Turning back time — Kingdom Come: Deliverance retrospective

By Kes Eylers-Stephenson,
We won’t lie to you, we TrueAchievement writers absolutely love Warhorse Studios’ historically grounded RPG Kingdom Come: Deliverance. We can’t hide our passion for it in sales picks or in every prediction article for a major event. To us, its insane depth of gameplay systems, honest and endearing narrative, and grounded historical setting make it one of the most critically underrated games from the last generation. Besides, even if we wanted to lie to you and pretend to be neutral about this epic, our speech skill isn't high enough to succeed. To help us explore the huge and insane development cycle of the literal and development histories of Kingdom Come: Deliverance, we spoke to Tobias Stolz-Zwilling, PR manager at Warhorse Studios. He became the face of Warhorse back in 2014 and knows the intimate history of the game, from the story to the technical side, and he has a magnificent moustache and beard. So, let’s turn back the time on Kingdom Come: Deliverance.

Some edits have been made for clarity.

Development

carousel imageTobias Stolz-Zwilling — PR Manager at Warhorse Studios

Warhorse Studios had a very tricky time getting Kingdom Come: Deliverance developed. “With KC:D we tried to create a game that hadn't yet existed,” says Tobias. “A game that focuses on authenticity and realism to the best of our knowledge, paired with fun and interesting quests and activities. We saw a gap in the market, as the market is flooded with many 'copy and paste' fantasy RPG titles.”

There is a common misconception about KC:D’s combination of stripped-back mechanics and emphasis on the real world, one that we at TA have been guilty of making. “I am always a bit reluctant to call Kingdom Come: Deliverance 'Hardcore' or 'Simulation,'" Tobias illustrated for us. “In the end, it is just another RPG, but with [a different] approach to things.”

From the outset, the team faced trouble getting funding through the door. With a prototype built on CryEngine 3 sorted before the end of 2013, the newly-formed Warhorse team shopped the game around town. Tobias explains that Warhorse’s timing “for the KC:D pitch was bad. It was before PS4 and Xbox One were released, the future of gaming was not clear, minigames on Facebook were booming, and publishers were generally more reluctant than ever to try something new and risky.” In the face of a lack of investment from a publisher, something the team openly described in a fascinating blog post, the game eventually got put on the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter.

Kingdom Come: Deliverance

“It was really a sink or swim situation. Failing the crowdfunding campaign would [have] led to inevitably closing down Warhorse Studios. Luckily… we were lucky. Or to put it differently, the concept proved to be appealing to gamers all around the world. Within 36 hours we achieved our initial goal of £300,000. After one month we had over £1.1 million. This success wasn’t completely out of the blue — as we already did market research and contacted a potential community before — however, the speed was surprising. Before, during, and after the Kickstarter campaign, we quickly developed a very active and interested community that was involved immensely in creating the game.”

That community — which still thrives today — opened up a toolbox of inspiration for the dev team, as “many ideas, opinions and feedback were incorporated into the game.” If you have played KC:D, then you know that you are juggling open-ended quests, free-form looting, survival mechanics, and skill trees that actually impact outcomes of the interwoven narrative structure. So how on earth did this team manage to keep it all in check?

“Probably magic,” quips Tobias. “To be honest, it was a big challenge. Kingdom Come: Deliverance is, with all its additions, a 100 hour plus ginormous open-world RPG. Do what you want, go where you want… and essentially break what you want. We had a very bumpy ride to keep the game in shape and fix everything that came up ASAP.

“I’d say that every day is a surprise day in game development. Tasks that seemed to be easy turned out to be way trickier, and the hard tasks… Okay, no — who I am kidding? It almost never turns out to be easier than expected. In all seriousness, one can be surprised at how complicated a save and load system is in a huge open world like that, but we take it for granted.”

Luckily, the Warhorse team had some help in beating KC:D into shape. “We definitely have to thank our patient and active community that helped identify things that slipped through our net, as well. In the end, within a week we had one million testers instead of the initial 20 we had at Warhorse Studios!”

Kingdom Come: Deliverance

Since the game was released in 2018, there has been four DLC expansions that are now part of the complete Royal Edition. All four have a different flavour and — in some ways — serve as the epilogue to the game. One has you in the burnt-out husk of Pribyslavitz, rebuilding the town and bringing its new citizens into order. Another is a murder mystery and there is another all about Henry’s love life. These are now vital parts of the experience in our view and Tobias told us that they came about as “a combination of many factors.

“We were not 100% clear about [making] DLC before release and had to wait for the reaction and feedback to the release of the base game. It was after that, that the dev team sat together to see what had to be cut out of the game and what would make an interesting fit. In the end, we came up with four very different, but very sophisticated DLC expansions. They might not be the biggest ones, but each and everyone brings new mechanics and interesting quests.”

Story

Kingdom Come: Deliverance

Kingdom Come: Deliverance drops you in the shoes of Henry, the son of a blacksmith, in 1403 Bohemia ruled over by a lazy King Wenceslaus. Young man Henry is, frankly, about as sharp as his father’s hammers when you meet him. His entire life and town, Skalitz, are then trampled by an incursion into the now-Czech Republic led by Sigismund — a half-brother to the King and rival to the Bohemian throne — leading a Cuman horde.

“When picking the right moment in history we were looking for something local Czech, and something that would fit in a 4x4km map,” explains Tobias. “A story that has some historical [grounding], but [also] offers a bit of creative freedom to fit the story of Henry in. With King Sigismund attacking the Silver Mines of Bohemia, we found exactly that.

"When choosing our main character, it was important for us to create someone who one can relate to — a regular Joe (or Henry), so to say. We deliberately avoided the common RPG standards of 'you are the chosen one', 'you have the birthmark,' or whatever nonsense you could come up with. Henry is a normal boy with normal problems that gets drawn into a very unnatural situation — war. Naturally, the player and Henry first have to actually learn how to use the sword, bow, or read and is not an unstoppable killing machine at the beginning of the game. Frankly, not even at the end!”

KCD 1

Creating a story revolving around fact and reality can be a tricky job for writers, as finding the balance between fiction and historical truth is a fine line. When setting out to write KC:D, there was a slightly different approach. “The rough fictional wireframe was ready. However, it was the historical events, the region we chose, and the circumstances in Bohemia [that led] to a variety of quests, plot events, and more.”

From there, “[the development team] tried to make every quest unique and interesting.” A part of this design philosophy was creating an incredibly diverse series of ending to every single mini-adventure, fuelled by player choice. Tobias elaborated that “[A part of that process] includes most of the quests having multiple ways to end them, but often the game does not tell you [how to do so]. The player is forced to come up with solutions that can sometimes even impact the following story elements. And, if it is open-ended, at least you have something to wonder about.”

However, central to everything is really our boy Henry. When asked what gameplay or functionality tied the whole game together, Tobias responded that “rather than a specific feature, I think it is Henry — the main protagonist himself — who ties everything together. His dorkiness and naivety make the game so down to earth and relatable.”

Gameplay

kingdom comeCREDIT: vidyawiki

If creating a narrative based around local history proved fun for the Czech team, then creating gameplay systems to truly immerse the player in 1403 was a tough task to execute.

“The historical events and realism are just the frame we worked [within]. We never sacrificed one for the other but tried to go for compromises and/or innovations that supported the gameplay. Take the [treasure] maps, for instance — it might seem inconvenient to not have a minimap and a GPS marker showing you the way, but it forces you to pay more attention to the world and your surroundings. It does not punish you but helps you to immerse yourself deeper into 1403 Bohemia.”

One particularly bold design decision that we love is the first-person perspective — a choice that still stands to totally make KC:D a unique prospect for players. It’s a choice that is becoming more common in fantasy RPGs, but there always seems a temptation to get the third-person camera into a game somehow. Tobias and the team knew this. “Of course, some players miss the third-person view. In the end, it is a design decision.

"Again, it was a question of immersion. Seeing the world with your eyes, face-to-face, was much more appealing for us and the way we tell our story. Also, clinching sword-to-sword with someone who wants your guts impaled is so much more frightening than watching it from ‘safe distance.’”

Kingdom Come: Deliverance

On the subject of creating a game that had to be playable, sword-fighting — which requires the player to pick from eight offensive and defensive angles with the right stick, with a parry and attack system — is something Tobias brings up again.

“Combat was one of the aspects that had to be simplified. While I am convinced that KC:D displays one of the most accurate depictions of mediaeval combat, it still had to be adjusted to gameplay needs. Usually, you want to be unpredictable and quick in a real fight. You don’t want to fight for long but quickly take out your opponent with one strike or stab. The game however must somehow display and “overact” so that gamers can see that there are hits coming so that they have enough time to come up with a block or counterattack. Also, one hit doesn’t kill you (usually!).”

KINGDOM COME DELIVERANCE MAPCREDIT: vidyawiki

As part of that immersive quality that KC:D brings to the party, it is full of superb artistic direction. The menus, for instance, all look like scrolls with the main map rocking old-school cartographic artwork. “The map, as well as the church and castle wall paintings, are inspired by manuscripts of the time and by the remains of what has survived until today,” says Tobias. “However, some places had neither so we had to come up with what we believed could have been appropriate for the time, place, and area.” This is something you can see in the hand-drawn clouds with devilish-looking angels atop shift away as you explore the world of Bohemia, with a gloriously paired back amount of objective markers.

Achievements

A Woman's Lot ~ SuperHeroArt

The achievement list for Kingdom Come: Deliverance is a long and tricky one, featuring plenty of missables, thoughtful progression, and rewards for altering how you play. Warhorse’s aim with the list, Tobias explains, was to “be creative, fun, out of the box, and just different. But on the other hand, achievements are a great way to track the progress of players. How far did they get? Where did they stop? And so on. So, it’s a mix of classic and creative.”

Kingdom Come: DeliveranceSecret AchievementThe Secret Achievement achievement in Kingdom Come: Deliverance worth 38 pointsContinue playing to unlock this secret achievement

Some achievements, like Game Over and Angel of Mercy, are both missable puzzles that require you to perform very specific actions in the DLC packs. We were curious whether these exist for the fun of seeing if people would do it, or if it was enjoyable for the team to put the effort into creating insane diversions.

Kingdom Come: DeliveranceSecret AchievementThe Secret Achievement achievement in Kingdom Come: Deliverance worth 446 pointsContinue playing to unlock this secret achievement

“Both, actually. Like, for example, the Firestarter achievement. You’ll get this one when you get jailed in the tutorial. It’s not a puzzle and I don’t want to spoil anything, but it is a fun way to end the game.” About the missable trophies (or ones voided by another, like Virgin), Tobias says that “achievements like that are rather for die-hard fans. And in the end, you should really feel like you have achieved something, and not get an achievement just for — I don’t know — arriving somewhere or talking to someone. We, of course, have some 'tracking' achievements as well, but those you are talking about right now are just for real pros. And, of course, it also motivates [the player] to replay the game.”

What's next for Warhorse?

A Woman's Lot

What is next for Warhorse, then? Well, Tobias was coy about telling us about Kingdom Come: Deliverance 2 (which definitely exists, we know it… right?), the community manager did confirm: “We are currently working on a new project.” When asked if the team would be open to heading in a fantasy route in future, Tobias said, “Sure, why limit yourself?”

Though a patch for Series X|S and PS5 wasn’t on the cards as Tobias has confirmed previously (thanks, SxyBiscuit), about a native port of the game, he said that “unfortunately, this is not planned right now.”

However, the team does have something special in the near future. “We are hosting a symphonic orchestra concert in Prague with our composer Jan Valta in front of a huge video projection. Definitely, something to take a look at, don’t you think?” We do; the soundtrack is amazing!



More importantly, we asked if we could get a (good boy) Mutt plushy — Mutt being the dog you adopt and can command in the game. Tobias said he will be stealing that idea, so now we have our hopes up. Don’t let us down!

We would like to thank Tobias for talking to us and answering our many questions. Leave a comment below with your favourite memories of Kingdom Come, if you agree with us that it is an underrated classic, and what you want to see from Warhorse in the future!
Kes Eylers-Stephenson
Written by Kes Eylers-Stephenson
Working across TrueTrophies and TrueAchievements, Kes writes news, reviews, and a variety of bespoke features. Kes left university after four years with a first-class MA in English Literature — a subject that required research, creativity, and lots of writing. He also has dabbled in teaching, farming, and building websites. Some days, he plays Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag to pretend he is a pirate.