Hands On Kingdom Come: Deliverance’s Historical Role Playing

From the lush and verdant fields to the thick forests and castles that dominate the rolling hills, your typical gamer would easily assume that Kingdom Come: Deliverance is a fantasy RPG. That assumption is only half true though, and while it is an RPG, the only fantasy comes from fictional characters and actions within a historical context.

Set in the early 15th century, the Kingdom of Bohemia and the Holy Roman Empire face a tumultuous period after the death of Charles IV and the unpopular rule of his son, Wenceslaus IV. There’s fighting amongst the nobility, with Sigismund of Luxembourg and his army of nomadic Cuman warriors causing trouble.

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Those worries, however, are far above your station. Viewing the world through the eyes of Henry, playing the game from the first person as the lowly son of a blacksmith, you’re initially seeking revenge for the death of his father. However, he soon comes to have a role in the army of Sir Radzig Kobyla, his liege lord, and does the bidding of his captain, Sir Robard. He won’t rise in rank or station through the game, but his actions will help to shape the future of Talmberg and nearby regions.

That’s fascinating in and of itself, to be a cog in the machine as opposed to being the most important and pivotal person in the story. The beta, which will be made available to backers on March 3rd, drops you into a nice, big slice of the full game’s world, as Henry is on the tail of bandits who have been raiding farms in the area.

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There’s a great emphasis on dialogue and talking to people in the game, so as you head into the village alongside the castle, you’ll be asking people about this man named Reeky – he’s a tanner’s son, would you believe, and he pongs a bit. Some people will be more useful than others, pointing you to Reeky’s family, perhaps, or giving you the name of a girl he’s known to hang out with.

The RPG elements and character stats can come to the fore during this, just as they will affect many other parts of the game. You’ll be able to try and take conversations in different directions, depending on your conversational skills, as you try to persuade, intimidate, impress or straight up bribe someone with information that they’re holding back. Naturally, there are plenty of other stats to worry about.

There’s an impressive degree of thought that’s been put into so many aspects of Kingdom Come, so that while it’s still quite clearly a game, it edges just a little bit closer to reality here and there. You can use alchemy labs to make potions from herbs, but must go through the process of boiling the base liquid, adding the ingredients in order and in the form that they need to be, all to the instructions of the recipe book.

Speaking of books, Henry can’t even read to start off with, and it was explained to me that this is represented by garbled text whenever you try to. However, as you learn, the text gradually becomes less garbled, actual words come to the fore and you, the player, can start to interpret what the still disguised text means.

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While Reeky is in the same place, how you find where he’s hiding depends on the leads you follow. One person might be able to tell you exactly where he is and mark it on your map – you’ll never have an overt visual prompt in the world though – but another might have a hazier memory, giving you a long, seemingly endless list of instructions to try and follow, with plenty of trees next to streams and large rocks that you apparently “can’t miss”. It’s a nice touch, and removes an all too common crutch of simply having to head to a waypoint, though you might not think so if you weren’t paying attention and managed to get lost in a quite a gorgeous looking forest.

However, while following leads, digging up clues and talking to people will be a major part of the game, sometimes you will simply have to rely on combat to solve a situation. The game bases this on HEMA – Historical European Martial Arts – and a fairly intuitive directional system, based around a star which pops up in the centre of the screen when your sword is drawn.

You can swing from any of the five points of the star, as well as stab through the middle, but this is a relatively cautious dance, to strike when you can land blows or when parrying and able to launch a counter attack. It can be really quite hard to get to grips with, and it’s important to know when you back off and regain your health-limited stamina – take damage and you’ll be able to perform fewer quick attacks. However, there’s other variations, with short sword and shield, maces, axes, and even bow and arrow.

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It’s a pleasingly involved system when fighting one on one, but you’re at a serious disadvantage when outnumbered, and there’s something to be said for the potential scale of the battles in the game. Eventually I managed to track down their camp, and advised Henry’s liege lord on how many soldiers should be taken into the attack. There were dozens of men fighting, with archers raining down arrows, leaving you able to add to this and engage or be engaged in combat.

And yet this battle is just another fascinating example of the branching story and the persistence built into the world. There are only a finite number of soldiers garrisoned at the castle, and once they’re dead, they’re dead. You don’t need to join the attack or defeat the bandit group’s leader, but other soldiers might pick him up later.

It goes further than just numbers of people, with a reputation system that works, not just on a global scale, but spreads dynamically from person to town, to region and onwards, and behaves differently if you’ve been caught performing criminal acts. An unsolved murder or two can change attitudes to you and see people starting to arm themselves.

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The one caveat to all of this is that the game is still deep in development. CryEngine 3 does a fantastic job of rendering the world, but the largely unoptimised beta is very intensive and demands a top tier PC for good performance. It scales down, of course, but it’s a deeply ambitious looking game that will pose Warhorse problems as they try to bring it to console. The plan is still to release on PC this summer, with a console release down the line, but that might be held back for a simultaneous release.

Most importantly, Kingdom Come: Deliverance shows that you don’t need dragons and magic for your RPG to be cool. Going the other way completely and grounding it in history, with branching stories and dialogues, fascinating systems and involved combat is just as, if not even more interesting to me.

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2 Comments

  1. This seems really interesting still. Which is good as I’m a Kickstarter backer. It’s just a shame o haven’t got a PC to run this Beta. Also a shame as of early on Warhorse have said there isn’t going to a third person view on it. Anyway I look forward to Kingdom Come: Deliverance coming to Ps4.

  2. I’ve been waiting to hear about this game! I remember seeing a YouTube video of early footage ages ago. Graphics look fantastic and I love the idea of it not holding your hand with things such as way points. Will definitely consider buying this when it’s fully released.

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