Pathfinder: Kingmaker Review

Pathfinder: Kingmaker is the video game adaptation of the Pathfinder universe, which was successfully kickstarted last year. First of all, I must admit that I didn’t follow the development process of Pathfinder: Kingmaker, nor have I ever played the Pathfinder RPG, so everything you’re about to read comes from someone who is entirely new to this universe and its systems.

Pathfinder: Kingmaker is a whole lot more like old-school RPGs, like Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale, and that is clearly visible right from the very start. The game boasts a vast array of difficulty options, not only by offering 6 predetermined baseline modes (Normal, Hard, Story, Unfair, etc.), but also by allowing you to create your own custom difficulty mode by tweaking a myriad of settings to your own personal liking. The game lets you customize how some its systems behave during gameplay, like, for example, things like spotting an enemy, encountering a trap, losing a party member, can be configured in a way that the game automatically pauses if any of the actions that you specify take place.

This is extremely well done, and it’s quite honestly an exceptional system made to fit most players’ demands and desires. There are even options to tweak how much damage you receive, or if critical hits deal a lot of damage. This is not your typical RPG, Pathfinder: Kingmaker will test your patience and skill. Still, despite its high degree of customization, as I was playing the game on the Normal preset with some minor tweaks, the game still poses some insane difficulty spikes on some areas, and the worst is that these tend to coincide with the main quest line itself. The final fight on the Prologue took me more tries than I could care to count, but I’m pretty sure that I’ve wasted at least 5 hours across multiple sittings.

The whole difficulty issue that the game has going on seems to affect players in different ways, with some claiming that this is one of the best RPGs that they’ve played in years, while others say that even on what the game claims to be “normal” difficulty, the game can still be brutal and unfair at times. It doesn’t matter how you look at it, as ultimately, even if you have the best stats you could possibly have, everything stills boils itself down to a game of luck, as the game uses the d20 ruleset system.

The outcome of a vast number of things that happen in the game, including actions during combat, but also things like opening locked doors or deciphering something written in another language, relies on dice rolls and skill checks, all of which happens behind the scenes where you can’t really see anything. This system doesn’t rely on a percentage chance to be successful, but instead, it is dependant on a series of variables, like what kind of weapons are being used, negative or positive effects on the characters, different stats, and whatnot. All these different variables affect, in one way or another, how high is your difficulty check for when the game rolls the dice for you behind the curtain.

The combat happens in real-time but you can pause it at any time, whether in order to issue orders or to assess your current situation and come up with the best course of action. While this is isn’t a turn-based game, combat features rounds which consist of 6 seconds each, and the order at which different units act during combat relies on each units’ initiative value. There is a wide variety of companions that you can select for your party, up to a total of 6, and if the ones that the game provides to you, which have their own companion quests for you to tread along, do not fit into your dream team, you’ll be glad to know that you can purchase new companions, provided that you have the required gold to do so.

The character creation itself is pretty complex as well. There are 5 different pre-made characters that you can choose as your main character, or you can create your own by choosing their race, customizing their looks, and obviously their class. Different races have their own strengths and weaknesses that fit certain character roles, and most often than not, they’re directly related to their history. From high resistance to certain enemy and damage types, to increased weapon proficiency, there are a lot more of variables that you need to take into consideration, in case you decide that you want to make your own character. With that said, the class system offers a lot of possibilities, with over 14 classes and each of them having subsequent subclasses, it is viable to have characters with multiple classes, which is sure to please hardcore fans of the genre or those that have been itching for an old-school RPG.

While combat is certainly a huge part of Pathfinder: Kingmaker, this wouldn’t be an RPG if it didn’t have a pretty astounding narrative behind it. The game takes place in the Stolen Lands, a region that acts as a buffer between two powerful realms. These lands don’t really belong to anyone, hence the name, but they’re often troubled by bandits. However, you find yourself involved in a series of events that lead up to you becoming the baron of these lands, so now you can shape these lands into what you want them to be, as you become their ruler and develop your little realm into much more than a mere hideout for a bunch of outlaws.

There is a lot of text in this game, so if you’re not into reading you might want to look elsewhere for your next RPG dose. Still, the game does have its fair share of voice acting, but this is only present in some characters that you run into while doing the main quest line. The dialogue system itself often presents you multiple possibilities to approach someone during conversations, some which require skill checks in order to be successful, which might yield some extra bits of information if you manage to pull it off.

This wouldn’t be a true RPG if there weren’t tons of letters and books that you could find scattered throughout the world, and fortunately, that is the case. All of these tell some sort of tale that might either be unimportant or which might reveal something pertaining a quest or a character. Nonetheless, most often than not, the game throws a bunch of names in these texts that I had no idea of the context that they were referring to, like city names, characters, or deities, which can feel a little bit overwhelming.

The game’s journal is actually written by Linzi, one of your trustworthy companions that you meet right at the start of the game, who decides to write your own biography, so this is not simply a journal where you’ll keep tab of your quests, but it’s also a place where you’ll also get to see some subtle narrative moments and introspection. While this isn’t certainly a major selling point, I find it to be a nice little touch, a clever way to complement the accessibility that having a quest journal provides.

Finally, there are also these moments in the game where action switches from its traditional isometric view to that of an illustrated choose your own adventure book, where you have to make a series of decisions in order to overcome an obstacle or reach a specific point. There are a lot of times where small things that you decide to say or do might seem like they won’t really have any impact in the game further down the line, but some might actually surprise you at some point, and this not only directly affects you but also how other characters see you and your intentions.

The last major part of Pathfinder: Kingmaker is its exploration and kingdom management element, which is introduced right after the Prologue. Exploration takes place via the world map, where you and your party travel along roads that connect numerous locations all across the Stolen Lands. While travelling, you might run into random encounters, and these can be just another fight with some random enemies, but they can also be related to the story in some way. Nonetheless, resource management enters into play here, as your party members get tired and need to rest as time goes on. This requires setting up camp, and potentially hunting, trying to camouflage your camp, cooking, and eating rations. Rations, in particular, should not be underestimated, as they provide a solid source of healing and rest for your entire party.

As far as kingdom management goes, I think this is perhaps one of the most appealing aspects of the game. Either from your throne room on your capital or through the world map, you’ll be able to assign advisors to deal with specific matters on your behalf, but in some cases, you will have to deal with some matters yourself. You can also claim new regions and establish new settlements on newly acclaimed territories, construct new buildings on your settlements (like breweries, barracks, lumber yards, etc.). Everything that you do from your throne room ends up affecting not only your barony but also how others perceive you. Building and expanding your dominion is vital in order to keep your barony stats in check, with population, loyalty, foreign affairs, culture, and other variables being paramount to keep the populace happy.

The game features both events and projects for your barony, both of which can be dealt with by assigning your advisors to these matters. Still, even if you assign your best advisor to a specific event, this still doesn’t ensure your success, as this also falls into the realm of dice rolling behind the scenes, which I quite honestly dislike. Also, while each advisor is a subject of yours, they still act according to their own ideology. Hence why there are multiple advisors that you can choose for each place. Sometimes choosing someone more aggressive to deal with invaders might be best, but you probably don’t want to assign that very same person to deal with matters of trade or potential allies.

I’ve experienced crashes while exiting the game, and I’ve had a character from my party gone completely missing. I can still her when setting up camp, and she still speaks to me when I enter the area of my next quest, but as soon as the dialogue is over, she just disappears. I can hear her, I can see a circle on the ground where she was supposed to be, but she doesn’t move, thus I’m not able to proceed properly? On the other hand, if I persist and attempt to complete my quest, even though the objective is marked as completed, the quest itself remains incomplete, and on top of that, this makes it so that in the party manager, I now have two of the same companion.

Pathfinder: Kingmaker sure sounds like an awesome time on paper, but unfortunately that couldn’t be further from the truth. The game has a lot of small issues that when grouped together make playing this game a rather troublesome experience. Things such as the lack of explanation in regards to the rule set in which the entire game is based upon, and the weird decision to make main quest line events have a time limit on them, only make me question if this game was actually intended to be marketed as a proper RPG or rather something that was made only for those that are familiar with how Pathfinder works.

Despite everything, the biggest problem that the game has is its stability, as just playing the game was insanely infuriating at times. I’ve had characters get stuck beneath the map, I’ve had duplicate characters on my party selection screen, I’ve had characters stuck on terrain, all which made me reload my game multiple times, sometimes even forcing me go back to much older saves than when the issue occurred, because it seems all it takes is one simple bug for the game to start bugging out all over the place. I feel like I’ve spent as many hours troubleshooting issues, looking for potential solutions in forums, and sharing my findings with others, as I’ve possibly spent with the game.

Party member AI is also all over the place. If you don’t give them any orders, sometimes your companions will just stay behind someone else when attempting to engage in melee combat, instead of just circumventing their fellow comrades in arms, while other times they will just run into each other while attempting to make a break for it. On the other hand, I haven’t really found any issues with enemy AI, which only makes the whole situation much more difficult to understand.

It’s clear that the game should have been in development for a while longer, as there are still plenty of issues of it. In a game with a weight system, where you’re constantly managing your inventory, it baffles me that there isn’t an option to search for something specific (or in a trader’s inventory) by just typing the name of the item. Simple things like choosing which enemy you want to attack when they’re all on top of each other, like in a narrow passageway, is a lot harder (if not even impossible) than it should be.

I really want to recommend this game, but unfortunately, as it currently stands, I can’t. The world building is great, and while I’m not really a fan of the combat system, I can endure it for the sake of everything else. Nonetheless, the myriad of bugs is just too much to bear. I’m not saying that this is a bad game, quite the contrary, it’s just not one that I think it’s worth at the moment, given all the technical troubles that you might run into.

However, it’s worth noting that Pathfinder: Kingmaker does offer dozens and dozens of hours of content, which depending on how you play it, it might even reach the 100 hour mark. That is, even if you don’t count the hours spent troubleshooting all the bugs that you might experience along the way. With that said, when or if these issues get fixed, I’d say that the game is more than worth it if you’re a hardcore RPG fan.

REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to editor@bonusstage.co.uk.

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