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A Seed of Potential Planted in Barren Soil

Steven Messner Posted:
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Player versus player combat is likely the most exciting element of Pathfinder, as opposing companies clash in sanctioned wars called "feuds." Here is where I found one of the few gleaming seeds of potential hidden beneath the dredge. The social aspect of Pathfinder Online, including the wars, is one other such seed. Players can acquire and build structures, and eventually, with enough persistence, create their own settlements to associate themselves with. However, at this stage, the community of Pathfinder is so small that I seriously question if it will ever grow to the critical mass required to make much of its sandbox mechanics prevalent and rewarding. The open world combat might feel threatening at first, but after hours of wandering about without even seeing another player, it became apparent that Pathfinder Online is a rather empty game. Settlements, both player created and otherwise, are often devoid of other players save one or two running about their own business. At this stage, Pathfinder Online lacks any of that sense of being a small part of a much bigger world.

One aspect of Pathfinder Online that I did enjoy immensely, however, is the character progression. Inspired by EVE Online, players earn experience at a set rate per hour and can then spend that experience on skills and passive bonuses known as feats. Using combinations of these feats, players can then customize their abilities free from the nasty constraints of class definitions. It's a flexible system that allows you to truly play a character that you want to play, but also encourages building synergy between your abilities and the equipment you are wearing using another system called keywords. Every piece of gear and most feats have keywords associated with them; for example, a sword might have the slashing keyword. When that keyword is paired with an ability that has the same keyword, they create a synergy that grants bonuses to both. More powerful feats and gear have more keywords to match, allowing for more powerful bonuses. It's an incredibly smart system that allows you to build characters however you want, but also encourages you to make smart decisions.

My only concern with the system is that, like much of Pathfinder Online, it seems lifted from EVE Online. It's not surprising when you realize that Ryan Dancey, the CEO of Goblinworks, spent a few years working for CCP Games, the developer of EVE. It's actually a good thing. But I do have serious reservations that too much of EVE's complicated systems were brought to Pathfinder Online without the same care and attention that makes them work so well in CCP's sandbox MMORPG. For example, I haven't seen anything to convince me otherwise that an older player, and therefor one with more experience points spent, won't automatically trump any newer player. In EVE Online, combat is nuanced and requires managing more than just a handful of abilities, so there is far more room for a new player to close the gap in experience. Pathfinder, by contrast, doesn't seem like it possesses the same nuance. It's not a major concern, but one worth keeping an eye on as the game grows and its community ages.

There is a recurring theme to much of what I have to say about Pathfinder Online: in theory, much of what Goblinworks aims to achieve is interesting. But in practice, many of those systems are implemented too poorly to really deliver an experience worth remembering. Combat is one example, it's very deep, but too rarely did I find it implemented in a way that was interesting. Fighting other players can be a lot of fun, but I always felt that was more due to the social aspect rather than the act of killing someone. Fighting monsters, however, is a chore.

That said, I cannot deny that Pathfinder Online has its charms and it is a game that I look forward to seeing how it grows over the coming years. If it weren't for the fact that Goblinworks has seen fit to charge players to play it at such an early stage, I would probably recommend it, rough as it is, to the right crowd. Much of its shoddy and rough outer edge can be overlooked in favor of its more interesting elements, especially if you're in the market for a new sandbox MMORPG. That said, unless you see the value in providing feedback to help Goblinworks develop their game, and think that the process is worth the subscription fee, I have no choice but to suggest that this is a game better left in the oven for another year or two. All of the ingredients for an interesting experience are there, but it remains to be seen if Goblinworks has what it takes to make Pathfinder Online anything more than a bad game with good ideas.


  • GAMEPLAY: 6  – Interesting character progression and combat are offset by a boring world without much to see or do. Pathfinder Online simply feels like a sandbox without a lot of sand to play with.
  • VISUALS: 3 – Visuals are ugly and bland, character models and animations are embarrassingly outdated and rough. Graphical glitches are persistent.
  • POLISH: 2 – Navigating the user interface is difficult, information is poorly displayed and menu systems are dated. Stability issues persist.
  • LONGEVITY: 7 – Character progression offers a vast array of choices and the open world player versus player system and settlement construction both offer long term goals to work towards. Assuming the community doesn't stagnate, this could be a game worth investing into once other aspects are more developed.
  • VALUE: 4 – So early into development, the choice to charge a subscription fee for a product that has potential but is largely unremarkable significantly hurts Pathfinder Online. The unique elements that Pathfinder Online does have simply aren't worth the steep cost of playing.
  • Character progression is deep & non-linear
  • Combat requires thought & strategy
  • Sandbox-style of play is refreshing & unique
  • Looks & plays like a relic of a bygone age
  • Monthly sub fee massively over values what's offered
  • Often boring, lacking in personality

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Steven Messner

Steven is a Canadian freelance writer and EVE Online evangelist, spreading the good news of internet spaceships far and wide. In his spare time, he enjoys writing overly ambitious science fiction and retweeting pictures of goats. Speaking of retweeting, you should probably drop everything and go follow him on Twitter @StevenMessner