The tagline for Warhorse Studio’s upcoming Kingdom Come: Deliverance bills it as an action-RPG with the tagline, “Dungeons, no dragons.” Set in the Holy Roman Empire during the year 1403, players take on the role of someone caught up in the political turmoil of Bohemia as it prepares to face the Hussite Wars.
All the things happening in Kingdom Come: Deliverance are historical events. The families and noble houses actually existed in the 1400s and formed the defensive army against the invading forces that precipitate a civil war. I talked with Tobias Stolz-Zwilling, Warhorse’s PR Manager, about the historical accuracy of the setting and gameplay throughout their title. “You get torn into this civil war,” he explained, “that’s the story that you are pretty much playing through. We want to motivate the players to open up Wikipedia or a history book and say, ‘oh, okay, they really lived,’ and, ‘oh, they did this and that’ and, ‘oh, I can see what happens at the end of the game because this is a historical event,’ but we give you the chance to explore the little things and see it with your own eyes.”
Stolz-Zwilling began showing me a demo of the game in action. Kingdom Come: Deliverance makes use of an original lighting system that really highlights the detail put into the game. Believe it or not, a lot of that detail is accurate to a mind-boggling degree. The demo centered on a part of the main quest where the player must infiltrate a monastery to find a murderer with a scar on his face. Players can approach that situation in a number of ways. One valid option involves sneaking into the monastery at night and peering into people’s faces to find the man with a scar, but talking with anyone blows the player’s cover. Players inclined toward the more violent path can also go in and murder all the monks, killing the scarred man along with everyone else. That is a valid option, but it comes with the downside of ruining the player’s reputation. Everyone in the world will know your character as the person who massacred an entire monastery of monks.
“Everything you do will have an effect on the entire world,” Stolz-Zwilling explained, “So if you do something bad in the village, it will affect the world, and the other way around – if you do good stuff in the world, people will know in the villages.”
There is also a third option to find the scarred murderer. At the beginning of the demo there was a pub with two men sitting out front. One of the pair is a bodyguard while the other is a young man being forced to go into the monastery. Through questing and distracting his bodyguard, you can get his papers that let everyone know he is a monk-to-be and take his place as a monk. Through some fast talking at the monastery entrance, players can gain access to the holy site. This is the peaceful way of getting into the monastery, but it also means that players will have to adapt to the monk life through what Tobias referred to as “monk gameplay.” Players who choose this route will have to participate in monk duties, learn to read, and more.
Interestingly, reading isn’t a given like it is in many RPGs. Without any points in the reading skill, letters will be jumbled and incomprehensible on pages your character attempts to read. The more points you put into the skill, the less confused the letters become until you can make out parts or all of it. I haven’t seen that system used in any modern games outside of tabletop role-playing, and it seems to be a very novel and intriguing thing to implement in a historically accurate RPG.
As we wove our way through the monastery, Stolz Zwilling told me more about how they went about creating the building itself. It turns out Warhorse has been doing its homework quite thoroughly:
This monastery is actually really standing in Bohemia. Our studio is in Prague, capital of the Czech Republic, and this is approximately 50km south of us. The team went there and took pictures of the monastery to transfer it directly into the game. We worked closely together with historians, museums, universities to reconstruct this building. But it isn’t only this building – the entire map - we have reconstructed the 16km2 landscape of Bohemia. That’s very important. We have a topographical map of the area. We have real buildings. We are trying to look through real historical manuscripts to recreate those buildings [as they were]. The people who are working and living in those areas today are really happy about this project because they can see how it was back then. Today [that monastery] is partially destroyed. The tower is still standing, but the rest has crumbled away.
The funny thing is that [the monastery] is under construction in our game. In 1403, the monastery wasn’t ready, so we have a medieval construction site here with a big crane on the top. It looks like a big hamster wheel, but it worked like this – there was a guy inside running and turning the wheel to get the crane working. Again, we read manuscripts and have a full-time historian on the team to help us get this accurate.
When I asked what other buildings the team had photographed, Stolz-Zwilling responded with three words and a laugh, “All of them.” Though many of the wooden buildings from that time have long since rotted away, the team at Warhorse has meticulously reconstructed what they would have looked like with their resident historian and the help of original manuscripts from the time. That allows them to recreate details like medieval construction sites and long gone buildings. “If you look in the backyard there, you see the church there?” Stolz-Zwilling pointed to a church a ways off, “Fun fact: today it is completely destroyed. There is nothing, just a big hole. We reconstructed the church in-game, so the people there are happy we are doing this project. It is also a bit educational.”
However, functional objects and buildings are not the only things that time has spirited away over the centuries. Quite a number of medieval works of art were required to fully realize the world of Kingdom Come: Deliverance. To that end, Warhorse Studios found an artists who works in the medieval style to help them create the various artistic works that hang from walls and decorate objects throughout the world. “We have not only a historian on our team, but also a painter. He is very sad that he has to paint on a digital pad because he is used to painting on real linen. But we chained him to a chair and he’s good at it, so he has to do it,” Stolz-Zwilling winked with a laugh.
Backtracking a bit, I wanted to know more about what exactly “monk gameplay” meant. “We tried to reconstruct the altars and the life in the monasteries, the churches, the castles – we tried to make it look as real as we could get. Imagine this part of the quest as a game within a game. If you played Mafia 2, for example, where you have to go into a prison and do prison questing. You will be locked out of the world for a certain amount of time and have to live the monk life in order to find the villain hiding in the monastery.” If you don’t act monkishly during your time undercover at the monastery, you might be discovered and shamed as a pretender monk, something that will hurt your reputation and put you right back where you started.
I’ve talked a lot about the historical accuracy of Kingdom Come: Deliverance, but what about the combat? Again, Warhorse really did its homework. There is a certain degree of Rock, Paper, Scissors to fighting. Swords do well against cloth or light armor, but prove to be ineffective against full-plate armor. Just as they were on the battlefields of the 1400s, heavy, crushing weapons like maces or war hammers are the more effective choice against heavy armor. The weight of the weapons crush the armor inwards with heavy blows and can even shatter bone with the force of impact. However, those heavy weapons are slower and take more energy than swords, which are more effective against faster, more lightly armored foes. Because weapons can target specific parts of the body, it will always be better to aim for the weakest piece of armor an opponent happens to be wearing. Depending on the weapon being wielded and the particular enemy they are fighting, players will need to shift their tactics. Fighting a full-plate enemy with only a sword? Bash a specific part of their body repeatedly to wear down their armor in that spot. If they’re lightly armored and you only have a mace, choose your attacks carefully to make them count.
You can physically layer different types of armor over one another for a variety of effects. Each layer has a direct effect on your stats and each layer is physically shown on your character; under, middle, and outer layers. You can mix and match to create the look you want and the stats you desire that cater best to your gameplay. The game detects collision against specific areas on the player’s character as well as enemies and the armor worn on that section of the body factors into the amount of damage the attack inflicts.
Beyond combat, armor and clothing hold many other powers. Stolz-Zwilling pointed out some fallen enemy soldiers during the demo:
You can take whatever armor you like. These are the bad guys, the invading army, so you can even take their armor, but, again, it affects your reputation. […] If you have the armor of the bad guys, the city militia will attack you. Think about where you’re going, which type of armor you should wear, and what type of game you want to play.
[…] If you wear shiny, rustling, full-plate armor, that is bad because- it protects you, but it’s bad for sneaking. You always have to think about what type of game you want to play, what kind of armor you want to play. [Armor] also affects your reputation. Of course, if you do bad stuff out in the world, it will affect your reputation. People will dislike you. But if you look like a strong warrior or a nobleman people will say ‘wow, this is someone to trust.’
A dirt and destruction system dirties armor over the course of fights and exposure to the elements. Mud splatters on greaves, successful attacks create smatterings of blood that crust onto outer armor pieces – both yours and your enemies. Weapons blunt and crack with use becoming less and less effective while armor takes damage over time. Repairing your inventory will be important if you wish to enter battle in the best shape possible.
Tournaments are a big part of Kingdom Come: Deliverance. They are a good way to earn money and bolster your reputation through combat and mini-games. A better reputation means your character is more recognized by the general populace, leading to more opportunities and quests. Tournaments also attract large numbers of local people, which means the town itself will be much emptier than usual – a perfect opportunity for less reputable players to skulk around and rob the peasants and tradesmen blind.
Overall, Kingdom Come: Deliverance seems to be quietly shaping up to be an indie game to keep an eye on over the next year or so. The core campaign aims to be over 30 hours, with additional time for the large number of sidequests. In the long term, the team hopes to make Kingdom Come into a series that follows Bohemia through the entire 15 years of the Hussite Wars, which would be very cool indeed. Warhorse’s title comes to PC sometime in 2017, with possible plans to come to console sometime after that.