Pathfinder: Kingmaker is a tabletop RPG from Owlcat Games. If you have ever played Baldurs Gate then you will be able to slip into Pathfinder: Kingmaker in the same way that an old man slips into a pair of comfortable slippers.
Unfortunately, before I played Pathfinder: Kingmaker, I had been playing Divinity 2, a game that is potentially my favourite RPG of all time. Pathfinder: Kingmaker is a good game, it is enjoyable, it is fun, however, it doesn’t compare, in my opinion, with a game like Divinity 2.
The story is very well written but I found it a little slow to get going and I think this made the other issues with the game stand out, for example, I am not a fan of the movement mechanic in the game world. It feels limiting and I found it detracted greatly from the game. The party camp system was frustratingly simple yet still managed to take me an age to solve and I did not fall into the game’s story in the way that I have with the aforementioned Divinity 2.
The game starts with a group of predictable adventurers hoping to become Baron of the Stolen Lands and whilst the story does develop as the game progresses the premise and the stock, plebeian way the story is set up is too simplistic and rote. It feels more like the set up for a “chase the treasure movie” with B list actors than a truly great RPG in the making.
You will eventually reach the point where you will construct and then run your very own barony complete with all the trappings of success, however, there is a huge barrier to entry in that you will need to be able to wade through the “instruction manual” and after that there is very little substance to the paint by numbers gameplay and formulaic dialogue that accompanies it. There are of course dungeons to explore with larger and ever more ferocious monsters to bludgeon to death if you have the difficulty set to believable.
Pathfinder: Kingmaker is based on the board game, Pathfinder. I am not too familiar with the desktop version of the game but from what I can gather it came into being as a direct response to the changes made in Dungeons and Dragons 4th edition which was released in 2008. Many players felt that their financial investment in v3.5 and the relatively brief period of time that it had been in publication was a slap in the face, others didn’t like the changes to the rules that literally split the community with some players vowing never to pick up a D20 again, this is not a joke, well it was but I bet someone said that.
The D&D influence shows throughout the entire game and you are introduced to it from the very beginning as you wade into the stat-heavy and slightly overwhelming character creation system. Luckily YouTube was my friend and there were several videos to help you set up a good character.
Pathfinder: Kingmaker is a good game, but it will never be a great game. There are too many issues, the balance is terrible. On easy the game is so simple you barely need to think, crank the difficulty all the way to medium and it feels unbalanced, unfair and decidedly frustrating. There have been a lot of patches in the time that I have been playing but I feel this is an issue at the core of the title and not something that will be fixed any time soon. I hear some people screaming “git gud” but there is very little you can do when you are attacking a single beast at your level and it destroys your entire party in a few moments.
In one of my first encounters, I decided to protect some villagers at an inn and I ended up having to restart my game because no matter what I did, no matter how I fought, I lost every time. Had I of purchased this game I think I would have refunded it at this point.
It’s not all doom and gloom however as the companions are interesting and unique if a little one dimensional. For example, Jaethal is a neutral evil undead elf and he actually left my party because he disagreed with the way I was handling my affairs so often. Having a balanced party is important and I think that of the 11 potential compatriots the only truly irritating character is Linzi, she is a chaotic good Bard and I want to slap her stupid face and ignore her irritating comments as much as possible. Linzi, all chirpy and up positive what an arse!
Another positive is that I started out as a Neutral character, and as with most games in this genre that is how I expected to end the game as a Neutral character, however, because of the choices I had made throughout the game I had switched to Good, I liked this alignment change, I will play again and see how evil I can become.
In between the moments of action and interest, the story switches to a book that shows you what you could be doing instead of watching. It’s not a cutscene, you have to be involved in it and whilst the story is well written I found this part of the game the most frustrating and dull. Why tell me a story about what I could be doing instead of letting me do it? It was torturous, and I really didn’t enjoy it at all and a part of me felt it was a shortcut and lazy.
A major disappointment for me started once I become a Baron, something I was looking forward to. I should have realised this would be a job for a forensic accountant and not a gamer as I could barely fathom what would be the right thing to do next let alone plan for the future. I ended up leaving this part Pathfinder: Kingmaker predominantly being managed for me as it was about as much of a let down as I could take. If you can make it through the hours of reading needed to understand how the mechanics work then you will find a very deep and rewarding but football manager level time steal.
In short I was let down because it lacked the depth of a management sim but equally seemed to make what was there more complicated than necessary.
Pathfinder: Kingmaker is a good game, but unfortunately, Divinity 2 will scratch your itch in a far more satisfying way. If you have played that to death and are looking for something new then Pillars of Eternity should be next on your list. For me, there are many more games I would rather play and one of the ways I judge a game is to ask myself, will I play this after the review is written? I have to say no.
- Gameplay - 55%55%
- Graphics - 80%80%
- Sound - 80%80%
- Longevity - 65%65%
- Value - 55%55%
I wanted to like this more but I just couldn’t get past its many failings.