With Pathfinder: Kingmaker, developer Owlcat Games gave us our first taste of a cRPG based on the Pathfinder role-playing system. The isometric RPG was a huge hit even before it launched, with over 18,000 backers pledging almost one million dollars on the Kickstarter project. With their standalone follow-up, Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous, Owlcat Games isn’t taking the easy path by continuing the original story of Kingmaker. Instead, Path of the Righteous has a new setting, multiple new classes and Mythic classes, and the chance to lead an army in a new strategic campaign. Bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better, though, so we explore all the game mechanics, new and old, in our Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous review.
Character creation allows for an unbelievably diverse choice of characters. With so many options, picking a character class can be a little daunting for a person new to the Pathfinder system, though. Other than a generic difficulty ranking and vague description that’s listed for each of the 25 base classes and their 161 variants, I really had no idea how hard it would be to play as a specific class, let alone what type of playstyle a class was suited for. Scrolling through the additional information on the attributes and skills each of the classes can acquire was helpful, but reading through each class and subclass would take hours; it’s just too much of an information overload. Having some sort of guide - something as simple as a branching flowchart or a questionnaire about your preferred playstyle and desired Prestige class - would help cut down your choices to a handful of options and would be a welcome addition to the process.
Fortunately, Owlcat Games gets it. There is a premade build for each of the basic classes that can be used. This not only sets up your starting character, but it will automatically follow the build as you level up. It can be turned off at any time, so if you decide you want to take control of the character progression after a few levels, you can. And if your original class doesn’t end up being what you thought it would be, you’re introduced to an NPC in the early stages of the campaign that allows you to respec every aspect of your character. It’s a great way to reset your character without having to restart at the beginning of WotR’s story.
That same NPC can be used to create a fully customized 6-character party if you wish. It’ll cost you some gold based on your current level, but each new companion will be created with enough experience points to level them up immediately. Or, if you don’t want to completely replace the story-based companions, you can also respec any companions you collect during your adventures. Respeccing the pre-generated companions doesn’t reset them back to level one, but you can make changes to any of the levels they’ve gained since joining your party. This gives you some flexibility in their class composition without losing their associated companion quests.
The main story arc in WotR is well written and comes with its fair share of plot twists. I awoke in Kenabres, a large city that serves as a defensive stronghold on the edge of the Worldwound. The victim of a demon attack outside the city walls, I was brought to the city center to be treated. I immediately meet Prelate Hulrun, leader of Kenabres, followed shortly by the city’s greatest protector, the silver dragon Terenedelev. Yes, I was less than five minutes into the story, and I had already met the leader of a great city and a dragon.
This type of introduction has been a starting point for many RPGs, and I was pretty sure these two NPCs would serve as my primary quest givers as I joined the ranks of the Crusaders in their century-long battle against the demons of the Abyss. Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous is full of plot twists, though, and none of what I had predicted came to pass. A few minutes after being introduced to the pair, a demon horde attacked Kenabres, and just as quickly as I had met her, Terendelev was gone, her head severed from her body by a demon lord during the attack.
Not every moment in Wrath of the Righteous is this epic, but these first few minutes set the tone for the remainder of the story. Yes, you’ll still be sent on lots of mundane tasks during the main storyline, but you’ll also meet some interesting side characters. Whether they are a recruitable companion or just some stranger you meet on the side of the road, everyone comes with their own agenda. WotR fully utilizes the full spectrum of alignments, from Lawful Good to Chaotic Evil, and by doing so really makes you weigh each option during a conversation. Some dialog options are even flagged as good, evil, lawful, or chaotic, and choosing one of them actually moves your character’s alignment in that direction.
Even WotR’s opening cast creates some unique choices to fill out your party, like a Paladin who looks for the good in people instead of immediately beating the evil out of them, and a young Elven girl with an, “Eh, things like that will happen sometimes” attitude, even when one of those things was being burned at the stake. All of the companions you come across - and you may miss some on your first playthrough - have an interesting background, and watching their stories unfold during their individual questlines is very enjoyable. Some were so good that I found myself filling my adventuring party based more on each companion’s story than their sheer combat prowess.
Combat in WotR can be unforgiving, but Owlcat Games provides you the tools you need to keep it enjoyable, no matter what level of difficulty you are looking for. You’re able to switch difficulty settings on the fly, an option I used liberally. It wasn’t that combat was too difficult when set to normal and had to be tuned; it’s just that there is too much combat during some quests. Clearing area after area of low-level minions starts to get boring, and I found myself lowering the difficulty in these already low-risk encounters just to get through them faster. Then, once I found foes that were worthy of my attention, I would crank the difficulty back up and duke it out in a fair fight.
Similarly, the option to switch between turn-based and real-time combat also helped manage the flow of battle. Turn-based combat works just like it would in a pen and paper RPG. Initiative is rolled, and each combatant is given their turn to move, cast spells, swing swords, and do whatever other action they wish to do. It’s by far the slowest combat option, but the extra time allows you to plan out and execute your movements at a granular level.
Real-time combat occupies the other end of the spectrum from turn-based, requiring quick thinking and a flurry of mouse clicks to supplement the rudimentary combat actions of your AI-controlled party. Fighting in real-time is an easy way to speed up combat since everyone is performing their actions simultaneously, and you can always pause the fight if you need to have a party member cast a spell or use a special ability. You can initiate these pauses manually, but WotR allows you to choose specific events, like the end of a combat round or new enemies entering the battle, that will automatically pause combat for you. It’s a nice compromise that helps speed combat along without the fear of missing something that requires your attention.
The Fifth Crusade
Your exploits in the retaking of Kenabres are a spark of hope in the century-long war with the demon horde. Even the Queen herself heralds this as the beginning of the Fifth Crusade (the first four failed miserably) and promotes you from lowly adventurer to Commander of her army. At this point in WotR, your duties will be split between the typical RPG questing and managing a grand campaign to push the demons back to the Abyss.
Before starting the Fifth Crusade, your quests were confined to the city of Kenabres. Even so, those quests take you all around the city as you try to take Kenabres back from its invaders. Travel to and from these quest locations is done on an overhead map. Moving from point to point is as simple as clicking on your destination. A Google Maps route is plotted through the streets, complete with an estimated time of travel. A small marker then begins making its way along the path, with the chance of random encounters popping up along the way.
Get used to the world map. You’ll be spending hours moving from point to point.
The whole process had a nice feel to it at first. It reminded me of my old pen and paper days, where the DM would drag figurines around the map to keep track of what the party was up to. However, in WotR, taking the time to slowly slide the party marker across the map literally drags the pace of gameplay to a crawl. After my third or fourth trip across the city, I was begging for a fast travel option. By the time I was ready to leave Kenabres and venture out into the rest of the world, I was thoroughly annoyed by the amount of time I was spending just going from one place to another.
Unfortunately, the overworld experience only gets worse once the Fifth Crusade begins. Upon leaving Kenabres, your map expands to the whole region. Regular quest areas are scattered across the map, and you must again follow the winding path from place to place. Random encounters and a party fatigue mechanic make this process even slower than it was previously.
To further muck up the pacing of the main story, you must also manage your army’s movements across the same map. When your army comes in contact with an enemy unit, you enter into a Battle Chess type of mini-game. Win the battle and you gain some resources or magical items for your party. Lose and...well, reload your last save and come back when you have a more powerful army.
Battle Chess anyone?
At a certain point of the Crusade, you’ll also take charge of a city. This new task once again slows the pace of the gameplay by adding even more management activities. Along with a bare-bones city-building element that serves primarily to create a recruitment platform for your army, you will also begin receiving requests from multiple fronts. People from across the region start requesting an audience with you. Locals need your aid in resolving disputes, your army needs direction in how to proceed, and foreign emissaries offer troops or other resources. In turn, many of these moments either cost you resources or require the service of your party of adventures.
Using the Fifth Crusade to add a grand scale to the typical party-sized focus of a cRPG is a good concept, but it is more of a time sink than anything. Moving your armies around and playing Battle Chess doubles or triples the time you spend looking at the world map, and the city building is nothing more than poor implementations of game mechanics stripped from strategy games like Civilization or Total War. The Crusade does help introduce additional side quests to the main storyline, but it could have easily been skipped with a more traditional method of quest giving. The only redeeming quality to the Fifth Crusade is that you are allowed to put it on auto-pilot, skip it altogether, and instead focus solely on the story and party questing portion of WotR.
Make a choice, any choice. It really doesn’t matter.
The best way to describe Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous is that it's a fantastic RPG hindered by bloatware and popup ads. The well-thought-out writing and effective use of Pathfinder’s alignment system creates a fantastic story that made my party of adventurers more than a page full of ability scores and spell slots. Each character earned or lost their spot in my party through their personality and many of their personal stories were just as strong as the overall plot of WotR.
Character progression and combat don’t offer anything we haven’t seen from an RPG before, but both systems are well-implemented and worthy of the time you will invest in them. The sheer amount of information thrown at you during character creation can be a bit daunting. Still, the ability to reset your character without restarting your adventure eliminates the anxiety of making the wrong choice during character progression. And regardless of whether you like turn-based or real-time combat, the flexibility provided to tailor the flow of combat to your specific tastes is unparalleled.
With the Fifth Crusade, Owlcat Games has unsuccessfully attempted to create an expansive and immersive world. The overworld army combat and city building are merely copies of systems that are done better in other games, and it all ultimately ends up being a bunch of time-consuming rigamarole that destroys the pacing of the core RPG experience. Sometimes less is more.