Hands-On: Kingdom Come: Deliverance is a tough, realistic medieval RPG

For better or worse, any open world RPG with a medieval setting is going to be compared to The Witcher 3 or Skyrim. Those are both great games, but despite the swords, horses, and explorable world, Kingdom Come: Deliverance couldn’t be more different.

I had a chance to watch a presentation from the developers and had some hands-on time with Kingdom Come: Deliverance, and what I played was unlike any first-person RPG I’ve encountered. The emphasis in this game is realism, which is an exciting twist that I’ve never seen executed in quite this way.

A World of Realism

When you think medieval RPG, you probably think of combat against hordes of magical beasts, or maybe crazy summons, JRPG style. Kingdom Come: Deliverance is not that. At all.

The focus on realism in Kingdom Come: Deliverance begins with the setting. It takes place in central European Bohemia after the death of Emperor Charles IV. Wenceslas is on the throne now, and sensing opportunity, the King of Hungary kidnaps the unpopular monarch, and proceeds to plunder the land.

Amidst all of this Game of Thrones-ey political intrigue, you play Henry, an unassuming son of a blacksmith. After a raid led by the King of Hungary, everyone is massacred (except you of course), and it’s your job to get revenge.

It’s a fairly standard video game story, with the advantage of taking place in a more realistic version of history than something like Assassin’s Creed. Liberties with reality are still taken of course, and Henry never existed, but it’s certainly a cool setting for history buffs.

The realistic setting is only the beginning. There are no wizards, no magic or mythical beasts; you’ll be fighting humans and occasional wildlife. Henry is not trying to become king, or fulfill some cosmic destiny, he’s just a grieved son who wants his world back, and is willing to fight for it.

That fighting is where things get real interesting, not to mention challenging.

Fight To Survive

This is a first-person game, and that includes combat. If you’re thinking of Skyrim’s simple hack-and-slash fighting, don’t. This is a very different animal.

Depending on the weapon and armor you choose, combat varies dramatically, though your strategy doesn’t change all that much. It all comes down to the combat rose, a five-pointed on-screen indicator that shows where the opponent is vulnerable. This indicator represents the head, the limbs, and the torso, and depending on what’s highlighted, that’s what you want to get stabby with.

It sounds simple, and it kind of is, but it’s also immensely challenging and quite fun once you figure out how the system works. Fans of punishing and tactical combat should have a field day with this one.

Combat strategy varies depending on the weapon you choose, (sword, maul, bow, spear, etc.) and the armor both combatants are wearing. Speaking of armor, that commitment to realism mentioned earlier extends to your combat abilities as well.

For example, if you pick heavy armor, your view will be obfuscated by your visor, making you stronger but visually restricted. This is the kind of realistic touch and attention to detail I look forward to seeing more of in the final game. 

Combat is very much at the heart of Kingdom Come: Deliverance, and though I certainly didn’t master it in the limited time I had, I had a good time learning its intricacies.

Other Gameplay

Outside of combat, Kingdom Come: Deliverance is a bit of a more traditional open world RPG. The area I explored in my hands-on demo was the starting village, but there’s a whole world out there to explore, and many people to interact with. The way you choose to handle those people depends on the dialogue choices you make. This has obviously been done before, but Warhorse is promising a more in depth system than a simple branching dialogue tree.

This game is supposed to feel much more organic. For example, if you lose a fight during a mission, the fight is lost, and the game continues. Your options become more limited, and now you have to figure out another way to accomplish your objective. This extends to every interaction. In short, your failures and successes sculpt the world around you. It’s much more exciting than a simple pass/fail.

It’s certainly an ambitious system, and if the game can pull it off, it will be a very interesting. If your first thought when reading about this feature was how to circumvent it by spamming quicksave, Warhorse is a step ahead of you. In order to quicksave you have to drink a strong liquor, and doing that excessively will make you drunk and sick, thereby punishing you for relying on quick save as a crutch to escape from the repercussions of your actions.

I was unable to see this feature in action, but that inventive solution represents the kind of out of the box thinking that could help to set this game apart in the crowded RPG market.

A detailed medieval world

Warhorse is a smaller studio, so I was quite surprised by how excellent the open world looked. Using CryEngine, the studio has crafted a beautifully lush and verdant world judging from what I’ve seen. Exploration has always been my favorite part of open world games, so being able to that in visual luxury is always appreciated, and the team should be commended for such attention to detail in the environments.

Unfortunately, that level of detail doesn’t extend to the character models. Their clothes and accessories look amazing, the detailed stitching and period appropriate garb are fantastic, but the models themselves are very deep in the uncanny valley, looking just inhuman and awkward enough to be distracting. To be fair, the game is far from done, so hopefully additional emphasis will be placed on bringing the character models up to the level of the lovely environments.

Challenging in the Right Ways

Kingdom Come: Deliverance is promising to be a very feature rich game, and if the studio can pull off all of the different interlocking systems, it has the potential to make quite a splash. The emphasis on realism already sets it apart, and the challenging, easy to understand but difficult to master combat is sure to please fans of punishing fights. The beautiful environments should provide a lovely sandbox in which to enjoy that combat, and I’m looking forward to seeing what secrets are out there for poor unfortunate Henry to discover.

There was certainly some roughness around the edges as it to be expected from a game still in development, including some weird glitches and the iffy character models. But the focus for Kingdom Come: Deliverance is on the sophisticated character interactions and the engaging combat. I’m hoping it’s not too ambitious for its own good, but from what I saw there is a lot here to like, and when those systems come together it’s really fun.

For example, I punched a horse (sorry PETA) that was happily eating some hay. The owner, who was plowing his field nearby, screamed, and the guards came after me and killed me quickly. The fact that none of that was scripted made me think Warhorse might be able to pull this off.

I’m looking forward to dropping back into this 15th century world, and we’ll keep you posted as we learn more.

You’ll be able to pick up Kingdom Come: Deliverance for PC, Xbox One, and PS4 on February 13, 2018.

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