Kingmakers Preview – Historically Accurate Absurdity

If you haven’t seen the trailer for Kingmakers, I encourage you to watch it now before continuing. If you have, or perhaps you are reading this magazine in an effort to limit screen time (you’re doing great, and we appreciate your support), I can’t continue to talk about the game without spoiling its major twist. The trailer teases what appears to be a medieval strategy game with base-building elements before a contemporary, but admittedly junky truck screams through time to arrive in the middle of a battlefield brimming with horses, suits of armor, and presumably the shouting of old English phrases, but it’s difficult to hear through the chaos.

What follows is something closer to Dynasty Warriors, where one man with modern weapon technology like guns and missile launchers wages war against armies of the past. The premise is immediately enticing, bizarre, and funny, but Kingmakers’ creators, brothers Ian and Paul Fisch, are taking a surprisingly grounded approach to its game while fully embracing the absurd but compelling idea.

“The plot is important, especially when it comes to the historical accuracy,” Ian says. “It’s not just a generic medieval setting. You’re in the 15th century. You’re fighting against Henry Bolingbrook – Henry IV – and his son, Henry V.” This came as a shock to me because after watching the trailer, I fully assumed Kingmakers was a tongue-in-cheek action game about fighting medieval soldiers with modern weaponry, and while that is certainly the case, Ian is clearly passionate about history. He spends the next few minutes of our interview talking about that era of history, England’s relationship with France at the time, and commiserating about how the 2018 Timothée Chalamet film The King and Shakespeare’s Henry V both got the history wrong. “Ian likes to history-nerd out and go really deep,” Paul says. “We do try to keep this accurate lore, and then you intervene. Then the idea is that – you know – you’re altering history.”

And that historical intervention will apparently offer different outcomes. “The game has many endings,” Paul confirms. The trailer does not go deep into the game’s story, which is by design. The Fischs did not want to bog down potential players with lore in that first look. “I don’t think a trailer should start naming a bunch of proper nouns and places and characters,” Ian says. But for those who do dive into Kingmakers when it releases, the story will be a driving force.

Despite the action of fighting medieval armies with modern weaponry, you will not be playing as a trained soldier. Instead, you are a member of a team of scientists who are trying to figure out what in the past led to the current-day apocalypse. Your team has invented a time machine that lets them see the world shift and change around them due to decisions made in the past. They learn they must unite England, Wales, Scotland, and “a little bit of Ireland,” as Ian phrases it, to prevent a terrible future. You’re not an army with an unlimited government budget – you’re a scientist trying to prevent present-day calamity.

And it is possible to fail, or at least arrive at a very confusing finale. The trailer offers a tease of what appears to be an optimistic outcome in a futuristic city with cat-shaped floating ships, but everything is not as it seems. “If you pay close attention at the end, you’ll see that that cat-ship opens up and just rains down human skulls and other bones. So, it’s not exactly optimistic,” Ian says.

The story was the unexpected element of Kingmakers that drove my conversation with the Fisch brothers, but the duo and their team are also passionate about making a compelling action game with unique mechanics. As the time-traveling scientist, you will be jumping into the middle of the fray, but you will also be building defendable bases and commanding your army. So, alongside firing guns and driving trucks through swaths of soldiers, you will also be issuing orders, and doing it all with others online if you so choose. You will be able to assist your friends with their ongoing campaigns, and they can do the same for you. While specific details about how multiplayer will work are still being locked in, the Fisch brothers make it clear they want it all to be jump-in-jump-out.

“It’s a third-person, but it’s also simulation?” Paul says, not ready to fully commit to a specific genre. “It doesn’t have to be these narrow genres because people like lots of genres, and they want to see interesting matchups of those genres,” Ian says. Kingmakers enters Early Access later this year, which will be our chance to see exactly what this unusual game really is.

This article originally appeared in Issue 365 of Game Informer.

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