Being a nobody is better than saving the day in historical RPG Kingdom Come: Deliverance

I am so tired of being the hero. Too often RPGs rely on the 'chosen one' trope to drive a world-rending conflict and take you on a hopscotch journey throughout whatever pretty open world you're stuck in this time. In Kingdom Come: Deliverance, no one knows your name. It might look like Skyrim at a glance, but you're not going to be graduating from the mages' college or throwing fireballs at dragons on snowy mountaintops. 

Bohemia in the 1400s was a much simpler (yet no less violent) place. Lords were the dragons, monks were the mages, and arrows the fireballs. Chances are, you'd be born into a working class and stuck there for life, the very dream of swinging a sword an impossible one. In fact, that you get to swing a sword at all is one of the few times developer Warhorse Studios' bends the truth for the sake of play. You're not playing the hero this time around. You're a pretty big loser actually. Like, the kind of guy that the nobles won't look at unless they need manual labor or a punching bag. 

During a recent hands-on demo, I got to see exactly how Kingdom Come: Deliverance is making you a nobody loser who dies in two hits, and how the world doesn't treat you like anything more than a worthless bag of meat and bones (unless you dress and act accordingly).

You're a nobody

Like, a total nobody. As the son of a blacksmith, the only reason you get to suit up and wield a sword is because a charitable noble agreed to let you reclaim a family heirloom. No one knows your name and few care whether you live or die. Your quest is personal.

Meet Henry, the protagonist of Kingdom Come: Deliverance. 

Of course, it would be difficult to get the player behind 50-plus hours of role-playing some young buck looking for a sword, so his entire family is killed and revenge becomes his motive. The honor of joining your local armed forces is as close to 'chosen one' as it gets in Kingdom Come: Deliverance. Unless you're wearing the stolen garb of the upper class, that is, but we'll get to that in a minute. 

Combat is violent and abrupt

In most games, if you see a big space marine encased in a minivan's worth of armor, the general idea is that they'll be difficult to kill. Hit points stacked to the moon. But in Kingdom Come: Deliverance, if you manage to poke their head through their visor, they'll be dead in one or two hits. I've yet to see how accurate the armor system is, but Warhorse Studios went all-in on hit detection. Skin behaves like skin, leather like leather, and iron like iron. Armor stats matter, but what you see (or can't see) matters more.

That means if an arrow manages to find the soft spot between plates of armor, the recipient bleeds and (probably) dies shortly after. Good luck aiming without a reticle though. And if you choose to suit up in full plate armor, including the helmets with the tiny slits for vision, you'll move like a penguin with keyholes for eyes. 

The combat itself is a bit hard to parse, but from a top level, it hinges on stamina management. Swing too much, too fast, and you'll leave yourself open to attacks. Combined with six different attack directions (five angles and a thrust), some quick blocking prompts, and a whole bunch of other mechanics I don't quite understand yet, it's complex as hell. I'm just not sure it's good yet. 

I do know that I love how unceremonious it is. You might run into a bandit on a mountain road, he'll threaten you, then click, bang, clang, oof: now there's a corpse. Even the bigger battles speak to the clumsiness and intimacy of medieval combat. In missions where you take a fort, for instance, you're not the commander. You're just another grunt. The couple dozen enemy and ally soldiers are all AI-driven, which means you have to monitor your allies and respond to their needs. 

For instance, arrows are serious business. One or two elevated archers can decimate your forces, so it's often up to your own archers to take them out. You can certainly help, just be sure to watch your back. And make sure to bring your bow, though in our demo you could also light a patch of dry grass to smoke up the sky and screw up their aim.

And as a nice touch, fast travel is interrupted by random events. Once you find a major hub, you can use the map to teleport there. But at any point, bandits might jump you, or maybe you'll stumble onto the aftermath of a bloody fight. It's similar to cRPGs like Fallout 2, except you can also physically walk between locations. All that fast travel should come with a price for the convenience, and I'm glad Deliverance isn't letting anyone off easy. We all deserve to be harassed by roadside bandits for all eternity, because we're nobody losers that die in two hits. 

Appearances are everything

In your inventory management menu there are 14 different slots for clothing and armor, all of which can be layered however you like. The system's greatest asset is one you're more likely to make use of in an immersive sim: your appearance. 

The video above gives a simple example. To sabotage the enemy forces you can infiltrate their camp and poison their food using stealth, or you can find a lone soldier, kill him, and wear his clothes into camp. Hitman rules apply throughout all of Deliverance. With 14 different slots for clothing and armor, all of which can be layered however you like, you can dress to look like a badass warrior, a beggar, or a nobleman and people will treat you accordingly. 

Here's a more complex example, not limited to the clothes you wear. If you need to find a murderer in a monastery (and you will) then to get inside, you'll have to roleplay a monk. That means going through the initiation ceremonies and following a strict daily schedule. Your routine, the halls you wander, the labored process for making whatever poultices Bohemians monks made in the 1400s, the gobs of art are all as true to the era as the developers at Warhorse Studios could make them, even if accurate is boring. Seriously, look at this potion-making process.

You can use the wait system to pass the time, but if you can't figure out where you're supposed to be and when, then the 'monk police' will punish you. Screw up enough and you can get ejected. The quest won't end if you do though. You can always just kill everyone. I mean, the murderer is in there somewhere. 

Everything dies

Besides a few quest givers required for the main narrative, everyone can be killed. Including you, of course. Quite easily. And as you play, all the stuff you own will degrade and turn into dust as time marches toward your inevitable, super unimportant bullet point of a demise. (Hint: don't eat literally all the chili you see.) That means clothes and armor degrade, weapons degrade, your food rots, and you get hungry and sleepy like any other person. If it sounds like too much, I feel you. My skin prickles with dread and excitement in equal measure when I imagine how much time I'll spend managing small systems instead of smashing heads in with hammers.

Kingdom Come: Deliverance is the kind of recklessly complex machine that PC gamers tend to pine for, even if stacking those complexities can get messy. I don't look forward to cleaning my armor after every fight, or thinking about what to eat, where to sleep, how much time of my actual life is going to making herbal remedies in a virtual monastery, and I'd be surprised if it's not a buggy game—not to speak ill of the team, it's just a massive undertaking for a relatively small studio. We'll get to see how well everything works soon; Kingdom Come: Deliverance comes out February 13th. 

I mean, there are multiple videos of the devs swinging swords around and chopping shit up. That's some research. Do you think Todd Howard wandered into the woods with a battle axe and a can of petrol to see what they could do to a crate of watermelons? I have my doubts. (Todd, if you see this, please email to clarify. Big fan.)