The knights in shining armor.
There's a moment in Kingdom Come: Deliverance where you break into someone’s house to steal a ring as part of quest for a group of miller’s that, it turns out, are secretly an organization of thieves. We're left thinking, “Wow, this really is a lot like an Elder Scrolls game.” Not in a bad way either. While Bethesda’s series of open world RPGs have been influential, no one’s really tried to straight up make something so close to an Elder Scrolls game. To its credit, for all the parallels in design and visuals, Kingdom Come feels like a vastly different experience from an Elder Scrolls title.
In the video above, GameSpot's own Jean-Luc Seipke talks about how these two games can feel so different despite being so similar, and how Bethesda could actually learn a thing or two from Kingdom Come. While multiple Elder Scrolls games are referenced, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is primarily used due to the visual similarities and also because it's Jean-Luc's personal favorite.
Being a game built with real world history in mind, Kingdom Come: Deliverance is immediately different from the fantasy-based world of Oblivion. Practically everything the game does is meant to simulate and re-imagine medieval Bohemia, which means worrying about things like needing to bathe regularly, managing injuries, and eating food before it spoils.
This makes buying food at a shop or drink at the tavern important because they serve a purpose and are essential for survival. Compare this to Oblivion where food does have small effects but isn't generally really useful on its own, and is better served as ingredients in a potion. You never need to stock up on carrots before making a long trek to the next town, which becomes second nature in Kingdom Come. In fact a lot of objects in Oblivion don’t really have much of a gameplay benefit. As a result, taverns and markets end up being window dressing to flesh out the world. Meanwhile every shop in Kingdom Come feels important because they serve as a marketplace for the stuff you need to survive an average day, let alone an action-packed one. The same goes for sleeping; in Oblivion you only need to sleep in order to level up and any bed will do. You’ll also recover all your health but the same thing can be accomplished by simply waiting an hour. The only way to regain health in Kingdom Come is to sleep it off or use consumable items.
Beds also are arguably Kingdom Come's most contentious feature, as they also function as the save system. There are no autosaves outside of certain quest moments, and you can only manually save by sleeping in a bed you own or by purchasing expensive bottles of Savior Schnapps. It's a radically different approach to Oblivion’s save-anywhere-anytime system, and results in two different experiences. In Kingdom Come, saving some poor villager being accosted on the road might not be worth the risk if you die and lose an hour of progress. You’re forced to think about every choice you make and what you end up choosing feels more important because of this. This is rarely the case in Oblivion where you can quickly save and load at any time to retry unlocking a door as many times as you want. Don’t take this as me saying that being able to save at anytime is bad or anything; after all Oblivion doesn’t want you to get stuck or lose hours or progress, it wants you to go on an adventure. Right from the beginning of the game you're able to go wherever you want and find a fun quest to engage in with no worries about save limitations or not having enough food. Kingdom Come simply prefers a more rigorous approach.
And the advantage of Kingdom Come is that it forces you to live in its world and roleplay. When you’re making a long trek you need to make sure you've packed enough food and are well rested. And when it's starting to get dark and you're low on energy, there is a sense of relief when you see that inn on the side of the road. In Oblivion, you'd stop at an Inn to fulfill the desire to roleplay or because there's probably a cool quest to get.
Neither approach is inherently right or wrong, but Kingdom Come is aiming to take familiar scenarios and make them more impactful. Take, for example, the Thieves Guild in Oblivion and Kingdom Come’s equivalent. In Oblivion, you join the Thieves Guild not out of any real desire for money or financial reasons; you don’t really need it. You join because it's a fun quest narrative where you go around stealing a bunch of stuff. The opening hours of Kingdom Come however leave you with little beyond the clothes on your back. Money is necessary to access food and other important items needed to stay alive, so when presented with the faster but more dangerous option of becoming a thief, you take it. The game's systems make a life of crime an appealing means of survival.
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That isn’t to say Kingdom Come is perfect. Its save system, most notably, can be really frustrating when things go bad. Developer Warhorse Studios seem to be backpedaling on it a bit in an upcoming patch by letting you save when you quit, which is a decent compromise. There's also the lockpicking and pickpocketing minigames that just don’t seem to work consistently, which is also frustrating and exacerbated by the save system. But again, Warhorse said it'll address this.
And there are things that Oblivion does much better, such as the playable character. Your character is given the bare bones setup of being in jail but afterward, you're free to come up with the backstory and personality you desire. This works well since there aren't any voiced lines and the dialogue options are minimal, with very little personality, the idea being that you’ll fill in that personality yourself. The ability to create your own person to be the avatar in your roleplay wonderfully meshes with the freedom-based design of Oblivion. Kingdom Come’s approach is closer to The Witcher, with protagonist Henry having a predetermined personality, which ends up clashing with the rest of the game's do-anything style. Henry may talk about how much he respects honor and appalls thievery, but sometimes it's right after instantly killing a random NPC and ransacking their home. There's a constant dissonance between what what Henry says and what you want Henry to do, a problem Bethesda also faced with Fallout 4’s protagonist.
So it's pretty clear that Kingdom Come's more hardcore roleplaying aspects have won me over. However, that's not to say the next Elder Scrolls needs to be a hardcore survival game. Oblivion and Skyrim are lighthearted, and the freedom to approach the world's conflicts and have a good adventure is just what we want sometimes. But with the inevitable (and totally unconfirmed) Elder Scrolls VI, Bethesda should take note on the ways in which Kingdom Come: Deliverance pushes the open-world RPG forward.