If you remove any games that feature magic, supernatural elements or science fiction, there isn't a huge number of open-world RPGs out there. In fact, you could go as far as saying that one of the most popular genres out there is quite narrow in its themes. There are, however, exceptions to the rule, and one such game is Warhorse Studios' historical open-world RPG, Kingdom Come: Deliverance. As they put it, it's "Dungeons without Dragons". This is more Ken Follett than it is George R.R. Martin, and it's a story that deals with the same sort of power struggle that you might find in one of either author's novels.
Deliverance takes place in Bohemia (modern day Czech Republic), a part of the Holy Roman Empire. The year is 1403. The old king is dead (Charles IV), and his son and heir Weneceslaus is usurped by his half-brother Sigismund, who imprisons him and seizes power with his army. It's a time of turmoil and in the midst of this the player, taking the role of Henry, a young blacksmith, happens to play a pivotal role.
Deliverance is being described as the first act, even if Warhorse admit to having expanded beyond what they originally thought the first act would encompass. Future acts could well skip ahead in time and touch on events closer to the outbreak of the Hussite Wars, a war that you'll experience some of the build-up and reasons for in Deliverance.
Kingdom Come: Deliverance was first financed at least in part by a highly successful Kickstarter campaign, and currently backers (new and old alike) can experience part of the game in a technical beta that we also got to sample for the purpose of this preview. The game opens up partway into the story and our main character is attempting to chase down a bandit. He's got a lead and hopes to be able to find this outlaw, a witness, and learn what he has to say before someone else reaches him and silences him forever.
Bohemia is a great place to set an historical RPG. The landscape is impressive, and you really don't miss supernatural elements as the land itself is mysterious enough on its own. The day and night cycle provides some breathtaking vistas, and even if the game isn't on the level of say The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, in terms of visuals, it still impresses.
One aspect of the game that not all players will invest in is combat. The whole game is designed so that you will be able to solve quests in different ways, be it through straight forward combat and intimidation, through a silver tongue and diplomacy, or through deception and stealth. Your decisions will influence the world as this isn't a game world where AI is magically spawned in as they're needed, but if you poison someone to progress one quest, it may very well cut off a potential solution to a future quest.
In the beta the player can chose from a build that's been focused on combat, diplomacy, or a little of both as you begin somewhere in the middle of the main questline. Walking over the largely agricultural Bohemian landscape is not your best option and thankfully a quick press of X will call for your horse. The full game is said to offer a map of roughly 16 square kilometres, and while the beta only offers a slice of that, it still feels like a rather large sandbox world to manipulate and explore. While many of the systems that will make for an interesting sandbox (such as the crime system) weren't implemented fully, it's easy to see how rich the full experience could potentially end up being.
We briefly mentioned combat, and while there will be bows (something of an ultimate weapon as you'll be able to mortally wound your enemies from afar), your bread and butter will be the likes of the sword and shield, or perhaps the longsword. You can block and parry incoming attacks, and this is key to success. You can then deliver strikes from five angles, and there are certain combinations that can be performed to break through the defence of your opponent. It's very much a duel system, and so when you face more than one enemy, even just two or three, you're really in trouble. Another interesting aspect is that you can feint a strike from a certain angle in order to open up your enemy to another strike when you cancel the first one.
"You will never have a situation that you'll slice through the army and bandits, and you will just kill them all with button mashing or something like this," says PR manager Tobias Stolz-Zwilling.
"It will always be combat that can kill you. The same way in the beginning of the game as in the end. The only thing that saves you is your personal skill, so the better you personally get, the better you will fight. The RPG system will support you, so you will get new moves, you will get faster, stuff like this, and this will help you. But a regular farmer who is fighting against you with a rusty sword can kill you in the beginning of the game and he can also kill you in the end of the game."
"It's one of the things that keeps you immersed in the combat, because you know that one good strike is all it takes for you to win or for you to die," says Martin Ziegler, technical designer. "We try to be slightly less realistic than that, that's one of the compromises mentioned earlier. It's not fun to die from 100% health to death with one strike."
Overall we came away impressed by this early build of Kingdom Come: Deliverance. It's something a bit different, and as with any good historical game, it makes you want to reach for the history book and search wikipedia for further intel. There's still some ways to go until release, and as you could tell from the interview below there are still some key design decisions to be made (such as how the player is prevented for killing off key NPCs in the main story early in the game). However, this slice of Deliverance has certainly piqued our interest.