Warhorse Studios' Kingdom Come: Deliverance is a game that has garnered a lot of attention since its hugely successful Kickstarter in 2014, and since then fans have been eagerly awaiting more news about a game that does what many games don't: it uses a medieval setting but without the magic (something described to us as "Dungeons, but no Dragons"). At E3 this year Gamereactor watched a presentation of the game, as well as had the chance to play it for ourselves. After having both seen and played it, this unusual approach to the genre seems rather promising.
In the game you play as Henry, the son of a blacksmith, who becomes embroiled in a large-scale conflict in the Kingdom of Bohemia after his village is burned to the ground. From what we gather this then becomes a 'zero to hero' sort of affair, with Henry going from his simple day-to-day life to the large scale conflict between figures of power such as Charles IV, Wenceslaus IV, and Sigismund, but Warhorse were keen not to give too much away about how the story evolves.
Many of the characters you interact with are actual historical figures, as the game takes place in 1403, but Henry's story is a fictional insertion into these grand events. Warhorse's commitment to historical realism extends beyond the plot, though, as they've used satellite imagery to recreate the map you explore, a village called Stříbrná Skalice, using historical research to recreate the appearance of the village right down to the fine details, upping the immersion levels dramatically. Even the dice game in Kingdom Come is based on an old Czech game, so every nook and cranny has been carefully considered.
After this overview was explained to us, we were then shown the opening section of the game, with Henry going about his daily life before chaos erupts. Here the RPG elements of the game are gradually introduced to the player, as you wake up and have to explain to your mother what you've been doing. A little like the GOAT test in Fallout, your answers help determine what playstyle you're good at, and this was a neat little feature that integrated character building seamlessly into the story from the outset.
This continues when you leave the house, as you then bump into several figures that show you how your role can be played. For example, the local troublemaker, Kunesh, owes your father money, and you can interact with him in a number of ways (this section has been tried previously by Gamereactor). If you're more into intimidation and strength, for example, you can try to threaten him, with a higher likelihood of success if you've advanced your skill levels in these areas. You can also try a more subtle approach, as the former route led to a fistfight which you may want to avoid.
On that note, the impression you make on the people that you meet leads to some of the most interesting aspects of the game, as we were told that these would influence people dramatically. For example, if you walk around with blood on your armour or your sword out, people will be afraid of you, and in the same vein if you're walking around in peasant's clothing you'll be turned away from all nobility and not taken seriously. This awareness of attire and impressions bolsters the realism the game's going for significantly, and it's nice to see this taken into account.
Other aspects of the roleplaying side of things include dice games, as we mentioned, as well as the lack of fail states. If you get beaten by Kunesh in a fistfight, for example, it's not a failed mission, but instead, you need to then pursue different options, like breaking into his house to get something to sell for money. This should hopefully make the game flow a bit more organically and become less frustrating if you don't pull a risky tactic off, while also encouraging you to invest wisely in skills so you're not forced into a tactic you're not comfortable with.
In terms of combat, a tutorial of which was included in the playable demo, this is directional and therefore encourages tactical attacks rather than button mashing. The reticule on your screen includes five points, up, left, right, bottom left, and bottom right, which are the directions you both attack and block. This means that you have to pay attention not only to what you're doing in combat, but also your enemy, seeing their openings and where they'll be hitting you from, a welcome difference to other RPGs which have far less tactical options other than perhaps a wide range of weapons.
Skirmish was another mode shown off in the demonstration, and this placed you right in the middle of a large-scale battle between two different armies. We weren't shown too much about this mode, but rather than focusing just on your own attacks in terms of melee fighting, there was a lot of emphasis on the larger-scale battles and the tactics that come with that, as well as your own personal fighting style. We'd like to see how this develops, as we anticipate this will play into the grand story in the campaign, but for now we liked the glimpse we saw.
Visually the game looks detailed already, especially in regards to the setting, as everything from the buildings to the lighting is shaping up nicely indeed. The UI, however, goes down a different route, as it's based on Medieval manuscripts, including the map and character profiles. This works well to increase immersion in the world, as you feel like you're really partaking in historical events rather than being in a mythical land with a Medieval vibe.
One complaint we'd have about the game is that the faces are a little stiff, as no matter what conversation you're having there's very little emotional change. Henry, for example, had the most bored expression during every conversation in the demo we saw, whereas Kunesh had a grimace for the whole time we were talking, without changing once. Considering this is a game built around deep roleplaying, this might pose a problem if these 'roles' don't show much emotion, so we'd like to see this fleshed out about between now and release.
It's also worth pointing out that, while the developers said that every action has a consequence in the game, they also said that there's only one ending. Hopefully this doesn't make the consequences seem less impactful, but we are a bit concerned that your ability to shape the world around you will be dampened by this restriction, and we hope that the multiple pathways to get to this ending differ enough to encourage replayability.
The little glimpse we've got into Kingdom Come: Deliverance as a whole has been very promising, and medieval, realistic roleplaying seems to work well. A bit of polish wouldn't go amiss, but it seems deep enough to entice fans of history and RPGs alike, and we're curious to see how this all works when incorporated into the grand history the story is based on. We'll find out on February 13, 2018.