Posted June 19, 2017 by Daniel Kizana in Feature

E3 2017: Kingdom Come: Deliverance Hands-On

In the days since BethesdaLand, I have slowly come to accept the reality of another year without an Elder Scrolls announcement. I know, it’ll come eventually. I just wanted a name, maybe some alpha footage or screens. Alas, no love for TES fans. New ways to pay for Skyrim again do not count.

In light of that disappointment, it was with great joy that I stumbled upon what I consider to be one of the hidden gems of E3 2017. Tucked in a small meeting room along the Concourse, well away from the giant LEDs and cosplay of the South and West Halls, I found a small Czech developer named Warhorse Studios who were showcasing their debut title, Kingdom Come: Deliverance.  It wasn’t KC:D‘s first showing at E3, but it will be its last before release in early 2018; a date I am now eagerly awaiting.

For the uninitiated; KC:D is a single-player, open-world RPG title, set in Medieval Eastern/Central Europe and built with a focus on historical accuracy and realism in gameplay. The easiest summary I can give without gameplay footage is that it’s The Witcher 3, in the real world, in first-person. Warhorse have gone so far as to recruit academics and medieval historians to ensure the accuracy of clothing, armour, weapons, combat techniques, settlements and architecture, even down to people that really lived and events that really occurred. The team behind this game clearly have a lot of passion and care invested in it, and I’m already seeing a future like that of CD Projekt RED if this first title works out for them.

The first thing that interested me was, of course, the outstanding visuals of KC:D. We previewed the game’s starting zone; your character’s home village in the hills of Medieval Bohemia, populated by travelling merchants and common folk, and ringed by far flung mountain ranges in every direction. Warhorse have put CryEngine to fantastic use in creating outdoor locations full of minute detail, with crisp textures and near photorealistic lighting being rendered at a draw distance you wouldn’t believe. Indoor locations are equally well lit and detailed, however the preview zone only included small huts and buildings; no grand cities or castles to explore just yet.

NPCs, animals, clothing and weapons aren’t rendered in quite the same quality, being a little blockier than world textures. I get the impression that these were some of the first assets created for the game, because there’s a clear gap in design quality with other elements. In general I found the facial and movement animations to be a little clumsy and, at worst, out of sync with the world. All of this can be forgiven though, as they’re minor complaints and the game looks fantastic on the whole. We’ve certainly not crucified Warhorse’s competitors for shipping poor animations in the past, when the gameplay hasn’t suffered. It must be an open-world thing.

Gameplay is standard fare for an RPG in this era, with a few key exceptions. The first, and perhaps the most exciting of Warhorse’s claims, is that the game can be completed entirely with speech and other peaceful actions. There will be times when combat is unavoidable, but they are few and far between, and I was assured that pacifist runs will be possible. This is a wonderful throwback to an earlier era, before the action RPG, when Charisma mattered and mythical creatures would talk things out like adults before resorting to violence. For the combatant, though, the game boasts. an intricate and demanding combat system, which we’ll get too shortly.

The first quest I was sent on involved recovering a debt for my father, and using the money to purchase blacksmithing materials. Simple enough. Only, the guy doesn’t want to pay up. So I says to him, I says, “Ey, Vlodomir, you’re gonna give me my Pa’s gold or you’ll be eatin’ pickled herring with Jesus, capiche?’ As I’d chosen a high strength stat for my character, the intimidation was successful and I was able to collect the money. Devs advised that under other circumstances, I could have fought him for the money, robbed him, sought help from other villagers (who’d also need a favour from me), and the list goes on.

In pursuing the latter stages of the quest, I noticed this flexibility in the amount of approaches that were suggested to me, and others that I was able to find without help. The world even responds to details in your appearance, in that the rich won’t deal with you if you’re dressed in rags, and NPCs will regard you with respect when you’re wearing clean, undamaged combat armour. Approach them with a bloody sword and they’re more likely to respond to intimidation, or even worse, with your bloody sword drawn, and they might just run from you all together.

We’ve seen all of this before, but Warhorse’s system of choice and consequence is simply of higher scope and detail than anything that’s been done in the past, and if they manage to keep this up for the rest of the game, KC:D is going to be a long, complex journey.

As I alluded to earlier, the combat system is complex and unforgiving, punishing carelessness and rewarding patient focus. In essence, you retain movement control while honing in on a single opponent. You’re given a small reticle indicating which angle (Head, High Right, Low Right, High Left, Low Left) you’re attacking from, and combat becomes a game of timing and anticipation, in which you must hit your opponent from an unguarded angle, while also blocking his attacks. Fights are long and slow, and you are not made to feel stronger than your enemy; even easy opponents were a huge issue when approached without caution, and a dev called 2v1 fights ‘impossible unless you’re armoured like a tank.’ So, possible, but not for your archer/thief.

Remember, the player character is just a commoner, in fact, a young farm-hand. Taking him into battle against a trained soldier, even sufficiently equipped, should feel like a huge challenge. It’s just as well, they’ve included non-violent ways to approach every situation, as I can imagine some fights that just aren’t worth getting into. This is the realism that Warhorse are talking about, and it will be present in the plot as well. Devs assured me that the story, while spanning one of Medieval Europe’s greatest conflicts, will be told from the realistic perspective of your character. He isn’t the centre of this great drama, and he won’t be treated that way. You can completely miss quests and events, which will go on without you if you don’t show up. The world of KC:D doesn’t care about you.

In gameplay, combat and plot, Warhorse Studios appear to be taking some bold and exciting risks with their debut title, Kingdom Come: Deliverance. Having seen it in action, I am genuinely excited for this release like none other teased at E3. Get hyped for launch in February 2018!

Daniel Kizana



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