For as long as we've been writing about video games there have been few titles that have had us as intrigued as Kingdom Come: Deliverance. After getting our hands on the game last year we came to the conclusion that this was one to watch, although that was perhaps more out of hope than expectation because it was obvious from the outset that this was a game that had the potential to go both ways, such was the freedom it aimed to offer. It's an ambitious RPG built on equal measures of simulation and action, and it rips up the pages of Tolkien-inspired fantasy role-play and instead delves deep into medieval European history.
Warhorse Studios has crafted an expansive role-playing game here, and in certain respects the studio has done a tremendous job, creating some vivid characters and a detailed, atmospheric world. The setting is refreshingly different, the tone strikingly mature, and at first, during the initial couples of hours, it seems as though Warhorse has got it right and our optimism was well-placed. Unfortunately, however, that first impression is soon to fade as it becomes increasingly clear that elements of Kingdom Come: Deliverance have been clumsily executed.
Our frustration and disappointment came together during one particular setpiece that ranks among the worst we've ever endured, a multi-stage siege set in a bandit camp that took hours to complete. We battled through it so many times that in the end we started feeling sorry for the endless waves of enemy soldiers we hacked through as we walked again and again in the same footsteps of Henry, a blacksmith's son in search of bloody vengeance. This punishing collection of battles was full of Monty Python-esque walking glitches and some shoddy AI behavior, and we were frequently impaled on some needlessly frustrating difficulty spikes. The whole thing was then rounded off with a terrible boss fight against a hulking brute who happily stabbed us to death again and again like we were trapped in a surreal prequel to Groundhog Day. During the battle he stalked us around a confined space, thrusting and slashing his blade, and whether we stabbed and swiped or fired arrows in his face, he kept on coming until the game seemed to either get bored of watching us die or started feeling sorry for us, as it stopped the fight and mysteriously declared us the winner. We didn't complain.
The combat in Kingdom Come: Deliverance is rather unique, and in certain situations, it feels well-implemented. In particular, during standard one-on-one fights, there's enough nuance and excitement to keep you thoroughly immersed in the moment. Pointed jabs and swiping blades come together during tense battles, and there's potential for both skilled attacks and deft defending across a range of weapons. We found that the combat didn't translate so well into group situations, though, and when up against multiple opponents it can be extremely difficult. We're sure the developers will say that this is by design, but during the more chaotic battles that involve several enemy soldiers, it doesn't look or feel good.
Even worse is the archery. Again, it's clear that Warhorse has tried to make combat difficult on purpose, because firing a bow is difficult in real life and simulation is a big part of what they're trying to do here, but we'd argue that the archery, in particular, is difficult to a fault, and instead of making us feel challenged the wobbly handling of the bow just made us feel inept, even after we'd been playing for well over 30 hours. You can always improve your skills by practicing or paying for tuition, but even still the finicky control schemes made combat a chore at times, and going up against a group of opponents is so challenging that it effectively rules out certain choices in the game.
If Kingdom Come: Deliverance offers harsh combat in particular situations, it's often to funnel you down more diplomatic paths. The Bioware influence is felt most keenly here, with talking head scenes complete with multiple dialogue options. There's a neat system built around conversations and some of the dialogue is quite well written, but it's not all great. Similarly, the voice acting is a bit hit and miss, and whoever was in charge of casting did a terrible job. The regional accents are all over the place, and it's just another niggling distraction pulling you out of the experience when you notice that Henry has a mild West Country accent but his parents sound like they're from Yorkshire. That level of inconsistency can be found across the board, even amongst the nobility, some of whom talk with posh English accents while others sound like they're American. Topping things off is the fact that the facial expressions (or lack thereof) and character animations during conversations are, at times, woeful, which does nothing for the atmosphere they're trying to build elsewhere.