Hello everyone, I’m Mike DeAngelo with That’s Entertainment, and this is your final review of Pathfinder: Kingmaker – Definitive Edition.
Everyone remembers their first experiences with games that were translated from the most famous of fantasy properties, Dungeons and Dragons. Whether you’re talking about Eye of the Beholder, Shadow Over Mystara, or Baldur’s Gate, there’s something that sticks with you. After nine years, Pathfinder, which extends and modifies the rules from the Dungeons and Dragons 3rd edition, entered the fray with their very first isometric RPG, developed by studio Owlcat Games, and published by Deep Silver. It takes inspiration from classic computer RPGs, with Baldur’s Gate probably most notably bleeding through. Of course, it also has its own mechanics that help to set it aside from other CRPGs in some interesting ways.
Pathfinder: Kingmaker – Definitive Edition on console takes what developer Owlcat Games did for the PC and boils it down to make it more palatable for Xbox and Playstation gamers. So, the question is, does it translate well enough to consoles, or are there struggles that hold it back? I’ll look to answer those questions, and I should note, this is my first experience with the game; I have not played it on the PC yet.
One of the first things that I noticed about Pathfinder: Kingmaker was that the story is excellent—among the best of the CRPG genre. It doesn’t feel like you’re just watching random events unfold. Rather, the plot of Kingmaker unfolds in a rich tapestry, with a great amount of lore that the characters live and breathe in, a world that feels lived-in and diverse, and a series of goals that are laid out at once that help you make a plan for how to strive forward.
It all begins with a summons to the mansion of Jamandi Aldori. She, being among the ruling class of the city of Restov, has set to clearing out a thorny bandit called the Stag Lord in the Stolen Lands, and has invited stalwart adventurers to aid her in her cause. The reward is a barony in the region, where a kingdom could be fashioned. Of course, this leads to a golden opportunity for the player, who is among the adventurers in attendance.
Before Aldori can send you on your way, however, the mansion is attacked in the dark of night. Assassins from Pitax overwhelm the building, forcing the adventurers to work together as they scrounge for equipment and look to help survivors in a well-fashioned tutorial section of the game. Of course, over the course of this section of the game, things are unfolding in the background that you might not even be aware of, in some clever little ways.
By the time the player can set out on their quest, some interesting twists settle into place, leaving them to prove themselves and their heroics on their road to owning a kingdom.
Subsequent missions and side quests feel like a part of the world as well, and not like some pointless venture that could have been plucked from some other game. It always feels like you’re exploring a region that is meant to be interconnected, even across multiple locales.
Interactions with your characters feel fully realized as well, as you can learn more about them, and they even have things to say to one another during restful moments.
It is a great thing to see Paizo finally throw their hat in the ring with the Pathfinder license, because the past eleven years have seen a ton of work put into the rule sets, the monster and creature compendiums, and the world of Golarion. That material translates into the game with a vast amount of content. Many of the rules from the tabletop experience have been imported into the game here, not unlike in the way Baldur’s Gate leaned on the D&D ruleset of the time. Kingmaker feels more contemporary, as it’s been able to more comfortably toe the line between turn-based and real-time strategy due to its combat settings.
That said, the system translation from the Pathfinder tabletop experience doesn’t always feel like it’s for the better. At some points, the game feels a bit too concerned with rules, in ways that might make combat impossible to muscle your way through without coming back, or which seem a little too reliant on supplies in your inventory. That’s not to say that everyone will dislike them—in fact, one of the things that I am not a huge fan of was even a well-liked stretch goal from the Kickstarter campaign. But I’m sure it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, especially when some of the game’s peers have more of an almost arcade feel, where such minutiae are ignored for the sake of what sometimes feels a bit more streamlined.
Even without the rulesets, some parts of the game will catch players completely off-guard. Within the first few hours of Kingmaker, you’ll run into mighty spellcasters and devastating traps that will practically wipe out your party in the same five-minute span as rolling over packs of wild dogs and trivial monsters. It should be noted, the game has a handful of options that you can toy with when starting your game, but the default settings do leave you a little exposed to the ups and downs of the difficulty, but settings can be changed if you’re feeling overwhelmed. One other thing to be aware of is that because of the number of deaths you’re sure to encounter, you’ll be saving and loading—a lot. On decent PCs, the loading times are sure to be easily ignored. On consoles, you might find yourself waiting a little bit more than you’d like.
Back to combat and exploration: The controls have mostly been moved to the Xbox and Playstation comfortably. Moving your entire party is easy, and you can shift between letting your party make some basic actions on their own, or diving into every strategy and nuance if you need to. There are a lot of controls to be aware of, as this is a pen and paper RPG at its heart, which means there’s plenty of things to investigate, for better or worse.
I’m sure it certainly helps that Paizo has been working on this property for over a decade, but Pathfinder: Kingmaker is an absolutely beautiful game. It never feels like you’re stuck in one place with different layouts. The locales are varied and diverse, with different features and dynamic shapes and heights. The console version does sometimes feel a little muddier and washed out that I’m sure it could look on higher end computers, but that’s only if we’re splitting hairs. Along with that, there’s wonderful artwork in the character screens and interfaces, when you’re using storyline beats instead of combat, and during some other sequences of the game.
The world sounds lived-in as well. Ambient noise makes you feel like a part of the region, and the music is pleasant without being overwhelming.
The voice acting is where things kick up a notch, because everyone sounds delightful in conversation and when they’re delivering their interesting backstories. If you feel like your characters are chatting too much when taking orders, you can adjust that as well.
Together with the story, Kingmaker sells its world as the focal piece, and you’ll never have a complaint about what you’re experiencing out in the wilds or in your kingdom.
I keep coming back to this, but Kingmaker is filled with a ton of content. Even without returning to the title and trying out new character creation options or classes, as well as playing with different alignment choices, the game takes around 100 hours to carve your way through the story (excluding all the times you have to strategize and replay a battle to not suffer massive losses).
The map is presented in an interesting way—you don’t venture straight toward a destination, but meander down predetermined paths, running into other locales and random encounters along the way. The quests might have you returning to places more than once when you have to return something to a quest-giver or resupply.
After spending a bit of time in the kingdom management portion of the game, you’ll find that it is much more than an afterthought. Running your own barony takes a lot of care and attention, and the changes to the game are more than just cursory. It is possible to do a poor job, and in a lot of ways, it can be nerve-wracking to set everything up. Balancing it with possibly difficult fights and battle strategies that go awry can be exhausting. But, just like combat and exploration, the difficulty can be adjusted, which can provide great relief.
For its first foray into video game history, Pathfinder finds a great debut with Kingmaker, and a serviceable console impression with the definitive edition. Kingmaker delivers a great story and explores concepts that are interesting and feel rewarding. The controls are decent, and there is plenty to occupy yourself with.
The game is hampered at times by an unbalanced difficulty, and some limitations that consoles present. Some bugs and quirks can peeve players, and load times ensure that the game is most likely still enjoyed best on a PC. All that said, if the couch is your hot spot, playing on consoles won’t leave you disappointed.
That’s Entertainment awards Pathfinder: Kingmaker – Definitive Edition a score of 8.5 out of 10.