We've already previewed Kingdom Come: Deliverance three times (at fairly regular intervals), so doing so again just a couple of months after the E3 demo might feel like overkill, but perhaps it also speaks to the potential offered by this historical RPG that everyone at Gamereactor who plays the game has something they'd like to say about it. The reason that Warhorse Studio's intriguing title captures the imagination of nearly everyone that sees it is the sheer variety of possibilities open to the player.
We played the game in strange conditions; huddled around a cluster of computers in a room hidden away in the heart of the trade section of Gamescom, the warmth of the computers underneath the table almost cooking our legs while a fake fire crackled behind us. The historical theme was pushed to the limit with a wall-length piece of medieval art (think the Bayeux Tapestry without the stitch work) opposite. Deep Silver is publishing the game and like everyone at GR who has played it, the company knows that they've got something unique, potentially special on their collective hands.
The x-factor that will make or break Kingdom Come: Deliverance is freedom. There's a strong, potentially powerful narrative in there, but we get the distinct impression that we'll be able to author that story in some unique and interesting ways. You'll read in earlier previews that there was versatility in the way you can approach certain tasks, and this was also the case at our latest hands-on. In this instance, we were dealing with a massacre of men and beasts. A stable full of murdered horses and their keepers, bodies strewn among ashen buildings.
This grim scene was some way into the story - though not too far in judging from the lowly status of our player character - and we were sent off to investigate this rural atrocity along with a group of armed men employed by the local lord, to find out what happened and, if possible, enact justice. We rode to the village, following the group, the first-person view taking a little getting used to at first as we guided our steed towards the marker in front of us.
Once there we were able to play through the dialogue that everyone will see. After that, though, we were left to our own devices. We were sent out to question the locals and investigate the crime scene, and once we'd spoken to a few people and built up our understanding of what had happened, we ventured out into a nearby wood to find further clues.
It wasn't long before the atmosphere went up a notch, and as we ran further into the woodland the music became increasingly intense. We couldn't see anybody though until we turned around and discovered an armed man chasing after us. We quickly equipped our sword and went for him, cutting him down after a short but tense fight (according to the developers at the event, we didn't have to kill him, and foes will sometimes surrender rather than die under your blade). Leaving him there on the floor we hurried back to the village to report our findings to the leader of our group.
Equipped with an item taken from our fallen foe, we went back to talk to more villagers, and we got closer to working out why all these people had been murdered. That's how it played out for us, at any rate. After the demo had ended we discovered that it had played out differently for all of the other players sitting around the table, notably with some of them stumbling on a scene in the wood where one of the mercenaries responsible for the massacre was lying wounded on the floor, contemplating his end alongside his brother-in-arms.
We don't want to delve into specifics because this is all spoilery stuff, and when people get their hands on the game early next year, much of the fun will be come from discovering this branching story for yourself. What we will say is that Kingdom Come: Deliverance has a refreshing approach to player autonomy, and we always relish the prospect of delving into a game that lets you feel like the co-author of the story.
It's no spoiler to say that Warhorse Studio's title looks great, with crisp visuals and an evocative atmosphere. There mightn't be any monsters in sight, but this still gives us Witcher vibes, both in terms of the striking aesthetics and the moral ambiguity of the narrative (albeit one that's grounded in historical plausibility). There aren't many games that explore medieval central Europe, especially ones that have as much potential as this.
We are, however, going to end with a note of caution. The open-ended mission design and the complexity of the world means that there is plenty of potential for things to go wrong, and we saw lots of rough edges during the demo. There's time to catch (most of) the bugs, but given the apparent scope of Kingdom Come: Deliverance, it's going to be a close run thing. If Warhorse can do it, we're going to have a special game on our hands, one that unashamedly does its own thing and one that appears all the better for it.