Kickstarter opened the gates to underserved gaming niches, allowing us gamers to vote directly with our wallets and see incredible games come to fruition. Not every game was a hit of course and even looking at my backing history there’s several titles in there that, had I known what they’d become, I would have put my cash somewhere else. Kingdom Come: Deliverance falls somewhere in the middle for me; on the one hand I can remember wanting to back this game as even at the concept stage it looked fantastic. However 4 years after I pledged to the Kickstarter campaign (at the Duke level) much of that hype had disappeared, lost in the some 100+ games I played in the interim. That’s possibly what has led to my lukewarm impressions of the game, even though I can definitely appreciate the amount of effort that Warhorse Studios put into it.
Kingdom Come: Deliverance starts off in the silver mining town of Skalitz with young Henry, a simple peasant, living under his mother and blacksmith father, Martin. After finishing some errands for his father, Henry joins him in completing a commissioned sword for King Wenceslaus’ hetman, Sir Radzig Kobyla. While Henry wishes to explore and see life outside of the village, Martin insists that a quieter life is much safer. Immediately after an army of Cuman and Czech soldiers under Sigismund of Luxembourg’s control attack and raid Skalitz, killing all who do not flee. Henry holds on to the sword and runs but later comes back for his mother and father, and witnesses their murder under Sigismund’s crony, Sir Markvart von Aulitz. Henry flees to the safety of the castle, but is too late, and is forced to ride out to the nearest castle of Talmberg.
Depending on what kind of rig you’re running it might not be immediately obvious that Kingdom Come is running on CryEngine. The reason is that, at least on the PC, the game wasn’t exactly optimised at launch. Now my PC is no slouch although it is just over 3 years old at this point but even it struggled to get things running properly with its default configuration (as the below screenshot will attest). Searching around the forums revealed that the game really, really struggles if it’s running on a traditional hard drive, even if that hard drive is say a RAID 10 array capable of 400MB/s throughput (like mine). Using a custom user.cfg file fixed most of the issues but moving it onto my main SSD fixed the rest. Even with all those fixed Kingdom Come is a game that, strangely, looks a lot better up close than it does from afar. Usually most games are the opposite. These issues run deeper than just the graphics though, something I’ll dive into a bit more later.
Kingdom Come: Deliverance is a true to its roots RPG, taking its inspiration more from the pen and paper variety rather than its more action oriented brethren. There’s a bevy of different stats for you to build up, each of which will require you to do certain things (like say, running to increase vitality) to level them up. Similarly there’s a lot of skills, many of which will require you to be trained in them first before you can start improving them. There’s the usual array of loot along with the requisite inventory management to go along with it. Combat also takes the form of more “traditional” medieval fights which typically means that taking on more than 1 or 2 enemies at a time is a recipe for disaster. There’s also a bunch of status mechanics like hunger, sleep and injuries, all of which will need to be addressed if you’re to stay in top fighting condition. I’m sure I’ve missed quite a few features in here too as the game is quite massive in scope and I’ve only seen a small fraction of it (for reasons I shall explain). All of this is presented in a period correct medieval setting, meaning there’s no magical powers or fantastical elements.
FPS games that deal in melee combat have always been somewhat awkward and Kingdom Come is no exception to this. The mechanics of it are pretty simple, you have an amount of stamina (tied to your current health, which is an interesting mechanic) which you use to throw punches, swing your sword and dodge/counter/block enemy attacks. With a sword or other weapon equipped you choose the direction of your strike which has a direct impact on your enemy’s ability to block it. What this results in is a game of cat and mouse with the NPCs, trying to figure out which angle to hit them from. I do get that they were going for a more realistic feel to what medieval combat would be like but it just wasn’t particularly enjoyable.
One feature that’s notably missing, and I think one that sucked a lot of the fun out of it for me, was an unlimited, on demand save. Whilst that’s changed in a recent patch (now with a save and exit function) it did mean that the game was a lot more laborious than it would otherwise be. There were a few times where I lost quite a bit of progress, whether due to my own fault or the numerous technical glitches, because the save point was quite a while back. This also meant that one of my more favourite things, quicksaving and then being a total jerk for no good reason, was stripped away. Say what you will about save scumming and what have you but things like that really do help to keep me engaged in games like this. With such a restrictive save system I no longer feel like experimenting or just having fun for 10 minutes before I break for the night. The save and exit feature somewhat addresses that but, honestly, without a quick save/load it’s really only a halfway solution.
This isn’t even mentioning the larger game design issues which made what was supposed to be the games opening hours more frustrating than they could be. You see an early mission requires you to pick a lock in order to get an item. No worries, you’re given some lock picks and a practice lock to work with to get going. So I spent a few minutes honing my skill until, unfortunately, I broke my lockpick. Alright, I thought, I’ll go into town and buy a new one. Not a single vendor in the town I was in had any and, looking up places to buy them showed that I’d probably have to spend another 30 minutes travelling (I didn’t have a horse) to get more. Great, that mission is now dead to me until I figure out a way around it. Sure it’s not like I couldn’t do other missions but these small issues are numerous and they all make Kingdom Come less enjoyable than it would otherwise be.
This isn’t to mention the numerous issues it has with performance, optimisation and game breaking glitches. In addition to the texture pop in issues the game will lag horrendously in cut scenes if you have G-Sync enabled, yet again requiring a custom config to fix. Lock picking, for some unknown reason, enables mouse acceleration meaning that you’ll need a custom mouse profile or something similar to counteract the effects (making that particular mini game incredibly frustrating). Timed events for NPCs will sometimes simply not work, like when I was told to go to the training ground to meet the captain. I waited next to it for 2 days and he never showed up, requiring me to restart the game to my last checkpoint and try again until it worked. I’m not the only one to experience weird behaviour like this either as many of the Let’s Play videos on YouTube will attest. I know that, as gamers, we’ve come to expect this kind of jank from large RPGs but that doesn’t excuse it. For some I can imagine these things are actually a source of fun but, for me, they just soured me even further on the whole experience.
Which is a right shame as the story seemed quite good. Sure it was relatively predictable how things were going to start but it was truly refreshing to play a game from the perspective of a nobody from nowhere with no prophecy or powers behind him. Careful attention was paid to fleshing out the world with bits of story, interesting conversation between NPCs and a range of dialogue options that were all dependant on how you built your character. Indeed I feel that I should probably wait another 6 months or so until the major issues have been patched out and the mods start rolling in, allowing me to mold the core game of Kingdom Come into something I’d enjoy. That way I could experience the story without having to worry about all the other elements I’m not so keen on.
To be sure Kingdom Come: Deliverance is a great game for a certain subset of gamers: those who’ve been lusting after a true to form RPG in a medieval setting. 4 years ago I thought I was one of them, my pledge on Kickstarter a testament to that, but since then it seems things have changed. I’ve become less tolerant of the jank that these large scale RPGs seem to bring with them, no longer wanting to have to deal with troubleshooting performance issues just so I can play the damn thing. I do recognise the amount of effort that goes into producing something like this though as there are many aspects of this game that I can appreciate for their objective quality. The attention to detail in the world and the story are two such elements, ones that I might be able to enjoy at a later date. If this is the first you’re hearing of Kingdom Come: Deliverance then the game might not be for you but for those Kickstarter faithful I’m sure they’ve got their moneys worth.
Kingdom Come: Deliverance is available on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One right now for $59.99. Game was played on the PC with a total of 5 hours play time and 8% of the achievements unlocked.
After lamenting the behavoir of nProtect’s Gameguard that comes bundled with Aion I got wind that the final closed beta event was taking place this weekend, and my next shot to have a look at this game would come on the 22nd of September. Being an impatient person I decided to give it a go. My experience shows the devastating faults that plague Aion’s choice of anti-cheat mechanism but once you get past that, the game is in fact quite a fulfilling experience. So much so that I have in fact pre-ordered the collector’s edition, although I must admit I’m a sucker for these as the Age of Conan and Warhammer: Age of Reckoning collector’s edition boxes now line my bookshelf.
I wish I could say that the install process was painless and was merely a minor speed bump in the Aion experience. It wasn’t and whilst I can understand that a beta operating system is the last thing you’d want to support it did leave a rather sour taste in my mouth when I spent a good 4 hours troubleshooting the cryptic errors GameGuard threw at me. In the end I grabbed a spare hard drive and installed Vista on it, which thankfully worked without incident. I’m sure once Windows 7 becomes official they’ll actually support it but the lack of official knowledge and almost disdainful look they take on people who dare try to run their game on a “beta” operating system is quite frustrating.
The first thing that sucks you in with Aion is the absolute beauty that is the CryENGINE. The visuals are stunning with the world filled with wonderful artwork and vibrant colour palette that is sure to anger many a Diablo II noir fans. The character customization screen is incredibly detailed which does make for some very comical results. This is the first game I’ve played where you’ve been able to drastically alter your character’s height and I chose to be of the taller persuasion. I didn’t really notice it until I saw someone who was little over half my height, something that you never really see in other MMOs where everyone is the same bar some facial features. You can also alter many of your other character’s aspects like arm, torso and leg size, hair style, facial construction and so on. Probably the most amusing thing you can do in this creator is independently modify you character’s appearance, say giving them incredibly bulky arms with a tiny chest and small legs. Here’s just a small example of the character creator gone horribly wrong.
Combat for the most part in Aion is your standard MMO affair. As Yahtzee Croshaw so succinctly put it you are really just whacking on each other until one of you falls down. The skill chains part is an attempt to spice up the combat and does a decent job of keeping you entertained through the button mashes. I must admit my favourite combat system so far was Age of Conan’s as it kept you focused on the game but Aion does bring something slightly different to the tired repetition of button mashing. I’m sure at higher levels there is a bit more variety however.
In order to alleviate some of the grind from questing Aion includes a “locate” feature for quest givers, items and mobs. Some quests lack this (usually the “fetch me my lost shovel” type) but the majority of them allow you to find where you need to go without too much hassle. Whilst it a little lacking when compared to something like WAR and AoC’s quest systems it is still better than say World of Warcrafts. The inventory system in Aion could use some improvement as the only way to expand your inventory is by talking to a “Cube Artisan”, who can add 9 slots for a certain cost. This wouldn’t be a problem except there’s no way to ask a guard where a cube artisan might be, so you have to forage them out yourself.
This brings me to one of my “on the fence” points that I have about Aion: there’s no real tutorial system. After creating your character there’s a short movie setting up your back story and then you’re plonked in a field with little direction of what you need to do. Seasoned MMORPGers won’t have any trouble however it’s not the big things like combat and questing that need explaining it’s the little nuances that set the game apart. Something like the rest skill which is akin to eating and drinking in WoW is never explained to you, and caused my first hour or so to be much more laborious than it should have been. A couple quick pointers in the right direction could make the first tiny steps through Aion that much more pleasurable.
Up until level 10 you’re still just a run of the mill human trying to make your way through the world. However upon reaching level 9 or so you get sent on a couple missions to ascend to a Daeva. This is when you get to specialise your class from you base type to one of two choices. My character was a Warrior and had the choice of a Gladiator (a melee DPS) or Templar (tank) from which I chose the Templar. This instantly grants you more skills and the ability to fly, something which Aion has made a great deal of noise about when marketing the game. Your graduation to Daeva is marked with a cut scene as are many of the quests scattered through Aion. It’s a great addition to the game as it helps to break up the grind especially after a couple hours of play. My only gripe about them is some feel like rushed additions and don’t add much if you read the quest text, but ones like the Daeva ceremony are quite spectacular.
Overall Aion provides a very pleasurable gaming experience that does not try to remake things that work well and innovates in those unexplored areas. Whilst my experience was limited to only the first 12 levels or so I still got a taste of what Aion has to offer and I’m keenly awaiting the full release so I can experience the PvPvE content that NCsoft has alluded to. The storyline grabs you in and is heavily centered around your character and whilst the Harry Potter-esque “everyone knows you’re special except you” is a little cliched, it does help to make you feel important in the world of Aion.
Aion will be released on the 23rd of September 2009 in Australia with a special 48 hour head start for those who preorder the game. It’s also available on Steam for US$49.99 and comes with one months game time, which is decent value and I’d highly reccomend giving it a go. Of course as with any MMO it will suck all the life out of you, but where would the fun be if it didn’t? 😉
P.S. I’ve updated the comments system to now have formatting available and also, you can edit your own comments for 5 minutes after they’ve been published so you can catch spelling mistakes and what not. Also if you register you can edit your comments for much longer!