Author Topic: Kingdom Come: Deliverance [2018 -- Warhorse Studio]  (Read 24 times)

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Kingdom Come: Deliverance [2018 -- Warhorse Studio]
« on: February 01, 2019, 05:15:59 PM »
Near two decades ago, when I was younger and had plenty of time, I used to play a combat flight simulator called Falcon 4.0 (which is still available on GOG for those interested). At the base, it was a F16 simulator and probably still today the most realistic simulator of this kind in existence. Fans however thought that it was not enough and after several patches and mods combined by a dedicated community Falcon 4.0 became the top most realistic fighter plane experience you can imagine. You could do the whole thing, starting on the tarmac with your plane totally cold, go through the whole procedure of bringing it up to life (and believe me starting a F16 is really not like starting your car), take off (with realistic control tower, giving you instructions for the runway to use, advising you when there was incoming or departing traffic and even pestering you if you were too slow), then there was things like air-refueling (a manual one, so you had to really act as a pilot would to position your plane behind the tanker and connect) up to the return to base there again with the control tower giving you precise altitude, speed and vectors so you don't run risk of collision with other planes (and at the beginning of a campaign it could be an awful lot), giving you the authorization to land on a precise runway and telling you to abort landing and go around if you were taking your sweet time -- with a plane landing and taking off every minute, the window was short -- and then finally rolling to your parking space and performing the procedure to turn the plane off. And I'm not even evoking combat because that would be the subject of a whole other chapter. The official manual released with the game was about 500 pages and with all the modifications by the community one could add an additional 250 (for example, starting your plane cold was not part of the original simulator). I was very fond of this simulator despite its incredibly steep learning curve and I spent hundreds and hundreds of hours in it. But then again, it was a period of my life when I had time to put in such endeavors...

But why the heck am I talking about Falcon 4.0 when I should be talking about Kingdom Come: Deliverance (KCD hereafter)? Well the reason is simple enough. When it comes down to it, KCD is more of a "Medieval soldiering and knighthood simulator" than a proper RPG. Don't get me wrong, this is a RPG with a story, main quests, side quests and tasks but people who get into it should know what they are really signing for. The learning curve in this game might not be as steep as Falcon 4.0 due to the obvious lack of technology but it is there and it is steep. Don't think about going in there playing the knight in shining armor swinging your sword left an right and felling enemies by the dozen... That won't happen. In fact why not start by giving you a bit of the background for the story of KCD?

The player's avatar for the game is Henry, the son of the local blacksmith of the village of Skalitz in Bohemia (which today forms a bit more of 50% of the Czech Republic). Being the son of a blacksmith, Henry is not a particularly well-educated lad -- he doesn't know how to read for example (keep that in mind for future reference, we'll be coming back to it) -- and prefers to spend his time with his friends at the local inn where he can woo Bianca his sweetheart innkeeper. He also tries to learn how to hold a sword thanks to the tutelage of a mercenary passing by but he has to do it behind his parents back because they wouldn't approve. Although this bit is really just to give a first feel for the kind of combat featured in KCD. It does absolutely not make you proficient with a sword whatsoever. Only training and real combat do.

The year is 1403 and the King of Hungary, Sigismund send an army of Cumans mercenaries to obliterate Skalitz as part of his effort to seize Bohemia from his half brother Wenceslaus IV. Why Skalitz? Just because the mines surrounding this little hamlet are the primary resource of silver in the region and of course, war require coins and all that. During the chaos resulting from the assault, Henry witnesses both his parents being butchered by the Cumans. After quite some troubles, Henry finally joins the rebellion against Sigismund led by his liege Radzig Kobyla. He becomes embroiled in a convoluted political plot but keeps his focus on the revenge he has to take.

As a simulator, KCD relies on a true historical background and characters and on other historical research to make the world as close as possible to medieval Bohemia. In fact there is a codex in the game (that fills in during the game similarly to Mass Effect) that explains in depth different topics linked to this medieval period, from historical characters and political situations to clothing and warfare, agriculture and just about every aspect of the medieval society (this knowledge can be for the most part extended to the rest of Europe for this period of time as apart from pure traditions which depended on kingdoms or even part of kingdoms, things such as the way of life, the warfare, the economy, the religion (even though this was a period with two confrontational Popes) were more or less similar. For those really interested on the medieval era, KCD codex is a real trove of knowledge.

Of course, the will of Warhorse Studio was to extend realism into the gameplay itself. The armor, weapons, items and clothes Henry and other character may wear and use are accurate regarding the time period. The warfare technology is too.  The top of the top at the beginning of the 15th century in Europe were primitive cannons and rockets with the black powder invented in China. But not all European countries were equal in that regard and you won't find in Bohemia cannons or even black powder for that matter. The good old trebuchet had to suffice.

The combat, either with swords, maces and axes, with shield or without follows the same very complicated principles, at least they will feel very complicated to anyone with or without extended knowledge of other medieval RPGs. After KCD you possibly won't see Skyrim combat the same way as before. Roughly explained the bases of combat are block, attack, mobility and mastering of the space between you and your opponent but that doesn't stop there. Attacks may come from five different directions, high, left, right, lower left, lower right and point to which you must add different techniques that may be employed to perturb your adversary, the simplest of them being to arm your strike on one angle of attack (say the lower left for example) and to immediately switch to another angle before striking (say right). Well timed, your opponent will prepare his defense on the wrong angle and leave the angle were you strike unprotected. As I said, this is the simplest method... To that you'll have to add other techniques, master strikes, combos and the complexity of defending yourself because after all it's useless to hit the enemy if he hits you even harder.

All that is well and good and you might even find it fun after a while... that is until you are confronted to more enemies than just the one. A couple of enemies will be challenging (the trick being to try an keep the enemy you are engaging between you and the other one). Add at least one archer and it may turn to nightmare very fast. There again realism is put forward. As in real life, you wouldn't expect to prevail easily one against three. It's the reason why Henry won't be alone for the most challenging moments of the game, full battles. It's easier to bash in the head of an enemy when he is busy defending against one or two of your allies.

The non combat portions of the game reflect this realism too. For example, dialogues. There are three dialogues components when it comes to persuade someone. One is persuasion and relies on speech, the other is nobility which relies on charisma and the third one is intimidation which relies on strength. However not everything is as clear cut as that. Nobility might work in some cases but even if it relies on charisma it is also heavily dependent on other factors like the state of dirtiness of your clothes/armor and/or yourself. If you're dressed as a pauper you won't be able project your "nobility" on a lot of people, let alone on actual nobles. Problem is your clothes/armor will get dirty just walking in the streets or the countryside. Go pick flowers (useful for alchemy) or hunt in a forest and it gets worse. Get into combat and... yep, dirt AND blood, especially on your blade. All that will decrease your charisma and in turn makes you less impressive to your interlocutors. Only way to avoid that is to wash yourself. Two way to go, try and wash in a trough, that will do good to your face but little to your clothes, or go to a bathhouse where the ladies will be happy to secure you a bath and to launder your clothes (and even weapons and armor) for a fee. That will restore your charisma to maximum... and while you're there you can even spend some quality time with a bathhouse maid which will give you a one day lasting "Confident" perk, increasing your charisma even further.  Nicer clothes and more shiny armor also give a bonus to charisma.

For intimidation, the armor grade is taken into account... A full plate will allow to intimidate your interlocutor more easily than just a leather jerkin, adding a bonus to your strength (for conversation purpose only).

And the realism does not even stop there... Remember when I said that Henry doesn't know how to read? Well, this is accurate regarding the era as in the middle ages almost no one knew how to read beside scribes and scholars (most notably member of the clergy). Even most nobles were not really educated in that respect simply deferring the reading and writing to their scribes. Peasantry didn't have access to any school. But see, this inability to read will pose Henry some problems. Until he learns to read all the documents and books Henry puts his hands on are pure gibberish making no sense at all (even to the player). To learn reading, Henry has to find the right guy, pay him and spend two days learning. This will teach him the basics  but not really more. Pages will be decipherable with extreme effort and Henry will have to reach level five in reading to have books almost readable (though not without errors). Each book read increases the reading level and some special skill books can push it even further. However books cost a lot of money often close to a standard sword -- which is also historically accurate, it was easier back then to find a sword rather than a book, especially because it was before printing was universally adopted and most of the books had to be copied manually.

But why would you care about reading? Well, because of alchemy. Concocting potions requires recipes that one can acquire either by buying them from alchemists and herbalists or finding them (very rarely though). Henry can buy or find those recipes even without knowing how to read but using them will be an other matter entirely. Alchemy in this game is not simply collecting ingredients and pushing a button it's preparing the ingredients according to the recipe and if Henry doesn't know how to read... yep, that's it -- gibberish, can't decipher the damn recipe.

But enough about realism. What I already explained above should give you a good idea of the kind of game we're discussing... Unfortunately,  KCD trips over the feet of its own realism giving you the idea after a while that the thing is not so much about realism than about dire difficulty. Quick example... late in the game I was here and there ambushed by... peasants. Yeah... My Henry who by that time was in full plate armor with the best sword(s) in the game was ambushed by peasants... And I really mean that. Guys with no armor and crappy weapons. And one has to wonder... What kind of realism is that? Do they really mean to tell us that in the Middle Age peasants with no better protection than a straw hat were actually attacking knights in full plate armor just for the fun of it? But that's not the worst... those peasants know all the combat tricks in the book like if they spend their life training, including tricks that the player has to learn from active captains of the guard.

However I don't begrudge the game its difficulty or steep learning curve. It was designed that way from the get go and that's fine. I do have something to say about quests management though because this is the area where KCD definitely shines less. Some quests don't have to be investigated thoroughly, you can succeed at them even when missing some rather important element, that actually depends on how you do the quest: so you're back to the quest giver and you don't understand a word of what they say to you because in your mind the quest is not even nearly completed but the quest giver will pat you in the back saying "good work my boy". At other times, you solve a quest one way but then, back at the quest giver, Henry, for some reason will give a version of the events totally different from the one that actually happened. There are quests conflicting with other quests (some you don't even know exist) in a "fail one fail all" kind of way, some objectives that you achieve that somehow the game acknowledges as failed but at the same time take as a success (otherwise the story wouldn't progress). There are also some quests that you feel you should be able to solve in different ways but no matter how hard you try, there's only one outcome (with Henry, there again, reporting events with no regards to what actually happened). The handling of quests and side quests in KCD gave me some of the most awkward moments I ever had in RPG gaming. This is were this game fails... not all the time but when it does, it does spectacularly fail hard. And it's so obvious in these cases that you can't even turn around and just pretend that it didn't happen.

There are also some bugs, the models are not exempt from clipping (after a while you'll have to learn what piece of clothing you shouldn't wear with that piece of armor if you don't want to look silly in cut-scenes). However quests remains what buggers me the most. Warhorse put a lot of efforts in realism and truly believable medieval era stuff even pushing forward a lot of side medieval trivia and knowledge to create a full immersion and then... they fail at the most basic level of RPG games... questing. Because let me tell you having a quest completing in some way and then having Henry sprouting nonsense in his report that has little to do with what actually happened breaks the immersion fast. Being able to jump practically a whole quest because somehow the answer to your investigation is provided in the dialog tree of the first person you talk to and then having your interlocutor acting like if you had discovered the whole thing in a totally different way... that also breaks the immersion. And so on...

And that's very annoying because most of the quests and side quests in this game (let's not talk about "tasks" because those are just your basic Radiant-like stuff -- if your familiar with Fallout 4 you know what I'm talking about) are actually decent. It's the handling, particularly in the conversation area and the way the different stages of a quest act together, that is questionable. Which leads me to think that a lot of quests (mostly side ones) were not paid the attention they were due or at least that they were not extensively bug tested. This is the main reason why the game is just average to me, not because of the difficulty or the steep learning curve but because a better handling of the quests could have propelled it above its current status.

Then you get to the ending and that's where the whole thing truly derails. Actually I liked the story up until the ending. Saying that the ending is on par with Mass Effect 3 ending catastrophe would probably not be fair. Yet, it's still lacking. There's one objective that will remain open in your journal after the ending and that you cannot complete because there's no story for that (although you may continue to play the game in a freeform way). Unfortunately that objective is the one that started the whole game and put Henry on the path. What's the point? I guess considering the whole ending bit that Warhorse Studio already have a Kingdom Come 2 in the bag. Why would they assume before selling their first game that people would want a second one up to the point of pulling a Mass Effect on it... no idea. It's pretty obvious though that if you want to complete the objective of the first game you'll have to go through the second one. Let's be clear, the end is not some sort of cliffhanger leaving you to dry it just feel like underachievement. You cannot help but feel that an important something is missing.

With that being said, if you like a realistic (over complicated) melee combat system, being hurt a lot and don't mind about some real quests-related headaches and an ending that is rather unsatisfying, then this is no doubt a game for you.

And if you're in the mood you can even try the hardcore mode (that was added to the game after release; initially there was only one difficulty but some people complained that it was not tough enough... anyway). The hardcore mode doesn't change a lot compared to the normal mode. The combat is still the same and I barely noticed a difference in difficulty. However what will most impact your experience is the navigation. In hardcore mode, there's nothing to tell you where you are on the map and the only way to find where you are is to spot points of reference in the world and try to locate them on the map. You can definitely get lost if you don't pay attention to your surroundings and the map. The HUD also almost completely disappears, obviously hiding among other things the compass which makes navigation even more difficult, especially at night or in a storm.

Considering the simulating nature of the game though, I would have opted for a far more flexible difficulty system, with each difficulty option that can be checked or not depending on your taste. Do not want the HUD? Uncheck the box. Want a part of the HUD but not the compass? Check the box... etc. That would have allowed Warhorse to include things like the so called "permadeath" that has absolutely no place in a story driven RPG but that a tiny fraction of people want anyway. They want it? Let's have it but there's no need to create a whole new difficulty mode for that. Simulators have been going that route for ages allowing people to custom-tailor the difficulty. And since this is after all a single player game, why not? It's not like if there was an impact on other gamers.

Anyway. Kingdom Come: Deliverance is a game with a lot of good points and unfortunately a few but major bad ones which prevented me to enjoy it fully. Of course your mileage may vary, it depends on what you really favor in a game. I find mishandling of quests and story aggravating but if you don't mind this and prefer to focus on a challenging gameplay, chances are that Kingdom Come: Deliverance will become one of your favorites. And it is truly a fine simulator and a nice tool to delve in the history of the medieval era...
« Last Edit: February 05, 2019, 09:22:55 AM by Starfox »

Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world. -- A. Einstein