Kingdom Come: Deliverance
Don’t let the swords and shields in Kingdom Come: Deliverance lead you astray. You won’t be clearing out goblin dens or slaying dragons in this open-world RPG. And don’t think that you’ll be slaughtering entire armies or ascending to the throne, either. Warhorse Studios’ game is more grounded in reality that what we’ve come to expect from the genre, and what I played of it at Gamescom was a refreshing change of pace.
The game takes place in 1403 in the Kingdom of Bohemia, in lands which are now in the modern-day Czech Republic. You play Henry, the son of a blacksmith whose parents were killed by raiders. Henry’s early motivations are simple: He wants to track one of the raiders, a large man wearing black armor. That man stole a sword from Henry’s father, which was commissioned by the lord of their town.
My demo begins a few hours into the story, and at this point Henry’s participation in a battle – which I don’t see – impressed the lord enough for him to take Henry into his personal service. The lord’s gruff commander is less impressed, and he reluctantly agrees to let Henry tag along with the soldiers on their next task. Another group of bloodthirsty raiders has attacked a nearby stable, and the soldiers have to investigate. And, wouldn’t you know it, one of those raiders was clad in black armor.
I’m given a horse (it’s gray and named Pebbles), and told to keep pace with the rest of the soldiers as they ride to the stables. The horse’s default trot is a little slow, but pressing B on the gamepad spurs it to attention and it matches the speed of the soldiers who have slipped ahead. When I hold the button down, the horse sticks to the road, which allows me to check out the surrounding countryside. The landscape is beautifully detailed, with rolling meadows and lush forests. Even the road itself is visually interesting; it’s not a harshly designated path, but it meanders and has character, like something that was created from years of medieval traffic instead of a few clicks from a level designer’s mouse.
Because I’m trying to follow the demo, I stick to the path as I was told. It’s hard to do so, because as we progress toward the black smoke in the distance, little indicators pop up on the screen showing that an accident site, shop, and nest are nearby. That kind of exploration will have to wait. For the time being, there’s a slaughter to investigate. Crows feast on the corpse of a horse that’s fallen in the middle of the road. We’re getting close.
We arrive near the Neuhof stables and dismount. It’s a scene of pure carnage. Horses are strewn around, dead. A man’s bloody body is in the mud, with a woman sobbing over it. She explains that the raiders came at night and began hamstringing the horses. The animals’ screams woke up the stable boy, who confronted the men. He was attacked, and her husband was killed when he came to the boy’s defense. Then the men torched the stables and fled. It’s a gruesome situation, amplified when she adds that they had to kill the mutilated horses themselves to put the now-crippled animals out of their misery. The men didn’t take anything, she says. “They wanted blood, not coin.”
The commander surveys the scene, and tells his men to interrogate the few survivors. Henry asks what he can do to help, and is told to stay out of the way. Wonderful. I walk around the area, just in time to hear the last part of a soldier’s conversation with one of the witnesses. It’s not going well. The villager yells at the soldier, complaining that the lord’s men came too late, and that life is easy for them because they’re tucked away safely behind the castle’s walls. The soldier walks away, and I decide to see if I can fare any better. At first, the villager begins the same spiel about the lord being out of touch. A few branching dialog options pop up, one of which requires a persuasion skillcheck. I’m a little hesitant to select it, because it reads like an accusation about the man’s wounded hand. I choose it anyway, and I’m successful. Henry asks the man about his wound, and then offers to clean it for him. The man tells Henry that he feels much better now, and he’s much more willing to talk.
He gives me some clues about who else might be worth speaking to, and also says that it might not be a bad idea to look around for broken fences or other signs of escape, since the men fled the scene in a hurry. At this point in the demo, I’m pleasantly surprised at how much it plays like an adventure game. According to the Warhorse representative on hand, life in this era wasn’t as combat-oriented as our romantic notions might have us believe. In Medieval Bohemia, people tended to avoid unnecessary fighting, and this kind of investigatory role was a big part of their duties. Still I double-check the controls to see what I need to press to unsheathe my sword. It doesn’t hurt to be prepared.
I walk over to the main stables, which is still smoldering. A few more corpses are scattered on the ground. I talk to some more villagers to try and get a better sense of what happened. One conversation gives me the option to lead with a compassionate, “I know it’s difficult,” or more aggressive “I’ll take them out.” I choose the soft approach, and pass the skillcheck. The man tells me that he saw a couple of stragglers heading north into the forest. One of them was wounded during the raid, and I’m able to follow his bloody trail through the trees.
Some of the game’s characters are a bit goofy looking, and a few of the animations are a little rough, but Warhorse has absolutely nailed the game’s natural environments. The forest is gorgeous and dense, and it doesn’t feel artificial. Again, it’s difficult to stay on the path that I’ve created for myself, since I just want to break off and explore. And that’s something that players can certainly do. If I hadn’t kept up with the soldiers as we approached the scene, for instance, and had stopped at that shop instead, I wouldn’t have seen that introductory cutscene where the slain man’s wife outline what had happened. I would have to figure out what to do on my own. Because I have been paying attention to what people have said and have been hustling along at a brisk pace, I’m able to witness what happens next.
I’m in the forest heading toward a clearing, when I hear two men talking. I stay low in the brush and eavesdrop for a minute. One of the men is lying down, mortally wounded. He’s disgusted with himself for having let a stable boy stab him, and he begs his friend to put him out of his misery. His friend doesn’t have the heart to do so, and their conversation continues. I step out, and draw my sword. He does likewise, and the fight is on.
I swing my sword, and I’m a little surprised at how slow and methodical Henry’s swings are. There’s a sense of weight behind the attacks that I wasn’t expecting, and I have to be careful not to run out of stamina before my opponent gets within slicing range. Our battle is short and fierce. I’m able to anticipate his moves and strike him when he isn’t defending. His armor absorbs a few of the blows, but eventually he collapses in the grass near his friend. I strip him of his belongings and then talk to his friend. He doesn’t have a whole lot to say to me, but I do find something on him that speaks volumes: a hoofpick, which apparently belongs to Ginger, a stable worker.
The Warhorse rep says that this could have played out a few different ways, too. I could have listened to the entire conversation, and the stabbed man would have eventually died. His friend would have then left, and I could have looted the body and gotten the clue without spilling any additional blood. If I wasn’t feeling up for a fight, I could have led the bandit over to the soldiers, who would have killed the criminal for me. Or, if I’d waited too long, I could have just stumbled on the man’s body – without hearing a conversation or even knowing that his friend had even been there in the first place.
I head back to the stables and talk to the first villager I encountered. He confirms that it is Ginger’s hoofpick, and expresses his disbelief that this whole awful situation may somehow be Ginger’s fault. He says he may know where Ginger is hiding, and passes along the info. I know that I have to follow running water into the woods, but my journey – and demo – ends before I get very far. That next step will have to wait, unfortunately.
I didn’t have a whole lot of time with Kingdom Come: Deliverance, or at least not nearly as much as I would have liked. There’s a lot going on in the game, and I’m excited to dive in further. For example, when I was looting one of the raiders, I got a glimpse of the game’s equipment menus. Stat nerds will probably get a kick out of all the options here, as even the game’s dress-up decisions seem to have a lot of depth. The more armor you wear, the louder you are, so you have to strike a comfortable balance between being sneaky and maintaining survivability. Even the types of leggings you wear affects how visible you are, making it easier or more difficult for opponents to detect you.
I suspect that I’ll be scrapping the canary-yellow parts of Henry’s costuming and getting a bow as soon as I possibly can. It would have been great to have had yet another option for dealing with those bandits: interrupting their conversation with a larynx-piercing arrow. The commander said to stay out of the way, right?
Kingdom Come: Deliverance is set to release on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC on February 13.