Kingdom Come: Deliverance has been a long time (kingdom) coming. By the time of its scheduled release date of February 13 next year, it will have been in development for over four years. For most of that time, its original pitch hasn’t changed: a medieval RPG with as much historical accuracy as possible. Dungeons without the dragons. Intriguing though this is, I’ve been wondering how the game will actually play for months now. At E3, I got my answer.
More questions? Here's everything we know about Kingdom Come: Deliverance so far.
For a loose comparison to get us started, think Skyrim. As in that game, Kingdom Come doesn’t have classes per se, and you’ll improve a range of different skills – with associated perk trees – simply by using them, your aptitudes taking shape around how you play.
Starting the story in the tutorial area, my character Henry, a blacksmith’s son, is shaken awake by his mother. He is chided for the bandage on his wrist, and his initial skill points are fixed in the ensuing conversation: I can answer mum’s question “What on Earth did you get up to last night?” by saying I was chatting in the tavern (improving my speech skill), working in the forge (strength), dancing (agility), or “with Bianca” (vitality, and I hope you caught the wink from developers Warhorse Studios there).
The historicity of three-armed miners
Eventually, mum lets me out to explore Silver Skalice, Henry’s hometown (which really exists). The minimalist HUD features only a health/stamina bar and a compass, where quest markers appear – again, it’s very Skyrim, but a little less hand-holdy. Tobi, the splendidly-bearded PR chap, says “the compass helps you to find where to go, but you will never see an arrow on the screen [suggesting you] ‘talk to this guy’ or ‘take this item.’ If you need more help, you can open the map.”
The map and the in-game menus all adhere to a gorgeous, authentically medieval aesthetic. To get an idea of the level of historicity, Tobi explains that medieval artists would depict people in motion by drawing them with multiple limbs, so there’s a picture of a three-armed miner in the corner of the map. It’s a really nice, nerdy touch that adds to the sense of immersion, and there’s plenty more if you’re interested in history.
Kingdom Come is set in the early stages of a real civil war in Bohemia (modern-day Czech Republic), and the in-game codex has hundreds of pages of background on its characters, locations, and so on. Most of the important NPCs you’ll meet really existed, such as Lord Konrad Kyeser, a German military engineer played by the wonderful Brian Blessed. There’s even an authentic mini-game: Farkle, a dice game that’s almost a thousand years old. Videogames: making learning fun since The Oregon Trail.
An early quest sees me off to collect a debt owed to Henry’s dad by Kunesh, the town drunk. He’s uncooperative, because videogames, so up pops a skill check. We can try to get our way through either persuasion or intimidation, and our chance of success is determined by four stats. These are compared against those of whomever you’re speaking with, which are initially hidden, but can be discovered through dialogue or perks in the speech skill tree.
These stats are grouped into pairs. Each pair has one stat based on a skill, the other on your attire. Persuasion stats are speech (a skill measuring your gift of the gab) and impression (whether you cut the figure of a nobleman – wear expensive clothes). Intimidation stats are strength and what Tobi calls ‘badassness’ – essentially, how scary you look. Badassness is improved by wearing plate armour, ideally covered in blood from a recent battle.
Unlike in some other games, you won’t get a second chance to find the correct line in dialogue checks; if your first effort fails, you’ll have to deal with the consequences. But don’t worry too much – “there are almost always workarounds,” Tobi says. Most quests have more than one solution, and falling at the first hurdle will rarely kill the whole chain, though it could mean you miss the best outcome. Failing to collect the debt from Kunesh, for instance, means you have to go back to your father, admit your failure, and buy the coal he needs with the family savings.
Alternatively, another early quest sees Henry’s friends in a mischievous mood, with the idea to throw dung at someone’s house. You can trade your help with this task for theirs in beating up Kunesh. If you tell them you’re not interested, though, they will call you a loser and go do it anyway. “This game is not built around you,” Tobi says. “It does not wait for you – most things can happen without you.”
I attempt to intimidate Kunesh, but he’s not having any of it. Probably something to do with the alcohol and the fact I’m not covered in blood – I’ll know for next time. Anyway, time for a scrap.
Of Medieval tanks
Tobi says you don’t actually have to fight (much) in Kingdom Come if you don’t want to: if you make the right choices, the game is “not entirely, but almost, finishable in a completely peaceful way.” However, I expect most players will want to indulge in what’s supposedly among the most authentic medieval combat in a game to date. My (unsuccessful) brawl with Kunesh and some time in skirmish mode gives me a basic handle on what this entails.
You can attack and block from six different angles: overhead, upper left and right, lower left and right, and thrusting. It combines Chivalry’s depth with the clarity of For Honor’s UI – when you’re targeting an opponent, the five points of your crosshair light up similarly to the latter game. You’ll also be able to chain attacks, block, and feint.
Doing any of those actions will cost some of a recharging stamina bar, and your maximum stamina is determined by your current health – taking hits will cause you to tire faster. When you’re out of stamina, you can’t attack, and are more open to critical hits. The health of your current opponent is also shown on your HUD.
Positioning and stamina management are key. “Pro tip: don’t go into the middle of the skirmish,” Tobi says, “because then everyone can attack you from the sides and you are immediately dead.” A winning strategy is to stay on the fringes, pick a target, attack, and then retreat to let your stamina recover.
Contrary to what some films and games might lead you to believe, it’s quite hard to push a sword through plate armour, and knights who wore such armour in battle were close to invulnerable. The most effective tactics were sticking spikes into the joins between limbs, or hitting the plate very hard with very heavy weapons that could deform it and traumatise the body within. Kingdom Come’s combat will reflect this, but there will be penalties for equipping heavy armour, like reduced movement speed and visibility – it’s not easy to see out of those visors.
Finally, archery. I don’t get a chance to try it out, but Tobi says “the bow is a pretty powerful weapon, but it has no crosshair. It will kill pretty much anyone,” but it’ll take a lot of skill to use.
These are historically accurate tradeoffs, but ultimately Warhorse do recognise that they’re making a game. If it comes to it – and it has, in places – they’re prepared to sacrifice historicity for the sake of fun, balanced gameplay. “We’re not doing a simulation,” Tobi says. Compromises must be made.