ReviewsReview: Pathfinder Kingmaker

Review: Pathfinder Kingmaker

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Tabletop gaming isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. A fun and hardcore genre that requires a mixture of dedication, imagination and a great group of friends. A successful session is as much down to the game mechanics as it is the Dungeon Master. When I was told that a game had made it through a Kickstarter campaign and was based around the fundamentals of the 4th edition of D&D, I was dubious.

Pathfinder: Kingmaker is an isometric Role Playing Game that has; morality, a great story and companionship at the heart of everything it does. Developed by Owlcat Games and published by Deep Silver, this massive RPG will have you losing hours of your life to its; plot, lore and finer details. 

Another success for Kickstarter. 

Successfully backed in 2017, Pathfinder: Kingmaker had a great following and plenty of interest before it was released. Combining two separate gaming methods; turn-based and real-time strategy, the action can be played as quickly, or as slowly as you wish. The game utilises a wide range of difficulty settings from; custom and story, to the nigh on impossible hardest level. This range has opened the developers up for a barrage of criticism because of the unbalanced nature of the gameplay. In true modern gaming fashion, patches and hotfixes have been rolled out to address the list of issues. Some have been resolved, but others remain an ongoing concern.

The basic premise of this tale is simple to follow. A band of misfit adventurers is brought together to claim the disputed region known as the Stolen Lands. The successful team will bring calm and order to this area, and one will be given the title of Baron. *Spoiler*, it’s you who have this honour!

When you and your band of misfits stare into the abyss and only hellish fire looks back!

The story doesn’t reflect the whole picture. 

The plot only presents a portion of the heart and soul of this title. It’s also a game that allows you to influence people’s moral compass. You must balance your decision making with the needs of your lands and your team of companions. Dialogue choices and your alignment, builds bonds or create rifts in friendships. It’s a fine balancing act, and one that you will fall foul of multiple times. 

Like all great RPGs, Pathfinder: Kingmaker allows you the freedom to explore the world around you. A 2D map gives you the ability to discover; sprawling dungeons, settlements and towns, random encounters with monsters and a varied and interesting landscape. The vast and meaty world is controlled by the main game mechanic, a virtual d20 (a 20 sided dice). This D&D inspired concept adds a layer of risk and uncertainty, and keeps the gameplay true to its roots.

Micromanaging your world. 

Other than the aforementioned adventuring, you must also manage your barony and people. This portion was unusual for an RPG, and though not as labour intensive as a simulation title, it still contained a lot of details. Your decisions directly influence your reputation. Create trade deals and honour them, and people will view you as honest and just. Rescind or pillage and you fall into the evil and chaotic bracket. 

You may build establishments to make money and instruct your team of companions to follow orders and complete tasks. It’s gloriously detailed and is as time-consuming or hands-off as you like.

Man Vs Beast, there can only be one victor.

Sound concept, but tough to pick up. 

The entire concept is solid and puts this in good standing with most of its peers. It’s glaring fault, however, is its complexity and assumption that players will have D&D experience. Fortunately, I do, yet even I struggled with many of the fundamentals. Tutelage is provided throughout, but these wordy documents can be tough to swallow.

This is where a real Dungeon Master beats a virtual computer one every time. No-one wants their hand held throughout, but a gentle nudge can be the difference between joy and frustration. As you progress, it becomes second nature. However, the learning curve is steep, and I fear this will put off many would-be players.

Influences of Pillars of Eternity and Baldur’s Gate. 

If you also had a misspent youth spending hours on end playing Baldur’s Gate, then you will slip into this with ease. The developers have borrowed much of the control system to make up the core of the gameplay. The concept of pausing the action mid-battle, resting, spells and more will not come as a surprise. It’s like riding a bike and it’ll all come back to you naturally. 

The story is told through a combination of dialogue and the plot unravelling on the pages of a dusty old tome. Clear links can be seen between this and Pillars of Eternity, though I believe the latter delivers the story in a much stronger and smoother way. I enjoyed the D&D style choices which aid or hinder the party. This, for me, was the closest element to the tabletop game.

Close quarter combat isn’t the only option available. Blast them away with spells and arrows.

 Old-school influences with a modern polish. 

The isometric viewpoint and dark, grainy graphics gave this an old-school feel. The earthy tones and low lighting create a sinister and ominous atmosphere that rarely dissipates. The text style and character models are retro in look and reminded me of early console and 90s PC titles. Though the viewing angle allows a clear line of sight, it can be a challenge to keep on top of all the action. I experienced several bugs while playing, and this is an issue that Owlcat Games are actively working on.

The audio follows suit with a music style that is synonymous with the early RPG genre. Minor toned, folksy music plays throughout. This represents both the emotion and the environment perfectly. The sound effects work well, but lacks originality, and the voice-over is delivered to a good standard. The characters come across as likeable or hated, and the delivery of their lines is anything but wooden. 

You need to give it time. 

If you are unfamiliar with D&D rules and methodology, then you will find this a handful to play. But with time and patience will soon be a pro who will compete at a high standard. With more written text than a library, be prepared for a tough yet justified learning curve. 

Just like this review, Pathfinder: Kingmaker is; long, wordy, and full of detail. Over 100 hours of gameplay awaits anyone that gets hooked. With a wide range of dialogue choices, moral alignments, and a realm to run, there is plenty of replay value. At £39.99 normally and £19.99 for a limited time, it’s great value for money.

Is the effort worth it?

There is no denying it, this is a tough nut to crack. But with effort comes reward! For all its intricacies and quirks, you’ll find yourself with a fantastically challenging experience. It does enough to compare it fondly to it its peer group, but its list of bugs and high difficulty keeps it from excelling. Do I recommend it? I do! If you wish to try this massive RPG for yourself, then buy it here! Choose your path, influence your people, and explore the world. 100+ hours of gameplay await you in this D&D inspired title. 

SUMMARY

A challenging to learn old-school RPG with D&D influences forming the backbone of its ethos. Become a baron, control your land, and influence those around you.

+ Fantastic in-depth gameplay.
+ Old-school presentation.
+ Uses its influences well.
+ Plenty of replay value.
+ Worth every penny.
- A tough learning curve.
- The gameplay is still unbalanced during harder settings.

(Reviewed on the Xbox Series X. Also available on Linux, Mac, PC and PlayStation.)
Daniel Waite
My gaming career started on an Amiga and spans many consoles! Currently, I game using an MSI laptop and Xbox Series X. A fan of every genre, I love to give anything a go. Former editor and reviewer for www.bonusstage.co.uk, I'm loving my new home here at Movies Games and Tech. I can be contacted for gaming reviews on the following email: [email protected]
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