Kingdom Come: Deliverance is an incredibly ambitious video game. At its core, it's a first person role playing game set in a digitally recreated 15th century Europe that tells the story of a young man seeking revenge against those responsible for the death of his parents and fellow villagers. Scratch the surface, however, and you’ll find a gaming experience filled to the brim with unique mechanics, meaty gameplays systems, and strong ties to a nation’s cultural, political, and religious history. Further distancing itself from other games of this type, like The Witcher or Skyrim, is an AI that marches to its own drum. Where most video games wait for the player to interact with them to trigger a script or event, Deliverance was made to make the player feel involved with living, breathing world where people, events, and wars carry on with or without you.
Deliverance is a product of its peoples. Developed by Warhorse Studios, which is based in Prague, the game is tightly connected to events that occurred in Bohemia (located inside the area of the modern Czech Republic) during 1403. After the death of King Charles IV, his eldest son Wenceslas IV (related to the titular “Good King Wenceslas”) is chosen to rule the kingdom of Bohemia. That is, until his half brother Sigismund tricked and imprisoned the man and launched an invasion into his lands. During this war, Henry--the game’s main character--bears witness to the brutality of the invaders as his parents and entire village are mercilessly slaughtered. As the sole survivor, Henry takes it upon himself to investigate the attack. The road to revenge is a long and difficult one, proving that life in the 15th century was certainly no picnic.
In that regard, the game isn’t a RPG the same way Skyrim is. In fact, the whole experience feels similar to the character development and role play inherent to Dungeons and Dragons. This isn’t the sort of game where you can expect to hack and slash your way through bandit camps and woo royal ladies with your rugged good looks. That is, Deliverance is not a romanticized vision of life as a shining knight--heck, Henry isn’t a knight to begin with but rather the son of a village blacksmith. History is bloody and the game is reflective of that with scenes of senseless brutality as bloody corpses are trodden deep into the mud and muck, their lives thrown away by greed and power grabs. As such, respect will be hard won for Henry as a besieged people have very little reason to trust you. Only by talking to folks, performing deeds to earn their good will, and develop Henry’s character stats will earn you the renown.
The emphasis on Henry’s skills and traits was best evidenced during conversations with the game’s NPCs. There are a lot of stats to keep track of and invest in should you wish to have successful and meaningful interactions with people. For example, I was told that nobles are programmed to dismiss the lower class and will have an adverse reaction to your presence unless you play to their vanity by equipping fancy clothes and expensive jewelry. Talking with your common man is easier though again, they need a reason to trust and/or care about your line of questioning. Wearing dirty clothes or brandishing a bloody sword might cause them to recoil in fear (but maybe earn you a soldier’s respect), so keep your gear clean and be polite if you want to get anywhere with people. Clean or not, a person’s attitude towards Henry is reflective in their dialog. You’ll know if they don’t like you and during my demo, I experienced my fair share of rudeness.
There is more to interaction than how good your clothes look. No outfit, be it beautiful or outlandish, will get you anywhere without the stats to back you up. The success and failure of conversations are measured against four stats that determine the chances for success. These stats are measured in numerical values that change as you level Henry up and select abilities and bonuses from a skill tree. And yet, higher numbers don’t necessarily mean you’ll succeed the encounter. Something else I noticed in game was that an NPC’s stats are presented as question marks. Speaking with a studio rep, I was told that to uncover these numbers, you’ll want to talk to other people who will give you the necessary background on the person in question. That’s not a requirement but if you want to get the best results out of your interactions, it doesn’t hurt to do a little leg work.
As if the simple task of talking to people wasn’t granular enough, combat is treated with an especially deliberate hand. Rather than swing a sword around wildly until the target is dead, the game uses a Mount & Blade-esque scheme intended to reflect real world sword play of the era. By aligning the left analog stick in a particular direction, you’ll swing your weapon to strike or defend from an incoming attack. The only battle I saw was over pretty quickly because the target wasn’t wearing much armor (those wearing plate armor are a different story). Bringing it all back to player stats, depending on how you’ve been molding Henry, it’s entirely possible to avoid combat altogether. I was told that conflict could be resolved without taking a sword to someone’s face. It helps to make the player feel responsible for their actions. If you want to be a violent killer who takes a sword to everyone that crosses your path, you’re free to do so. Or, you can be a paragon of virtue and justice in a chaotic land, spending as much time as possible to keep the peace and solve other people’s problem with a minimum of violence.
Even though I was watching a controlled demo, I still felt decidedly overwhelmed by what the developers were promising me. During the initial pitch, I could feel my anxiety increasing after being told that it is possible to miss out on quests if you dawlde too much. The game’s opening quest is a good example. When news reaches a castle that a local village was attacked, Henry is tasked with accompanying the captain of the guard to the site. The captain will only wait so long before heading out without the player, causing them to miss out on dialog or plot developments. Nevertheless, I am intrigued by the entire product. By the looks of things, this is a passion project for Warhorse Studios as they build a world with strong connections to their home land. There’s an attention to detail that extends beyond the familiar line of, “We took satellite photos of the area and rebuilt it in game!” Deliverance does that and then some: all of the trees and flowers, are native to the country. Someone from the area could literally look at a tree and think, “those are our trees.” That, I think, it’s pretty damn charming. That same level of attention to detail is also reflective in the art assets. The world map is presented in an art style typical of the time period and the studio even went as far as to scan real world art pieces from the time period and put them in game.
Kingdom Come: Deliverance is shaping up to be a humongous game that promises the moon. Though it seemed daunting, I found myself chomping at the bits to play more because I’m attracted by its granular interaction and the mechanics of a world that exists on its own whether or not you choose to directly participate. Though the build I saw was over a month old, the game is set for a February release date--which is really soon. I hope Warhorse gets everything tightened up and squared away in time because this has the potential to be a hearty gaming feast.
Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.