Kingdom Come Deliverance blindsided me with an alternative take on the Medieval world, rarely has a game take this time period and focused on the more Germanic side of Europe. Growing up we are taught of this romantic land of chivalry, heroics, and duty. Never noting and even ignoring of the gritty and muddled reflections that mirror from the sources. Instead, we take a fantasy approach to this world. Which why a game like this intrigued me. The game takes place in a small area in the modern Czech Republic, the character isn’t some knight but just a peasant. This son of a blacksmith while having the desire for more has no real path to it and only has basic sword training. That is until when war arrives in his town when the army of the half-brother of the Holy Roman Emperor has attacked the town. The player character now must roam Bohemia in a revenge plot in what the developers designed as an “accurate” world. Accuracy reflects somewhat in the day to day than in the narrative. The accuracy is almost comical at times such as your character being unable to read signs due to being illiterate which can be remedied (by teaching him Latin apparently). The world around you feels dirty and timely. Walking the streets, you feel like the renaissance fair is forever. In his quest, the character isn’t just given space next to lord he’s known since childhood. He starts at the almost the bottom of the military with quests to get him into his regiment. No special knight units, no promotions just a soldier.
History is static and impossible to change regardless of the character’s actions. The advantage that the studio has with using this setting is they get to constrain the story to a person’s tale. The effects of the event that happens to your character do not escalate to Prague, that 3 km area is your home. The story is about you retrieving your father’s sword and a vengeance that feels unreachable. Your status is always there even if you are monetarily rich, there’s no real chance to buy property, you’re stuck in this life as a peasant/soldier would. A seemingly simple but impossibly difficult task of regaining a sword while in the middle of a power struggle is intuitive. There’s no huge payoff and the game gives you no indication that there will be. The hero’s tale is simpler in that sense than the grandiose display of other stories based in Medieval time. Living in feudalism is very gritty and this is where the realism goes wrong.
Where this game falls apart is it uses history as a sort of bind on society. Women function more like objects for the player with no real positions of power or agency. While there are female characters, they are mostly there for romancing options and not much story related purpose. The main woman in the character’s life is pretty much a damsel in distress and a sex object, never being involved in character’s journey once that branch of quests is complete even though the quests hint at a relationship. There’s a quest line for a noble’s wife with the only reason for doing it is to sleep with her after she talks to you following your village being destroyed. After these quests, they function as quest givers, barmaids and bathhouse servants.
Another aspect of this game is its representation of religion as the Holy Roman Empire is controlled by the Pope, Catholicism plays a part in the lives of the characters, churches are used in some missions but the big one is a drunken and scandalous night with a priest. After the priest is too drunk to do his sermon, he has you repeat words he’d heard from Jan Hus in Prague. It calls into question the corruption of churches and the priests but never delves any deeper and the people who relentlessly cheered for you never bring it up again. A deeper conversation is buried in a comedy side quest that more resembles Medieval Animal House or an Andrew WK song in the Middle Ages. The point becomes mute right after this quest and wasn’t mentioned much prior.
Overall Kingdom Come focuses on a more gameplay and the difficulty the “realism” makes it. While that, in turn, makes the gameplay fun, the history of the game is mostly background noise in a game that screams a personal story. The game lives in the homosocial space while not really giving the character true historical agency.