Kingdom Come: Deliverance turns you into a rowdy RPG boy
Last year, when I covered Kingdom Come: Deliverance at E3, Warhorse’s presentation focused mostly on the truly bonkers level of accurate medieval detail in the game’s combat, equipment, map, photogrammetry-replicated monastery walls, manure piles, etc. It was a medieval history scholar’s dream (hello, I used to be one) and showed its developers embracing the kind of delicious nerdery that I can’t help but respect.
This year’s E3 presentation focused more on the “RPG that does RPG things you expect an RPG to do” aspect of the game— like cutscenes, quests, story, rowdy-boy teen protagonists, disapproving parents who are fated to die horrifically after the tutorial section of the game, etc. To be honest, it was a bit of whiplash for me, since Kingdom Come has previously occupied the same corner of my brain where I keep all the stuff I learned in college about medieval manuscript marginalia, the history of the Catholic bible, and the economy of early modern England. But yeah, I can now confirm: KC:D is going to be a RPG-ass RPG that does the RPG stuff we all know and love, and it’s going to do it in a pretty traditional way!
In KC:D, you’ll play Henry, the hard-drinking, hard-partying son of the town blacksmith in Silver Skalitz (a town which, like everything in the game, actually existed in actual history). The presentation Warhorse showed us before we started to play the demo featured a short trailer where Henry repeatedly shouted about how his parents had been killed by an evil dude, so the moment I saw them in the demo, I could see the deadly miasma of “RPG protagonist parent” hanging around them. Henry’s dad is a master wordsmith with a secret backstory we do not learn in the demo; he is currently forging the “best sword” he’s ever made for some knight dude I did not get to meet. Everyone in town is gossiping about some deadly warpolitics stuff that had recently occurred in the region. It felt very familiar to me!
This predictable stuff aside, though I was impressed by the work that went into making sure I understood the major nobles involved in the local political struggle, making sure I understood whose side I was supposed to be on, and making sure I agreed with protagonist’s political stance. The region the game takes place in was, at this time, divided into many small territories with many small kings. Henry’s king, Wenceslas, has been kidnapped by another king (a German one!) who is now threatening to take over the region. Wenceslas apparently sucks, though, and the game made sure I understood why someone might approve of the invading German potentate. They also made sure I understood why someone might support Wenceslas, even though he’s a drunken loser who refuses to do his job properly.
As someone who studied super-weird long-ago medieval politics at one point in my life, I seriously appreciate the kind of effort that goes into making a historical political situation intelligible to an audience. These developers don’t get to massage this story’s world into a more palatable state— they have to adapt actual history into something fun, and I imagine that’s pretty hard when the history you’re dealing with is extremely old and extremely local.
That said, the presentation of this heavy-lifting story work was a little janky. The story takes place in what is now the Czech Republic, but everyone I spoke to was really overselling a thick British accent— except for the random characters who had straight-up American accents. The main characters were pretty decent, but a couple NPCs I ran into were weird enough to make me snort.
Another unforeseen weirdness I encountered was the fistfighting system. Turns out, I dislike first-person punching as much now as I did when Zeno Clash nearly made me barf eight years ago. In the demo I fought two separate fistfights, and although they were fairly manageable on the smaller screen of the PC I was using, watching them on the larger TV in the presentation room gave me the kind of sudden, disorienting motion sickness I almost never encounter in videogames at all. (I’m generally unaffected by the kinds of things that trigger game motion-sickness in other people.)
The first-person swordfighting, however, was much easier for me to watch— probably because swordfighting involves much fewer springy-arm forward jabs. KC:D's swordfighting is ultra-complicated, and absolutely brutal. Because my combat tutorial bugged out and refused to let me equip a weapon, I was forced to enter the combat demo with no idea what I was doing. I was killed almost instantly by a totally-ordinary soldier dude who bonked me on the head about six times with an axe. This happened to me three times in a row, and then the game crashed; I have no story of victory to tell you. I am a big fan of ultra-complex fighting systems in games, though, and this one looks like the kind of thing that medieval-history nerds will love. (I had a “how to fight” instructional card on my table next to my computer that listed every possible combat move with its historically-appropriate technique name.)
A couple other parts of the game filled me with nerd glee, too. A lot of the UI elements, including the game map and the lore codex, are drawn in a fairly-accurate medieval manuscript illustration style. The characters in the game are sensitive to the kind of setting-appropriate social cues that RPG characters are rarely responsive to, like the quality of your armor and whether or not you are drenched in blood; if you talk to a peasant while wearing blood-spattered plate mail, your intimidation stat apparently goes through the roof. The ultra-complicated multi-layered armor rules I covered last year are still in place, and they still make me extremely pleased. And, finally, wearing a heavy helmet with a visor will cover your screen in a black shadow in the shape of the visor, leaving you almost no space to see out of. Sometimes, it seems like KC:D is the result of every single “why doesn’t X happen when I do Y??” question every parent ever asked their kid about Oblivion.
Honestly, I would not have predicted that Warhorse would go with an incredibly traditional RPG plot for their incredibly nerdy medieval death simulator, but maybe it’s a good balance. Some of the stuff going on in this game is so relentlessly nerdy that it might require your Traditional Rowdyboy RPG Man to anchor some of it. We’ll just have to wait and see.
(I’m still 110% here for the nerd shit, though.)