Video games are meant to be fun. They’re meant to be a place where you can escape from the real world; where you can be a cat-eyed mutant who kills monsters for a living (but dies when falling off an eight-foot-high wall), or an elf trying to stop spirits from crossing over into the physical realm and tearing the world apart. Maybe even an annoyingly perky tween who throws his balls at every wild creature to cross his path, then force them to battle against their own kind in bloody
Video games are fun because they require a suspension of disbelief.
But what happens when you have a video game that tries to ground itself in reality?
You get Kingdom Come: Deliverance.
I’ve always been fascinated by medieval European history and its tales of brutality and war, of politics and glory and knighthood and chivalry. I’ve often wondered how I’d fare if I was born in that era, or if a time machine was invented and I could go back and observe how things were like (ala Timeline by Michael Crichton – although we all know how that turned out for the characters lol). So when independent Czech studio Warhorse released KC:D in 2018, I filed it as one of the games I’d play eventually (didn’t have a good enough setup at the time). A couple of months ago, I finally upgraded to a decent gaming laptop, and promptly bought the game which was on sale on Steam, for RM60+.
Like a fat kid settling down to a buffet after a day of fasting, I gleefully start off on what I thought would be an epic adventure. Instead, I found myself questioning my very worth as a gamer, as my Henry – the character players control in most of KC:D – gets brutally hacked to pieces for the seventh time in a row by bandits, while innocently travelling on the road. The worst part? Having to replay two hours worth of game play, because KC:D has one of the shittiest save systems in the history of gaming.
You play Henry, son of the Skalitz blacksmith in the Kingdom of Bohemia. The realm is in chaos due to feuding between King Wenceslas (a useless layabout who only cares about women, drink and the hunt), and his half brother the Hungarian king Sigismund, who wants to bring ‘peace’ to the land by force and subjugation. Anyhoo, you don’t really give a shit because hey – you’re just an apprentice blacksmith, your village is peaceful, and you’re going to the dance with the tavern wench later in the evening. Speaking of shit, one of the first objectives you can do in the village is throw a bunch of it at the newly whitewashed house of your neighbour, because he’s been talking shit about King Wenceslas, the rightful king. Your dad also asks you to help get some stuff so that he can forge a sword for the lord of the town, Sir Radzig Kobyla, which you will have to deliver once it’s done. Of course, you never get to do so because Cumans – savage mercenaries hired by Sigismund – arrive to pillage and kill. Your world crumbles into chaos. You attempt to run to the safety of the town’s fortified walls, only to watch your parents being brutally slaughtered, along with the rest of the villagers. Jumping on a horse, which you don’t really know how to ride well because you’re a peasant and not a knight, you flee towards Talmberg, the next big town, to warn them – all the while being pursued by the marauders. You survive the ordeal – but the face of the general who cut down your parents burns bright in your mind. You vow to avenge them and regain the sword your father made, which was stolen by bandits.
WELCOME TO BOHEMIA
KC:D is set in 1403 Bohemia, aka what is now the Czech Republic. Most of the characters in the story are based on real people, like Wenceslas and Sigismund, as well as Radzig of Kobyla, Hans Capon, Hanush of Leipa and Divish of Talmberg – powerful lords whom your character will have to run errands for throughout the game, including (but not limited to) eliminating bandit camps, fetching stuff, and distracting the butcher by singing so that a lord can have his way with the daughter lol. The game prides itself in historical accuracy – the devs even consulted historians and architects on things like weaponry, clothing, combat techniques and architecture, to ensure they made the game as close to real life as possible. The result is breathtaking. The landscapes are beautiful and you can see the meticulous attention the devs have put into everything, from the swaying of trees to the detailing on buildings.
Speaking of which, realism is a big thing in KC:D. Your character needs to sleep and eat or you’ll get tired and hungry, which will eventually lead to incapacitation (even death). You have to wash frequently and clean your clothes, because no one likes to talk to a dirty hobo, let alone trade with you. If you keep food in your pocket to snack on and forget about it, it will rot and cause food poisoning. NPCs go to sleep at night, so you can’t go barging into their homes to complete a quest – gotta wait for morning. Want to go the route of the antihero? You can even steal, pickpocket, lockpick chests and pick fights – but if you’re not smart about it and get caught by guards, you’ll have to answer to the law with a fine or jail sentence. People will remember it to and your reputation will suffer. And if you’re thinking that you can slog through this game’s enemies Rambo style.. well. You’ve got another thing coming.
THE GAME THAT KEEPS ON SHITTING (ON YOU)
When they call you a peasant, they weren’t kidding. Other than having the most punchable face, Henry starts off with no skills or redeeming qualities whatsoever. Heck, you can’t even lift a sword properly, and will have to run away from most enemies until you’ve leveled up your swordplay a little. Even then, you’re useless against any battle which involves more than one enemy, because the AI in the game is pretty intelligent and will 100% stab you in the back while you’re distracted with the bandit in front of you.
I learned this the hard way after trying to play the hero in the beginning of the game, bravely facing off against three Cumans who were attempting to rape the mill wench during the Skalitz invasion. “This is what heroes do!” I thought as my Henry jumped off the saddle, sword in hand. I promptly got cut into ribbons. I didn’t even have time to get back on the horse to flee. An hour later (which is probably more than what animal trainers use to train animals not to do something lol), I finally realised that being a hero does not pay off. Not when you’re a weak peasant armed with a stick and a lot of courage. Sorry, Theresa. flees (PS: I found out later you can actually whistle to distract them, without having to fight them. Whew)
After the invasion, you start off completely broke, with just the clothes on your back. You can’t even buy a decent knife, let alone a sword and shield to practice with – unless you go for training at the combat arena where they kick your ass over and over again. If you don’t want to die repeatedly from being ambushed by bandits, though, this is the only way that will give you at least a fighting chance (haha, get it?) to survive any unpleasant encounters you might have on the road. You will spend 10 or more real-life hours (at the very least!) honing your fighting skills before you can even think about facing any enemies, and not die while trying to run away. Even if you’re a proficient fighter, one slip of the hand – and your enemies might just hack you to pieces.
Swordplay isn’t the only thing you have to master. You can fight with bows, maces, axes and bludgeons, all of which have their own pros and cons. When the direct approach doesn’t work, stealth is often the best – but at level 1 you’re a bumbling idiot who can’t conceal himself properly so you often get caught and thrown in jail, or discovered by enemies and killed. So you have to spend time leveling that up as well, and getting dark coloured gear to avoid detection. Lockpicks break while you’re attempting to open a trunk? Killed / thrown in jail. Not good enough at pickpocketing? Killed/thrown in jail. Carry stolen goods around and don’t have a high enough rep to weasel your way out when stopped by guards? Killed/thrown in jail.
There are also plenty of other skills to hone which will help you in your quest to become Bohemia’s No.1 errand boy. Picking herbs helps you level up herbalism, so you can collect them to make potions for buffs (Trust me, you need every little advantage you can get in this game). But wait! You can’t brew potions without alchemy, and for that you need to learn how to read recipes. Henry also gains speech and intimidation points over time. The higher the points, the better equipped you are at dealing with situations that arise, and the higher the chance you can avoid any unpleasant fights. There’s also horsemanship from riding, and you get to train your trusty companion, Mutt, whom you can sic on enemies or teach to fetch and hunt.
If this doesn’t sound complicated / difficult enough, there’s also the absolutely shite save system. Unlike games where you can simply reload from the last (convenient) save point, KC:D deliberately makes it difficult for you to save – you can only do so by sleeping at an inn, one of your home bases, or by drinking a Saviour Schnapp (alcohol – which is expensive unless you know how to brew it – hence why it’s good to level up alchemy ASAP). There were times I wanted to rage quit because I could not save my game in between quests (inn was too far away, no Saviour Schnapps in bag, etc) – only to get killed while travelling between towns and losing like 1.5 hours of gameplay. It’s as if the devs made this game solely to punish you for daring to be a serf in a medieval game where everything and everyone is out to kill you. Which is probably how it really was irl. If you weren’t a lord or royalty, you probably had to work from dawn to dusk just to get enough food on the table – and even then you’d still be held to the whims and demands of your liege lord.
THY KINGDOM COME
You’re probably thinking “this sounds like an awful lot of work and stress for a game. I want to enjoy my downtime, not add to my anxiety.” And you’re 100% right. This is not a game where you can sit down to enjoy a couple of mindless hours of entertainment after work. KC:D requires dedication – and time – which many of us with busy lifestyles might not have. It needs grinding in game, in multiple disciplines, so you have to be prepared to spend at least a few real life hours improving your skills. Coupled with how weak you are initially (and sometimes well into the middle of the game if you have no patience like me and just want to get through the story), you’re probably going to experience a tonne of frustration – from not being able to complete quests and just dying. A lot.
If you stick with it, you WILL be rewarded. As much as I hated the combat and the save system (in the early stages), I stuck to the game because it is refreshing to play a medieval game based in real life – without the magic and dungeons and dragons lol. You get to learn history in a fun way, like why the royal brothers were feuding and how war affected the life of the citizenry, the types of armour and weapons they used in battle, how medieval towns were laid out, etc. Imagine if Malaysians had a game like this on Hang Tuah – like you had to go fight with Jebat or something – students would be so much more apt to remember history. And of course, the game is absolutely beautiful.
Henry and his punchable face (sorry, Tom McKay!) kind of grows on you as well. As frustrating as it was in the beginning, I started to enjoy leveling him up, and got real satisfaction from developing the character into a decent man-at-arms. The first time I was able to defeat three bandits on my own, I was ecstatic. It felt like the time and energy I had invested was finally paying off (Now if only I had the same zeal when it comes to real life lmaooo).
In short, KC:D is not a game for the faint-hearted, where you can hack and slash your way to glory. It is a game that requires skill and intelligence, not just in the way you complete quests (which can sometimes be resolved in multiple ways ie through violence or peaceful means), but also knowing which battles to fight, and when to fight them. In a funny twist of irony, this game teaches you that you need to work and put in the time in order to be good at something – exactly like real life.
*Course, the game can’t be 100% realistic. There are some pretty funny things that can happen (including bugs). One of my favourites was raiding a bandit camp and murdering everyone, then sleeping in the camp surrounded by their corpses (after looting them, of course) because my character (and the player, yours truly) was just too drained after all that fighting.