.
The plot takes a while get going and could have ended with a bit more closure, but it’s an engrossing tale that doesn’t lose its focus and even manages to throw in a few pleasant suprises every now and then.
Respect the Pleb
Gameplay is segmented into moving somewhere to talk to, steal from or kill someone. This sounds repetitive, but the solid core mechanics, good writing and differing contexts make each quest memorable. This is genuinely some of the best quest design I’ve seen in recent years!
The game’s directional combat system consists of constant movement, choosing a direction of attack and striking or blocking at the right time. Mistakes are unforgiving, and downing an opponent with a good swing is highly satisfying. The system is clearly made with duels in mind which work fantastically, but it comes at the cost of losing focus in smaller skirmishes and completely falling apart in the larger set-piece battles. My biggest complaint is that character skill vastly outweighs player skill – if Henry fails the skill check you’re going to have a bad time even if you landed a good hit, and vice versa.
There are multiple weapon types available with a good mix of speed, reach and damage allowing players to experiment and choose their ideal combat style. Armor plays into this as well, incentivizing you to swap to a more effective weapon depending on the circumstances. It’s unfortunate that polearms, crossbows and firearms didn’t fully make it into the game, as some minor tweaking would have made them complement the current loadout quite well. But even so, the system conveys the clunkiness and lethality of hand to hand combat exceptionally well, and it’s fun to boot.
The crime system on the other is simply flawed. If a murder victim witnesses you murdering them, the collective AI hivemind will be alerted, leading to an inevitable arrest during your next town visit, and stealing items will promptly cause guards to search you, rendering the whole stealth aspect rather irrelevant. Predictable NPC behavior can be beneficial, but in this case it just kills the immersion.
The game’s difficulty ranges from extremely hard to extremely easy, in that order. Henry starts out as a useless waste of space and ultimately becomes a walking god by the end of the story. The main reason behind this is the perk system, which I’ll go into now.
Character progression is divided up into different stats and skills, each with its own set of perks, which can be improved by simply using them as you play. These perks are incredibly strong, especially when used in combination with another one, which is inevtiable because you get enough points to unlock most perks for each skill, meaning that the focus lies on when to get a perk, rather than what kind. Another issue here is that weapon damage, which is already implausibly high, scales further with certain skill levels, rendering combat laughably easy later on.
Henry also sports a whopping 14 equipment slots, allowing you to turn him into the medieval equivalent of a tank. Which is great! We finally have a game where armor does its name justice. The problem is that money and armor drops are far too abundant granting you stat boosts which vastly outscale the game’s difficulty curve.
The game’s survival and maintenance elements are mostly busywork and never pose a threat to the character’s wellbeing, but they do add flavor to the daily routine, while random encounters add life to the otherwise sparsely populated map.
One gripe I have with the game loop is the archaic save system. With the exception of some very inconsistent autosaves, you have to drink a “Saviour Schnapps” – a pricy ingame consumable – to save your progress. I can understand the desire to limit save-scumming, but that should be choice of the player, not the developer. Coupled with the game’s myriad of technical issues makes it hard to justify its existence, and to not include at least a Save on Exit feature at launch was a major oversight. Speaking of which…
The launch of this game was painful. Nearly every part of the journey contained fatal bugs – crashes when opening a menu, a button not registering in combat and the main questline getting stuck at multiple points to name a few. This unsurprisingly detracts from the immersion, and one has to question the development priorities which led to the botched launch. I get it – deadlines exist, day 1 patches are a blessing and players eventually forget. But this game was clearly rushed out the door, squandering any potential for greatness it undoubtedly had.