Last week I was shown a demonstration of the latest build for the upcoming RPG Kingdom Come: Deliverance. Developers Martin Ziegler and Tobias Stolz-Zwilling from Warhorse Studios were on hand to answer my questions about the demonstration, show me what they’ve been able to accomplish so far, and give some insight about what the latest plans for the crowd-funded title are.
For those who don’t know, Deliverance is a “realistic open world first person medieval RPG”. Unlike the majority of games set in the the past involving medieval elements, Deliverance doesn’t have any fantasy or magical components. The game is as historically accurate as the developers can make it, so you won’t find any Goblins, Trolls or Wizards here. In fact one of the game tag lines is “Dungeons, no Dragons.” Set in the 15th Century, the history of the lands of Bohemia Crown are the stage for the game. It’s a subject that the team know quite well. After all, the capital of Prague is where Warhorse have their HQ – what was part of the lands of Bohemia, is the Czech Republic today.
The player controls a young knight who interacts with historical figures and journeys through the lands adventuring, as you’d expect in a sandbox RPG. However, Deliverance focuses on the story, setting, and immersion. The aim of the design team is to create a living world for the player instead of the usual checklist of quests. In other words, you won’t be following yellow question marks to kill 20 bears for six slightly different NPCs in different locations. You won’t be taking a box of supplies to the outpost for a quartermaster. If you need to find Lara in West Hill Town, then you will have to ask around other NPCs and listen to information about where to find her. The removal of nameplates and other similar elements to guide you certainly adds a more realistic feel, but without them gamers like myself with short attention spans may spend large portions of time trying to find the correct NPC to interact with.
The demonstration began with the playable character investigating an attack on a village by bandits. As the player traveled around the village interacting with NPCs, trying to get information regarding the attack, a wide variety of dialogue options were available. The further the conversation went, the more choices became available, providing tips and hints to the player about the events that unfolded. Eventually after enough interactions and questioning the player was rewarded – an exact location for those responsible for the attack in the form of a map marker. Tobias explained that had we not followed the dialogue branches as we did, we would have had less information been provided to us. It would have meant no map marker and only partial directions for us to use, meaning the player would have needed to investigate further to get the information they needed.
As Martin progressed through the main story line quests I noticed the diversity in the ways to complete the tasks set before the player. If you had leveled specific stats the player could chose certain dialogue options, leading to one way to complete the task. If you went about helping people and doing good deeds you could chose another route. If your character is rich you can try bribing your information from a shady NPC and find a different way to approach things. Using stats for specific dialogue options isn’t a new mechanic but combined with Deliverance’s experience system (something we’ll get to later) it could prove interesting.
While Martin was going through dialogue choices, I did notice an option to collect five animal meat. At this point I assumed that there would in fact be quest where the player would need to kill a certain number of NPCs, each with drop rates for said item. I cringed a little inside. That was until it was explained that the quest item is in fact universal, so if some NPC had killed the animals to process and sell the meat, I could buy it from them. As its a food source in the game, it could be in NPCs homes from which I could steal while they were out working. However, if I really wanted, I could just go and kill animals in the forest and loot them as you’d expect. I dislike drop rates for quest items in most RPG games I play, so any game which doesn’t force me to go and kill the same type of enemy over and over for little gain or reward, immediately gets on my good side.
Dialogues choices aren’t the only things that can affect gameplay, as player actions can also change the game world. Go exploring and accidentally attack an NPC, and they won’t be around later to help you with a quest when you need it. Accidentally attack a shop keeper who has no courage or weapons with a wrong button, and they will run towards someone who can protect them – perhaps a nearby guard. You’ll then have to decide how to handle the situation and interact as you see fit. Go on a murdering rampage and you’ll find it hard to interact with nearby villages. It should be noted though that doing reckless or monstrous things won’t block progress completely, as they player will still be able to complete quests – it’s just that they will just have to find a different approach to completing them.
While Martin was playing through dialogues, Tobias went on to explain about AI interactions, and how the AI react to situations. For example, lets say you’re sneaking into a castle for a quest, and a lookout spots you. In some games, an alarm would sound, triggering an instant fail and reset the game. With Deliverance, that guard would have to find another NPC to alert, or run up to the alarm bell to ring it before the rest of the NPC actually react. In short, if an NPC doesn’t see or hear it, they won’t react to it. I’ve always disliked “auto-failing” missions in games, mostly because I’m terrible at stealth. That magical lone sentry usually alerts the entire enemy force to my location more than once in games I play where I have to stealth. If Deliverance is going to give me to chance to mess up my sneaky ranged shot, charge after a fleeing sentry with a sword above my head before he can alert his friends, and then pickup and hide that body so no-one is any the wiser? I might be sold on that feature alone.
Reputation is a key driving factor behind the immersion. Individual NPCs, villages and factions all have specific values. Do something heroic for a faction, and your legend will speak across the land. If you do something truly horrible to an NPC in a village, all of the other villagers will take note. Continue to be mean to that village and eventually the villagers could run in terror from you, but the Faction would also take note, and your dealings with nearby villages would suffer. If the player goes to jail it reset’s their reputation with NPCs, good and bad. I also get the impression that the player will suffer some sort of stat loss or penalty but there aren’t too many details on that currently.
The inhabits of Bohemia, like us in the real world, need to sleep, so there are day and night cycles in the game. As such, NPC behavior and actions will change depending on the time of day. Want to talk to a shop-keeper at 3 am, they probably won’t be on the shop floor. Need to catch someone poaching in the evening? Then camping out at lunchtime to watch them won’t get you any new information for a task. While time cycles affect NPCs behavior, they’re only part of the equation. The weather, the player’s appearance, their recent actions and reputation towards NPCs are all factored in. Try to romance some information from a pretty tavern wench covered in blood from your latest exploits in the woods and you wont meet much success unless you clean yourself up.
Apparently, much like real life. I personally wouldn’t know as I always clean myself up before a tavern visit.
During the demonstration we were being followed by some NPCs who were up to no good, as we walked in the sunshine. When Martin interacted with them, there were dialogue choices, and we could ask the NPCs what they were up to, and why they were following us. Depending on the option we chose, the responses varied in how believable they were. Martin explained that if it was raining, then there would be an additional dialogue option, which would prompt other responses and different results. So, for example, if we asked the NPC why they were out on the roadside, and they responded that they were out for a stroll, the character could reply about the weather and how the NPCs following us appeared to be unhappy and soaked through. If Warhorse manage to implement that system into the majority of NPC interactions then the game is going to feel very “living” indeed. NPCs changing their reaction based on the weather? Come on – that’s pretty cool.
As with any RPG you’ll need to interact with a shop or merchant every once in a while to replenish your supplies. Deliverance allows you to accept the offered price from the NPC but it also has a bartering system where you can try to haggle over how much you’ll pay. Be careful however, NPCs aren’t stupid. If you consistently demand outrageous prices from one, they’ll remember and might charge you more for the same quality of goods the next time you visit. This feature could end up costing me in the game. I’m the type of player who will fleece the poor NPC shop keepers out of every penny, groat or grechin they have by selling them junk I find on my travels. I hope they don’t pass the word onto other towns so I can rotate around shop keepers taking advantage as I have in so many other RPGs.
As someone who likes to dive headfirst into the action, I was very much looking forward to seeing the combat system. In Deliverance fights aren’t scripted, with the AI reacting to the situation and changes their tactics according. While the player was fighting a knight, a friendly soldier came up behind the knight and stabbed him in the back as it was a weak point. The game has detailed collision detection on all parts of the character model and weapons. Hit someone in the head and you’ll do different damage to hitting them in the lower leg. The armor types in the game also have different strong and weak points, which all interact with the actual blows the player lands. You can see exactly what I mean by watcing the videos below.
The demonstration also showed off one of the major siege battles, highlighting how the combat works on a larger scale. Multiple skirmishes occurred as the player went about following orders from a commander, reacting to the battle. Sadly Martin was wounded heavily and bled out shortly before the finale to the battle, so I wasn’t able to see just how big and messy things can get, but from what I saw there’s the potential for some serious brawls and hack and slash action.
As for character progression, Warhorse have taken a direct approach – the way to get better at something is by simply doing it in-game. While there are levels of ability, there aren’t talent trees or skills. So, you can’t go into the woods, kill 100 wild boars, and then spend skill points on increasing your bartering skill with NPCs as with some games. The idea of no talent trees appeal to me, as your level is tracked in the game, but it’s purely cosmetic. The stats themselves are in effect experience bars, so the way the player decides to complete the tasks of a quest decide which stats will be improved. I get the impression that this system combined with repercussions of actions for players will provide for a variety of ways to replay through the game.
The survival element of the RPG means that players will need to eat and sleep in order to stay healthy and, more importantly, be able to function in-game. If you let your food or stamina stats fall low enough, your vision will become blurred and you can even pass out from exhaustion. If your character is bleeding, you’ll get colour distortion on your screen. During combat, the two combined, while taking blows from an enemy, can actually hamper your vision quite considerably. The speed at which your character uses up stamina depends on what they’re doing. For example, fighting in full plate mail is going to use more than riding a horse exploring the countryside.
Speaking of which, as you’d expect from a medieval setting, mounts will feature in the game and come in a variety of types. Depending on your play style and the mount in question, you’ll be able to take them into combat as well as use them for transportation. Anyone who’s played an RPG before will be familiar with weight limits and becoming overburdened, and thankfully Deliverance includes the ability to interact with your mount’s inventory, allowing you to shift out some excess weight when not in combat.
While the game is designed for PC, with versions being released for the Xbox one and PS4 later, the demo was controlled with a gaming pad. The options during combat, and how to attack and move around seemed natural for controller use. One thing I’ll be looking to try out and play around with in the upcoming beta is the control structure, and how it feels to fight with a mouse and keyboard.
Built using CryEngine, the powerful and modern software framework has meant that Warhorse can devote most of their resources into the bits of the game that players can see. It’s taken two years to get to this stage, but I was very impressed with the level of detail of the textures, the quality of lighting effects, and the number of models interacting with one another in the forests that were shown. Without a complex pre-built engine to base around, the team wouldn’t be anywhere near where they are today. Whenever an update to CryEngine is released, it’s implemented into the build, allowing the team to always use the best tools available to them. The cross-platform nature of CryEngine also allows the team to make far less adjustments when porting it to other platforms – an important point considering the planned PS4 and Xbox One releases.
The game is designed with the concept of no load times for different areas. You’ll enter the world, and as you travel about things will load in the background as needed. While the process is meant to be seamless, I did notice a bit of reduced frame rate when the character entered new areas, but Tobias explained that hardly any performance optimisation has been done on the current build. Hopefully things will be smoothed out for the upcoming beta build.
Even in this beta stage, it’s clear that Warhorse are putting a lot of effort the statement of a living world RPG. A lot of the characters and speech that were present in the demo are currently place holders, but the quality of the dialogue during the character interactions of the main quest chain was something I took note of. Tobias explained that while the team were in the UK for some press sessions they were also working with British voice actors for a lot of the dialogue. They are currently in talks to secure an actor for the lead character, who may or may not have featured on British TV screens before.
Currently a lot of the NPC face models are computer generated, Martin showed off a couple of characters whoever who’s head’s had been generated using 3D capture technology from living models. It was explained that Warhorse’s intention is for all NPCs to have captured features, not computer generated, to avoid the repetitious populous that most RPGs suffer from.
When I asked about what age rating that the team are aiming for, Tobias explained that they are trying to be as historically accurate as possible, and that includes language and behavior from the time. While there is blood and violence in the game, it won’t be excessively graphic. So, if you’re the type to stand over your vanquished foes and see just what a game engine will allow you to do to their recently deceased corpse, you’ll be left wanting in terms of decapitations and dismembering their limbs.
So, what will be available in the beta when it goes live on 3rd March? In short, the makings of what could be a great role-playing game which sets the bar for future titles. There’ll be the main quest, side quests, combat, combat training, and shops. Only a small part of the crafting system will be included, but the survival elements will there, and of course there’s a giant castle siege. The map size is four times as large as the previous alpha builds, and apparently this is still just 1/6th of the actual release map.
While the graphics are very impressive, the effects I saw in the demo are nowhere near the final version. Still, I’m looking forward to trying out the beta and seeing how fast I can cause all the factions to be angry with me. I’m also interested to see how the combat system feels after those in-depth videos explaining how accurate the team wanted to game to be. If you like your sandbox games and immersion, keep and eye on Kingdom Come: Deliverance, as it’s got the potential to be a very detailed RPG with plenty of replayability if Warhorse keep going the way they have been so far.
A huge thanks to Martin & Tobias for chatting to us! For more infomation on Kingdom Come: Deliverance you can head over to the official website. Pre-purchase comes with access to the Beta build which goes live on March 3rd.