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Early Enrollment Review in Progress

William Murphy Posted:
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We didn’t think we’d be reviewing Pathfinder Online anytime soon… until we discovered the game is both a.) taking money and b.) done wiping progress. As mentioned many times here, that’s all we need to consider a game ready to be reviewed. If a studio is confident enough in a product to do both of those things, then we’re confident that it deserves a score and review. Read on for the beginning of our Pathfinder Online adventures.

I want to preface this by saying that I know Ryan Dancey. I’ve met the man many times, had him present on our panels at PAX, and even shared a few beers with him while discussing Pen and Paper RPGs. He’s a good bloke. But this is business, and I hope Ryan can forgive me for saying the following: Pathfinder Online is just not very good in early enrollment. In fact, before we even get to score the game as it stands, I’d like to recommend you all wait a year or more before offering up any of your cash on PFO.  They are a long ways off from the Open Enrollment period, where they expect the game to be as “finished” as you can call an MMORPG. 

For now, if you’re fine with the idea of paying to test a game, and just want to be one of the first people in the River Kingdoms? Fine, be my guest. But once our Early Enrollment review is done, I’ll be waiting until Goblinworks sees fit to finish the game before they get me on my credit card.  All that said? There’s a lot here that could take shape into something superb, but it’s a long way off from that.

The character creation at this stage is about what you’d expect from older fantasy MMOs. There are not a lot of choices; a few hairstyles, a few faces, and skin tones. Whether you pick Elf, Human or Dwarf you’ll all probably look like each other until you start getting some decent equipment.  I do not know if Goblinworks has goals to increase character customization at the outset, but I hope so. It would be nice to mess with some sliders on my body shape, especially since the standard models seem to awkwardly lanky.  Unless you’re a dwarf, then you’re nice and squat as you should be.

Just to tick off our Community Manager, Mike Bitton, I went with a Dwarf when I first tried the game months ago. I also rolled up a freshly minted Human this week but decided to stick with the Dwarf because he’s been gathering 100XP per hour since he was created early this year.  That’s right, you gain XP whether you’re playing or not in Pathfinder. You then use that XP like a currency to train up one of the dozens of skills.  What’s to stop a player from just letting their character earn enough XP to do everything in the game? Quite cleverly, Goblinworks has made it so that you must complete achievements in the related skills to get the full advantage of all those XP points you spent.  Want to be really good at using a club? Better get to whacking things, or you’ll only ever be mediocre.

The character customization and kitting are stellar. You have a limited amount of skills you can equip at any one time, limited defensive perks you can equip at once, but there are so many different skills between varying armors, weapons, and classes that you can really take ownership of a build and mess around for ages with different synergies.  It’s the combat where the game currently falls flat. And the movement and overall controlling of your avatar. When the player’s jump, even as a dwarf, brings your character’s feet an estimated 10 feet off the ground, something’s not right.

For now, the animations in PFO just aren’t there. The basics are in place. Tab target, use a mix of basic skills and opportunity skills to cause status effects and kill things dead.  I appreciate that PFO’s mobs can swarm you, kill you and that there’s a 25% chance of item loss on death. You fear death in PFO, but sometimes the game’s lack of responsiveness in combat is just as dangerous as underestimating a foe.  When I press a button or use a skill, I want to know what it was and that it landed or missed.  That’s not possible in PFO right now. I don’t know if it’s the Unity engine or what, but controlling your avatar and fighting with him (or her) is just awkward and stilted. 

But I persevered, found a spear, and am working my way through those skills and achievements now. I’m feeling like a competent fighter, even if I’m also fighting the game engine and animations.

I did the first few tutorial quests, basic stuff to show you how to move, go into stealth, and attack targets. I made my first arrows and picked up the beginning crafting and gathering skills from the many trainers around the starter settlement. I like that there’s a map of the starter camp in PFO, but you can’t just look at an arrow on the map to tell where you are. You have to have a sense of your surroundings. This is a bit reminiscent of older RPGs, and I hope it’s not just a side effect of early development. If there’s one thing PFO should keep, it’s the ability to get lost adventuring.

The world of PFO is absolutely massive, sprawling, and wide open to explore. In a lot of ways that aspect reminds me of Vanguard. I’m really just starting out, so I’ll be keen to see how much it evolves from the starter areas’ grasslands, goblins and wolves, into something more dangerous. Though don’t get me wrong: get swarmed by a pack of mobs and you will die. Luckily, Goblinworks puts plenty of single/duo mob groups around to fight too.

Despite being a large world though, the River Kingdoms feels sparse and empty. That’s undoubtedly because it’s a sandbox world that’s supposed to be filled by actual people, owning encampments, building towns, and creating a living place in which to play. And without those people, the stiff and silent NPCs in the towns serve as just another thing that feels off about PFO. There has been some hubbub on our boards recently about Ryan Dancey’s call for the game’s fans to evangelize the game and get more Early Enrollment subscribers incoming. That’s a noble gesture, one that’s clearly aimed at the game’s hardcore fans, but they know as well as anyone else: Pathfinder Online isn’t ready for anyone outside of the title’s most devout followers.

I’ll be digging into more of Pathfinder’s Early Enrollment over the coming couple of weeks.  On paper, I love everything that Goblinworks is trying to do, even down to their decision to stick with an open PVP ruleset.  The potential for Pathfinder is strong, but there’s no telling yet if the game will ever meet its designers’ lofty expectations.


William Murphy

Bill is the former Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, RTSGuru.com, and lover of all things gaming. He's been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002, and you can harass him and his views on Twitter @thebillmurphy.