James, Kingdom Come: Deliverance
“It’s like a modern, interactive museum,” says Joanna Nowak, the in-house historian and consultant on the development of Kingdom Come: Deliverance, a brand new historical fiction roleplaying game from Warhorse Studios. This is a good description of the game, which ambitiously tries to represent history as accurately as possible, while still maintaining an entertaining and immersive gaming experience. This is a struggle, as it always is in historical games and novels, but the developers at Warhorse Studios have done quite an impressive job of it, due largely to their painstaking attention to the intricate details of life in the Holy Roman Empire in the Medieval Period. You take the role of Henry of Skalitz, a poor blacksmith’s son in Bohemia in 1403, in the midst of a civil war between King Wenceslaus and his half-brother Sigismund, who are real historical figures. When the small mining village of Skalitz is burned and your parents are killed in the fighting, you are thrown into a whirlwind plot in which you deal with minor Bohemian nobles trying to restore King Wenceslaus to his throne, all the while pursuing the men responsible for burning your home to take your revenge and reclaim the last sword your father forged. While the character of Henry is fictional, as are most of the characters that you meet over the course of the game, Kingdom Come: Deliverance does a great job of creating and maintaining a medieval feeling through little details, without sacrificing enjoyable gameplay.
The trailer for the game opens up with two knights in full plate armour squaring off for a duel in an idyllic Bohemian meadow, which really sets the tone for the game, as perhaps the biggest draw to the game, for me, is the combat system. It is a directional system, clearly very well researched and based on fifteenth century fencing techniques. As Henry, you can slash or stab from five directions, and have to perfectly time your blocks to prevent taking injury. According to Lead Designer Viktor Bocan, the combination master strikes that you can learn as the game progresses are based on actual medieval techniques. You can use a wide range of period arms and armour, with four layers of armour and twenty slots for individual pieces, allowing for a great amount of customization. When you wear a helmet with a visor, your vision is actually impaired as it would be, with sometimes up to half of the screen going black. The combat is fast paced and unique, a system unlike any other game that I’ve seen, that really makes you feel like a powerful medieval warrior when you attain mastery.
Some of the game’s greatest strengths lie in the little details that add to the immersion. My favorite example of this is the fact that Henry is illiterate, which can lead to some pretty funny consequences if you do not learn how, as it is important for some quests. One such is when a village is suffering from the plague and you have to read a recipe and brew the remedy. If you brew the potion wrong, because you cannot actually read the recipe, the whole village is wiped out by the plague. All of the letters on documents are anagrammed, so that the words just appear to be a jumbled mess, which is a problem in another quest when you infiltrate a monastery and have to fulfill the duties of a medieval monk. These include showing up for dawn mass, eating together with the other monks, brewing potions, and most notably the copying of latin texts. You really take on the life of a monk in a very immersive and historically accurate quest, one of the most unique quests I have ever played.
Another little immersive detail is the casual references to Christianity that are common throughout all conversations. Typical conversations begin with the other person saying, “Jesus Christ be praised,” or something similar, and usually end with, “God be with you, Henry!” These frequent references to Christianity really cement that you are living in the middle ages, where everyday life was dominated by religion. Though as your character grows in reputation these greetings are often replaced with a more personal one like, “Look, Henry’s come to see us,” which the title of this paper is a play on. In one scene of the game you have a long conversation with Father Godwin, a local priest, who tells you about the teachings of Jan Hus, who was teaching in Prague at the time. In another, a visiting vicar gets your help to put down a growing group of Waldensian heretics in Uzhitz. These scenes also help to hammer down the importance of Christianity in medieval life, making for a more immersive and accurate experience.
Throughout the game you get to travel throughout sixteen square kilometers of Bohemian countryside, faithfully recreated and beautifully presented. There are many towns, castles and villages that really existed which you can visit, with medieval-style buildings and townspeople strolling about in accurate period clothing. Some of the buildings which you can go to still stand today in the real world, like the Sasau monastery, so in this way it is kind of like stepping into a time machine and seeing the Czech Republic as it would have appeared in the early fifteenth century. In addition to this, for every location you visit, character you meet, and event you hear about or witness, another entry is added into your codex, which reviewer Brett Todd aptly described as “...something of a medieval encyclopedia.”
One potential issue with the game, which has been noted by some reviewers, is the lack of any people of colour. The only characters that are not white Czechs or Germans are Turkic Cumans, who are pretty much universally demonized by all of the “good” characters, and are represented in kind of a flat way. While this could be a problem, I do not think that it is a major issue for the game. People of any nation typically band together against a foreign invader, especially one that speaks a different language and dresses in alien clothing and armour. As for the issue with no people of colour being represented, the game’s setting is in the backcountry of Bohemia, out of the way of major urban centers, so it is just not that likely that there would be people of colour present. I think the decision to preserve accuracy over representation is a fair one on the part of the developers.
Kingdom Come: Deliverancepresents 15th century Bohemia to the player in a very realistic way. Because of the depth of the research that went into its creation and the presence of a historian on the development team, the game really draws you in, giving a strong sense of immersion and making you feel like you really could have been a blacksmith’s son in 1403. Little details like Henry being illiterate and constant references to Christianity drive home the importance of historical accuracy to the game, and the faithful recreation of the cities and towns that make up the setting makes playing the game feel like taking a trip back in time. In this way, Kingdom Come:Deliverance preserves an immersive and enjoyable gameplay experience without sacrificing historicity and accuracy.
Todd, Brett. “Try to make history.” Gamespot. Feb 20, 2018. https://www.gamespot.com/reviews/kingdom-come-deliverance-review-the-past-comes-at-/1900-6416861/
Webster, Andrew. “Kingdom Come: Deliverance is an RPG that trades fantasy for historical accuracy.” The Verge. February 2 2018. https://www.theverge.com/2018/2/2/16964080/kingdom-come-deliverance-history-rpg-ps4-xbox-pc