I’ve played many games with historical elements and many based in certain historical periods, but I don’t think I’ve ever come across a game that takes the historical angle as seriously, or to such lengths as Kingdom Come: Deliverance does.
Today, I spent 90 minutes with Tobias Stolz-Zwilling of Warhorse Studios. He walked me through some builds and answered every question I had. I didn’t know much about the game before going into the meeting, but after seeing what it’s got in store, I was quite impressed with their effort.
For starters, take the setting. The player steps into the role of a blacksmith’s son in a small village set in the early summer of 1403 in the area that is now known as the Czech Republic. I mean, how specific is that?!?
When watching an opening cinematic listing off events regarding power struggles and kings plotting for dominance, I laughed at some of it (to be fair, it was genuinely humorous) and when asked how they came up with it, it turned out it was all completely true historical fact. That took me by surprise, and led to me constantly questioning every aspect of the game to find out how much was real, and how much was fiction.
The answer: although it is a videogame and not meant to be a pure simulation, far, far more than I would’ve ever expected was firmly based in reality.
As an open-world, first-person RPG, the player will travel over parts of what was then called Bohemia. It looks like the sort of medieval land that a player would want to wander through and explore, but what blew me away was that all the locations were real — the towns, the castles… All of it. Apparently the dev team has hired a full-time historian to research facts, and they’ve gone to painstaking detail in order to recreate what the area looked like, and what sort of technology would have been around, and even what sort of foliage would have been present.
For example, there’s a monastery that plays a prominent role in one of the main missions. On one side of it is a long chute which the monks used as a toilet. Apparently they would to go the top floor, hang their bums off the side, and relieve themselves down the chute with the results landing in a heap at the bottom. On another side of the building was a crane used in medieval construction, powered by a man in a hamster wheel. I raised an eyebrow at this, but yes, again, it was all historically correct. When shown a picture of the same monastery in real life, the faithfulness of the in-game model was amazing.
This same attention to detail extends into the quest design and combat.
At one point, the main character needs to get into this monastery and the team had to consult with the historian to see what would’ve been possible at that time — Tobias was very specific in saying that the team did not want the player to ‘Press A To Become A Monk’, so they had to come up with quest logic that would’ve made sense in that context.
The combat shows equal care. It was mentioned that in battle, any farmer can kill you. It sounds a little goofy, but since this is a realistic title, the main character will never level up their health or gain toughness or abilities that would be beyond what a normal human being would have. Therefore, staying alive depends on skill with a blade and wearing appropriate armor. No matter how many quests the player might’ve completed, one well-placed axe strike to their head will still take them down.
During combat, the player will have to manage their sword in a more detailed fashion that most games attempt. It’s important to keep track of the angle at which they strike, where the blade ends up after the swing happens, and how they will strike as a follow-up. Hitting specific locations on enemies matters, and weapon types and armor types have different interactions.
Attacking full plate armor with a short sword has little effect, but whacking it with a giant hammer is a different story. This is enhanced by the armor system itself — the player will have to layer different elements in order to gain proper protection. The character had on a cotton shirt, a gambeson on top of that, and a piece of armor on top of that. All of those elements could be mixed and matched for various resistances, but the underlying message was that the gear is more than just a few numbers in the Armor stat.
Similarly, the player will have to be mindful of what they’re carrying, how much it weighs, and how big it is. Kingdom Come doesn’t let players have an encumbrance-free inventory, so if the player is wielding a large polearm or bastard sword, they’ll have to actually carry it. If they spot a nearby chest that needs picking, they’ll have to put the sword down in order to lockpick. If a wandering guard heard the commotion and comes to investigate, you’d better drop the pick and grab the sword with haste!
The quest system sounds rich, with a number of main/side quests, each having ramifications depending on whether certain characters are left alive, how the player chooses to solve the dilemma at hand, and so forth. There’s also a reputation system based on the deeds performed, and a lot of common sense and logic comes into play.
When trying to sneak into a bandit camp later in the demo, Tobias outlined several ways to approach the goal from any angle, stealthy or not, and all of them were possible depending on what the player wanted to do. Be sneaky? Sure thing, but strip that armor off first in order to be quieter. Frontal Assault? Good luck. Starting a fire on one side of camp to draw guards away from the other? Go for it.
Players will have quite a bit of leeway in order to solve quests, although they will have to be mindful of how their choice might affect other characters in the story, the population in general, or their own progression. For example, if the player chooses to infiltrate the monastery peacefully, there’s a chance of picking up reading, but it must be learned and practiced. If the player chooses to kill the monks rather than trying to work quietly amongst them, they’ll miss out on that opportunity. If the find a book or a scroll later? Nope, it’s just a jumble of letters to an illiterate barbarian.
Although Kingdom Come: Deliverance is still in beta it’s already looking fantastic, and with both feet firmly planted in historical fact, I’m guessing most players will find it to be a wildly different experience than they may expect – the blacksmith’s son starts out as a nobody, and by the time credits roll, he’s… slightly less of a nobody? Players will see real-world events unfold through his eyes, but he won’t end up as king of the land, and he’s certainly not a chosen one saving the world.
Oh, one last thing… Prospective players should avoid googling the conflict and events covered in Deliverance. Since it’s all real-world stuff that happened hundreds of years ago, European history sites and online encyclopedias are brimming with spoilers!
Kingdom Come: Deliverance will hit PS4, XBO and PC in 2017. In the meantime, you can find more info at the game’s site.