by Andrew Skelton (Outfoxed)
A good cRPG is a monumental thing. It promises dozens of hours of gameplay in a rich world, amazing characters and stories to uncover, and mechanics generally translated from pen-and-paper systems like Dungeons & Dragons. Enter Pathfinder: Kingmaker, the first video game to utilize the Pathfinder tabletop ruleset. Set in a fantasy world rife with magic, mayhem, and creatures fair and foul, you’re thrust into the familiar role of a hero who becomes a legend in their own right. Can it compare to juggernauts of old like Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale, and Planescape: Torment?
Making a Kingmaker
If you’ve never played a game based off of a tabletop RPG before, character creation in Pathfinder: Kingmaker is going to seem very daunting. The first screen you’re presented with is a difficulty selection, ranging from Story for those who want to experience the world and the content without much challenge, to Unfair, which you can imagine will live up to its namesake. There are a good number of options you can select below the basic difficulties, which allow you to customize your difficulty even further.
Next up is class selection, and this is definitely where you can get lost for a long, long time (I certainly did). You can start by selecting from five different pre-made characters, or you can create your own. After selecting a portrait to represent your character (you can also use your own portrait artwork), you’re brought to the racial selection. Eight races are playable in Kingmaker: Humans, Elves, Dwarves, Gnomes, Halflings, Half-Elves, Half-Orcs, and Aasimar (angel-like beings). There’s very limited ability to customize your character’s appearance at this time.
Now you’re faced with the truest challenge: the class selection boss. There are 14 classes available from the start in Kingmaker, and each of these classes have three additional sub-classes to choose from. As you can see, your range of choice is unheard of. Once you’ve somehow managed to select a class, you can assign your attributes and skill points. Skills provide a variety of different effects that will help various circumstances in the world, such as your character’s ability to spot traps, move about in combat, or to understand the lore of the world around you. You’ll be able to pick from dozens of feats which improve the capabilities of your character, and starting spells if you play a class that has access to them. It’s a lot to take in, and I don’t blame people for spending a lot of time trying to put together that perfect character for their experience.
There’s A Whole World to Discover
Right out of the box, you’re treated to an opening that introduces several important characters. You’re tasked with a mission to defeat a bandit chief named the Stag Lord from an area called the Stolen Lands — a lawless land that none of the major powers of the region have been able to control. Dialogue choices can be given using either the number key that corresponds to the response you want to provide, or by left-clicking on said response. Some conversation options may have an associated skill check involved in order to succeed, and others may have alignment ramifications or requirements. While the shortcut keys tend to be intuitive (I for inventory, C for character, et al), they can all be rebound. I recommend changing party selection from backspace to something a little more accessible, for instance.
Movement is accomplished by clicking on the location you want to travel to. This can be done on the main screen or the map screen (M by default). Left click, in this case, is a simple travel. Right click can be used to place your party facing a specific direction if you hold it down and move the mouse; an arrow on the movement reticle will show you the direction they’ll face. It’s a relatively simple system that’s worked for many cRPGs before, so why mess with it further?
The Thrill of the Fight
Of course things are going to go south quickly. You’re a main character, after all. You’ll quickly find yourself in combat shortly after the opening scene. There’s a couple lines of thought on how to handle combat in the game, most popularly being no stop, or pausing between rounds. If you’re not familiar with how games of this genre work, combat is broken into rounds, typically six seconds each. Every character takes action during this time, including enemies. Some actions are labeled as swift, which means you can still take the rest of your actions (though you only get one swift action per round), or free, which means you can take the action immediately.
As a tabletop enthusiast, I’m a fan of pausing in between rounds of combat (an option you can set in the menu). It allows you to select each party member’s action every single round of combat, even if that action is to simply attack the nearest enemy. It is an easy way to represent each turn, and lets you take a small break to select spells and abilities as necessary. Each of your companions also has an AI script they can follow if you don’t want to control each of them individually, to the point where spellcasters will cast appropriate spells, ranged characters will stay at ranged to attack your foes, and melee characters will (hopefully) keep the enemies off of your more squishy friends.
Solving Problems for Fun and Profit!
Like most RPGs, Pathfinder: Kingmaker has plenty of quests and tasks to accomplish. People in these fantasy worlds sure have a lot of problems, don’t they? These quests are worth doing, however, because you often get some substantial rewards from them. Gold and experience are common, certainly, but some also provide some pretty good magical items. You’re going to want all of the above on your journey to become ruler of the land. Not to mention there are some very interesting stories to be told through these quests that really give players an idea of the world they’re in (especially important if you’re unfamiliar with the Pathfinder setting).
With all the fighting and questing you’ll be doing, you’ll level up in no time. New levels bring increased health, increased skill levels, and brand new abilities to help make your character stronger. One nice feature of the game is the ability to multiclass. Instead of sticking solely to your chosen class, you can dabble into any of the others, so long as you meet said class’s requirements (e.g. you must be Lawful Good to multiclass into a Paladin). This can lead into some pretty interesting character builds where you pick up a few levels in several classes in order to enhance a main. There are only twenty character levels total in the game, though, so unless you have a clear goal in mind, this may hinder your character irreparably.
Deck the Halls with Suits of Armor
For me, there’s something satisfying about being able to see your equipment on your character, and Kingmaker delivers on that front. There are hundreds of different items that you’ll receive on your travels, and they range from weapons and armor, to other various pieces of clothing like hats, helmets, boots, and cloaks. Like most tabletop conversions, multiple types of certain bonuses do not stack; you can’t equip two rings that boost strength by one and get two strength out of it, for example. Still, there are many, many options available to equip your entire team, and from what it seems like, there’s plenty of balance as to weapon types available too, so you don’t have to fear taking some obscure weapon type during character creation.
Party makeup is also a very important aspect of Kingmaker. Balance is pretty critical on harder difficulties, so having a few frontline fighters (fighter, barbarian, paladin), a healer of some type (cleric, druid), and a couple ranged classes (ranger, sorcerer, wizard, etc) will serve you well. One other thing about the class system to note are prestige classes. Prestige classes have certain requirements that must be met before you can select them on level up, but they’re designed to enhance your main class in significant fashion. This means your mages will mage better, your fighters will fight better, and your tanks will tank better. It’s ultimately up to you how to put all of this together!
Thy Kingdom Come
One final aspect of the game is the kingdom management. It’s called Kingmaker for a reason, even if you’re a baron/baroness and not a king! As a ruler, it’s up to you to set advisors from amongst your closest companions (both party members and special NPCs) to improve your kingdom’s scores across the board. These values are important as if any of them reach zero, you may be at risk to lose the game completely. You’ll have to keep an eye on the population, loyalty, army, economy, religion, foreign affairs, magic, culture, and espionage ratings. When they’re developed sufficiently, you can rank them up to gain increased bonuses from them all.
You’ll also have to deal with various events that happen as result of the gameplay. You’ll be presented with several cards that you can assign an advisor to complete. These tasks take some time, so you can set them, and head off to adventure if you’d like. Or you can pass the time inside the keep to ensure they’re done quickly. There are also crisis events that can occur, such as invasions and disease that must be dealt with immediately. Failure to do so will also result in a game over, so it’s very important not to tarry on anything that sounds urgent; the game gives you ample time (and three warnings!) to complete most all of them.
Lastly, there’s a town development portion of the kingdom you’ll want to use to upgrade your lands. Various buildings provide your barony benefits, and some buildings even provide additional bonuses to other buildings if they’re built in the same town, or even right next to each other. There’s a shocking bit of depth involved for what’s essentially not the main purpose of the game. You’ll also be able to claim multiple territories in the Stolen Lands to govern and build as you see fit. One fun thing about your main city is the fact it changes based on your alignment. Lawful characters will have a very orderly, clean city, while evil characters might see some rather … unique additions to theirs (public executions, anyone?).
Final Verdict: Great (4/5)
Pathfinder: Kingmaker scratched an itch for me that I hadn’t felt since Baldur’s Gate II. It’s an expansive, immersive, and well-crafted world to explore and discover, and the storylines presented are quite good. The map is huge, with plenty to find along the way. That’s not to say everything is perfect, though. The time limit on some quests does prevent some of the enjoyment of just exploring and enjoying everything the game has to offer. Even now, there are some pretty bad bugs here and there that need fixing, like some feats flat out not functioning properly. Owlcat Games, however, is releasing hotfixes at a rapid rate, with larger fixes in the pipelines. The one key downside of the game is actually the lack of officially supported modding to make custom games, but this was merely due to a lack of resources to make sure such a feature would work properly.
Overall, if you enjoy a cRPG that relives the glory days of Baldur’s Gate, Neverwinter Nights, and Planescape: Torment, you can’t go wrong with Pathfinder: Kingmaker.
Note: a copy of Pathfinder: Kingmaker was provided for review purposes.
Pathfinder: Kingmaker Screenshots