Pathfinder: King Maker Review
Growing up with games like Baldur's Gate, Ice Wind Dale, Neverwinter Nights and to a certain degree, yes, even Diablo, I get that feeling of longing for those isometric adventures that would make anyone lose time. The world, the stories and the experiences you get from these types of games are somewhat, you might say, engrossing. Character development, companion management and even the care you put on the strategy component on your simple skirmishes with enemies will give any RPG addict gamer a run for its money.
For more than a decade the role-play gaming industry has been dominated with action games that have RPG elements in them. Aptly named ARPGs (Action Role-playing Games), games like Mass Effect and The Elder Scrolls Series cater to the 3D graphics mixed with action combat that gamers were into during the early 2000s. However on my part, the craving for that micro managing or rather a more in-depth strategy element from ARPGs was not sated. I needed my CRPG (Computer Role-Playing Game or Classical Role-Playing Game, depending on who you ask ) fix!
Good thing is the recent surge for CRPGs have satisfied my “feeling of longing”. Games like Pillars of Eternity and Divinity: Original Sin have been winning the hearts of CRPG fans thanks to platforms like Kickstarter that crowdfund these types of games. With renewed interest in CRPGs, games such as Tyranny from Obsidian Entertainment and Torment: Tides of Numeria derived from the classic Planescape: Torment series now have a place in the market once more. This brings me to our review today, Pathfinder: Kingmaker.
Pathfinder: Kingmaker, an iteration of the old tabletop Pathfinder and creation of the legendary Chris Avellone, is a new take on the CRPG genre. The game has the elements of a great CRPG and includes the simple strategy depth of 4X games like Civilization. I am not kidding! Pathfinder not only puts you in the shoes of a character that leads a party of adventurers but also puts you in the shoes a ruler that manages his/her own land.
The game makes it clear from the very start that this will be your destiny. You start off as a mercenary, tasked of claiming an independent nation ruled by bandits. From there you'll meet interesting characters along the way that may help you or hinder you from your current goal, becoming a baron. Pathfinder provides you with choices that develop both your personal character and your barony equally, so this takes the term 'immersion' to a whole new level.
Personally, I like how the game takes the original Pathfinder pen and paper elements to the game itself. I mean seriously, when have you ever seen a game that brings back alignment status choice. You know, Lawful Good, Chaotic Evil and everything in between? So you bet that when you start off with character creation, a staple of all RPG games, you're already doing some character developing right there.
Pathfinder also lets you know that the world changes not only with the choices you make but also with your interaction with other characters. Your alignment also changes in time based on the dialogue choices you pick. So basically, the world, your companions and other characters in the game reacts to you and who you are as a person. These transitions are handled well by the game, making 'choice' in all aspects a vital part of the game.
The combat is typical to any CRPG out there which I think is the downside of Pathfinder: Kingmaker. During skirmishes or fights, Pathfinder doesn't introduce new aspects to the genre and even incorporated the classic die rolls to the game, which is usually handled seamlessly by algorithms in other RPGs. Not that this aspect is game-breaking or what but I think the developers didn't complicate things so that players could break the game easily.
This is maybe due to the decent AI mechanic of your companions in the game. During battles, when not trying to micro-manage targets, NPCs know what to target next and which enemy to avoid or save for last. In my play-through, I hardly ever need to pause the game to make on-the-fly battle changes except for healing spells. However, depending on how your party's individual characters are made, the AI uses one or two actions as its go-to tactic. This is where you may need that OCD quirk of yours since some enemies have weaknesses to certain elemental spells that would prove vital in winning battles.
The game has an extensive map filled with both repetitive random encounters and relevant events that tie the enemies you face with the world's current situation. Dungeon maps however are tedious work filled with traps and monsters that were only placed to delay you from the few interesting parts of it. Also, being a ruler is no easy task as the choices you make determine your people’s view on you as a Baron. Will you be ruler that makes ideal choices for the sake of morality? A pragmatic ruler that makes choices our of the most practical reasons? Or a ruthless ruler that ensures your word is law? Pathfinder provides you with these choices easily.
Bugs are common to game launches but Pathfinder takes the cake on this. There are a few game-breaking bugs that made me rage quit at times while doing my play-through. One example was when I encountered a bug wherein one of the menus refused to have me click on anything else, making alt+f4 a friendly companion. Some these were however fixed during a recent patch.
The story is the greatest aspect of Pathfinder: Kingmaker. Much like games from Bioware, Obsidian Entertainment and even The Witcher 3, Pathfinder took great care in branching storylines by means of dialogue or interaction in the world. The plot twists in the story are well thought of masterpiece that I applaud Chris Avellone's mind for. The guy really is a genius in the RPG world. I'd rather not spoil it for you but the story itself will make you replay the game for eternity just to see if there is anymore twists you can squeeze out from it.
Pathfinder also boasts great voice acting during its dialogues and short cut scenes. It never sounded like it was rushed or some placeholder voice actor got mixed in with the final cut. To help with the immersion, the voice acting is backed up by a great score reminiscent of Baldur’s Gate or even The Witcher 3’s score. I even found myself humming to the main theme even before I boot up the game.
Pathfinder: Kingmaker has the potential to be a great RPG. Pathfinder's mediocre overall gameplay is redeemed by a decent soundtrack and a great storyline directly from the mind of Chris Avellone himself. A game that adds a few more hours from our usual RPG adventures by making you a Baron and including a simple world management aspect to its gameplay. A game that reminds us that Single Player games are not dead and that a solid game does not need to come in a triple-A package or another form of battle royale.