By Eric Tran
It’s been a long time since I’ve played a game that has had me hooked, wanting to know what’s gonna happen next, getting excited to steal that sweet armor set from the guy I’m about to kill, and saying “one more quest” at three in the morning. Kingdom Come is a fresh take on the open world RPG genre. Don’t expect this game to play like Skyrim or the Witcher 3. Warhorse Studios has taken the fantasy elements that most games do with in the medieval era, and threw them out of the tavern. They decided to base their game in historical times and emphasized realism. There is no magic, no fire breathing dragons to face, and no world saving quest to stop the undead. It’s a self contained story with people trying to live their daily lives and deal with their own problems, not someone else's that’s half way across the globe.
In Kingdom Come you play as Henry, the son of a blacksmith who likes to sleep in until noon, pull pranks with his mates, and do daily chores for his parents. You’re not this legendary hero destined for greatness. You’re just an ordinary peasant who gets caught up in a civil war. Unfortunately, this clash between lords and kings gets his village torched to the ground and his parents murdered. Now, all Henry wants to do, is find the man who murdered his parents and kill him. “Hello! My name is Henry. You killed my mother and father. Now prepare to die.”
Warhorse was very ambitious creating a medieval game grounded in realism, and their hard work paid off. They did a great job portraying how life was actually like in medieval times. It’s a very nasty and brutal world. Nobles look down upon commoners such as yourself, and thieves don’t care who you are. They’ll slit your throat all the same as long as you have valuables and some coin.
Like a true and proper RPG, Kingdom Come’s progression system is very deep. Other than general stats to increase, there are a total of 17 skills that Henry can level up as well. However, a certain skill can only be increased by doing certain activities. If you want to learn combos with a sword, you need to train with it or use it in battles to gain proficiency. If a lock is too difficult to pick, then you need to spend time picking easier locks. Within each skill, are a number of perks that can really affect how you want to play the game. Like being able to stealth kill someone while crouching, increasing your strength but sacrificing stamina, or increasing your speech with nobles vs commoners.
With Kingdom Come’s emphasis on realism, they made it clear how difficult it was to live in the 15th century with their survival system. Henry needs to make sure he’s in top shape for his early morning siege at work. If you ignore Henry’s hunger, he’ll grow weaker, his stats will be lowered, and eventually he can even die. Food can spoil and if you eat it, you’ll end up with food poisoning. If you don’t bandage your wounds after a fight, you can bleed to death. Go on too many adventures without sleeping and Henry’s vision will become blurry and he’ll even pass out on the street.
Kingdom Come is a gorgeous game running on the Cryengine. Everything looks great, from character models, to the lush open valleys and forests, to muddy villages, and stone cathedrals. Bohemia is a big open world that really feels alive. Every NPC you come across is just going about their daily lives. They get up early in the morning, wash their faces, get dressed, eat breakfast, go to work (if they have a job), and rinse and repeat. Stay too long in someone's house and they’ll call the guards to come and arrest you. Unlike some games where strangers allow kids in green tunics, to come into their home, smash their pottery, and leave.
There is a reputation system where you’ll get many different interactions depending how you act in public. If you try to talk to a trader with a bad reputation, they’ll just send you away. Start murdering villagers and you’ll be attacked by a brigade of armed guards. Get caught stealing and guards will frisk you more often. If you have a good reputation, people will be a lot friendlier. NPCs will be happy to see you and they’ll shout out greetings to you while walking around town. This is especially hilarious when a commander is giving orders and the soldiers randomly shout “Hey, Henry’s come to see us! God bless you Henry! Henry’s here! Oh hi Mar- I mean Henry.” Although, it does get tiring to hear the same greetings over and over again.
People will also act differently depending on your appearance. If you’re decked out in a full suit of plate armor, they’ll start addressing you as a noble knight. As you travel around and get into fights, your armor and clothes will get dirty and torn. Get too dirty and people won’t even talk to you because of how bad you stink and enemies can smell you even if you’re sneaking around. So it’s important to keep clean, which is fairly easy to do. Just splash your face in troughs located almost everywhere or have your clothes washed at a bathhouse.
Armor and weapons have a durability stat, so your equipment will break the more you use them. If they are too badly damaged, weapons won’t be as strong and armor won’t protect you as much. But, you can easily fix them by going to blacksmiths. You can also mend them yourself using repair kits and you can sharpen weapons on grinding stones.
If you’re looking for fast paced hack and slash combat, this game might not be for you. Don’t expect to go into a crowd of enemies swords a blazing. There is a huge emphasis on realism and the combat is deliberately slow paced because of it, and there’s a big learning curve. When engaging an enemy, you have to move your weapon in a direction where they aren’t blocking and attack their opening. Using a bow is also difficult because there is no reticle to help you aim. You also can’t equip armor or heal yourself during battle. Just like in real life, it’d be really difficult to throw on heavy pounds of platemail in a matter of seconds, and the enemy won’t just stand around and let you finish up your gently spiced boar meat to heal.
At the early stages of the game, combat feels very sluggish. I’m a little ashamed to admit, but I died many times in the beginning. Playing games for so long, has programmed my brain into thinking that I can take on anyone, because I’m the hero of this story and nameless enemy type 1 and 2 don’t stand a chance against me. But this all makes sense, because even though Henry was a blacksmith’s son, he doesn’t know how to handle a sword, let alone win a fist fight against the town drunk. He’s only learned a few things from a traveling mercenary. So he doesn’t stand a chance against real cutthroat killers. This makes every battle very intimate, tense, and strategic because of how you can die so easily by more experienced fighters. And one enemy is tough on their own, but things get even more tougher when you add two or more into the mix.
However, as I adapted to the combat and got some training from the toughest knights in Bohemia, that’s when things started to pick up. I was able to fight more efficiently, string together combos, and take less damage by parrying incoming attacks. As I got better gear and learned how to fight, I truly felt like a proper warrior. No longer was I afraid to encounter bandits on the road or accidently walking into an enemy encampment. It was truly a satisfying feeling, knowing I could take on anything that crossed my path.
The save system was a big criticism many had with the game. A player couldn’t save all the time or whenever they wanted. The game only saves when you start or complete certain quests. The problem is that some quests are very long, and if a player died, they could lose a couple hours of gameplay. However, if you want to save manually, you have to either consume a “Saviour Schnapp,” sleep in a bed, or go to a bathhouse. Saviour Schnapps are a little hard to come by and they’re pretty expensive in the beginning stages of the game. So a player only had a limited amount of times they could save instantly.
However, I personally didn’t have a problem with the save system. I only used Saviour Schnapps a handful of times because there are plenty of beds and bathhouses in towns. You can also even brew your own Saviour Schnapps at alchemy stations. Ingredients are inexpensive and are even found in the wild. As long as you know the recipe, you could make as many as you want.
As much as I enjoyed my time playing Kingdom Come, there were a few issues I had. Bugs were a huge problem in this game. Wearing certain clothing together would cause some clipping issues. If I went too fast on my horse, there would be a lot of pop in with textures, objects, and people. Sometimes people would be randomly floating in the sky and if I played for an extended period of time, buildings would be completely see through and textures would look awful. But the worst part of the bugs were the quest bugs. Some quest markers on the map would be completely in the wrong place. After talking to one quest giver, no dialogue options popped up and I was forced to exit the game, losing an hour of progress.
I also had some other problems with the design of the game. Animations for the most part (especially cutscenes) were very good. However, other times, there was a lack of facial expressions and a lot of reused animations. Loading screens were quite a nuisance as well. Even though you could completely traverse the entire map seamlessly, there were plenty of loading screens outside of that. Every time you talked to anyone? Loading screen. Get to a quest? Loading screen. Wash your face? Loading screen. Even fast traveling isn’t fast and anything that involved waiting, I’d have to sit and watch a dial for a few minutes. I even had to wait and watch a cutscene any time I needed to restart the game.
Despite some of the technical issues I had, the good definitely outweighed the bad. Warhorse Studios did an incredible job for their first game. Although it definitely needed more time in the oven to polish things up, this was fantastic game. It’s been awhile since I’ve played a game as engrossing as this one. With such an immersive world, refreshing small scale story, strong characters, and a unique first person combat system. This gives hope to other double A games. It proves that you don’t need to be triple A and have a huge budget to make a great game. I’m looking forward to see what Warhorse Studios has in store next.