Henry isn’t a particularly remarkable character. In fact, it’s just how unremarkable he is that is the most remarkable thing about him! The son of a blacksmith in medieval Bohemia – that’s the Czech Republic to us 21st century types – he finds himself swept up, as so many have, in a war between half brothers for the crown. He’s an unlikely protagonist, by dint of being a young man with no training to speak of, and there’s no chance of becoming a duke, or rising through the ranks of the army. You’re just a boy who feels indebted to his lord and honour-bound to fight for him.
Henry’s story in the game doesn’t exactly start off too rosily. His town is destroyed, his family killed, he’s left for dead and then he even gets held up by bandits who steal the last sword his father had created. He was trying to deliver it to his lord Sir Radzig, but instead turns up empty handed – Sir Radzig also isn’t having a good time, having been ousted from his own castle and retreated to a neighbouring ally. It’s no wonder that Henry’s insistence on trying to retrieve the sword sees him being called foolhardy, but maybe this naive fool can be useful?
So it’s off to training with a sword and training with a bow. Playing with a first person view, sword combat has a degree of common ground with that seen in For Honor, as you shift between five directional stances and jabbing to try and find and opening in your opponent’s guard or to try and counter their stance and incoming blows. Simply guarding and automatically parrying is also a possibility, but a drain on your stamina, which is all-important in winning a fight, while hitting parry at the right time can open them up to a flurry of attacks. It’s a deep and fascinating system, and one that’s not difficult to comprehend, but definitely tricky to master.
Picking up a bow and arrow is a more challenging prospect initially, as you have no crosshairs and no real way to steady your aim. It’s no wonder that my attempted shots were all wayward as I tried to figure out the point at which I should aim, how much the arrows will drop, and so on. A challenge against a cocky nobleman who mocked my archery skills didn’t exactly go my way, but I made up for it by showing him up with the sword.
A large part of the appeal to the game is that Warhorse Studios are set on creating an RPG that leans towards realism more than most medieval fantasies would. The world works on its schedule regardless of what you do, so reporting for training can only happen at certain times of day, and while you can let time skip forwards until the next day, your rest and nourishment meters drain. Even simple levelling up is done on a per skill basis, where sword fighting improves sword fighting, talking to people can improve your persuasiveness, and so on. The important thing is to know when and where they can twist reality and bend the truth.
An in house historian has largely kept them honest, so while the designers would have dearly loved to let you march into a still under construction monastery and have a fight, in the name of realism that wasn’t possible. Instead they’ve spun it so that Henry joins the monastery under an assumed name to try and root out a wanted criminal. Here he’ll have to follow the daily routine of the monks, from praying and singing hymns to learning to read, while also trying to figure out which of the other new acolytes is there under false pretences.
Back in the army and I was dropped right into a fight as Sir Radzig led a small group of his troops against a bandit and Cumin encampment. If there’s one point of potential concern, it’s for the scope of the game to result in a lack of polish. The battle can be altered by so many factors depending on your actions prior to the attack. You could find lots of information out about the enemy, sabotage them by poisoning the water supply, burn down a wooden set of stairs and barricades, and so on. However, it did feel a bit stilted as the soldiers moved from one clear section to the next, to the point of forming up just a few meters apart and then entering into a messy melee.
While there’s nuance to fighting one on one, a lot of that is lost when you can happily skirt round the edges of the fight, preying on exposed flanks. It’s certainly a valid tactic, and one that’s probably for the best if you’d like to keep your skin, but the relatively cautious combat system maybe isn’t the best suited to this kind of mass fighting. There’s a general chaos to the melee, even if you try to take a back seat, and it’s easy to find yourself caught out by archers that you didn’t spot deciding to target you.
Though I was only able to catch a few glimpses of different parts of the game, it’s great to see the game finally coming together after several years of development. Warhorse Studios have really grown dramatically to try and achieve the scope of what they want to accomplish. A hugely ambitious, gorgeous medieval RPG with its boots firmly planted in reality, Kingdom Come: Deliverance is one to keep an eye on for the start of 2018.