Intrigue, hard decisions, and unexpected ramifications
Pathfinder: Kingmaker – Definitive Edition is a far cry from the action-oriented and cinematic The Elder Scrolls, Mass Effect, or Dragon Age games that dominate the console RPG experience. Pathfinder: Kingmaker – Definitive Edition has more in common with the cRPGs of Bioware’s heyday, offering expansive character creation options, dozens of interesting and engaging companions, strategic combat, an overwhelming number of decisions with long-term ramifications, and its own involved “kingdom management” mechanics.
Drawn to the city of Restov by the promise of adventure and the chance to claim a barony, your protagonist, along with several other potentials, are set upon by assassins. This kicks off a prologue, during which your actions and morality will immediately define your early companions, before you set off to rid The Stolen Lands of a bandit king and stop the machinations of another adventuring party. You’ll be looking at 10 or so hours of classic cRPG adventuring before you establish your fledgling barony that, in turn, kicks off a whole new multi-chapter adventure (and that’s not even counting the narrative-focussed Varnhold’s Lot mini-campaign and the Beneath The Stolen Lands dungeon-crawl).
You’ll have to manage your own kingdom, assign advisors, and complete certain quests yourself to ensure it does not fail. You’ll have to deal with the threat of monstrous hordes, ancient curses, adjacent baronies, distant political machinations, declare independence, and more before the end. Along the way, you’ll make important dialogue decisions that shape future interactions, work with or against your advisors to grow the kingdom, and master the combat system (as it’s impossible to complete the game without getting your blades bloodied). Pathfinder: Kingmaker – Definitive Edition always keeps pressure on the player (or perhaps not, but more on that later).
Did I just die trying to climb a tree?
As a Dungeons & Dragons spin-off, Pathfinder: Kingmaker – Definitive Edition doesn’t require you learn a whole new and convoluted ruleset, but – on normal difficulty and above – you’ll need to pay attention to your character build, gear bonusses, combat feats, buffs, and party ability scores. Pathfinder: Kingmaker – Definitive Edition is surprisingly transparent when it comes to showing you values, such as action countdowns (both yours and your foes – great for interrupting spellcasters), dice rolls, area of effect, and even your chance of success when assigning advisors to manage kingdom tasks.
Combat, as in most cRPGs, is more common than I’d prefer, but Pathfinder: Kingmaker – Definitive Edition leans towards giving the player plenty of dialogue options, companion interactions, and environmental paths. You can force foes to back down or depart peacefully (albeit not without potential consequences later), companions can offer unique branching dialogue if you encounter NPCs from their faith/clan/guild, and the world is littered with shortcuts and secret areas that require your party to have a sufficiently high mobility or athletics score to traverse (pro tip: failing these repeatedly can kill you). Perceptive characters can spot hidden traps and loot caches, those with high world- or arcane-lore can identify rare gear, and those with high nature-lore are great at hunting when you set up camp (saving you from lugging around heavy ration packs).
The outcome of these complex and stat-driven systems does make the (relative) simplicity of combat rolls feel decidedly less random than skills checks in dialogue or while exploring – perfectionists will need to save-scum their way through many encounters. When it comes to dealing with the myriad of requests and tasks in the kingdom management interface, the consequences and results of completing or ignoring these are far more predictable. The problem is you don’t have enough advisors or building points at first, so it becomes a matter of priorities (i.e. typically every kingdom stat above zero).
If I’ve made Pathfinder: Kingmaker – Definitive Edition sound like an unforgiving and stressful experience, it is by default, but no longer has to be that way. Pathfinder: Kingmaker offers an extensive list of tweakable settings, with several “default” difficulty options as a guide. You to adjust combat-related settings such as: the percentage of “standard” damage done to the party, the chance of enemies landing critical hits, toggle the “death’s door” status so your companions don’t die straight away, and many granular details. When it comes to gameplay, options include: toggling quicker movement outside of combat, toggling class-specific attire to make it easier to differentiate companions in the midst of battle, and increasing the number of quick- or auto-save slots to ensure you can go back several steps if you get into trouble.
The first major change in the Definitive Edition is the ability to swap from the “real-time-with-pause” (RTWP) combat to a turn-based combat. It works well, replacing the half-turn/full-turn timing system with a two move/combat steps, and a free-action (such as activating class abilities or changing fighting style). For console players, especially given the limitations of using a gamepad, this is a must for tougher battles or higher difficulties. With a visible turn-order and actions occurring instantaneously – such as moving to a flanking position and firing a bow or casting an AoE spell on a group of static enemies – combat is simultaneously more strategic and easier. It’s slower than RTWP, and not necessary against basic foes when your party is levelled up, but you can crank up the animation speed to 10x in the settings if it’s your preference.
The other, less successful change is automated kingdom management. There is a setting to drop the difficulty to “effortless” and prevent your kingdom from ever failing, but this mode goes one step further and reduces you to a true modern politician – signing off on other people’s ideas and making big decisions with a bare minimum of context or understanding. For the sake of this review, I took the plunge and, 20-hours later, I’ve not been too disappointed. That said, I’d recommend you play long enough to assign advisors that share your alignment/beliefs before toggling this mode on for the best results. Certain activities, like claiming new regions, building settlements, and engaging in artisan quests, are all progressed at the whim the AI, so you’ll still need to check back in at the throne room frequently.
Pack some rations – it’s gonna take time to conquer these lands
Playtime and sheer quantity often seem more important than quality and pacing these days. Thankfully, Pathfinder: Kingmaker – Definitive Edition offers up both, even if the steady flow of plot, kingdom, and companion quests can feel daunting. The Stolen Lands are a big place, with your own kingdom (once you’ve claimed the regions around your capital) taking three days to traverse from one corner to another, and that’s before you consider the two competing baronies on either side that house their own regions and quests. Travelling time, with frequent camping to avoid fatigue, coupled with the kingdom management system, means you need to plan your excursions when deadlines are looming.
It’s a lengthy, diverse, and often beautiful journey thanks to Owlcat Games’s vibrant visuals and creature designs. It’s standard fantasy fare, sure, but the visuals and atmospheric effects, powered by the Unity game engine, bring it to life. Vegetation sways in the wind and grass parts as your party moves through it. Storms whip the trees back and forth, while rain obscures your vision, slows your party, and makes you vulnerable to lightning strikes that scorch the grass. Blood and gore splatter the terrain when you land a strike, while spells set the environment aflame or drench it in acid. Any trip “The First World”, with its wild, neon-infused jungles, is a treat. The visuals are backed up by thematically appropriate soundtrack, impactful sound effects (especially for spells), and plenty of voiced dialogue or party banter. All of it comes together to ground you in the world, despite the detached isometric viewpoint.
Loading, loading, and more loading
Pathfinder: Kingmaker had a ton of technical issues at launch, and the Definitive Edition, while in a much better state, still retains several of those. Most noticeable are the sheer number of loading screens you’ll encounter during your playthrough. While exploring a large quest region in the game, it’s not something you’ll notice (unless you’re saving/reloading often) but once you’re on the world map, moving between parts of your capital city, or moving between kingdom management screens, it starts to grate. Even after moving the install to an external SSD attached to my Xbox One S, this only shaved of a few seconds off what can be a 10-30 second load screen, depending on the size of the region you’re entering.
Pathfinder: Kingmaker – Definitive Edition also suffers from inconsistent performance but I still can’t pinpoint an exact cause. An early location in the first chapter, the “Old Sycamore”, is a large map with dozens of AI Kobolds and Mites battling it out, yet I had no issues. The significantly-smaller main square of my capital city, with dozens of NPCs doing little more than standing in place and looping animations, moves at a crawl. Although only an issue in maybe a quarter of areas I’ve visited (up to the end of Chapter 3), drops in performance have a knock-on effect on every other action: character movement is sluggish, targeting enemies in combat is imprecise, menu-ing is unresponsive, and even saving the game takes longer than usual. I’m hoping these technical issues are something that Owlcat Games can resolve as I’d immediately add a point to the score.
If you can stomach several caveats, this is an adventure like no other
Very few cRPGs make the transition to console without at least some issues (I’ve also been playing the Baldur’s Gate and Baldur’s Gate II: Enhanced Editions ports, so it can be much, much worse), though I’m glad developers are porting their games to console and considering how they would play on a TV with gamepad in hand. Compared to most console RPGs, or the myriad of action-adventures that advertise RPG-elements, these are satisfyingly complex experiences that continue to surprise the player with new encounters and unexpected outcomes to combat and dialogue challenges. If you’ve tried and enjoyed the recent Infinity Engine ports, or more recent games like Pillars of Eternity, Divinity: Original Sin, or Torment: Tides of Numenera, Pathfinder: Kingmaker – Definitive Edition will scratch that cRPG itch and then some.
Pathfinder: Kingmaker – Definitive Edition was reviewed on Xbox One, But do not fret you can also get the game on PS4.
This review was written by Andrew Logue
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Pathfinder: Kingmaker - Definitive Edition
Pathfinder: Kingmaker – Definitive Edition is the ultimate single-player RPG experience based on the acclaimed Pathfinder series. Explore and conquer with your party the Stolen Lands of Golarion, a world rich with history, mystery and conflict featuring real-time combat or optional turn-based fights.
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Product Price: 39.99
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