Over the years, Pathfinder as a brand found itself expanding beyond the tabletop. First, we had novels, then came the card game and comics, and next on the list are video games! For years, it seemed many fans of Pathfinder had an itch for a game that hearkened back to the days of Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale, and Planescape: Torment. Now, 10 years after the release of the first volume of the Pathfinder AP, we finally have a proper Computer RPG! Well, one that’s in alpha at least.
Pathfinder: Kingmaker is an upcoming CRPG by Owlcat Games. After a successful Kickstarter earlier this summer, Owlcat continued their work on the game. I was one of the backers lucky enough to have enough money to spend to get me into the alpha, which went live about a month ago on September 26th. I have for you my first impressions of the game in hopes to show my fellow backers and readers of Know Direction blogs what to expect with the game. There may be extremely minor spoilers, but I’ll do my best to avoid those. Before we begin, there’s a few caveats to this article.
First, keep in mind that this game is in alpha state. It works and you can play it, but it’s best assumed that nothing that you read or see here will be 100% set in stone for the final game. I’m expecting most of the major beats to be in the final product, they may change or go missing entirely when the game goes live. Second, I’m no expert to CRPGs. I play a lot of video games, but usually ones with a lot more action. The nature of CRPGs usually means that the games are slower and more methodical, which has made it difficult to stick through a CRPG to the end. Finally, this article is in no way sponsored by Paizo, Owlcat, or anyone else. This is just my opinion on the game in its current state. Anyway, on to the review!
At the start of the game, you are given the choice to choose one of three characters: the cleric, the fighter, and the wizard. To the best of my knowledge, the final game will allow the creation of your own character, but the alpha wants you to hit the ground running. This game starts you off in the same spot as the demo at PaizoCon. For those who have experience with the Kingmaker AP, this is essentially at the start of Book 2. By now, the kingdom is established and your character is set as the acting ruler.
The game starts you off at level 5 with an already established set of companions and known NPCs. Your companions are ready to strike up conversations as they have a significant amount of dialogue. These dialogues allow you to get a good grasp of who your companions are along with their motivations. Whether or not meeting these characters will be as much of a dump of information will be seen in the final game, but for now, these dialogues are still enjoyable. Although there was a lot of text to read through for your five companions, I enjoyed the writing and found the characters quite interesting. Of special note is Valerie the former paladin of Shelyn turned knight of your kingdom.
In regards to how the game translates the Pathfinder experience, I’d say it does it as well as a CRPG could hope to do. Fans of the tabletop game will be right at home on the character screens. These screens give detailed breakdowns of a character’s abilities, such as skills, feats, class abilities, and spells. It even has a breakdown of a character’s levels, showing future class abilities for a given class. The interface manages to break up the information into manageable chunks as to not overwhelm. The Pathfinder ruleset can be dizzyingly complex at times, but serving it in more manageable portions should hopefully allow more unfamiliar players to understand all the various parts.
Once we head out into the wilderness, the game changes to one of exploration. Unfortunately, it’s not a direct translation of the hex exploration from the tabletop game. Instead, the game allows you to travel down designated paths to reach specific locales. I can understand why it is done in this fashion as full exploration would be a lot of work to put into the game if it wanted to get anywhere close to possibilities of the tabletop. To more closely resemble the random encounters of the hex exploration, we see random encounters. Traveling down a path has a chance of encountering monsters. From here, there is a chance to avoid the encounter or zoom in and play out the fight.
Another aspect of exploration is camping. The game allows your party to rest while in the wilderness, but the process is not necessarily hand-waved. Instead, you are tasked with assigning party member to various roles to help aid the party. The hunter gathers rations, the cook takes the rations to feed the party, the camoufleur hides the camp to help avoid encounters, and the watch rotates to protect the camp. Things aren’t so simple, however. For example, a poor hunt may mean that the cook does not have enough to cook a meal and may leave the party hungry. The limited experience I had with camping showed a lot of potential. I found multiple recipes for the cook, which in turn provided different buffs or effects to the party. I’m guessing the system will be more involved and fleshed out on release. Whether or not there will be more to camping, in its current state it had just enough to it that the system provided interesting choices and outcomes without feeling like a chore.
Other than the story, the main portion of the game is the combat. Those familiar with other CRPGs will feel right at home here. Characters are controlled and commanded individually or in groups. Issuing commands to characters is a breeze, with most actions available either as spells or abilities. Having Amiri rage, Octavio cast a spell, and Tristian channel energy are all easy to do.
Combat plays out in real time with the option to pause at any time with the spacebar. Action also pauses as soon as the party stumbles upon the enemy. Beyond that though, it’s all manual. This makes combat feel extremely chaotic at times. Due to my lack of experience with the genre, I found myself getting stuck worrying about one particular character’s actions and losing focus on the rest of the party, which quickly led to the party’s demise.
Just like Pathfinder, this game requires strategy to the combat. Sure, it’s easy enough to point all my party at a few wolves without much though and come out on top. When it comes to more complicated enemies, like groups of bandits and spellcasters, that doesn’t really cut it. It’s a lesson I learned the hard way. Unlike the tabletop game, where I only have to worry about my own character, I have to manage a party of up to six. I quickly learned the importance of planning in advance and changing my strategy on the fly, as well as buffing in advance. The only thing I feel that the game is missing is a set of triggers for the pause. Pillars of Eternity has the option to pause the game after key events, such as upon the death of a party member. I think these options would help make the hectic combat a bit more manageable.
As for the story of the game, I will try to avoid spoilers, but I feel that this game will have a great story for fans of the AP and newcomers alike. Based on my experience, the lack of fully-voiced dialogue allows Owlcat to cram as much text as they like to flesh out more of the story. They’ve also taken the time to add new content to keep things fresh for veterans of the AP. In my time played, I would say about 60% of the content I encountered was brand new, or at least unrecognizable. The dialogue and writing I’ve seen has me excited for the full game and knowing Chris Avellone has a hand in the narrative is icing on the cake.
In its current state, Pathfinder: Kingmaker lacks a lot of polish, but that’s to be expected. I can see that there is a definite gem of a game hidden underneath the expected typos, glitches, and quirks of a game in its alpha state. For those concerned about another situation akin to Paizo’s Kickstarter, I can safely say that my time with this alpha is infinitely more enjoyable that Pathfinder Online’s alpha. Owlcat Games have what feels like an already complete game and a few more months of work will surely make this a game worthy of your playing.
Final verdict? For those already in on the Kickstarter, you’re going to most likely enjoy this game. For those on the fence, I think it will be well worth a purchase on release. For those who were unsure about trying a video game version of the game, I think it’s well worth looking into, but consider speaking with a good friend to determine if this kind of experience might be good for you. In fact, feel free to take a look at Baldur’s Gate or some of the other Infinity Engine games to get a feel for the game. I think fans of Pathfinder and CRPGs have a lot to like in this game. I’ll try to update my thoughts when Owlcat releases another significant build of the game.
Note: For this game, I put in about 8 hours of gameplay and barely scratched the surface. Feel free to read some thoughts from other alpha players on the Owlcat Games forums to get even more insight into the game!