Kingdom Come: Deliverance, which launches its beta today for backers, is an odd fish. Clearly a role-playing game, it follows many of the conventions of RPGs. But it deviates so sharply into the dark corners of its own ambitions that it defies simple categorization.
Firstly, there's its premise. This is set in a world of swords and bassinets, so no great surprises there. Most RPGs are quasi-medieval in nature. But Kingdom Come is strictly historical, placing itself in the the Hussite Wars of early 15th century in Bohemia (roughly, the Czech Republic). So,there's no sign of magic or dragons or evil potions. It says something about the derivative nature of RPG stories that a game which seeks to cleave to things that actually, really happened is seen as astoundingly original.
But then there's its odd reliance on wandering around the world and basically talking to people. Its quests include a lot of instances where the player must find various individuals, navigate through dialog trees, and add to to the store of their knowledge, before moving onto the next person. This is a game of talking and walking.
The dialog trees are often directed by previous conversations unlocked by the player. If you don't know that the inn-keeper is a rogue, because you didn't bother to talk to his drunken mate, you're not given that particular dialog thread, which is very much to your disadvantage.
Speaking also levels up the player's ability, just like combat, which helps when narrative progress demands that you charm or persuade people. All this is governed by stats humming away under the hood, but the player must use intuition as a primary guide. Either you have the sufficient speaking power to talk a character round, or you don't. Common sense is usually the best guide. It's generally easier to best a peasant than it is a guard.
But simply working through dialog trees to get to the winning option isn't on the table. If you make the wrong choice, there are often consequences, and while the player can find other routes to progress the main story, a wrong word here or there can close a lot of doors. This is innovative, assuming it works in the final, full world.
Complicating matters, if you kill or estrange a person who later might be a useful source of information, that knowledge is lost to you. Kingdom Come wants to simulate an actual world of people living their lives.
Its developers say that although this is not an educational game, it's one where you are likely to learn something, just by inhabiting the world and talking to people. I admire this attempt to make a game feel as much like reality as possible, setting aside the press-button progression of many RPGs, and putting human interaction above fetch-quests. But it's enormously ambitious.
Warhorse Studio's game is due out later this year on PlayStation 4, Windows PC and Xbox One. There is clearly much work to be done. The current dialog voice-acting is placeholder, and pretty terrible, so it's hard to see if the stilted and strange nature of these interactions will be ironed out by the time the final game arrives. The world itself, we are promised, will include a lot more people milling around than in the beta.
Finally, there's the combat which is somewhat unusual. It takes place right there in the physical reality of the main world. You swing your sword (or alternative weapon) aiming for different parts of the enemy's body, making use of the right thumb-stick. You block or stab. You make use of a life bar to time attacks and defense. There are also combinations to unlock as the game progresses.
It has all feel of a medieval fight, but it's not exactly slick. I rather enjoy the somewhat cumbersome nature of the combat. We'll see in the next few weeks if it's sustainable over long playing periods, and if it allows for advanced mastery and execution.
Check out our in-depth feature on the game's story and inspiration.