I will not get tired of saying that the last couple of years have been golden for any fan of classic-inspired cRPGs, myself included. Between Obsidian’s Tyranny and PoE2: Deadfire and Larian’s Divinity 2: Original Sin, gamers were able to visit beautiful fantasy worlds and dive right into a variety of problems. It is time for Pathfinder: Kingmaker to join that list.
As a disclaimer, while I have heard of Pathfinder, I am not intimately familiar with the franchise.
The events of the game take place in the fantasy world of Golarion, in an area called the Stolen Lands. It is a mostly unsettled region of River Kingdoms. Various factions have tried to tame this land but their attempts were ultimately for naught. To put an end to the feuds once and for all (and for other reasons you will find out over time as well), Swordlords of Brevoy start a competition that rewards the title of the Baron of the Stolen Lands to the victor. That is when your character comes in.
You can pick one of the five pre-created characters or make your own completely from scratch. The game offers a variety of choices from portrait, gender and race to date of birthday, deity, main hand, preferred weaponry and more. There is also a choice of your character’s alignment. More on that later.
If you had played any of the games mentioned in the beginning, you would have a solid grasp on Pathfinder: Kingmaker’s gameplay and combat system. If you’re new to the cRPG genre, I recommend lowering the difficulty of the game. Pathfinder features a good number of toggles and sliders that will allow you to have the game exactly as hard or as easy as you want it. You can even toggle whether you want your currently benched followers to receive experience alongside actively adventuring ones or not.
Pathfinder: Kingmaker’s gameplay is best described as a bunch of systems slapped on top of one another, which leads to a huge amount of loading screens and waiting for seemingly easy tasks. When you are out traveling, you will frequently stop to rest to heal up and feed your tired adventurers (hunting for hours if you do not have enough rations), which will stop you for half a minute for every couple of minutes traveling. Running into one random wolf on the road will force your six heroes into a loading screen, 15 second-long combat, then a loading screen to return to the traveling interface and so forth.
Besides traveling, a lot of your time will be spent in combat. Like PoE2, Pathfinder features real-time combat that can be slowed to 0.5x speed or set up to pause as frequently as you want it to (not at all, after each character completes their respective order for that round, any detected trap and anything in between). Sadly, the game lacks the 2x speed out of combat for all the times you will find yourself running through already cleared out areas to interact with something.
Make sure to pay attention to your enemies and the conditions of your own party members! One of your possible companions is an Undead Elf, for whom Healing spells deal damage instead of healing and Inflict Wounds patches her up. If you use an AoE-based channel carelessly, you can snuff out one of your heavy hitters or a tank without noticing. Another unique Pathfinder thing is that small enemies such as swarms of spiders can only be damaged by AoE spells and items such as Alchemist Fire. Many an adventurer found their path barred by the unbeatable spiderlings preventing you from getting berries for ol’ Bokken.
After enough traveling and fighting, you will find yourself in need of leveling your character and / or your companions. That might not be as easy a task as you would think, especially if there is a bunch of characters to raise.
Firstly, the sheer amount of customization you can do with leveling. Depending on your level and chosen class, you can pick special abilities, feats, favored terrains and enemies, receive new spells and boost such skills as Athletics or Trickery.
Secondly, after you are done with a character and decide to proceed, the game automatically closes the level-up interface and goes through an auto-save. Every time. Every character. You can pick auto-leveling for your protagonist and the companions and, while it will save you time in choosing the actual abilities, the auto-save and interface shutdown will still happen, stretching an innocent task of leveling your party into a long wait.
Pathfinder uses the D&D Alignment system. During the character creation, you will choose an Alignment for your character from the nine available options. The result can change drastically depending on the dialogue options and actions through the game.
Not only does your Alignment open additional dialogue choices, it also gives your Kingdom new options, such as buildings. It is important to remember that your kingdom will share the Alignment of its creator and attract like-minded individuals.
All choices that can possibly affect your Alignment are marked in the dialogues with no way to remove the tips.
Each one of your possible companions has their own Alignment that will dictate their behavior in a variety of situations. Depending on the circumstances, some might even decide not to follow you at all or drop out of your party if you have too conflicting Alignments.
During various interviews, the development team shared that it was extremely important for them to give players a place to call their own. That is where the Kingdom Management comes in. While your party is within the territory of your kingdom, you can access the special interface that allows you to select Advisors, take care of special events such as Problems and Opportunities and send people out on Projects. Some of those, like projects that require your Baron or Baroness to help one of your Advisors, will require you to be in the kingdom’s capital.
Events have limited time duration, while the Projects keep sitting on your table until you get around to doing them. The game recommends addressing Problems first, as failing to do so will have a negative effect on your kingdom. Wasted Opportunities have no negative consequences. There are four outcomes for every Event: Triumph, Success, Failure and Disaster. As you guessed, Triumph brings you extra goods, while Disaster slaps your kingdom for the failure.
While your character and party use the familiar gold coins for currency, your kingdom is using a different one: BP, the building points. You will receive a certain amount of BP per week that can be increased via in-game means such as doing the Trade Agreements projects. BP can also be bought for gold from one of your capital’s vendors. You can use BP in a variety of ways: construct buildings in your cities, upgrade them and cities themselves, unlock new regions and pay for Projects.
Your kingdom has ten stats and ten Advisors, one for each stat. You start with only five Advisors, and your very first kingdom quests require you to hire more Advisors and upgrade your capital. However, the game does not offer an explanation as to how to do it. I had finally given up a dozen hours later and went to Google: turns out, you need to conquer three nearby territories first.
Now comes an important part: leaving your kingdom on its own, not addressing its Problems can, and WILL destroy it, and it will be game over for you. Many players, myself included, have also encountered hidden timers on the main story quests: if you do not address them, regardless of how serene your kingdom is, it WILL be destroyed via story means and it will be… you guessed it, game over.
That one time I had to re-load the saved game about 7 hours before this point so that I could immediately tackle the main quest line, without spending my time exploring, adventuring and getting to know my followers – you know, the kind of stuff you would expect from an RPG?
I was not the only one who went through the ruins of the kingdom – look no further than David Gaider, ex-Bioware narrative lead:
“107 hours into Pathfinder: Kingmaker and my kingdom crumbled due to constant negative events with DC too high for my advisors to handle. Game over. Well...that rather sucks. Way too much time for me to try again, as well.”
You can make your Kingdom Management automatic in the settings of the game that will also bring the perk of it being indestructible, but in doing so you will lose a large chunk of the system.
Pathfinder: Kingmaker’s story is written by Chris Avallon, and the parts I got to experience 70 hours in seem very interesting (and I have no idea where it all leads!), but by and large you get bogged down in the menial tasks and un-optimized systems and lose track of the good there is, only remembering loading screens, long pauses and bugs.
Speaking of bugs, the team has been hard at work trying to iron out every little thing. Almost every time you would start the game, it will notify you that an update is needed which lead me and friends to lovingly calling it Patchfinder. The further you venture into the game, the more bugs you encounter, like an NPC that is not interacting with you or a quest that cannot be completed.
My favorite had occurred when two of the quests with petitioners approaching my Baroness happened at the same time, with NPCs talking over one another. Two of them are still standing in my throne room since their sequence never actually finished.
There is a lot that can be said about Pathfinder: Kingmaker, both negative and positive. It is a tremendous first effort by Owlcat Games and a decent game of its own right. The game has a lot to offer both to inexperienced players and to the cRPG “veterans”.
- Highly customizable in every aspect
- Interesting companion characters
- The world reacts to your decisions
- Large amount of bugs and glitches
- Gameplay gets bogged down in details
- No way to hide alignment options
- Hidden “Game Over” death timers