Kingdom Come Deliverance: The First Next-Gen Immersive Sim?

If you’ve kept up with PC-focused gaming websites you probably know about Kingdom Come: Deliverance. I’m posting here about it now because I only just now caught all its recent gameplay footage which has quickly placed the game among my most anticipated for next year.

The basic elevator pitch I would give for the game after watching developer Warhorse Studio’s hour-long livestream archive is that Kingdom Come is like an Elder Scrolls game running on the Crysis 3 engine, but set in real medieval Europe and without the magic or dragons. Warhorse is positioning it is a non-fantasy RPG, more specifically an RPG of the immersive simulator fashion. In that sense you could also sort of call the game a “medieval knight simulator.”

The major appeal points they talk about in the stream video are how dynamic the world is, with NPCs living out their own lives, players being able to interact with almost everything (with accompanying animations), and player choice offering a lot of paths in the story. That does sound very similar to Skyrim or the upcoming Witcher 3, but the main thing setting Kingdom Come apart is of course its more authentic setting, even featuring historical people, almost like a docudrama game. One thing Warhorse has talked a lot about is how they’re approaching the world design in Kingdom Come, which could also set it apart.

Basically, these guys hate the problem of how RPGs end up rendering large cities that are really small collections of buildings populated by a few dozen people at most. One of the first things Warhorse talked about when letting people know about Kingdom Come is the problem of open world scale and realism versus game pacing. I think I mentioned it before: most RPG game worlds feel unrealistically small, but if you set a game in a vast land and render it to 1:1 scale, it would take too long to get anywhere for an entertaining game. This is coming from some of the guys who worked on the MafiaOperation Flashpoint, and ArmA games.

It seems Warhorse’s solution is a middle ground in combination with a carefully chosen real-world location. Warhorse says the amount of accessible terrain in Kingdom Come will be similar to that of Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, but the world of Kingdom Come won’t be as compressed. Castles and villages will feel farther apart in order to create a land that looks and feels realistically big, but not so far apart that you spend too much time traveling. The game Warhorse praises in this regard is Red Dead Redemption, where major locations are just far enough apart that you couldn’t see one from another, and distances are balanced around horseback travel.

Kingdom Come takes place in and around a sort of obscure town and the castles overlooking it. Devoting a full sandbox to that kind of area should result in a more believable scale as opposed to Oblivion, which tries to convince you you’re in the capitol of a continent-spanning empire but is populated by around 300 people. It’s the equivalent of Shenmue or Deadly Premonition — setting a game in a realistically rendered small town instead of an unrealistically rendered large city.

Furthermore, Warhorse intends to sell Kingdom Come in three acts, each of which will take place in its own environment. They promise Act I alone will contain some 30 hours of gameplay and they imply it will be sold at some price below $60. That also sounds similar to Witcher 3 (which is probably working on a larger budget), which will feature reasonably-spaced hub areas, each one comparable to Skyrim in size, so as to represent various locations that in reality would be many miles apart. It kind of sounds like the hub system from Witcher 2 instead of a single open world, just with much larger hubs.

Like Star CitizenProject EternityWasteland 2, or Mighty no. 9Kingdom Come is what you would call a larger-scale indie project. The thing is, Warhorse actually shopped this game around to publishers before trying Kickstarter. The story about it on their blog reminds me of the old meaning of the world “independent developer” — a team that does a full retail game on contract for a publisher, but isn’t owned by that publisher. The blog goes through some interesting reasons why no publisher picked up Kingdom Come, but the one that sticks out to me is the issue of it not being “Epic” enough.

I think the issue is, this game doesn’t have a very immediate appeal point to someone who isn’t already interested in immersive sims or medieval history. And what Warhorse has shown of the game doesn’t really have any in-your-face moments like explosions or dragons showing up or anything. They say there will be at least one large-scale battle in the final game but that’s it. Mostly Kingdom Come is probably going to be slow-paced day-to-day medieval knight dealings. Realistic medieval settings are also rare in video games, which makes Kingdom Come a bet as unsafe as it is interesting. Without the fantasy angle I guess they could sell it to people somewhat like Read Dead — the only very successful sandbox game taking place in a historical setting that isn’t Assassin’s Creed. In terms of the story it would be interesting if they tried to sell it based on the popularity of Game of Thrones (which is fantasy I guess — people wonder why The Tudors wasn’t as popular).

In any case, the main reason I’m actually interested in this game is because I can’t wait to see the immersive sim game style make its way onto next-generation hardware. I’m waiting to see what games like Fallout 4, the next Deux Ex, or possibly Dishonored II will look like. Judging by how things are going, it looks like Kingdom Come will beat those games to the market.

BULLETS:

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