Band of Bastards lost me somewhere between a joke about wanking – how to get a “well-polished helmet” before battle – and a long, boring description of a land boundary dispute.
The best thing I can say about Kingdom Come: Deliverance’s latest DLC is that it’s an excuse to revisit one of the best games of last year, and while stumbling through its half-baked story I’ve filled up my journal with 20 other, more interesting quests to return to. But alone, it’s a pointless romp through the countryside with annoying characters you couldn’t possibly care about. I’d almost rather just pay the £7 for the shiny new armour you get at the end and be done with it.
Sir Radzig Kobyla is having trouble with raiders, and he’s enlisted the help of a band of mercenaries led by Baron Kuno of Rychwald to keep the peace. Kuno’s men are a wild bunch and so Sir Radzig asks you, Henry of Skalig, to babysit them, guiding their raids and making sure they behave themselves.
I like the idea of roaming the countryside with a merry group of warriors and, occasionally, Band of Bastards makes you feel like part of the gang. They’ve set up camp just south of Ledetchko and given you a bedroll to kip on, and I enjoyed lazing about watching their routine. The Stone, who can’t talk because he’s lost his tongue, gets up earlier than the others to sit at a wooden bench eating breakfast alone, and at one point you can play a game of dice to win a fancy hat from Fletcher, a master archer.
The problem is that the band aren’t simply bastards, they’re insufferable dicks. As they charge into battle they make jokes about sleeping with each other’s mothers – it’s as if the dialogue is written by a child who has just discovered what all the Naughty Words mean, and who giggles every time they hear the word 'fuck'.
The Bearman brothers, Petr and Jan, are the worst offenders. On one patrol, a group of bandits is raiding a village, and a survivor comes running across a field to your party, begging for help. She tells you that the bandits are raping the women, and that you need to act fast. “I’m sure your friends won’t be getting nothing they ain’t had before,” says one of the brothers. “Well, unless they be nuns!”
After the exchange, Kuno decides to hold off attacking the bandits – the ones currently raping the women of the village – because he wants to give the raiders more time to get drunk, which will make them easier to kill. You’re the sole voice of reason, eventually convincing the group to attack, but the whole episode just made me want to leave the group behind. I hated them, and my only reason for staying was that Sir Radzig, my boss, had asked me to. It was pure busywork.
It’s not the fact they’re evil that’s the problem; it’s that they have no redeeming qualities. Just look to the main game for an example of how to do it well: Sir Hans Capon is your arrogant arch nemesis for the first five hours, and you want to punch him every time he turns his snooty nose up and makes a jibe about your family. But as the story unfolds, you get a window into his past, and he opens up about his struggles with the noble life. By the halfway point of the story, he was my favourite character.
In Band of Bastards, there’s no time for that arc to emerge. The characters just come in to Henry’s life, vomit swear words, and leave again abruptly, never changing in the three or four hours you spend with them. You only get the odd moment during downtime to ask the crew about why they joined the gang, which involves walking between saying, literally, “tell me a little about yourself”. It’s like the worst speed dating event imaginable.
The quests are dull, too, not deviating from what you’ve played in the base game: you go on a series of patrols to investigate reports of bandits, and they all end in a giant swordfight.
It’s a reminder of how woeful Kingdom Come: Deliverance’s combat system is when you’re fighting in big groups. The camera locks to one enemy, which makes it impossible to see another that’s about to cave your head in from the side. Enemies likewise have tunnel vision for you, and three or four will gang up on you at a time. All you can do is backpedal, hoping that your allies can run in and poke them from behind.
When you’re locked onto an enemy, the parry prompt will appear even if that enemy isn’t attacking, presumably because another unseen foe is about to whack you from the side. But hitting the button doesn’t block the damage – you’ll just flail uselessly, which normally prompts a flurry of attacks that leave you in a never-ending stagger.
Occasionally, it swings the other way. Enemies will ignore you and focus exclusively on the rest of the gang, letting you casually stroll between them and skewer their livers. It’s less frustrating, but no more fun.
And, as you’d expect from Kingdom Come: Deliverance, there are plenty of bugs. When I played the final battle, most of Kuno’s men spawned without weapons and had to resort to fisticuffs, despite them being fully-armed in the preceding cutscene. When the battle ended, I parted ways with the gang only for them to attack me for no reason (when I reloaded, they kept their blades sheathed). Earlier in the quest, I started brawling with one of the Bearman brothers for a bet – the fight went on so long that the rest of the gang packed up and went home, which meant I lost my chance to make my rounds of the camp.
In the end, I’m glad I played Band of Bastards, but only because it’s got me invested in Henry’s fate again. My inventory is full of new items, and the armour you get at the end of the quest looks very fancy indeed. It’ll be my garb of choice for at least the next ten hours – and by that point, I’ll have forgotten all about Kuno, and Fletcher, and the Bearman brothers. Good riddance.